Friday, May 13, 2022

COLUMN: Bez 'n' Beth

For someone like me who normally likes to dwell on the silly side of life, I've spent a lot of time lately dealing with a considerably less silly side of death -- and I've gotta say, I'm not a fan.

Unless your name is Dorian Gray, Vlad Dracula, or Keith Richards, death is tough to avoid. That's a bum deal, but I guess it's the price we all get to pay for the privilege of living. If I could say anything to make it better, I'd probably have a lucrative career writing for Hallmark. Death sucks and it's sad, whether it happens to you, me, someone you care about... or even your favorite cat.

Bez was my sidekick for 16 years. She's the one who ran the house and kept my other cats in check. She's the one who was constantly at my side. She's the one whose hairs are still clinging to this laptop, likely a result of the many times she impatiently slammed it shut on my hands when I wasn't paying enough attention. I'm sure everybody thinks their cats are the best -- they're all wrong. Bez was the best, and losing her has left a giant cat-sized hole in my heart. The house is quiet and empty in a way I can barely wrap my head around. I've never been especially pro-ghost, but I hope she haunts my home forever.

It didn't help that I lost her in the midst of another morbid project I've been focused on for the past few weeks.

When I arrived at college a naive freshman, I fell in quickly with the drama crowd. The theater scene at Augie was full of larger-than-life characters whose acceptance I desperately craved. Nothing was ordinary, everyone was a superstar, and life alongside them was a constant adventure.

At the center of it all were three girls who ruled the clique -- Kim, Beth, and Beth -- each perfect in their own way.

Beth L. was an adorably manic pixie; Kim was funny and fabulous; and Beth R. was smart as a whip with a dry wit that could calmly destroy a room. Seeing any of them smile was the best part of my day. I wasn't the only one with a massive crush on all three. 

I'm certain they were never as smitten with me as I was with them, but I can't blame them. I was an immature geek yearning for approval, and they were two years older and thirteen times cooler than I could ever pretend to be. All I could do was rely on the only skill in my back pocket: those folks loved a party, and I knew how to DJ. After awkwardly wallflowering at a couple of their gatherings, I bravely approached the seniors in charge and said, "Here, give this a shot," handing over a mixtape I'd painstakingly crafted in my dorm room. Within minutes, I had the whole house stomping and my role suddenly became clear.

It was the first of many theater parties I soundtracked in college. While I eventually found close friends in different arenas, I've always kept that gang close to my heart. That's why it was a HUGE bummer to open Facebook and learn that Beth R. had recently passed away after a long and brave fight with cancer. I hadn't spoken to her since college, but I can still see her strolling out of the backstage green room like it was yesterday. I hope she knew how much she was adored by everyone fortunate enough to share her rarified air. Based on the photos I've seen of her life since college, it looked like she was surrounded by joy.

They're holding a Celebration of Life for Beth in Chicago at the end of this month, and Kim reached out hoping I'd be willing to help with music. So just like 1988 all over again, I've spent the last month in my basement putting together mixes for the event.

It's not been easy. The only other memorial service I've soundtracked was for a drag queen where I essentially just blared Madonna for four hours straight. It's challenging to find music that's comforting without being maudlin. I'm pretty sure Beth would haunt my dreams if I tried to play sappy schlock like "Seasons in the Sun."

I've been moonlighting as an amateur DJ for over 30 years, and there's nothing more exciting than finding the perfect song you just KNOW will make people lose their minds and set the dancefloor ablaze. But I've spent the last week in my basement trying to find the perfect song that I just KNOW will make people cry and be super sad, and that's a weird thing to get excited about.   

These mixes and writing this column could have been heartbreaking. Instead, it's sent me down a rabbithole of old memories, old pics, and warm fuzzies. It's terribly sad, sure, but it's also a reminder of just how lucky I am to have shared time and space with amazing friends, family, and felines. Life may be fleeting, but love is infinite.

Miss you, Beezers. Miss you, Beth.   

