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. 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...