Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Top Fives of the Decade: TV Shows

My #4 most successful friend — Hollywood hotshot Sarah Kucserka — recently posted a "Top 10 TV Shows of the '00s" missive on Facebook that I won't even try to compete with. Shamefully, I've probably only seen two of the shows on her list anyway. (Less shameful is that the list was littered with teen dramas, so I don't feel that bad.)

I can't compete with Sarah for many reasons, not least because I've never been a paid writer on a hit network TV show. Also bear in mind: we have basic cable; we don't have Tivo or a DVR; hell, I've never even paid for a television. Our current model — the biggest we've ever owned, at 27 decidedly non-flat, non-HD inches — is a hand-me-down from someone who moved to New York two years ago.

Still, I’ve watched the magic movie box enough in the past ten years to have formed a useless opinion on the subject, which I'm happy to share with you!

Top Five TV Shows 2000-2009

5. The O.C. - I know, I know... believe me, I know. It doesn't change the fact that we kind of loved this show and its dramatic but comically self-aware approach to a ridiculous genre. It didn't take itself too seriously (unlike, say, Dawson's Creek, One Tree Hill, etc.), and it was one of the first teen soaps to successfully focus on the adult story lines as well — which were kind of awesome. Plus, Seth Cohen.

4. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart - From thought-provoking, even confrontational conversations, to sharp, witty editorials, to joyfully silly humor, this nightly display of genius is pretty much the only reason I pay for cable. Ok, and Red Sox baseball. You can have everything else.

3. 24 - There was a time when Jack Bauer ruled our lives. Everything stopped for 24; it was so intense, we couldn't get through an episode without drinking a couple of glasses of wine to calm our nerves. By Season 5, though, it began to feel just a little forced; Season 6 was a total letdown. And while I never even made it through Season 7, I'd still be willing to give it another try... for Jack.

2. 30 Rock - Nothing makes me laugh like this show. Like the Simpsons at its best, the jokes are so layered, and so fast — and sometimes so outrageous — that you can't even appreciate them entirely in one sitting.

1. LOST - There isn't much I can say about this show that hasn't been said on 3,000 other sites already. If they can pull off the ending (and I love that they came right out and declared an end to the series — the X-Files would have benefited from that approach back in the day — it may go down as one of, if not the, best television series ever made.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Top Fives of the Decade: Gigs

It's extremely hard for me to fathom that the 2000's are coming to a close. I mean, I've barely accepted that the nineties are over, much less this decade. Plus, it was unquestionably one of the most action-packed ten years I'll ever experience, both universally and personally. A helluva ride! (I just wanted to use "helluva.")

I find lists and statistics to be a helpful coping mechanism in times like this. So, as the decade winds down, let's tally it up, top five style. Since I'm playing a show this Saturday (hey, you should come!) we'll begin with...

Top Five Gigs 2000-2009

5. McGovern’s - Gorey, Co. Wexford, Ireland (7/29/05)
Playing in my namesake town in Ireland was even more of a treat than I thought it would be. The other musicians were terrific — is there anyone in Ireland who can’t sing? — and the fans who frequented the place were real music lovers.

4. Wirstrom's Pub - Stockholm, Sweden (1/3/05)
I never knew I had such a following* in Sweden until I played in the cavernous stone bowels of this very old (1500s) medieval-feeling pub. If they had paid me in grog, I wouldn’t have been that surprised.

3. The Burren - Somerville, MA (9/25/05)
This was my first show after a glorious summer in Ireland, and I’m pretty sure I was still beaming. It felt good to be home in front of a huge crowd of friends and family, and after a summer spent busking in the streets of Galway virtually every day, I don’t think I’ve ever been a more comfortable or polished performer.

2. Club Rare - New York, NY (9/17/04)
A pretty amazing night: while we made our full-band debut in New York City, the Red Sox were also in town, playing the Yankees — and foreshadowing good things to come with a stolen 9th-inning victory against Mariano Rivera. Tons of friends made the trip down with us, and watching an absolute throng of people sing along with “The Scarlet Letter” — in New York City! — was one of the highlights of my musical career.

1. Lizard Lounge (Indeed! CD Release) - Cambridge, MA (7/22/04)
My favorite gig of all time was actually at the same venue as this weekend’s show. For someone who doesn’t create much in the way of tangible objects, there’s something very cool about seeing, holding, and sharing a real CD that you made, with your name and your music on it; it’s corporeal, permanent proof of your efforts. Plus, it was packed, with all the people I care about in attendance**, and the vibe was so intimate I could hear every voice singing along (and even harmonizing) with the “Streetcorner Song.” And that’s the single most incredible thing to me about being a musician: hearing other people sing a song you wrote. It never, ever gets old, or any less special.

* Ok, it’s not really a following; in truth, I just have lots of friends who married Swedish girls.
** This is not to say that if you weren’t there, I don’t care about you. I do, really. Just not as much as if you had turned up for the show. :)  I keeed, I keeeed!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Going places

I really loved the commercials for Bing, Microsoft's newish search engine, when they came out. Except... it's hardly a "decision engine," as advertised. It's just another search engine — and not even a particularly good one, based on my limited experience with it — only with pictures.

Somewhere along the way I signed up for their travel deal alerts — actually, I think it's because they bought out, the site that tracked airfare prices to let you know if they were rising or falling — and now they send me Bing Travel Deals from Boston.

And every week, it's a different version of the same three stupid deals, to the same three stupid places: Orlando, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas. Bing: it's not a deal when these destinations are always cheap. Moreover, if I don't absolutely have to, I really don't want to go to LA, or Las Vegas, or Orlando, pretty much ever. I don't care if it's a last minute deal, or a weekend deal, or a desert doorbuster deal or what.

Bing did finally help me to make one decision though: unsubscribe!

In other news, the rumors are true: I'm coming out of retirement, although I'm pretty sure I wasn't retired, to play at the always awesome Lizard Lounge in Cambridge a week from Saturday, with the Rationales, the Future Everybody, and Scarce. I'll be playing some of the songs to your left, and debuting a brand new one to boot. Things start at 8:30pm, and tickets are 8 bucks — it'd be great to see you there!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

That's (not) what I call Christmas

So we've got the ol' wintry mix heaving down upon us today. What a crock. I'll admit, I'm not ready for a full-on snowstorm, but it doesn't mean I want to be drizzled with frozen mush droppings all day. Gross!

Anyway, over the weekend we picked up our Christmas tree, decorated, bought some presents, and sat by the fire with the house all aglow... I'm officially in the spirit. I love Christmas. Honestly, I (somewhat unconsciously) sing carols all year long. Every day — even during the summer — at some point, I have a Christmas carol in my head.

But you know which decorations I'm not that into, for any holiday? Those blow-up lawn characters. I'm not some Grinch or Scrooge or cranky Republican or anything — in fact I think they're kinda fun when they're inflated — but when they're not on? Well, see below... it looks like Al Pacino just mowed down Santa and his peeps with an assault rifle, or perhaps an overworked elf went postal. A grizzly scene!

Some lights and presents around the tree are Christmas enough for me!

Friday, November 20, 2009

I'll make you millions

I am, and always have been*, a Mac guy. This should come as no surprise — anyone who does anything remotely creative for a living typically works in a Macintosh environment. It's just the way it is. Using Adobe software on a PC is about as fun as, well, using Internet Explorer on a Mac.