Friday, May 06, 2022

COLUMN: Mexican Pizza

So, let's recap: It's 2022, and everything's still going to heck in a handbag.

Political discord continues to run amok. War ravages parts of Europe. Our old nostalgic fear of a nuclear apocalypse is back for an encore. Women's rights are under attack. Inflation soars. Crime runs rampant. COVID hasn't exactly disappeared. Division and anger is the new normal. Got it.

Good thing that's all about to change. That's right, people -- our long national nightmare is over: On May 19th, Taco Bell is bringing back Mexican Pizza. Yes, on that magic day, mankind will unite in spirit and harmony to come together as one -- well, one drive-thru lane, at the very least. 

Personally? I don't get it. I never thought Mexican Pizza was all that, but man, people sure threw a hissy-fit when Taco Bell removed it from their menu in 2020. Petitions were signed. Protests were held. I was confused. To me, the Mexican Pizza just seemed like another way for Taco Bell to recycle and present their same five basic ingredients in a new and exciting geometric shape. Isn't it basically just a taco, but flat?

But to each their own. If you've been missing Mexican Pizza, I feel your pain. This whole saga got me thinking about MY favorite dearly departed fast food menu items that I'd love to see make a comeback:

* At the same time Taco Bell abandoned Mexican Pizza, they also removed MY favorite item: the shredded chicken burrito. Not only were those little buggers tasty, but when compared to most of their menu, you could ALMOST convince yourself you were eating healthy. You people are complaining about the wrong item. Let's start a shredded chicken petition. Who's with me?

* We've already established that the Bell has delicious soft, crunchy, and flat items. But remember when they used to have BIG items? When I was a kid, you could order the Taco Bellgrande, a beast of a taco about 2.5 times the size of a normal one. You opened one of those bad boys and felt like a king. I distinctly remember a slumber party that involved a huge bag of those suckers, a 12-pack of Jolt Cola, and the movie "C.H.U.D." That, friends, is living the 8th grade dream.

* Remember that short period when McDonalds sold salad in soda cups? The McSalad Shaker was a ridiculous concept, but I bought into it full-throttle. You'd get your cup-o'- salad, pop open the lid, squeeze in an unhealthy amount of dressing, replace the lid, and then hold your own little salad maraca jam session. When you were done shaking, the dressing would be evenly distributed across the entire salad and you could dig in -- either with a fork or, as I was more prone to doing, horse-style. It was a glorious era. Of course, if you weren't careful, the lid could pop off mid-shake and the dressing would instead be evenly distributed across your entire car, but it was a small price to pay for the privilege of driving around drinking a salad.

* Popeye's and Chick-fil-A can fight over who makes the best chicken sandwich all they want, but in MY book, the winner will always be the original 1980s-era chicken fillet from Hardee's. I'm talking the chicken with the weird artificial reddish-brown hue that almost tasted burnt. It's my favorite chicken sandwich ever. If I ever time-travelled back to the 1980's, hitting the Hardee's drive-thru would be a serious priority. 

* Never look a gift Runza in the mouth. When Southpark Mall first opened their food court, one of the first restaurants to open was Runza, the Nebraska-based fast-food mainstay. It was also one of the first to close. Maybe the idea of loose meat and cabbage stuffed into a bread roll was too radical for our fragile Illinois palates. I never tried Runza when it here, despite the pleadings of my Nebraska-born best friend. But when I found myself out west last year, I drove past a Runza and gave it a shot. Turns out those weird little sandwiches are delicious and I never knew it.

* But just thinking of the late great food court at Southpark makes me roll a tear for my most-missed Quad City fast food of all: Steak Escape. I can't tell you how many times I made Southpark runs just as an excuse to swing by their tiny piece of food court real estate. Their sandwiches were great (it's tough to screw up a Philly cheesesteak,) but they weren't the stars of the show. I will stand atop ANY soapbox and proclaim to the world that Steak Escape has the best fries in the business. Fresh-cut Idaho potatoes obliterated in peanut oil to a golden crisp that probably shortens life spans but lengthens human joy. Man, I miss those fries. Like Runza, Steak Escapes still exist out there somewhere, just not the Quad Cities. Maybe I need a fast food break -- as in, let me take a break from work so I can travel the country eating fast food.

