29 September 2017

Eleven

 Well, how about that? It's my 11th blogaversary.

According to Blogger, my first post was 11 years ago today, and in that interval I've done just over 2,200 posts. However, in the past couple of years, my output has slowed down considerably due to various time constraints. I don't think I'll ever get back to posting every weekday; life just consumes more of my time these days, and the days go by faster than ever (a side effect of growing older). But I still have things I want to write about, so you're not rid of me (yet).

I get a couple of emails a month from people who have found their way here because of a post I did three and a half years ago about the ramp we had built for our dog, who want to know where they can get one built for their dog, how much it cost, if I will build one for them, etc. (Somehow one of my photos ended up on Pinterest and some people reference that, but in order to contact me directly they have to find my email address.) I always respond to these inquiries, because I want to help other dog owners if I can, so that's another incentive to keep the blog active, even if I'm not posting a lot.

Also, I started posting on Instagram about a month ago. I've been meaning to add a link over on the right, but I haven't gotten to it (surprise!). For now, you can find my contributions here; in the app, search for someassembly_required.

One more thing: if the title made you think this was going to be about Netflix's Stranger Things, sorry. But hey, season two is only four weeks away, and if somehow you didn't catch season one, it's only eight episodes and a lot of fun, especially if you're a fan of the work of Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, Stephen King, or any of the other '80s sci-fi/horror/supernatural stuff to which it owes a great deal.

Anyway, the blogging will continue, albeit more sporadically. Now, I gotta get back to work...

25 September 2017

Festival of Disappointment

When George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic are playing at a festival a couple of miles from your house--with food trucks and local craft brews--you go. But when your significant other has reached her crowd tolerance point and the headliner still hasn't gone onstage despite being half an hour behind schedule, you leave, unwillingly. At least I had a banh mi and a very tasty IPA...

09 September 2017

Cube Logic

I've found myself frequently thinking about posting, but obviously I don't do much here these days. My workload is lighter than it was last year, though I am wasting spending too much a significant amount of time commuting again.

So what's different? Since I am back at the same employer as before I was laid off (and back then I was posting something almost every weekday), I've been considering what's different this time. I would say the way this job is structured, I'm doing a little more than when I worked there before, but not a great deal more.

I think I know what it is: I was more physically isolated from my coworkers. For a good part of the time I worked there I was in an area where almost on one came into my cube, or if they did I would have heard them approaching. Even after I moved to another part of the office, there wasn't much foot traffic in my area, and even if someone did pass by, our cubicles had higher walls.

Now I work in an open area in a cube that's completely open on one side and has lower walls on the other three. Someone sits directly ahead of me and someone else sits directly behind me. Until yesterday someone sat directly across the aisle from me, and the person who sits in front of her and the person who sits in front of me both pass my desk numerous times a day. I have a larger monitor, and it's much more exposed to others.

How much a person can see of my screen depends on what angle they are looking from, but I still feel a lot more self-conscious about what I'm doing at any time during the day. People probably look at my screen less frequently than I might think they are; I don't pay much attention to what's on my coworkers' screens when I'm moving around the office. But still, it does feel like we're under greater scrutiny, or at least that it's possible to be, and this affects my online activity.

I could take advantage of my lunch hour to work on posts, and I'm going to see if I can do more of this. But now that summer is fading, I feel more inclined to go outside during lunch, to get some air and move around. I'm more aware of my health than I used to be, and I know that getting in some activity, even just walking, is beneficial, and it's also nice just to get away from the desk for a while.

But that still leaves the dilemma of when to post. I also go to bed earlier these days, and I spend time before bed getting my clothes ready for the next day. This is mainly so I don't have to get up quite as early. I used to prefer ironing my clothes in the morning, because it allows for last-minute changes of mind about outfit choices, but I've found that being able to get dressed quickly is also an advantage. With the unpredictability of the T, almost anything can ruin a commute, and it's better to leave earlier, both for a margin of error and because traffic and crowding aren't quite as bad.