Around November of 2004, I bought a few shares of Apple stock. (Literally, three or four shares. I am not a big-time investor!) I'd always loved their computers, and now it seemed other people were finally catching on — plus the iPod had taken off in a dominating way; I was even getting one for Christmas.

When I got my iPod... well, I certainly loved it. But I also thought it could have been better. Apple isn't perfect, and in my book they've often been guilty of over-simplifying things, sometimes to the user's detriment. In the case of the iPod? There was no freaking "off" button! You had to push the play button and something else simultaneously, which you wouldn't know until you read the instructions. Is it that big a deal? Hardly. But at the time I thought it was just one more example of Apple getting too cutesy in the name of minimalist design. Turning off is the second most basic function a device can perform; simplify somewhere else.

And so, in mid-January, I sold my shares in some sort of vain protest, perhaps thinking something as anti-prescient as, "This'll never catch on." I think I sold them at like $65 a share... later in the year, the stock would split; now, even after a crushing recession, AAPL is sitting around $200.

Later in 2005, that minimalist iPod and a pair of 20 euro speakers would serve as both the house stereo system and a 5-ounce, 1,000+ CD library in our Galway flat — off button or no off button!

Sorry, Apple, I blew it!

* Actually, in high school, my brother — who was the production manager for a small magazine called Antique Radio Classified — taught me to use the cutting edge desktop publishing software of the day on our circa 1990 PC. For awhile, I was a pro on like, the very first version of Aldus Pagemaker; to this day I swear the extra layout pizzaz got me better grades on term papers!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

"The bouquet is reminiscent of connoisseur, with notes of hobo."

Tonight is the semi-annual "Wine Experience" at Blanchard's in Jamaica Plain (a more appropriate name would be the "Million Wine Tasting"). They have about 20 tables set up, one for each of their wine reps, and each rep has five or six wines that they distribute. You get to taste and savor them all, from smooth $8 malbecs you can take home (at a 20% discount no less) to $70 cabernets that you'll never get to taste again. You even get a booklet at the beginning that describes what you'll find at each table, with space for your own notes — which, after sampling several dozen reds, you'll need.

The funny thing is that, well... as much as it's a classy event, it's still a booze-soaked free-for-all. There are insufferable pretentious types roaming the store, casting judgment and hogging the tables, and there are wasted college kids that stagger out after hitting all 20 tables in 20 minutes. The last time we went, we tried to find a happy medium between the two, aiming to sound knowledgeable and sophisticated (not to mention sober) enough to pass for decent members of society. We pulled it off for awhile. It's fun — it's like acting! — but really, who are we kidding? I drink plenty of Trader Joe's Three Buck Chuck, and it tastes just marvelous to me. I just enjoy sampling lots of wine, and if I have to throw around some booze buzzwords to make it happen, so be it.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Getting audited

Yesterday, we got audited — but in a good, non-IRS kind of way.

If you're a National Grid (or NStar) customer, you can get a free energy audit through MassSave thanks to what I imagine is some government- or state-funded program. The guy was wicked nice, and he inspected the entire house — including basement, walls, attic, etc. — for insulation (or lack thereof) and places where we might be losing heat, and then, for free, installed CFL light bulbs throughout both apartments — must have been like 15 of them — and a new water-saving shower head. He even offered to install door sweeps. And again — it was all free!

Afterward, you get a cool print-out of all your expected savings and information about the sundry rebates and no-interest loans available for energy-saving improvements.

I do wonder — this has to be some kind of racket, right? It's never made sense to me that National Grid would want to encourage you how to use less electricity unless the government is making it worth their while. But they must really pay out — because footing the bill for an independent auditor to spend an entire morning at your house, installing some $150 worth of stuff, for the sole purpose of getting you to purchase less of their product — forever! — wouldn't make for a very good business model otherwise, right?

Plus, a nonprofit like MassSave makes out, with plenty of audits to perform for customers who wouldn't otherwise pay for one. (Would they even be in business if it weren't for this program?) The guy was very nice, professional, and totally unaffiliated with the utility company — so he wasn't trying to push us into converting to natural gas or anything, just calculating what savings there might be if we did (turned out, not nearly as much as I expected). So again... either the government is forcing them to do this to stay in business, or National Grid is getting some crazy-ass tax break to offset the cost. Or is it possible they're just trying to foster an eco-friendly image?

Either way, if you qualify, I would totally recommend taking advantage of the service. I mean come on: free light bulbs!

One last plug for Mother Earth: if you're a National Grid electric customer, you can opt in to their Green Up program and choose to receive either 50% or 100% renewable electricity. (In Massachusetts, it comes from small hydro plants and wind.) We do 100%, and the resulting peace of mind costs like $4 more per month — less than a stupid venti latte at Starbucks!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Fools in the Rain

On Saturday we went to a friend's wedding at the Charlestown Navy Yard (outside the Commandant's House — class!). The all-day downpour was unfortunate, but it was still a good time.

It typically takes a (very scientific) combination of gin, tonic, and inspired music to get me out on the dance floor, even at a wedding. On Saturday night, without any gin on hand, it was Sam Octoberfest and the Killers' masterful "Mr. Brightside" that finally coaxed me out of my shell. After jumping around for awhile, Gina and I headed outside the tent to cool off.

While we were out on the lawn, Led Zeppelin's "Fool in the Rain" came on back in the tent. We both love that song, so we started dancing a bit, by ourselves. And when the breakdown part kicked in — you know the part — well, away from the crowd, in the murky post-rain moonlight... we started hippie dancing on the grass: spinning around, twirling and giggling like giddy collegiate stoners. It was so much fun. And it was one of those impenetrable moments of perfection that will forever help remind me why I'm so in love with my wife.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Top Five Thursday: Most Likely to Succeed

I'm not exactly successful by conventional standards. I mean, I earn less money now than I did three years ago... is taking a pay cut to sate your idealist nature one of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People? I can't imagine it is! But, by my own standards, I consider myself a success. I've been played on the radio. I've been published. I found love. I live by the ocean! These were all on the Master List. And if you had told me in college that one day I'd refuse offers of hundreds of dollars to play on St. Patrick's Day? I'd have flipped out.

However, I have some truly amazing friends — inspiring people who are successful not just by my standards, but by the rest of the world's, too. There are many more that deserve mention, but for now, here are my...

Top Five Most Successful Friends:

5. Andrea Tompkins
Not long ago, Andrea was just like you or me, working away at a nonprofit in Boston. Then she went to law school in D.C., whence she landed a crazy-ass internship at a firm in London — that paid more than my last two jobs combined (yep, internship). Said firm not only hired her on full-time this year, but paid for her to move to London, paid for a temporary flat, and of course took care of all her visa stuff. And while studying for the bar exam this summer, she also managed to, y'know, travel to Southeast Asia and Japan and attend a wedding in Prague. That, my friends, is success!

4. Sarah Kucserka
Sarah went to Syracuse with us, but hated all of our sports teams (and graduated early, I think just to spite the Orange!). After graduation, she made a name for herself in L.A., eventually landing a gig writing for ABC's Ugly Betty. How awesome is that? Now she's distorting impressionable young minds, writing for the racy, Gossip Girl-esque web series Private, based on the best-selling teen novels. I'll confess, I haven't actually watched it yet (mostly because I'm not a 13-year-old girl).