So thank you, Taco Bell, for returning your glorious Mexican Pizza and healing our broken nation. It may be the only thing keeping us from full-on anarchy (at least, until the next time the McRib returns.) 

Friday, April 29, 2022

COLUMN: Fictosexuality

The other day, I called someone out who posted a culturally insensitive comment online. I didn't go "full Karen" as the kids say, but I simply commented something like "yikes" on a tweet they REALLY should've thought twice about before posting. The next time I logged on, I discovered that person replied by calling me a member of "the woke mob."

I'm not even sure what the "woke mob" even is. If you've ever caught me at the start of a work day, you could likely call me a bunch of things -- but trust me, "woke" wouldn't be the first adjective that comes to mind.

Not that I don't care, but social justice has never really been my bag. I'm too shy and awkward to raise my voice, I'm too fat and lazy to march anywhere, and I can easily get irritated by riled-up and passionate people on EITHER side of the political fence. Plus, I don't want to live in a world where poking good-natured fun at something can get you cancelled. If there's one thing the world needs these days, it's good-natured fun. 

The most "woke" I ever get is one simple credo:

If you're cool with me, I'm cool with you. I don't give a fig what color your skin is, which god(s) you fancy, what gender you are, or who you prefer to get freaky-deaky with. Just don't be a jerk, and we'll get along great.

But occasionally a line in wokeness must be drawn. I think I just found it in a recent article.

Have you heard about Akihiko Kondo? He's a 38-year-old guy in Japan who's having problems in his marriage. I can safely say that's a bummer. It's never good to hear about someone suffering marital strife. Thankfully, there are counselors and therapists to help couples through rough patches in their wedded bliss. Whew, right? 

Except Kondo's wife isn't cooperating. She's unable to attend marriage counseling -- because she isn't real.

Kondo's "wife" is Hatsune Miku, a computer-generated cartoon pop singer popular in Japan. You see, Kondo identifies as "fictosexual" -- a growing branch of sexuality (with its own flag, of course,) signifying someone who is sexually attracted to fictional characters. 

Don't worry, it gets weirder.

Hatsune Miku is a popular fictional creation who sings, dances, and even once appeared in hologram form as the opening act for Lady Gaga on one of her Japanese tours. Back in 2017, Japan unveiled a home entertainment device called Gatebox that allowed users to interact and converse with their favorite CGI hologram cartoon characters. In a marketing stunt, the company even offered marriage certificates for their holograms. With the right software upgrade, you could propose to the hologram of your choice, they would giggle and say yes, and presumably this is considered good usage of one's time.

Kondo took them at their word, and was wed to Miku the following year -- in a lavish real-world ceremony that cost around $18,000. His family elected NOT to attend (there's a shocker,) but some sixty other people DID, including friends, strangers, and Kondo's local member of parliament -- who must have been REALLY desperate to court the ever-important local fictosexual voting block. Also of note, Kondo didn't ask me to DJ the reception, which is a huge bummer because I'd pay good money to see a bunch of holograms doing the Cha-Cha Slide and Hokey Pokey.

Wedded bliss for Kondo lasted three years until a communications problem occurred in their relationship. This is probably because the software company opted to shut down Gatebox. Kondo's wife was discontinued overnight, and probably sits somewhere in cyberspace right now, hanging out with other outmoded software. I'd like to think she's chilling out on a beach somewhere with Clippy and Jeeves as I type. 

There's a limit to my ability to be accepting of different sexual preferences -- and I'm pretty sure that limit is the point when you announce that you're married to a cartoon. To each their own preferences, I guess. You can prefer to label yourself a fictosexual all you want, but I'm afraid I prefer to label you as crazypants. 

