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 rĂ©sistance. 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!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Before and After Shots = Compelling Bloggery

A couple of weeks ago we tackled the first of our two... let's call them "vintage" rooms. (The other is the kitchen — an epic undertaking by comparison, so we thought we'd start off with the easy one!)

Here's what it looked like before, in all its peeling, stained, wallpapered glory:

After stripping off the wallpaper, the exposed plaster walls gave the room a kind of abandoned Greek island cottage look — don't you think? — which we kind of liked!

After a couple coats of primer and some Ben Moore "Moonlight Yellow," we had a real spare bedroom at last. Honestly, the room wasn't even on our radar during its unfortunate wallpaper days... I rarely remembered it was even there. Now I walk in from time to time just to bask in its sunny glow. (And to huff the last of the paint fumes, obviously.)


In other fixity news, I totally replaced our tenants' kitchen faucet the other night. Shazam!

Anyway, since it's WOL Wednesday, let's do a mad lib, shall we?

Think of:
1. adjective
2. noun
3. adjective
4. adjective
5. noun (plural)
6. noun

Using the original listing for our house...

Open House, Sun 1-3pm: (1. _____) 2-family in Beechwood Knoll section of Wollaston. Fireplaced living rooms, eat-in (2.______), hardwood floors, (3._____) attic, some (4._____) windows, 2-car garage. Lots of (5._____). Home needs (6._____).

Here's how mine came out: Open House, Sun 1-3pm: Cracka-lackin 2-family in Beechwood Knoll section of Wollaston. Fireplaced living rooms, eat-in belly button, hardwood floors, juicy attic, some blue windows, 2-car garage. Lots of emotions. Home needs turkey.

Not too far off, really! What home doesn't need turkey?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Side Effects of Freedom

I spent three weeks in a very cool volunteer (work-for-room-and-board) program in France a few years back, and one of the other volunteers had grown up in East Berlin. I was kind of fascinated to learn her perspective on things — what must it have been like to grow up behind the “Iron Curtain” (or giant concrete wall topped with barbed wire and AK-47-wielding guards, as it were)?

What was interesting — and it makes sense when you think about it — is that she was just a kid, and she didn’t know that she was growing up any differently than anyone else. She had loving parents, they got by modestly, and that was life. (Aren’t kids great like that? They’re so adaptable!)

But what really struck me was her description of the first few years after the Berlin Wall came down. They would go to the grocery store, and suddenly there were twenty different types of toothpaste. Before there had been just one: Toothpaste brand toothpaste. And this went for everything in the store, and beyond — remember all the McDonalds and other fast-food chains that sprang up in Eastern Europe in the early ‘90s? She said they were almost paralyzed by the choices; they didn’t know — hadn’t learned, gradually, like we have — how to filter through all the flashy logos and labels and could-be-bogus nutritional claims and sneaky ingredient lists and prices per package vs. prices per ounce.

And you know what? I’ve spent my entire life in the land of opportunity, where freedom reigns, and beyond enjoying a trip to the grocery store I even worked in one for years. But picking out a package of rice, or loaf or bread, or can of coconut milk is enough to send me into an anxiety spiral of self-doubt.

It’s the overwhelming assault of choices, all of which have some merit, and the cunning measures those brands employ to (it’s true) deliberately confuse the consumer. How can you be sure you’re making the right choice?

My wife often says that the thing she liked best about Catholic school was being forced to wear a uniform. Many people support school uniforms simply because it reduces the stigma placed on poorer kids, who can’t afford the newest sneakers, jeans, etc. But Gina loved it because it eliminated one of the most crippling decisions each day presents, especially for a girl: what to wear. Suddenly, one panic attack and 5–10 minutes of hand-wringing each morning are erased with a plaid skirt and white shirt. Maybe you can't be as expressive, but at least you can’t be wrong.

I think the paralysis associated with having too many choices even plays a prominent role in commitment-phobia among young singles. There are so many options — what if you make the wrong decision?  

Anyway, this is not to say that arranged marriages, Star Trek uniforms, and Soviet-era food shortages are the way to go. Heavens no! In our modern, webbed Western world, the choices are limitless, and I’m thankful for it. We are blessed with bounty, and it must be celebrated. But it's not without a few small side effects. 

Friday, May 8, 2009

Hot, Sweaty, Big n' Easy

So last weekend we took a (long-overdue) vacation to New Orleans for Jazz Fest. It was awesome. It was hot, and sunny, and everywhere you looked there was music (and booze to go, of course). 

We went to the actual fairgrounds on Saturday, which was a little mental — apparently it was the largest turnout they've had since the first festival after Hurricane Katrina hit. This could have something to do with Bon Jovi playing? They are a hurricane of jazz, after all. Anyway I'm not sure. We never ventured over to the main stage; the smaller ones were packed enough, and the music was incredible at each one. (We did catch some of the Kings of Leon, at the smaller main stage, and it was ridiculous how many people were smooooshed in our faces.)

And the FOOD! I'm a gumbo junkie. I ate it like twice a day and I need more, real bad, real soon. Or at least some etouffee. We also went to Acme Oyster House a couple of times to gorge ourselves on oysters. They're like a buck a pop! And that's not some happy hour special — that's all the time

We stayed right on Bourbon Street, thanks to, and since we were five floors up, the raucous din of the crowd below wasn't too bad. (The smell when you left the hotel each day? Different story!) 

The hotel was pretty nice, considering, but the walls were thin. The first morning we woke up around 7am to a guy power-churling in the room next door. I mean, he must have swallowed a live scorpion or something. The second day, we heard the couple on the other side... y'know. And the third morning? Around 7:30am we hear a racket right outside our door. And there's a guy telling someone in a gentle voice, "You gotta get up, hon, come on, stand up... come on, now, get up and we'll take you down to breakfast..." and then out of nowhere we hear someone shriek in what sounds like a little kid's voice, "STOP HURTING MY MOMMA! DON'T HURT MY MOMMA!!" After that we looked through the peephole, and four or five cops and EMTs show up and they're trying to get this passed-out lady, who's got no ID or anything on her, onto one of those wheely stretchers. But she's really heavy and even these burly dudes can barely lift her. They finally manage, and wheel her on out. So THAT was crazy! 

Of course, the best part of Jazz Fest is the vibe in the city, the music in the streets and clubs at night after the daytime festival. We were hemorrhaging money so we had to pass up some cool shows with $20-30 tickets (e.g. Ellis Marsalis, etc.) but we caught some great music in cozy spots. And Preservation Hall! Amazing. By our last night, we were saturated with jazz and decided to just spend the night on a balcony overlooking Bourbon St. 

On that last day, Gina took this picture after a homeless dude (ok, well, I don't know that he's homeless, but he wanders around New Orleans with a long, unkempt beard, carrying a spear, which he uses for dancing... so, for the sake of painting a picture for you, the reader, let's just say he's homeless) knocked into another guy and his tuba. The musician went berzerk in the street, swearing at him and stomping around, chasing him around the block — and all the while he left his tuba behind, just laying in the street as it began to rain! Gina caught this awesome photo and I think it sums up a festival's end: 

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