So I get up a little later and I leave the house a little earlier, but it turns out that having a more compressed morning routine helps keep me focused, making it more likely that I'll hit my target time for being ready to leave. My weekdays are more structured in general, but I still don't have as much free time as I used to. I can probably still find time to write, but it means I'll have to exercise greater discipline.

19 August 2017

Mute Button

It's been a challenging week month year for right-thinking Americans, and by "right-thinking" I mean the vast majority of us who believe in and model tolerance, respect, and acceptance of others, regardless of where they come from or what skin they happened to be born in.

I've found it very difficult to listen to or watch any news reports. I have to keep them at a distance. Even reading the newspaper is stressful. I'm so disgusted by the behavior of our alleged leader, and that of the toxic far-right factions that he's so afraid to alienate, that I just can't allow any of it into my brain. I used to believe that as a country and a people, we were better than what we have seen in recent times (not just last weekend). Now, I don't know what to think.

It's one thing to have lived through the Reagan and Bush years feeling that the leadership did not represent my views, and quite another to have as the occupant of the White House a person who does not seem to have enough human feeling to condemn an act of violence rooted in hatred, or even the vile words and behavior of extremists who believe the wrong side won the Civil War. Esquire's Charles Pierce has the right idea: he refers to the president with an asterisk. It requires no explanation, the meaning is quite clear: an egomaniacal buffoon with no experience in government, while technically the holder of the office, is not deserving of the title.

I find myself wondering frequently how the rest of the world views us, and how much damage is being done to our country's image and reputation. Will people hoping for a better life stop believing in the American dream, out of fear that coming here might not be a better option than remaining where they are? Or will they choose to go somewhere less fraught and less divided?

And let's be clear about something: I'm not expressing my feelings from an ivory tower. Boston does not have a shining history with regard to civil rights. I haven't lived within the city limits since the late 1980s, but I work in the city, and I have for much of my adult life. It feels like things have gotten better, but the challenge is still there, every day, but for many it's now economic as well as societal.

The ideals of free speech codified by the founders of the United States mean that we have to allow a white supremacist rally to take place today, but we don't have to attend, or watch, or pay any attention at all. I wish the media would do the same, because without the benefit of an audience, the message would have even less of an impact; it would be merely background noise.

For some time I have been concerned about the future of the United States as a country and a society. Now my feelings have gone from concern to deep worry and a degree of fear. How bad will it get? When I was growing up I didn't think I would see even the beginning of the country's decline within my lifetime. Now I wonder how far it will have progressed by the time I'm gone.

All of that said, humor helps. #sheetcaking


10 August 2017

Home Work: Mugs and Colors

We've been spending some time over the past few months doing some sprucing up around the SAR homestead. This has been a multifaceted endeavor, entailing everything from evaluating our assortment of drinking glasses and coffee mugs, to adding a couple of new pieces of storage furniture, to rearranging some of our living space.

It started innocently enough: I was in search of a replacement for one of our small Fiestaware plates that had gone missing. My Virgo mind likes order, and it bothered me that we had an odd number of small plates, but an even number of dinner plates and bowls. Also, it just bothered me that I couldn't find the other plate, or determine what had become of it.

We got quite a bit of Fiestaware as wedding gifts; we had chosen cobalt as the color we wanted and put it on our registry. (As an aside, I should point out that I was the one who chose most of the items on our registry, and subsequently was the one who went to the store and walked around with the scanner gun, because the Mrs. just wasn't interested.)

Eventually I clicked my way to the direct-sale website of Homer Laughlin, the company that has manufactured Fiestaware in Newell, West Virginia since 1936 (production ceased in late 1972, but was revived in 1986). I decided that it didn't make sense to order just one small plate, so I added two more dinner plates, which would allow us to stretch our dishwasher cycle a bit.

Before I finalized my order, I looked around the rest of the site. All the mugs that had come with the place settings had long been banished to the top shelf of our cupboard; we never use them, because they are kind of small and almost all our other mugs are around 15 ounces or larger. We'd recently had a conversation about getting rid of them, giving them to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. Online I saw a newer, tapered mug design that I was not familiar with, in a 15-ounce size. I eyed the color choices, liking several of them. I added a few to my order.