3. Meredith Goldstein
A longtime arts and entertainment writer for the Boston Globe, Meredith has interviewed just about every movie star who's passed through Boston. Then, last year she got tapped to write Love Letters, a blog that takes the old daily advice column into the 21st century... and it blew up big-time. What's more, she gives really good advice!

2. Will Dailey
My good friend Will is one of the finest songwriters I've ever met or, frankly, heard. He worked his butt off for years — now he's finally getting national attention, playing music for a living — even getting free guitars, amps, and other gear just for being him. He's performed on CSI:NY, the Early Show, and (below) the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson:

He's yet to make the jump to lightspeed, so to speak. But who knows, he could potentially even eclipse our #1 (in fact he already tops this list in Googlefight).

1. Dennis Crowley
Still, there's a fair chance that my friend Dens might one day run Google. Our senior year roommate was always the smart, ambitious type. He transformed our (eventually-condemned) party house into a Saturday night money machine. He created a social networking site that incorporated mobile phones — years before Twitter — and sold it to Google. His latest creation, the iPhone app Foursquare, is quickly catching on. Every now and then, I randomly find a story about him in the New York Times; he even has his own tag on Gawker. It runs in the family, too: last year the Crowleys spent three days reigning Family Feud. In short, Dens is the most outrageously successful person I know!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Words and Music: Gray Blue Morning

The first people to ever hear this song were my wife-to-be and her friend Kerri, who were stopping by to check out our apartment on Comm Ave. I had just finished writing it and wanted to play it for someone. (Yeah, and so maybe I wanted to impress Gina, too, which makes me embarrassed. I was pretty smooth, let me tell ya.)

Anyway, I've always loved this song, even though it's kind of dark and melancholy. It was a dark and melancholy time — I'd just gotten back from a life-altering trip to Ireland, been laid off, and had no idea what to do with my life. I was writing a ton of music but had no money to record any of it. I desperately wanted to travel more, and had actually signed up for WWOOF in the UK & Ireland. Thankfully, Gina moved in shortly after, and I began driving her to work each morning, which made me feel worthwhile! (Yeah, that's pretty much all it takes. I just like to have a purpose.)

Gray Blue Morning
© 2004 by Jon Gorey

Oddball chords:
Em*: 075007
G6: 750700
Em7*: 075700
Am7*: 535000

Intro: Em* / G6 / Em7* / G6

[Em*] Nobody's home [G6] I'm feeling rotten
I [Em7*] turn off my phone so [G6] I can be forgotten
[Am7*] Every moment I feel [G6] I'm wasting away
[Am7*] Every moment, every [G] day
[Am7] Every morning I wake up [G/B] with nothing to say
[Am7] Every morning I feel [G] gray

Nighttime is here I feel entitled
To savour a beer a bosom in a bottle
Every night I think I might be living to die
Every night I wonder why
Every morning I wake up thinking of you
Every morning I feel blue

[C] Would it matter more if I didn't [G] care [Em] [G]
[C] I could be so sure if I wasn't [G] there [Em] [G]
[C] I could settle for your reasonable [G] doubt [Em] [G]
[C] Don't you say no more [D] I'll figure it [Em] out

Verse 2:
Curiously I can see my problems
Staring at me face up from the bottom
Every morning I would try to get out bed
When I could not lift my head
Sleeping to the sounds of words I never said
I should have lived I dreamed instead

[Am7] But every gray blue morning
[Bm] I feel my strength returning
[C] Like I might be made of [D] man
[Em] And now my blood is burning
[Bm] With every lesson learned and
[C] I'll do everything I [D] can

Last chorus:
[C] To make it matter more if I wasn't [G] there [Em] [G]
[C] I could be so sure if I didn't [G] care [Em] [G]
[C] Like a metaphor your reasonable [G] doubt [Em] [G]
[C] Don't you say no more [D] I've figured it [G] out

Monday, September 28, 2009

Sick Boy

Well, I can't fight it any longer. The sick has finally got me.

Oh, don't worry, I'm not swine flu sick or anything like that poor college kid. (Can you believe that? It's wicked sad. Whole campuses are like, infirm! It's mad. The first week of college should be the best week of your life, meeting hundreds of new people on equal footing, with a chance to define yourself on a blank slate. You should be exploring and conquering your new world, roaming from new class to new party with new friends — not in the sick bay. Poor kids.)

No, this is just that run of the mill cold you get when it's warm outside and then cold inside, and then it's cold outside, and then it's warm again and your body's tired of playing games so it just gives up. Plus everyone on the T has been hacking all over me for the last two weeks; it was bound to happen. And I got like, an hour of sleep last Wednesday night so that couldn't have helped things either!

But it didn't ruin our weekend or anything. (The Yankees took care of that all by themselves.) Our friends in J.P. threw a pretty fantastic BBQ during the open studios on Saturday. And the combination of an oncoming cold and Sunday's gloomy weather was all the justification I needed to laze about all day, reading and watching football and rainy-day television by the fire. Even though it was like, hot outside. We also baked a whole chicken (never done that before — came out pretty well! Except I had it in there upside down, whatever) so between the wood stove and the oven and the muggy day, our apartment was like a sweat lodge by 6pm. I think it helped.

Speaking of being sickly: despite a drop in support this year, Massachusetts residents still favor our mandatory health care system by a 2 to 1 margin, according to a poll by the Boston Globe and Harvard School of Public Health poll. I love this place.

And speaking of Massachusetts, we watched a couple episodes of HBO's John Adams miniseries over the weekend, too. It gets me all fired up! That South Carolina delegate really got under my skin; I guess things haven't changed all that much in 200+ years!

One last political note: looks like we'll have an interim US Senator to represent us after all, should a health care bill advance to a vote before January's special election. You can see a roll call of how your rep voted thanks to I was pretty surprised to find that my state representative, A. Steven Tobin (D), voted nay! I even wrote to him before the vote, urging him to honor the wishes of our late Senator Kennedy, not to mention our state's democratic majority. Guess who may have lost my vote in the next election?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Last Days of Summer

Saturday night, after a gorgeous day watching Will Dailey perform outdoors and savoring some Great Pumpkin Ale at the Cambridge Brewing Company, we finally returned home to a chilly house — and lit our first fire of the fall.

Summer, I barely knew ya.

Now, I'm a huge fan of fall; October is even my favorite month, by far. But between the second cloudiest June on record, my workaholic month of July, and our late August sojourn to the cool, damp, west coast of Ireland, I kind of feel like I missed out on summer. For the first time in years, I'm not quite ready for apple picking, or football, or sweaters.

I mean, I probably donned shorts all of a dozen times in the last three months! What happened?

Anyway, this post is actually about a book: Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger. Read it, and you will love it. It's hilarious, charming, and surprisingly beautiful. We met Mr. Kluger just last week at the Harvard Square "Bookish Ball," and I got him to sign a copy for my nephew, who's 8 years old and just beginning to develop what will likely be a lifelong love of baseball. I don't think he's ready for the book yet — there are far too many f-bombs for one thing! — but I cannot wait to give it to him when he's 10 or 11.