Maybe I'm just jealous. Perhaps there's some deep, dark fictosexual part of my soul that yearns to be betrothed to the Road Runner or something. (Admittedly, it'd probably be a fast wedding and super easy to shop for, considering the only things on our registry would be anvils and road-colored paint.) But I think I can safely cross fictosexuality off my list of future experimentations -- unless someone can guarantee that Joey Potter from Dawson's Creek would leave Pacey for me if I popped the question.  

In the meantime, I'm mighty sleepy and think it's about time to stop being woke. 

Friday, April 22, 2022

COLUMN: Coachella

I write this fully self-aware that I'm heading dangerously into fuddy-duddy territory.

I've never had respect for anyone who mocks younger generations simply because they don't like the same things. Anytime a fad comes along, there's always some out-of-touch elder statesman waiting in the wings to tear it to shreds. The other day, I was reading a review of the excellent debut album from the band Wet Leg. Sure enough, in the comments was a guy asking, "What happened to good music like Nirvana?" Well, in Nirvana's day, there were people saying, "What happened to good music like Motley Crue?" In Motley Crue's era, there were people saying, "What happened to good music like Led Zeppelin?"

It's a never-ending chain. In 1791, I bet there were people saying Mozart was terrible noise and wondering aloud what happened to good music like Bach.

Not me. I vowed long ago to forever be hip, accepting, and always appreciative of whatever new trends might come along. I may be about to eat those words.

This past weekend, I watched several hours of the livestream from California's annual Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. For years now, Coachella has been the gold standard of music festivals, drawing in fans and artists from across the globe. As a musician, just getting asked to play Coachella is a high honor -- it means you're the coolest of the cool, critically lauded and unconditionally loved by the most discerning of music fans.

Coachella was streaming live on Youtube all last weekend -- and out of curiosity, boredom, and more than a little bit of jealousy because one of my friends had flown out to attend, I tuned in. I can now officially say with all certainty: I don't understand today's kids.

Over the years, Coachella has seen amazing moments. Over 2400 different artists have graced the Coachella stage since 1999. It's where bands like Arcade Fire and the White Stripes became megastars. It's where Beyonce stole the show in 2018. It's where Daft Punk became the kings of dance. Everyone from Prince to Paul McCartney has taken the Coachella stage at some point. I watched hours of coverage this weekend -- and if an amazing moment happened, I must've been blinking.

I was hoping for musical brilliance. Instead, I got mostly lip-syncing and twerking. One of the most hyped acts on this year's line-up was Brazilian pop icon Anitta. In Latin America, she's an icon and one of the most influential celebrities in the world. She wasn't even trying to hide her pre-recorded vocals. At times, she'd drop the microphone completely away from her face, but the vocals just kept right on going.

On another stage, Kim Petras was essentially singing pornography aloud. On the third stage, some mumble rapper was telling the world what he thought about police (spoiler: he's not a fan.) Memorable tunes were few and far between. It was mostly just an assortment of beautiful people dancing around on autopilot to backing tracks, devoid of originality and enthusiasm.

The pinnacle of it all was an act called Emo Night, a pair of L.A. club promoters known for their throwback dance parties. For their stage set, that's exactly what they did. They'd play someone else's record, dance around, and then get on the mic and tell the crowd "we're bad DJs" before pressing play on another record. Seriously? This is entertainment nowadays? I'm pretty sure even bottom-line Coachella tickets cost over $400. I can stay home and press play on my own stereo for a lot less money -- AND I'd do a better job at it.

It wasn't all bad. Filipino singer/songwriter Beabadoobee played a set so good I promptly downloaded her entire discography. Arcade Fire made an unannounced appearance that proved they're still one of the greatest live acts around. Fred Again was the breakout star of the dance tent. And Saturday night was headlined by Billie Eilish, who really is the best popstar in the world right now.

Everything hit home when Eilish brought out surprise guest Damon Albarn mid-set. Albarn's a hero from MY era, who spent the 90s fronting the seminal Britpop band Blur. My friends and I once chased Blur back to their hotel just to get autographs and (sadly no pun intended) blurry pics. When Albarn jumped onstage, it happened. Without even thinking, I said out loud, "Man, what happened to good music like Blur?" 