A day or so later, I found myself thinking about the mugs that were on their way along with the plates. I wanted more colors of them. I found a big home sale going on at JCPenney, and with various discounts was able to order several more for around $9 each. A week or so later, everything had arrived and we had eight Fiestaware mugs in eight different colors: scarlet, slate, lapis, ivory, sage, lemongrass, poppy, and turquoise. I didn't get one in cobalt to match the plates and bowls, because I see the mugs as their own thing, separate and distinct from our dinnerware. I suppose I could still order one, but that would leave us with an odd number...
(Fiestaware is and has always been an American-made product, from a company still in the hands of family descended from its founders. Keep that in mind next time you're thinking about buying dinnerware, either for yourself or as a gift.)

01 August 2017

"Overheard": Points for Effort But Game Needs Work Edition

This one comes to me secondhand from one of my coworkers, so it's not "overheard" in the strict sense, but why mess with the formula?

On Saturday night she went to a bar, and was almost immediately greeted by a guy: "Hi, how are you?"
She responded, "Okay, thanks."
"You seem like a nice person, can I buy you a drink?"
"I have a boyfriend." (This is true)
"Oh... well, do you think you might be breaking up with him any time soon?"

20 June 2017

A Rush Hour Vignette

Normally I read the paper during my commute. I somewhat stubbornly cling to my old-media habit for several reasons: more than ever, it's important to be informed; I want to support a legitimate news organization; and it helps pass the time.

But lately my paper hasn't been making it onto my porch; I find it at the bottom of the steps, and this morning it was completely soaked from the overnight rain, in spite of being delivered in a plastic bag. So I didn't have anything to read. I had a section from yesterday's paper, and started working on the crossword, but after a few minutes my pen started running out of ink. (It's refillable, but I didn't know it was so close to running out.) I had no choice but to observe my fellow passengers, but today I was glad I did.

I was able to sit after a couple of stops, which is pretty unusual. There was a couple standing in front of where I was sitting, and a woman standing adjacent to the man. Like many other commuters, she had earbuds in. When we reached one of the stations downtown where a lot of people get out, the woman in the couple said goodbye to her partner, who bent down to kiss her goodbye. As he did so, the button on the back pocket of his pants hooked onto the other woman's earbud cord. When he stood upright again the cord stayed around the button, but he had no idea.

As I watched all of this, I looked at the woman wearing the earbuds. It seemed that I was the only person who had witnessed the whole scene; I caught her eye, and both of us started laughing at how silly it was. Clearly she didn't want to touch the back of the guy's pants, so she reached out and made a motion that moved the cord away from her body, and that was able to release it from the button. I looked at her again and said "Well played" in a quiet voice. She smiled and returned her attention to her phone.

31 May 2017

Overheard: Regional Disconnect Edition

There's something fascinating about hearing someone say, in the most New York accent imaginable, "I'm not familiar with the subway," especially since we happened to be in New York at the time. I'm trying to imagine a scenario in which someone grows up, even on Long Island or New Jersey, and still has no experience with the subway. (The Mrs. and I happen to know someone who has a similar lack of experience with the MBTA, but she's from New Hampshire so she kind of gets a pass.)

05 May 2017

Every Day Is Leg Day

As I deal with the realities of being middle-aged, I've had to confront the fact that I don't eat as well as I should, and I am not nearly as active as I should be.

For the majority of my adult life, I've been rather sedentary and rather lazy (those tend to go together). Of course, living in an urban environment and being a non-driver means I've always done a reasonable amount of walking, but as I grew older and got used to doing errands with the Mrs. in the car, even the amount of walking I do has decreased.