If you're a sentimental type, or if you love baseball, WWII-era history, or just good banter, pick up a copy and I promise you won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

So that was awesome

It's been a little over a week since we got back from Ireland. Gina and I promised ourselves we'd try to bottle (mentally) the inspiration and exhilaration we felt, to keep us going for awhile upon our return... it's lasted this long anyway, which is more than I expected!

In related news, I just took my first of 12 Irish fiddle lessons through Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éire, which was awesome. I'm so excited about this, and the timing of the class was serendipitous; I'm hoping I can keep my momentum going through the dreary Saturday mornings that are sure to lie ahead in November and December.

In more related news, I'm going to start playing out a little more (by a little more I mean more often than not at all, which has been the norm of late), so keep an eye out for upcoming shows. I'm officially inspired again. Thank you, Ireland!

We've got lots to catch up on. For starters:

The Pats
Last night during the Patriots' season opener, during the game-winning drive, the camera caught Tom Brady and he had That Look in his eyes. You know the look — it's not menacing, per se, but it's cold and determined and a little Terminator-esque (the good Terminator). It says, "I am a winning machine, and I'm going to win this game now." It was the first time I'd seen that look in over a year — and I hadn't realized just how much I missed Tom Brady until that moment. I feel confident again. About everything! That's the weird part. I even feel better about the Red Sox today, even though the two have nothing to do with each other. (Or do they? Until the Pats won that first Super Bowl, I didn't think a Boston team could, much less would ever win a championship again. Belichick and Brady saved Boston sports.)

The missus
Today is Gina's last day at work — her company shut down their Boston office. So if anyone out there needs an excellent editor with science and language arts experience (not to mention a lovely demeanor and adorable freckles), let me know!

Health Care Reform
To anyone who's all worked up about this (such as my very Republican parents): if you live in Massachusetts, universal health care is, in essence, already a reality. Over 94% of our residents are insured (compared to 85% nationally). There is a mandate to have insurance, and a penalty if you don't. There is a public option, and if I lost my job, I would not hesitate to use it. (And if it had existed in my mid-20s, I would have used it then, too, instead of drifting through portions of my freelance years irresponsibly uninsured.) Unlike many states, no one in Mass. is denied insurance for a pre-existing condition.

It's not perfect, and it's expensive. But no one has tried to euthanize you in the hospital. You still have the same doctor you used to. Your insurance plan is still the same, still mostly employer-paid, and your provider is still very much in business — making some pretty good profits, in fact — despite competition from the state plan. And while our health care costs are among the highest in the country... so is the cost of everything else here. Besides, you get what you pay for: the two best commercial health care plans in the entire US as ranked by U.S. News & World Report (Harvard Pilgrim and Tufts HMO) are right here in Massachusetts; so are two of the top 10 hospitals.

Anyway, even though they probably think this place is full of naive, insufferable liberals like their son, I'm grateful to my folks for raising me in this most progressive of states, the birthplace of the revolution. (I'm also grateful to my fellow Massholes for reliably drowning out the votes of the FOX News-infused.)

And speaking of politics...
I've been blogging for the Patriot Ledger/Wicked Local, about the mayor's race in Quincy. People are pretty fired up — one post garnered over 200 comments — who knew?! It's been fun learning about the history, local issues, and political passion in our new city. Anyway if you'd like to check it out, here's a link to all of my posts.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Cereal saved my childhood

Growing up, there was nothing exciting to eat in our house. There was no microwave popcorn or string cheese. There was no soda. There were no cookies, or Pop Tarts, or ice cream sandwiches. Once in a while there were plain potato chips — or on blessed, rare occasions, Doritos — left over if my parents had thrown a party.

Friends described our refrigerator as "full of nothing." It was always jammed to (or beyond) capacity — but with broccoli, onions, condiments, raw meats, plain yogurt (ick!), wheat germ, pungent cheese, olives, butter, random leafy things... nowadays that doesn't sound SO bad, but as a kid? There's really nothing you can do with that ingredient list.

The only thing that mattered to me in that bleak, crowded fridge, was the gallon of milk. Because when we went grocery shopping, I was allowed to pick out one box of junk cereal.

I can't overstate the importance of this decision. My choice would have to serve not only as my breakfast for the foreseeable future, but as my singular sugar fix — my after-school snack, my dessert, my candy, all in one.

And so cereal was a BIG deal to me. It still is. As a kid I would have eaten it at every meal given the chance; now, sometimes I do, because I can. (Growing up isn't all bad!) My dream job? To write and design the backs of cereal boxes.

So I've given a lot of thought to cereal over the years. And after careful consideration, I offer you my Top Five Sugar Cereals* of All Time.

5. Kellogg's Corn Pops
So good, so refreshing, and unique thanks to that glazed, squishy texture — there's no other cereal like it. Incidentally, Corn Pops in the UK is much different (took me aback at first!), more like hyper-sweetened Kix, but no less tasty.

4. Cap'n Crunch's Peanut Butter Crunch
Mmm, peanut butter. Sometimes you just crave it, don't you? Mix in some Cocoa Puffs and you're really talkin'. (I realize Reese's has done this, and quite well, but it's just not the same. Plus I won $100 in a "Find the Cap'n" contest when I was like 8 years old, making me a loyal customer for life.)

3. Honeycomb
Not only did Honeycomb give us one of the Great '80s Jingles, but it tastes great and you can eat like 14 bowls of it in a row because it's only just sweet enough. Plus the giant box makes you feel like you're getting a lot of bang for your buck.

2. Golden Grahams
Talk about just sweet enough! Golden Grahams walks the fine line between sugar cereal and legitimate breakfast with aplomb. The flavor is unique, the texture is fantastic, and there's no substitute.

1. Cookie Crisp
Nothing can top Cookie Crisp. I mean c'mon, it's like a chocolate chip cookie dipped in milk... over and over and over again. Yet it's not so sweet that you burn out on it, and the cookies get deliciously spongy as they grow soggier. Goodness... I salute you, Cookie Crisp! (Weirdly, this cereal is NEVER on sale. Ever. But you can get it on the cheap at Target.)

Honorable Mention:
Super Golden Crisp/Honey Smacks

Notable omissions:
Cinnamon Toast Crunch: I used to devour CTC, but after a bout of flu marked my breakfast "return to sender," I can't so much as think about it without feeling a little sick.

Apple Jacks/Fruit Loops: Two of my childhood standbys are just too sweet for me these days.

Booberry, Count Chocula, Lucky Charms, Alpha-Bits, etc.: The marshmallow thing never did it for me.

*For my purposes, a sugar cereal is defined as more than 1/3 sugar — so if a 29g serving has 10g of sugar, that's a sugar cereal. We'll do a top five regular cereal list too, if you promise to eat your vegetables.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I've been had!

Those sly rascals at Dunkin Donuts just up-sold me! For those of you not familiar with the shame and disillusionment associated with Excessive Buzzword Exposure, "up sell" is markety-speak for making me buy more than I was initially going to.

There's a big sign up by the register offering any number of wonderful treats — five munchkins, a raspberry danish, those toasted home fry things — for "just 99 cents" with any drink purchase.

"What a DEAL!" I exclaimed to myself. And I promptly added three chocolate and two cinnamon munchkins to my medium coffee. I had been prepared to buy 2-3 munchkins, because I wanted a little sugar rush — it's a big day here after all (I shouldn't even be writing this, but I'm about to crack, so give a fella a break, huh?) — which only cost 25 cents each. And yet the idea of five for a buck! So enticing! They got me to spend an extra 50 cents... and like it. I walked out feeling like they did me a favor!