I broke my solemn vow. Worse yet, the livestream also had a chat window, where thousands of music fans were commenting in real time. I looked in the chat, expecting to see dozens of people going, "Oh, wow, Damon Albarn! Cool!!" Instead, I saw 20 comments along the lines of: "Who's the old dude?" "Wow, is that Billie's DAD?" "This old guy sucks."

They may as well have been talking about ME. I fear the pop culture zeitgeist may have set sail and left me ashore. But if this festival is the kind of stuff I'm missing out on, I might be better off on dry land. Maybe I'm becoming one of those old fuddy-duddies forever stuck in their bygone musical era, but I guess that's fine. My era has a way better soundtrack. 

Friday, April 15, 2022

COLUMN: Asian Jumping Worms

Welp, that was a fun outdoors season, 2022. I guess we'll give it another shot next year.

For me, spring is magical for exactly however many days it takes to spot my first bee of the season. From then on, you can find me indoors patiently waiting for first frost. Sadly, yesterday I stepped out of my car only to be immediately dive-bombed by some stupid bee. I'd love to tell you I played it cool. I'd love to tell you I didn't make a noise like "nyaaaaaaahh" while fleeing. I'd love to tell you I'm not an idiot.

I hate bugs and snakes and spiders and toads and, well, pretty much anything that roams the earth other than (a) cats, (b) a select number of dogs, and (c) an even more select number of human beings. I realize that creepy crawlies are a vital part of our ecosystem and usually have no interest in people whatsoever. I don't care. Nature is majestic and breathtaking and a wonder to behold, and that's why God put windshields on my car so I can see it from a climate-controlled habitat. Two years ago, I discovered I'd been unknowingly co-existing most of the year with a massive wasp nest on the side of my house. I still feel violated.

Every year, there's some new nature panic thrust upon us. It might be ticks and mosquitos carrying a variety of assorted cooties. The next year, it's cicadas that only come 'round every 17 years. Then it's murder hornets. Well, I just read about this year's plague, and it sounds delightful.

Just when you thought it was safe to step outside, I give you: amynthas agrestis, aka the ASIAN JUMPING WORM, this year's invasive threat du jour. They're expected to be in fifteen U.S. states this year, including Illinois and Iowa. Can't wait. 

Scientists and ecologists have been worried about Asian jumping worms for some time due to their overconsumption of leaf litter and ability to disrupt the growth cycle of seedlings and wildflowers. I'm worried about Asian jumping worms because of the word JUMPING. Until now, worms and I have lived peacefully in a symbiotic detente wherein I promise not to step outside at 5 a.m. to smoosh them and in return, THEY NEVER LEARN HOW TO JUMP. Someone just broke their contract.

Truth be told, jumping worms can't actually jump. According to experts at Cornell University, they got their name "from their tendency to thrash about when touched." Neat. As difficult as it will be to resist my natural urge to pet as many worms as possible, I guess I'll just have to learn self-control this year.  

The same article says you can easily spot Asian jumping worms by "looking for their milky white clitellums," which most certainly sounds like something you should be jailed for. I have an extensive and rigorously tested list of enjoyable time-wasting activities in my life, but examining worm clitellums has sadly never made the cut. 

Apparently Asian jumping worms also leave behind a tell-tale sign: "Upon infestation, the surrounding ground will appear grainy." Wanna know why? Because you're no longer looking at dirt; you're looking at worm poo. That's right, one adult jumping worm eats 2-3 times their body weight in soil every day and, erm, deposits it right back from whence it came as what scientists politely call "castings." The politeness of scientists is likely also the only reason we don't call these things "Asian pooping worms."

The GOOD news is that if your yard has become infested with these terrors, there's a solution (literally). The Alleghany Front recommends that you simply spritz your yard with a "mustard solution." Apparently the mustard irritates jumping worms and "helps bring them to the surface for picking." Wait, so the mustard doesn't even kill these things? It just MAKES THEM MAD? So now I'll have a yard full of angry thrashing poop monsters that I'm expected to harvest AND I'm also now out of mustard? I still have to TOUCH these unholy things and not even get to enjoy a tangy charcuterie board afterwards? Hard pass.