Now that I'm back in an office, I am a little more active throughout my day, walking to and from bus stops, going outside to get lunch, etc. After we moved to our new office space a few weeks ago, I used the elevator to get to our floor (4) for the first couple of weeks, until I figured out where I could enter a stairway would bring me to our floor. Then I started using it when I arrived each day, to go downstairs to get coffee after arriving, to go get lunch, and to leave at the end of the day.

Additionally, several of my coworkers are quite a bit younger, from mid-twenties to early thirties. I noticed that every afternoon around 3, they all left their desks to engage in some sort of group activity that lasted only a few minutes. It turned out they were climbing the stairs to the top floor (10). So I decided it was in my interest to join them.

I've climbed the stairs with them every day this week, including one day alone because they were all otherwise engaged. And they had an extra little surprise for me: after climbing from the fourth floor to the tenth and coming back down, then continued down to the first floor, then came back up to 4. Due to the design of the building, two of the flights are longer, so it's essentially like climbing and descending ten flights. My knees are more unhappy than my leg muscles, but I'm managing. I'm hoping that it will get a little easier after a few weeks.

Also, the building was constructed with an elevated first floor, so it's 20 steps up from street level, for a little extra bit of work when entering and leaving each day.

29 April 2017

Degrees of Separation

It's a little creepy that LinkedIn suggested one of the guys who lives upstairs in the "people you may know" section. Usually the folks who show up there are people I have searched for on LinkedIn in the past, or at least people affiliated with the same employer. I suppose there is potentially some zip code matching happening in the algorithm, but it's still a bit unnerving.

19 April 2017

Overheard: And You May Ask Yourself... Edition

(This isn't exactly "overheard," since the speaker was directly addressing a bus full of commuters, but it's close enough.)

On my way home on a recent workday, as the bus pulled into Ruggles station, the driver said to all of us preparing to exit and transfer to the Orange Line, "I don't know how you people do this every day. At least I'm getting paid to be here..."

15 April 2017

Moved In

The office move went smoothly, and when we arrived at the new office a week ago Monday, everything was waiting for us in our cubicles. I had very little to unpack, just a few reference books and my water bottle and coffee mug. I set up my computer, and there were IT people around to help us figure out which printers we would be using and get connected to them.

The office itself is substantially nicer than our previous space. We're now in another concrete building that was built around the same time as the library where our office was previously, but unlike that building, this one has a more conventional design with decent window area. Our section is on the south side of the floor, so we have natural light coming in pretty much all day. The other side of the floor has a more interesting view, but there are other buildings of similar height pretty close by, so less natural light is available.

Our work spaces are arranged so that our desks face the wall with the windows. To the side is a low storage unit with two horizontal drawers on one side and shelf space on the other. Behind is a taller cabinet with more shelves, more drawers below the shelves, and a locker-like compartment to the side with a hook inside, for storing one's coat and other belongings. The tops of these units provide convenient surface area for displaying personal items, and I've found that the top of the lower unit is an excellent place to stow my bag during the day. There is also an under-desk wheeled file cabinet with a cushion on its top surface, for impromptu desk-side discussions or something. And all the cabinets and shelving units, including the banks of file cabinets along the walls, are white for added visual brightness (most offices choose gray or black for such fixtures).

The walls of the cubicles are not as high as those in some places I have worked, and not as low as those in others. They are topped with frosted glass panels about six inches high that serve two purposes: they visually extend the height of the dividing walls, while allowing a little more outside light to pass through and reach deeper into the space.

The desk surfaces are light-colored material that is made to look like blond wood. I've had cubicles with this type of surface before and I find it pleasant, and it also happens to match my desk at home. The entire desktop raises and lowers electrically, making it easy to find a comfortable and ergonomically preferable position for working. I had to experiment a little to find the right arrangement; I have a long torso, so placing the desk surface at the right height for comfortable typing (forearms should be horizontal) made my monitor too low. A little-used book under the monitor base solved that problem. But if I want to stand for more than a few minutes, an anti-fatigue mat is necessary.