Now that's good markety.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Wait, it's the All-Star Break Already?

So, like, we're in the middle of summer? When did that happen? What was this, the fifth nice day we've had since April? I'm way behind on my summer fun!

Anyway — let me just say that I love our president. And it feels great to say that.

Also, the Red Sox (and my fantasy team, for that matter) are somehow in first place as of the midsummer classic. It feels great to say that too!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

There Goes My Identity

Well, it finally happened — I woke up this morning with over a hundred dollars charged to my bank account from a random grocery store in Brooklyn, N.Y. That's just swell!

The amazing thing is I had a voicemail from Bank of America waiting to tell me about all this. They froze my account and everything before I even know it happened, and will reimburse me for the fraudulent charge. Good on them!

I'm thinking this is direct a result of running our Saturday night bar tab at J.J. Foley's on my debit card instead of a credit card (see where responsible money-management gets you?). Not that the bartenders would have done anything with the card, but at the end of the night I left the paid check in the leather billfold thing right on the bar, and the place was SLAM-crowded. We could barely squeeze ourselves to the exit. Who knows who could've yanked the receipt out of there, and sometimes (way too often, really) those credit card slips have all your card info on them, even the expiration date.

Gina's aunt and uncle actually ran into trouble with this years ago, where their bank info was stolen from a debit card receipt at a restaurant, and they lost like over a thousand bucks — of real money too, not credit card charges you can dispute. It turned out the waiters were selling receipts on the side for like $20 a pop. Since then they opened up a "going out" credit card with a maximum credit line of $400, so they can still use a card at restaurants, but if it's stolen the thief won't be able to tap their life's savings. Ingenious, no?

P.S. The guy in the photo is not an identity thief — well, as far as I know anyway! (Ha, poor guy. Sorry, dude, if you find this!) But his name is John Gorey, which means he may already be inadvertently stealing my web traffic, if not my persona.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Better Birthday Present

My wife's birthday is today (happy birthday, babe!), and as we were driving in to work this morning, the perfect birthday gift hit me... except, it was a little late for that. 

If I were a more awesome husband, with more (ok maybe some is the word) discretionary income, I would have secretly booked a trip to someplace fabulous for the weekend, sorted it out ahead of time with her coworkers and boss, packed a bag for her, and kept it all hush hush until we hit the exit ramp on I-93 where one lane goes to her office and the other one goes to Logan Airport. And I'd have just veered off toward the airport, giving her a little panic attack about how I finally did it, after all these trips I took the wrong turn and we're going to be late for work and oh my, and then I'd turn to her and say, "We're not going to work today!" 

Wouldn't it be great if I were more awesome?? Alas... I am not. I dropped her off at her office. Y'know, so she can earn the money to take us out to celebrate tonight, since I only have $6 and change in my account 'til payday. (What a deadbeat!) Maybe next year? 

P.S. I'm not a total dirtbag — I got her lots of thoughtful low-budget gifts that went over well. And I'll totally chip in for the tip tonight. :) 

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Sinking Ship

This article in the N.Y. Times details the latest textbook publishing vendor to collapse as the industry continues to flounder. It was a small shop in New York, and my alma mater Houghton Mifflin (ugh, fine, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), probably their biggest client, allegedly stopped paying them, so they stopped paying their employees. More likely, they just weren't paying them quickly enough.

That's sort of what happened when I worked at ill-fated Publicom, Inc., a vendor in Cambridge that closed down without ever paying me and many other employees our last few paychecks. (Luckily, I was like 25 years old and able to handle free time and unemployment checks with a certain grace. If that happens now I'll be S.O.L.)

The interesting thing is how well this article (sent to me by Gina, who's still in the business) sums up the work I used to find so difficult to explain to friends and family members:

"The opening pages of any respectable textbook include pictures of distinguished professors and authorities on reading or biology or whatever the subject is. They look like the people who wrote the thing, but are actually human brand nameplates. In the real world, the books are written and edited by faceless workers in textbook factory towns like New York."

Or Boston, you could add. This place is lousy with textbook companies! Ok, at least it used to be. I should knock on wood before we lose any more of them. 

(By the way it's really kind of creepy to read about your wife being a faceless person. I swear she has a face. I've seen it!) 

Anyway, it's a scary time for the business (like so many others) and I'm grateful that I got out when I could. For all of you still slogging away at the textbook factory, I'm wishing you well.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Maybe the Worst CVS Ever?

There used to be a CompUSA on Market St. in Brighton when I lived in the area, and while it was good to have a giant, cheap, computer/gadget superstore nearby, it also made for the single worst retail customer service experience ever. You couldn't find one helpful employee in there to save your life. (You could find, now and then, an old, strange weirdo guy, who may or may not have worked there, who wasn't helpful at all.) 

Well, since they closed the joint a few years ago, it's just sat there dying like a beached concrete whale, pretty much sucking the will to live out of anyone within 200 yards of the thing. But last week, a construction crew showed up and started ripping up the roof and excavating the parking lot. Now we're talking! They must have finally found a viable business to take over the site — what will it be? A new Whole Foods or Trader Joe's? A decent restaurant or a bar? A Newbury Comics? (For the love of God, maybe an actual T station, please?)

Alas, my hopes were a bit lofty. A post on Universal Hub says it will likely be split into half a CVS, and half something to-be-determined (probably a freaking Walgreens). Actually the other half could be a cell phone store... wouldn't know where to find one of those. (What's with huge cell phone stores? Is that not the biggest waste of commercial space you can imagine? They lease these big, prime retail locations just to line the walls with 30-40 tiny little phones and some accessories.)

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah — I guess a CVS is better than an empty slab of concrete. (Or like a chemical factory or something! Honestly, who am I to complain?) I just hope they don't hire the same useless clerks from that old CompUSA. 

Monday, June 15, 2009

Book Report

Last week I finished 1776 by David McCullough, a weighty enough volume o' nonfiction that I figured I ought to brag about it just a little.

As I've mentioned before, thanks in large part to my Dad and my second grade teacher Mrs. Walsh, I learned just about everything there is to know about the American Revolution at an early age. From Lexington and Concord to Paul Revere's house to the Old North Church to Johnny Tremain, I ate it up. Couldn't get enough. It was like Star Wars, only real, and nearby. (Not that Star Wars wasn't real; I'm not saying that. But it wasn't on my second grade tests for some reason.)

Of course, there's only so much you come away with as a kid. I'm finding now that I may have missed some of the, uh, nuances of the conflict. Such as how we were thisclose to losing the damned thing!

1776 actually begins in 1775, amidst the upbeat afterglow of the colonial army's surprisingly forceful showing at Bunker Hill. After months of stalemate, General Washington and his rag-tag army finally pull a fast one on the British — who've been occupying Boston proper — by taking and fortifying the high ground of Dorchester Heights in just one night, forcing the Brits to evacuate Boston (and thereby securing a day off for generations of future Boston employees — on St. Patrick's Day no less).

After that? Well, there's a brief burst of confidence, enough that we offically declare our independence. But beyond that? Blunders. Failures. Losing. From summer through the end of December, everything pretty much goes completely crappay for the rebels. It's shocking how close it all came to failing, how precarious the cause was.