But here's the creepiest bit: According to EVERY article I just skimmed, the best way to rid your yard of Asian jumping worms is to gather as many of the offending invaders as possible and then - I kid you not - "place them in a bag and leave them in the sun for ten minutes." What kind of world are we living in? The best way to dispose of these pests is some kind of serial-killer death-sauna suffocation fantasy? What happened to simply smooshing them? Well, as it turns out, if you smoosh an Asian jumping worm, the NON-smooshed part will simply slither off and grow itself right back.

So mock me all you want for hating nature. I feel fully justified in avoiding a creature that thrashes around eating three times its body weight while respawning itself if you try to kill it. If buddying up with these nightmare factories is your idea of summer fun, have at it. I'll wave to you from the air conditioning.


Friday, April 08, 2022

COLUMN: Ring Light

Teenagers of the world, I owe you a big apology.

For years, I have been ruthlessly mocking you and your strange cyber-social ways. I get it now. I'm impressed.

Hate-watching TikTok videos is my not-so-secret shame, and I reckon the only thing worse than watching these stupid videos is being one of the people who makes them. Every time I feel like my life is unraveling, I can feel better about myself by watching idiots make fools of themselves online. But then I realize these idiots have millions of followers and probably make more money doing lame hip-hop dances than I'll bring in all year.

"Social media influencer" is now considered respectable work experience on a resume. Kids who started out filming themselves playing video games now have production empires, movie deals, and reality film crews documenting their every move, because apparently the world also needs to know HOW you make your lame lip-sync videos.

The thing is: I kinda need to know how they make their lame lip-sync videos.

There's a new trend online I can finally get behind: live-streaming DJs. Every night, if you go on platforms like Twitch and TikTok, you can find hundreds of DJs mixing live over the internet from basements across the globe, playing whatever they fancy, mixing it up until the wee hours. And when they go to bed, DJs on the other side of the planet are just firing up. As you're reading this right now, there's dozens of basement DJs live-streaming for fun this very minute.

Some people could stumble onto a fad like this and just enjoy it. When I stumble onto something like this, I watch for 4 minutes before declaring, "I WANT TO DO THIS."

It seems like great fun, and any excuse to mix records is awesome in my book. Best of all, I've been seeing other DJs my age on there. I've found a couple of grey-haired streamers who play nothing but the old club music I grew up on. I hardly ever get the chance to bust out some of those dusty basement jams that've been patiently waiting for their moment to shine again. I need in on this streaming thing.

BUT I have no earthly idea how one live-streams. I'm a music geek, not a tech geek. There was a time when people would turn to me for help with their computers, but that time was 1986. These days, my technical expertise consists of knowing where the power button is, how to reboot if things get squirrely, and how to curse loudly if things get SUPER squirrely. I've been doing a lot of cursing this week.

I guess I thought live-streaming would be as easy as pointing a phone at yourself and pressing a button. Trust me, it's not.

Not knowing what to do, I turned to my buddy Cooper, whose trade-off for being my friend is that he gets weird late-night calls from me saying I want to be the world's next streaming sensation. I couldn't tell if he rolled his eyes or not, but I can probably guess.

"What kind of gear do I need?" I asked him.

All I heard in reply were some furious mouseclicks. "There," he said after 30 seconds, "I just ordered everything you need. It'll be here tomorrow. You owe me fifty bucks."

My basement now looks like the world's lamest movie set. I have webcams on tripods. I have one of those ridiculous ring lights that's supposed to somehow make me look less hideous. Cords and cables are running everywhere. I don't even know yet if my home internet will be fast enough for such an endeavor. My cats are horribly confused.

Worst of all, you can't even livestream on TikTok until you get a minimum of 1000 followers, and I currently have 52. I've got a ways to go and a steep learning curve to get there.