Oh, and the chairs! The chairs in our old office were horrible. They were upholstered units with rubberized armrests, but they were really conference-room chairs and not intended to be used for desk work. I used to have to get up every 45 minutes or so because their inferior padding caused my tail bone to ache. (It's a good idea to get up and move around during the work day, anyway.) Now we all have Herman Miller Aeron chairs, considered one of the best task chairs available. Coincidentally, I bought a used one of these for myself a few months ago, when I was still working at my other job. So I now have Aeron comfort day and evening.

We also now have an attractive and much more functional kitchen with plenty of seating. There are two large refrigerators and a separate, smaller freezer. There's a Keurig coffee machine (relocated from our previous office), and now a Nespresso machine to go along with it. Neither of those are my thing, but they seem to make other people happy. Unlike many employers, mine does not stock the kitchen with snacks. Just outside the kitchen are small rooms for having private phone conversations.

While all of this is great, not everything is wonderful. My biggest gripe, and one I have had at various workplaces for decades, is that the overhead lighting is too bright. With the abundant natural light and desktop task lighting, overhead lighting is hardly even necessary, and yet we still got stuck with it. I think all of us were under the impression that the overhead lighting would be LED, but it's terrible old fluorescent lighting. The fixtures are long and narrow, suspended from the ceiling perpendicular to the window walls; at least they didn't use the typical ceiling-mount fixtures with reflectors that make the light even more harsh.

On the plus side, we have discovered that the lighting is dimmable; on the minus side, one switch controls the lighting on the entire side of the floor, so dimming the lights affects the other department occupying the space adjacent to us. I think we will be able to work something out with them, as they seem to share our feelings about the brightness.

Overall, the new office space is a definite improvement. I'm still getting used to sitting in an open area with several other people working around me, and to filtering out random noises from various sources. But I have my trusty, American-made Grado headphones, Spotify on my iPhone, and my iTunes library on an old-school iPod Classic that was retrofitted with a solid-state hard drive, giving it four times the capacity of my original unit. Now all I need is to have a dimmer switch for the lights installed at my desk...

11 April 2017

Quick Switch

It's strange to have to break out my summer sun-protection headgear in mid-April, but when it's almost 90 it doesn't make sense to be walking around with a wool flat cap on my head. Last week I wore a cotton Patriots cap on a couple of days, but with strong sun it seems more practical to have the tops of my ears covered as well. In a couple of days it'll be back to the regular spring outerwear and hats...

31 March 2017

Movin' Out

My department at work is moving to new office space in a different building. We've been preparing for the move for the past couple of weeks, packing up belongings in plastic bins, discarding unwanted files and other stuff, and labeling our computers and other equipment.

We also moved a decade ago, but that was within the same building, just from one floor to another. It was still a fairly complex procedure, but this will involve trucks and dollies and bringing everything outside during whatever precipitation happens to be falling later this afternoon. We don't have to do any of that; it's all being handled for us. We only have to disconnect our computers later this afternoon, pack the peripherals into special plastic bags, and leave everything. So work will be wrapping up a little early today.

For the whole time I've worked here including my earlier period, and for some years before that, the department has been located in a building that is also a library. I enjoyed the notion of coming to work each day in a library, but in fact there are several downsides that will be eliminated when we are settled in our new space. We've had to make do with kitchen facilities that were never supposed to be built where they are, and so have inadequate plumbing and no real space to sit and eat. We've had to share the restrooms on our floor with everyone else who passed through the library. And the building itself, built in the 1960s, has little natural light due to its structure and the unusual placement of the windows.

In the newly renovated space we will be sharing a floor with a couple of other departments, but we will have our own distinct area. We're going to be in cubicles, but the way the floor is arranged, the rows are only three cubes deep and perpendicular to the exterior wall with the windows, so everyone will get a reasonable amount of natural light. The desk part of the cubes will be situated so we are facing that direction, and the desktop surfaces are adjustable, so we can work sitting or standing. And there will be a spacious kitchen area with storage, appliances, and ample seating.

It feels good to be having a fresh start a mere few weeks after returning. Now I just have to see about getting my work computer swapped out for a Mac...