Gratefully, the book ends on a high note — even though there's seven more years of war ahead. With most of his soldiers free to go at the end of the year, and morale at an all-time low, Washington feels compelled to do something, anything. At the same time, Thomas Paine writes his second influential and inspiring newspaper piece — with the famous lines, "These are the times that try men's souls." With a bit of luck, Washington's army begins a string of victories on Christmas night with a successful attack on Trenton. It was the turning point of the entire war — if it hadn't succeeded, that would have been that — and a great spot to end this small, early, eventful chapter of our nation's history.

Now I'm digging farther back into American and Massachusetts history with Sarah Vowell's The Wordy Patriots. I don't expect to tear up at the end, like I did with 1776, but I do expect to finish it in about 1/10th the time!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Rivalry

The Yankees are in town, meaning the greatest rivalry in American sports is writing another page of another chapter in its storybook history. (Apologies to fans of UNC, Duke, Green Bay, Bears, Michigan, OSU, and others who think their rivalry is superior. They are great rivalries. They are not, however, the Red Sox-Yankees.) 

Somehow the Sox have managed to win all seven of their match-ups with the Yanks so far this season (knocking on wood). The 21st century is a crazy place! We were lucky enough to go to Tuesday night's game, a blowout and a blast. And a few friends were at last night's nail-biter, including rock star Will Dailey (you should buy his new album), who said it ranked in his top five all-time games. 

Wherefore came the inspiration for today's Top Five: 

Top Five Sox-Yankees Games I've Attended 

5. Friday, April 13, 2001 
In the prime of my rip-roaring early 20s, I went to this game with my three best buddies. Of course we sat in the bleachers like any other poor, young drunkards. (This was about the time we coined the term "bases loaded," meaning ballgame-caliber drunk. Yup, those were the days!) In the bottom of the 10th inning, with 2 outs and two on, against then-superhuman closer Mariano Rivera, Manny Ramirez hit a ground ball right through Rivera's legs, up the middle to center field, winning the game then and there. We hugged, high-fived, and jumped around like madmen; mayhem ensued in the bleachers. (Looking back, this was the first crack in Mariano's previously impenetrable armor.) Later that night, we watched the ESPN highlights over and over again at Big City in Allston, cheering like lunatics at every single replay.

4. Saturday, Sept. 10, 2005 (@New York)
This game at Yankee Stadium was the cornerstone of our friend's bachelor party — we had fantastic seats thanks to his New Yorker best man, and we made him dress the part of the pretty princess with pink Sox hat, a veil, and a pink Red Sox shirt... size woman's small for a nice snug fit. On the back, below a full-color repro of his engagement photo, was the caption "Dead Man Walking." Anyway, while we felt the need to escort him anywhere outside of our section (fearing he'd receive a Bronx beatdown in the men's room), most of the Yankees fans were surprisingly respectful. He rocked that outfit all the way back into the streets of Midtown, where he suffered plenty of embarrassment — it was a gallant performance! 

3. Sunday, July 27, 2003
My best friend Adam and I had second row bleacher seats behind the Yankee bullpen for this ESPN Sunday Night game. (This was when attending a game that started at 8pm on a Sunday, and getting bases loaded at said game, somehow didn't derail my entire month.) It being close to the headiest days of the rivalry, we were pretty fired up, and ruthlessly laid into the Yankees relievers warming up in the pen — in particular, old journeyman Jesse Orosco. We even got a smile out of Mariano Rivera, truth be told. (Do you remember him waving his cap to the Fenway cheers on Opening Day 2005? That guy's got an excellent sense of humor.) Anyway, after being down 3-0, Jason Varitek tied things up late in the game with a 3-run homer, and the crowd went berzerk. Then the next batter, Johnny Damon, hit the go-ahead home run. I've been to Fenway an awful lot, and I've never felt the place shake like it did that night; it's as close as I've ever felt to experiencing an earthquake. 

2. 2004 ALCS Game 5
The day after Game 4 (see #1), I was back in Fenway, this time with Adam. It was a make-up game from Friday's rain-out; we had paid a ridiculous amount of money for these seats at the beginning of the series, when hopes had been high. By the time David Ortiz won this marathon with a heroic, broken-bat bloop single in the bottom of the 14th inning, my palms were literally cracked from clapping, and I had just witnessed over 9 hours — 26 innings — of Hall-of-Fame baseball history in one 24-hour span. The video below was shot from right near our seats, and honest to God, this is exactly what it was like:

1. 2004 ALCS Game 4
What can I say? Dave Roberts's steal, Bill Mueller's single up the middle, Big Papi's walk-off home run — this was the turning point of the franchise and of my life as a fan. We were even on TV during the 9th inning. It's also just one more reason I love my wife. The Sox were down three games to none in the ALCS, it was a cold, drizzly Sunday night, and tickets were easy to come by down at the park. I happened upon an extra free ticket, from a guy at the bar who couldn't get rid of it, and I called everyone who might want to go: my dad, Adam, a few other guy friends... no takers. Gina, however — a Yankee fan — decided to come brave the elements. She was up for one more baseball game before summer's end, and figured she might get to see her team win the series.

Of course, it ended up being an epic battle, a last stand. By the end of the game, like the Russians in Rocky IV, I swear Gina was rooting for the Red Sox. It was impossible not to. 

And no, maybe I didn't know it then, that it was the start — of it

But I didn't not know it either. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Nectarines: The Perfect Fruit?

No, not quite. But it makes my list of nominees: Apple, Banana, Blueberry, Grape, Nectarine, Peach, Raspberry, Strawberry, Watermelon.

Pros: Grows virtually anywhere; incredibly diverse, with a type to fit every taste and every purpose, from homemade pies to boozy hard cider; acts as nature's toothbrush and keeps those damned doctors away; portable and well-sized for a snack; nice to pick in autumn; keeps well in storage.
Cons: Kind of plain; can bruise easily or even harbor worms (gross!); seeds contain cyanide, which is like spy suicide poison, so that can't be good. By the way, I just don't get the Red Delicious — does anyone actually like those grainy things? Yeck. 

Pros: Plays well with others (smoothies, cereal, sundaes); protective peel keeps chemicals and fellow shoppers from contaminating your food; portable; great for kids; filling and healthy.
Cons: Can get bruised and mushy too quickly; slime factor; seems to attract fruit flies in my experience.

Pros: Wicked delicious; grows in the wild; plays well with others (cereal, smoothies, pancakes); silly with antioxidants.
Cons: Short season; expensive; need to eat like 500 of them; stains clothes.

Pros: Seedless green, when chilled, make a perfect summer snack; hello, wine.
Cons: Can be expensive; imported ones sometimes have poisonous spiders in the packaging, or at least I've convinced myself of that; makes fingers sticky. 

Pros: Delicious, tart and refreshing; portable snack.
Cons: Short season; often end up with under-ripe ones for some reason. 

Pros: Sweeter, juicer version of a nectarine; symbol of sultry summer; tasty in iced tea and other concoctions; peach pit retains flavor and has a cool texture, and can be enjoyed long after you've finished eating the peach itself. (Plum pits are even better. What, you don't do this? Ok fine, I'm a weirdo.) 
Cons: Can be too juicy — makes an absolute mess; fuzz on the outside makes it feel like you're kissing a slobbering, bearded man. 

