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SHANE BROWN: Do you need a little color in your life?
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SHANE BROWN: Do you need a little color in your life?

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Shane Brown, classified advertising and columnist.

As I've mentioned in previous columns, it was NOT a terrific winter for yours truly.

Some scary health symptoms combined with some ill-advised self-diagnostics on the internet led me to believe I was on the brink of death. Suddenly faced with mortality, I decided the best course of action would be to hole up in my house, stop answering the phone, and essentially suffer a fear-induced breakdown. In retrospect, I can't say this was an optimal way to spend the holiday season. It was NOT, as the song promises, the most wonderful time of the year.

My journey into self-isolation and panic wasn't without its upside, though. Had it not been for my temporary descent into madness, I wouldn't have discovered my newest hobby. And I'm proud to say, on the grand list of time-wasting hobbies out there, this one might very well be the stupidest.

I have acquired a fondness for online coloring apps.

Coloring books were never a big thing for me as a kid. I owned a few, sure, but it wasn't an activity I ever yearned for. I was always too worried about coloring outside the lines, using the incorrect color, or having an ugly finished product.

Online coloring apps take away all those worries. In fact, they take away any ounce of creativity whatsoever.

The app I downloaded, "Happy Color," works in a familiar manner to those old-school coloring books of yore. Each day, you can download a new array of black-and-white images full of tiny numbers. Each number corresponds to a color on the accompanying color palette. To complete each picture, you highlight one of the numbered colors, find its match in the image, and simply tap on that area of the image to have it magically colorize.

One image can easily have over 1,000 of these numbered areas, so it can take hours to fully color in one image. There's no coloring outside the lines — the app won't let you. There's no using the wrong color — the app won't let you. You're just essentially matching the number from column A to the identical number in column B. It's just that column B happens to be a picture of a horse. Or a meadow. Or a horse in a meadow.

Essentially, Happy Color is little more than an excuse to waste hours furiously tapping on your phone for no real reason. It's ridiculous, it accomplishes nothing, and it's EXACTLY what I needed.

When you spend two months assuming you're moments from death, wasting hours furiously tapping on your phone for no real whatsoever is JUST what the doctor ordered. (Well, that and multiple colonoscopies.) But when I'm fooling with Happy Colors, for those few pleasant moments, I can switch my brain off and worry about nothing more than finding the right shade of blue.

It's cathartic and calming and centering. And a bit crazy.

"Happy Color" prides itself on its wide variety of images, and they're not exaggerating. There must be thousands in all, and they add new images daily. Last time I opened the app, there was a pic of a cat. And a motorcycle. And a saxophone. Oh, and a picture of a wide-mouthed bald woman with razor-sharp teeth glaring psychotically at a terrified rat. Wait, what?

I'm all for variety, but this image could give ME nightmares, let alone some hapless little kid. Only later did I discover it's a still image from "The Witches," a recent film adaptation of the popular children's novel by Roald Dahl. This makes perfect sense, because Dahl is an author whose literary canon is full of Willy Wonkas and Giant Peaches and is basically a nightmare factory for children. This is, after all, the same man who once turned an innocent girl into a hideous blueberry monster, all for the unspeakable crime of... chewing gum? I know nothing about Roald Dahl's children, but I reckon they were terrified into some seriously good manners.

Yesterday, I opened "Happy Color" to find an image of... well, I'm not even really sure WHAT it's supposed to be. It's an elephant. Specifically, it's an elephant standing upright on an urban street corner. More specifically, the elephant appears to be having some kind of unspeakable romantic liaison with the side of a building. I know no other way to explain it. My friend thinks maybe the elephant is meant to be hiding and peering out from around the corner of the building. But I spent WAY too long coloring that image, and it sure looks more bawdy to me. No time is a good time for pachyderm pornography. I'm beginning to wonder if the artists of "Happy Color" get out of the house less than I do.

Oh, and if you think coloring these photos is a stress reliever, think again. The game won't let you complete an image until you've colored in every single space. And, invariably, as you reach the end, there will always be some teeny tiny uncolored sliver that can take FOREVER to find. So it's all quite charming and relaxing until you get to the end, when you have to play an agonizing round of "Where's Waldo" hunting for that last elusive uncolored piece.

Of course, the app offers hints to the location of the uncolored pieces, but to view the hints, you have to sit through a 60-second ad for some other time-wasting app. Frankly, I'd rather be turned into a hideous blueberry monster than suffer through one more ad for Crazy Birds.

Honestly, though, I love this utterly stupid app, and I can't recommend it enough. It is the video game equivalent of "just take a second to breathe." If you're having a tough time making it through these (hopefully) last days of the pandemic, I feel your pain. Trust me, I've been there. But maybe things aren't as bad as you think. Maybe you just need a little color in your life.

 

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