27 March 2017

Groovin' on the Bus

The things you miss when you are not commuting via public transit: this morning I got to hear someone else's music being played out of either (a) the tiny, tinny speaker of their phone, or (b) an actual radio with equally poor sound quality. The culprit was too far away for me to see the device, but I am confident that it wasn't an old-school boombox. I heard what I thought was a station ID, so it could have been a streaming radio station.

However, it must be said that the listener did have good taste: during my short shared ride on that particular bus, I got to hear "Evil Ways" by Santana and "Got To Give It Up" by Marvin Gaye.

19 March 2017

Green Light

As a guy in my fifties, I don't pay a lot of attention to what's going on in pop music. I almost never listen to radio anymore, and you may recall that last year I had some observations about how current pop sounds very homogeneous.

So it's at least a little unusual for me to be saying this: I really like "Green Light," the new song from Lorde. I happened to come across the official video online a few days before her appearance on last weekend's Saturday Night Live. Hearing the song again, and seeing her perform it, solidified my feelings about it. (Entertainment Weekly called it "the year's first great pop anthem.")

Lorde (I was quite relieved to learn that is not her given name) is a 20-year-old from New Zealand who has been performing since she was in grade school. She has a distinctive, unusual voice, and there are moments when it sounds like she isn't really a good singer, but she is. As a consumer of music I have always responded to talent, and that's what I see and hear in Lorde. It's clear that in her young life she has listened to and absorbed a lot of music, and that she is capable of using that to create something that stands apart from what most others are doing.

See for yourself. Here are both her SNL performance and the music video.



10 March 2017

Overheard: Unreliable Brain Edition

On the platform at the Mass. Ave. T station, I unavoidably overheard one side of a phone conversation. The caller asked the other person, "Did I leave my scarf in the car?" And then, after some explanation as to why she did not want to have to retrace her steps looking for it, she added, "Do you remember if I was wearing it?"

09 March 2017

Winterized

When you have a dog, but you don't have a fully enclosed yard, you have to walk the dog, regardless of the weather, so you have to have appropriate seasonal clothing. I have had to venture out with the dog during blizzards, and I have a heavy-duty Eddie Bauer down parka that I bought over 20 years ago (still made in USA, back then) that is too warm to wear if it's above 20 or so.

But when conditions aren't quite so bad, I still need to be warm and (preferably) dry. About ten years ago, I bought a Woolrich jacket from Cabela's, and somehow it ended up being designated as my winter dog-walking (and snow-shoveling) jacket. I thought it was a good idea to use one jacket as much as possible, to minimize getting dog hair on everything. The shell is a wool blend, and it has a fleece lining and also some insulation.

But after many years of use, I was starting to feel like the jacket wasn't cutting it anymore. Even in temperatures around 25 to 30, with layers underneath, I was still cold, and it's not exactly waterproof or even water-repellent. Wool does have some natural water resistance, but I decided it was time to replace it with something more winterized. The challenge was finding something that hit my targets for functionality, with style being a secondary consideration, but still important enough.

I didn't want anything with down, because I already have that, plus I'm not a fan of the current trend in the styling of down outerwear (I can never not think of the Michelin Man). I did think it would be a good idea to get something with a waterproof shell, and also a hood; while I always wear a hat, and sometimes those behind-the-head earmuffs, there are times when the added protection of a hood is welcome. I used to hate coats with hoods, but sometimes it's more important to be practical. But if I'm going to use a hood, I want it to have some insulation in it, and not just be a piece of fabric that rolls into the collar (because then what's the point?).

I spent a couple of weeks browsing through multiple online stores, including outdoor outfitters I would never otherwise have reason to visit. I saw a lot of coats and jackets that were much more than I wanted to spend, and a lot of stuff I thought was quite ugly. I kept circling back to the standbys L.L. Bean and Lands' End. Bean has serious winter parkas, as well as a number of "3-in-1" jackets, but I didn't need or want to be able to separate the jacket into layers, and I found them to be a little overpriced too.