(Red) Raspberry
Pros: Grows wild, even in your backyard; so delicious; good for you.
Cons: Thorns on plant; wicked expensive; smoosh easily; you only get like six in a package, wtf.

Pros: Delicious, when in season; ideal accompaniment to desserts and cereal, or just with milk and a it of sugar; awesome and easy to dip in chocolate.
Cons: Lately the ones in the grocery store are bigger and don't taste like anything, which is so sketchy; expensive; can be messy. 

Watermelon (Seedless)
Pros: When chilled, the single most refreshing fruit — nay, food — to combat summer's heat; surprisingly nutritious; works great with booze, such as watermelon ale or as a vodka infuser.
Cons: Not really portable; takes up lots of room in fridge; only available in summer.

When it comes right down to it, I gotta go with the apple. It's not a sexy pick, but in my mind, the versatile, unassuming orchard workhorse is simply the most well-rounded fruit there is. Thoughts? Something this controversial will no doubt spark a lively debate! 

Friday, June 5, 2009

Friday is Like the Ninth Inning

Often, the intent of an analogy is to illustrate a difficult or abstract concept more clearly to someone by likening it to a situation he or she is familiar with: The colonists didn't win at Bunker Hill, but it was a moral victory, because they held their own and inflicted so much damage on the reigning, more powerful champ... like in Rocky

It's an — perhaps the? — essential tool to understanding, I think.

I love analogies. I love that everything in the entire universe can be compared to something else, creating this beautiful, intricate fabric of connections. I often say to myself, "Everything is like everything else." The analogy proves the simple, elegant beauty of our world.

Most of all, I like to make sports analogies. Baseball, in particular. Football makes for great war comparisons, sure, but the subtlety, strategy, and slowly escalating drama of a baseball game offer much more to work with. Is there any situation in life without a symbolic parallel on the baseball diamond? (Probably, but whatever — I'm on a roll here.)

I tend to think of my wardrobe as my roster. The pants are pitchers; tops are position players. To get through life in a workplace setting, you ought to have five starting pairs of pants, and a solid corps of nine tops to get you through a 2-week stretch (with pinch-hitters and bullpen help available on the bench — or in the closet, as it were). And I'm an old-school manager; I'm not concerned with pitch counts. If I send my ace pair of khakis out there on Monday morning, and they make it through the day without suffering a ketchup/coffee/wine stain... well, guess who's coming back out to pitch on Tuesday?

(I've yet to have one pair throw a complete game shutout, if you will. But don't think I haven't tried.)

And my favorite jeans? Well, they're my closer of course. Happy Friday!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Behold My Round Head

And the results are in:

Buzz Cut: 1
Helmet Hair: 0

Since I first cut off my long hair (a good three years later than would have been appropriate; I'll admit it, I have trouble letting go), I've had no idea what to do with this thing people call "hair." Or, you might even call it "thinning hair." (I guess if you're mean you'd call it that. Meany.)

After some initial trial and error — it had been almost 10 years since I'd gotten a real haircut — I figured out that I liked it cut short. But, you know, hair grows, and fast — even if you don't have a lot of it, what's there can grow like gangbusters. So I'd be delighted with a haircut for all of two weeks before it would get all helmet head-looking on me again. It caused much undue stress. (Not to mention the grease factor... we won't even get into that in this public sphere.)

So I've been thinking about chopping it off for awhile, Sinead O'Connor style. (Hee hee — ok, maybe I should cite a different influence... G.I. Joe style, that's it.) But I was afraid to pull the trigger. Until this weekend. I called my usual guy for an appointment yesterday, and the hair salon said he no longer worked there. So screw it; I let Gina have at it with my beard trimmer. 

I'm pretty happy with the results! One less thing to stress about and we'll save like $15/month. In fact I can't believe I didn't do it sooner. 

Thursday, May 28, 2009

May, or Maybe Not

It was cold and raw enough today that we had to fire up the wood stove, even though it was supposed to be on summer vacation. It instantly brought me back to winter — but, mercifully, I hope only for tonight!

This brings us to today's Top Five list:

Top Five Months

5. December
Between the first snowfall (when you're not all cold and jaded and bitter about winter yet), Christmas (and its associated cheer and carols and lights and vacation), New Year's Eve, and NFL playoffs and college bowl games... there's a lot to love.

4. September
As much as I hated going back to school as a kid, come the college years I absolutely yearned for fall. There's the dry, sunny weather, and those first cool nights when you can wear long sleeves and shorts. But, most importantly, it's the presence of life's most profound melancholy: the sad, poetic beauty that emerges wherever beginnings meet ends. The fleeting last days of summer, the nostalgia of leaving an old apartment and the excitement of starting fresh in a new one — it's what any songwriter lives for. 

3. June
Where spring gives way to summer we get the glory of warm days — the longest of the year, too! — free of summer's sweltering, paralyzing heat and humidity. Yeah, I'm a wuss about sweating. And, as you'll recall, my car doesn't have air conditioning.

2. April
Baseball's Opening Day, my birthday, the first legitimate signs of spring after the long, dreary winter, and Marathon Monday make April a sight for sore eyes!

1. October
But really, spring is overrated. It's always raining, or, like today, cold when you're finally getting used to the idea of being warm for more than a day at a time. It makes promises that it doesn't always keep. Summer is lovely, slow, and porch-swing relaxing, but it can also be so hot and intolerably muggy and lousy with mosquitoes. And winter, please — by February I'm likely to find myself crying for no reason. Fall is where it's at, and October is fall: changing colors of the leaves, high school football games, baseball playoffs, apple picking and Halloween hay rides, and crisp, dry, sunny weather. It's the perfect month.

That said, I'm psyched for summer. Sorry stove, I'm ready to be hot for awhile!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Fired Up on a Wednesday Morning

The Massachusetts Senate approved a sales tax increase last night, raising it to 6.25%. By a veto-proof margin, at that. Booooo.

After all that hemming and hawing about not raising the gas tax during a recession, they're raising a tax that applies to... everything else! 

I understand they need to raise revenue, and quickly. But you're telling me that instead of raising the tax on gasoline, which would encourage people to consume less gas — something pretty much everyone agrees is a good thing — the solution is to penalize people buying stereos, books, and cars at at time when we need that commerce the most? Weak. I'm writing this Michael Morrissey fella to give him a piece of my mind.  (If you like sending angry emails as much as I do, you can find your elected officials here.)

Last night I went to my first Sox game of the season, a great one (not to mention a fast one), and before the game we met up at the new "Irish pub" adjacent to the House of Blues, called The Lansdowne. It looked promising when we saw it (close to completion) a few weeks ago, during a rain-out, and after our visit last night I'd say it's still promising. But for now it's just that: promises. It has the potential to be a great place someday, but they don't seem to know what they're doing yet, and the layout is difficult and unworkable for pre-game masses (and this was just a Tuesday night in May; what about a summer Saturday?). The bartenders were nice, and there were plenty of them, but it was tough to get to the bar — while the table area was vast and largely vacant, despite a 15-minute wait for tables. The Guinness was acceptable. For my money, though, the Bleacher Bar is still the best bet on Lansdowne St.