So I'm no longer mocking kids who spend their days lip-syncing for followers online. Those videos might look silly, but they're hard work. I've spent two weeks buried in equipment and tutorials and have to date filmed 0:00 seconds of my awesome DJ skills. Whitney was right: the children ARE our future. But if they could scoot over JUST enough to let in a fat old guy with some records, that'd be swell. 

Friday, April 01, 2022

COLUMN: Toilet Oscars

I'm gonna reckon 98.4% of you are expecting me to write about Will Smith. Heck, I would expect me to write about Will Smith.

It's only been a few days, but I think every joke has already been told. I'm not sure what I can add to the conversation, other than the ridiculously obvious assertion that smacking people is wrong -- and if you can't figure out THAT on your own, you might need more help than my little column can ever provide. By the time this prints, I hope the Oscars news cycle will be past its sell-by date and smelling a little rotten.

Good thing, then, that I can fall back on my specialty: toilet humor. Let's just say Will Smith wasn't the only one with a potty-mouth this weekend.

A few days earlier, I had been in my bathroom, doing what one does in their bathroom, when something seemed amiss. I went to flush the toilet and instead of the friendly "kersploosh" noise, all I was heard was the dull clang of flusher against porcelain. I'm no plumber, but I know that's no good.

I carefully displaced the four dusty bottles of seldom-used hair conditioner and 1-3 assorted cats perched on the back of my toilet and removed the lid. "Yep," I thought to myself, "that's the inside of a toilet, alright." Thus concludes the extent of Shane's plumbing knowledge.

But I'm an intelligent person. I should be capable of analysis, troubleshooting, and a fundamental understanding of gravity. After several minutes of careful examination, the problem was clear. Obviously, the flushamajig doohickey was broken. 

Let me explain it in technical terms. When you push the flusher dealy, it makes the little flappy-whatzit raise up, which allows water to kersploosh into the bowl, sending your shameful anatomical gobbledygook back to the bowels of hell where it belongs. At the same time, the flushamajig doohickey refills the tank until the little floatamabobber reaches the top.

Except my tank wasn't refilling. Instead of water flowing into the tank, it was dripping very slowly out the side of the doohickey while making a noise not unlike a teakettle wanting badly to explode. This is not how toilets are supposed to behave.

Thankfully, I have an amateur plumber on permanent retainer named Dad. It took longer for me to explain how to use Facetime on his iPhone than it did for him to diagnose the problem. "Yeah, you need a new [I've already forgotten what the actual name of a flushamajig doohickey is.]"

Dad wanted to drive up and do it himself. But at some point, I need to learn basic life skills like doohickey maintenance and perhaps 51 will finally be the year I become an adult. Besides, I'd had a busy week and it looked like a bomb and/or 1-3 assorted cats had destroyed the house. I was handling this on my own.

And by "on my own," I meant watching 17 videos on Youtube and calling all my friends. It actually didn't seem too tough. I watched a video with a helpful guy telling me all I needed was a trusty bucket, a sponge, and a pair of pliers. I just had to go buy a replacement doohicky, a trusty bucket, a sponge, and a pair of pliers.

I walked into Menard's trying to remember everything I needed. I wasn't expecting to be ambushed by a helpful associate mere steps into the store. "Can I help you find anything today?" she said today in a cheery voice. Luckily, it turned out she was fluent in Idiot.

"Umm," I said sheepishly, "I need a flushamajig doohickey."

"Aisle 10," she replied without missing a beat. "Come on, I'll show you."

With her recommendations, I soon had everything I needed, along with four bottles of root beer, a container of pretzels roughly the size of a small Volkswagen, and a bottle of something called "Urine Destroyer" because when you own 1-3 assorted cats, there's always urine to destroy.

It may have taken a re-watch of that video, the help of a friend, and a handful of what can only be described as stress pretzels, but I'm proud to say I have a brand new functioning flushamajig, installed and ready just in time for a relaxing evening of watching celebrities beat each other up on national TV.

In the long run, I think my toilet was more entertaining.