Lands' End has had a bumpy few years, so they are always offering some sort of a discount code. If you miss one, chances are there will be another in a few days. And every now and then they do 50% off a single item. I decided to watch for one of these offers, and one showed up about a month ago. I also wanted the jacket to be red if possible, figuring it would be reasonably visible both at night and against snow.

I found a jacket that I liked, but it was only available in black, navy, or safety yellow. Yellow is not red; yellow and I have never gotten along. I don't like navy either, so that left black. (Maybe there were other colors available earlier in the season?) I wouldn't have wanted to pay the original asking price of $150, but for a marked-down $100 it was all right; with the code, half off that made it a legitimate bargain. I was pleased to find that it's decently put together, seems like it will last a while, and keeps me warm enough.

It does have a hood that's lined with fleece, so it is actually useful in the cold (with proper layering underneath). I'd had it about a week before I realized that the hood is removable. (It probably says that somewhere in the description, but I didn't catch it.) I had only one minor complaint: when it's zipped up all the way, there's a gap between my neck and the coat. When I'm taking the dog out for "last call" at 11 pm or so, I don't want to have to fuss with winding a scarf around my neck. So I found one of those "neck warmer" things to fill the space. When it's cold enough, it's quicker and easier to pull that over my head.

I just need to be careful when I'm crossing streets, and remember that I'm not quite as visible as I ought to be.

07 March 2017

Back to the Office

I've been in my new/old job for a couple of weeks now, and getting used to again having a morning routine that includes getting out of the house in time to catch a bus. I've needed to make a few adjustments, and I admit that I'm trying to keep the routine a little tighter so I don't have to get up quite as early as I used to when I did this before.

Commuting via public transit is still a mixed bag. Some mornings everything goes smoothly; I get a seat, I read the paper, stations whisk by until I look up and realize it's time for me to get off the train. Other days the train is packed way beyond what is comfortable or safe, and doesn't thin out until Back Bay. I sympathize with my fellow commuters, because we're all in it together. We're all on that train because we have to get somewhere and don't have any better option for how to accomplish that.

At the moment, though, I'm only going to the office three days a week. There are space issues, which is part of the reason the department is moving to newly renovated office space some time in April. After my coworkers and I were laid off five years ago the department no longer needed all that space, so it was divided and another organization took over the other part. But as time went by the headcount started to increase again, and eventually they had to start doubling up in offices.

I am currently sharing an office, meaning my desk is a rectangular folding table wedged into a corner. It's not terrible, but I feel to some extent like I'm intruding on the original occupant's space, so I work from home on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This also helps create a transition period for the dog, who was used to me being here every day for the previous eight months. We were concerned about how she would react to this change; we have a dog walker coming on the other days, and Charlie seems to be okay with things. It certainly helps that she's getting treats stuffed into a Kong toy when we leave, and another one when the dog walker leaves.

One disappointment: when we move to the new office, we're going to be in cubicles. They are inescapable, I guess. Given what the renovations must be costing, the institution needs to maximize the number of people who can use the space, so we will be sharing the floor with two or three other departments and the floor will be filled with cubes. We have been told that they will be equipped with adjustable-height desk surfaces to accommodate those who choose to work while standing. I'm interested in trying this, even if only for part of the workday.

But cubicles are still better than the completely open office layout that many companies have adopted (allegedly because it "fosters collaboration"). I shudder a little every time I see one of these photos, and I'm thankful I don't have to work in an environment like that. I don't know how anyone could get anything done with so much going on around them; work requires focus.

22 February 2017

Changes

Life is funny. Things happen when you are not expecting them. Generally, the older you get, the less surprised you are when something unexpected happens, but occasionally a genuinely surprising event occurs.

For the past year or so I have been working two jobs. For the second half of 2016, I was regularly working more than 50 hours each week. Plenty of people do this, but it was new territory for me. When my W-2s came I saw that I had done all right for the year, but the effort required to get there was significant. But certainly, let me be clear, it was better than not working and not being able to get a job.