Much more Yelp-worthy was the Lower Depths' Mackin' Cheese dog. Granted, we stopped here after the game and I hadn't eaten anything since lunch, unless you count beer (which we won't), but wow did that impress! And for just $3. The saucy, corkscrew mac n' cheese had with a nice garlic flavor, and their hot dogs are the same as Fenway's (but only $1 a pop before toppings); the combination of these two flavor forces nearly caused a euphoric episode in my mouth. I also had a chili dog, but it didn't stack up to that mac n' cheese-slathered pork de résistance. Mmm. I'll be thinking about that thing for weeks!

(Do note: the Lower Depths is cash only, which has been a sticking point for me in the past. Given this tasty new development, I will now get over myself and deal.)

Finally, what's a Wednesday without some write-on lines? Today we'll have a pop quiz based loosely on last night's events:

1. _____ has the lowest ERA amongst Red Sox starters.

2. A Coors Light at Fenway costs $_____.

3. A girl at the Lower Depths proudly told us, three times, how she pretended to ______ over the railing before entering the bar.

(Answers: Tim Wakefield; $7.25; throw up) 

Monday, May 18, 2009

Friendly's: Not Quite Like I Remember

I went to lunch today at Friendly's, with my friend and his toddler, and I gotta tell you... it's not the joy factory I remember as a child. The BBQ chicken supermelt was pretty good, and I even got a sundae — chocolate ice cream with peanut butter topping, yum — but, well, my friend said it best: "Halfway through lunch I started feeling inconsolably depressed about my own mortality." (Besides the drab, early '80s decor and sparse crowd, we were the youngest diners in there by a good 50 years.)

In other news, I cleaned up chicken poop this weekend, which was a first! And hopefully a last.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


After receiving only one ticket for an expired inspection sticker this year (side note: when we lived in the Back Bay and my sticker would lapse — it always does, I can't remember even once when I got an inspection ahead of time — my car, just sitting there, minding its own business, not going anywhere, would get pasted with tickets, like two a day, until I'd finally find a way to skip work and get to a damned inspection station during their stupid banker's hours. Stupid giddy meter maids. My car isn't worth the amount of tickets I've accrued in its lifetime. But I digress, wildly. In fact I feel like we're so off track we should probably just start this sentence all over again if we ever get out of this parenthetical jungle.) ...what was I saying? 

Oh, right: After receiving only one ticket for an expired inspection sticker this year, I got my ride inspected today, and — I'll be! — it passed. It's a fairly new car (my first new car ever) but this year it started showing its age a bit. Just a bit. Just enough to make me wonder if maybe he'd say, "Sorry sir, your ____ is shot to _____. I can't legally let this thing back on the road. It's gonna cost about... well, I'd say ten million dollars." 

I own the car outright now, with just 45,000 miles on it, and it's nice not having a car payment. But that vulnerable feeling is why I'm thinking we should trade it in while it still runs. I lived with that gnawing fear for years, when every single car I owned was just a catastrophe waiting to happen, if not an outright embarrassment to man and machine alike. 

This brings us to today's Top Five Thursday list:

My Top Five Worst Car Problems 

5. One morning, when I was subletting in Somerville, my girlfriend at the time and I got into my 1988 Honda Accord to drive closer to the Davis Square T. That little Honda was very good to me; I will always love Hondas as a result (I even own stock). But, it had rained heavily the night before... and when I stopped the car at the first intersection, a deluge of cold water came flooding out of the sunroof compartment, shocking and soaking the hell out of us at like 8am. Not a great start to a morning.

4. My 1989 Saab 900— which I really loved, I mean what a nice smooth ride and easy clutch — had a condition late in its life where the heat was always on, and on full blast. Not only was this distracting and loud, it was VERY HOT IN SUMMER. Very, very hot. (It goes without saying that I've never owned a car with air conditioning. Really.)

3. My Dad's 1985 Oldsmobile Cutlass Sierra, a.k.a. "The Silver Bullet," which I borrowed a lot in high school, at one time had power windows. But by 1994? They no-worka-so-good. Also, the driver's side door didn't open from the inside. (I'm pretty sure that's illegal.) So I — and my dad, a successful grown man! — always had to exit the car by climbing out the passenger side. If the window decided not to go down at a toll booth, you had to get out the passenger side and run around the front of the car like some highway lunatic. (FastLane would have been helpful.) Sometimes the window would go down at the toll... but not back up; a very bad time in winter. 

But most notably this issue created a problem when some friends and I got pulled over in NH (for a broken license plate light... I mean come on. The funny thing is that's happened to me like three times in NH. Is that the only thing that's against the law up there?). The cop came up to my window and I couldn't roll it down; nor could I open the door to even talk to him. So I was yelling through the window, and the kid in the back seat opened his door to tell the cop, "Can you open his door? It doesn't work!" and of course the cop flipped out. "EVERYBODY PUT YOUR HANDS WHERE I CAN SEE THEM!! GET OUT OF THE CAR NOW!!!" (We cleared things up. He actually knew my aunt.)

2. Again, the Saab. As a collective #2, I present to you all the things wrong with it that wouldn't otherwise make it onto the list by themselves: When I lived in Central Square, it got broken into... twice. Once from each side, and each time the thief destroyed the door lock. You could unlock it a pencil. Or, sometimes, not at all. Depending on how the locks were feeling. Also, it had a "low idle." So if you weren't giving it enough throttle — while just sitting at a red light — it would die out on you, and sometimes not start back up again. It stalled, kaput, on me in the middle of an intersection several times — which is exactly as stressful as it sounds! Also, the clutch gave out one night as I was coming off the exit ramp of I-93 into Boston. I had to try and coast to safety in fifth gear — no easy feat! — and we came to a stop outside the Suffolk County jail, at like 11 o'clock at night. And, it died on me on the way to Thanksgiving dinner one year. After finally arranging a tow, I had to take the commuter rail — surprise, not exactly running a full schedule on Thanksgiving Day — and made it in time for dessert. (Thanks to my Dad who picked me up at Newburyport.)

1. On the day of Super Bowl XXXVI (the first Patriots Super Bowl win), I arrived at my friend Adam's house in, yes, the Saab, and pulled into his driveway. It turned out we needed more space in the driveway, so I tried to back out — uphill on ice. My reverse gear had been kind of iffy ever since I bought the car (the guy who sold it to me lived on Summit Ave. in Brighton; I can only assume he had backed uphill into one too many parking spots), spitting out of gear every now and then. It started to do it as I spun out on the ice... and kept doing it. I got worried. And then it wouldn't go into gear at all. My reverse was shot. That's bad news!

Luckily, a few of my friends were on hand (and halfway through a pre-game quarter keg) so we pushed the thing up the hill and safely into a parking spot on the street. (I say this in complete sincerity: it was like the Patriots getting introduced as a team that day. That's what friendship and teamwork is all about.) I left it there overnight (got what was probably my 400th parking ticket), came back for it the next afternoon, and had to drive it back to Allston with no reverse. That's like a psychological thriller... "there's no going back!" I took it to the Saab Doctor and he tried a radical new approach he'd been developing: just turning the gear fork around. It worked, and it only cost me a couple hundred bucks instead of a couple thousand. 

The lesson though? That car — and all of them, really — cost me a couple hundred bucks every couple hundred miles! I'm over used cars. Give me that new car smell!

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