I think I have mentioned before that my second job was for one of my former supervisors. What I don't think I spelled out explicitly is that this was at the employer I was laid off from five years ago, the one I had thought I'd be able to stay with until I was ready to retire (remember, I'm closer to the end of my working life than the beginning).

For a while after I started working for her again, I used to think about the possibility of being rehired full-time, but it seemed a lot more likely that the most I could expect from them is that someday they might offer me 20 hours a week. Even if that happened, I couldn't see how I'd make it work; my main job was not the sort of thing that could be done part-time, and 20 hours a week wouldn't pay me enough to live on. I stopped thinking about it.

Then, unexpectedly, before Christmas my former/current boss asked me in an email: "If we had a full-time position, would you be interested?" Just like that, with the "if" italicized. I knew there had been some staff changes and that resources were being allocated differently in their budget, but I was not expecting that sort of proposal.

I told the Mrs., who was suitably pleased. I decided not to say anything to anyone else until I had some certainty about what was happening. I made one deviation from that: I told my family, but only after a couple of weeks. I had to get through a medium-sized obstacle course of bureaucracy that took a few more weeks. I needed some idea of when they wanted me to start, so I could figure out when I needed to give notice to my other job. (I've only had that experience a couple of other times in my working life.)

The structure of the job is a little different from what I used to do, and a little better overall. Some of it is the editing work I've been doing for the past seven or eight months, which I really enjoy. Other parts of it are just what I used to do before, and while that's not necessarily as exciting or interesting, it's worth it. Some of the processes have changed, and not necessarily in ways that can be considered improvements, but I don't care; it's worth it.

Even though I was working full-time and then some for a successful and growing company, I was technically an employee of the agency that placed me in the job; the work was stressful but also tedious, I was not being paid what the work was worth, and the benefits available to me were not especially competitive. Making this change means that once again I'm part of an organization with thousands of employees, and able to benefit from that in all the ways you would expect.

So, while I am still disheartened and disappointed by what's happening in our government and in our country, on a more personal level this is a distinct turn for the better for me. And the office will be moving in a couple of months, which will provide a figurative fresh start to accompany this more experiential one. And I expect I will be able to find more time to blog...

23 January 2017

Please Watch This

Aziz Ansari is a very talented actor (Parks and Recreation) and stand-up comedian, who created and stars in the excellent Netflix series Master of None, for which he won an Emmy last year (outstanding writing for a comedy series). He also wrote an intriguing and thoughtful book on dating and relationships called Modern Romance.

Aziz hosted Saturday Night Live this past weekend, and delivered a timely, topical, funny, challenging monologue. We are going to need as much of this (sharply observed humor) as we can get to help us get through the next four years.


31 December 2016

End of Year Reflections 2016

When I wrote a similar post last year, I said I'd check back in to see where things were; here we are on December 31st, and I don't want to make a liar of myself.

Unlike the past several years, I had plenty of work to occupy me this year. My day job demanded my full focus and attention for pretty much every minute of every workday, a marked departure from most of my prior work. I find the work quite stressful, and initially I considered not committing to the assignment, but a combination of inertia and guilt kept me in place. I made a verbal commitment to remain in the position through the end of June, and since nothing better had presented itself by that point, I kept going. By the end of July, the volume of work had increased to the point that I started working overtime hours, and regularly logged an average of 45 hours per week for the rest of the year.

I also took on additional part-time work for one of my former bosses. Initially that involved migrating several years of content from one platform to another, somewhat rote but not entirely uninteresting. I finished that project near the end of July, and within a few weeks I was being asked to copy-edit and proofread material, a task I find much more engaging. For most of the year I put in five of six hours a week on these projects, which was good for my bank balance and my resume.

Elsewhere, we said goodbye to our dog in early February, and got another dog near the end of June. I quickly fell back into the routine of walks and feedings, all of which is much easier with a younger, healthy dog. This dog's personality and quirks are still revealing themselves to us, which is a big part of the appeal of having a dog.

Otherwise, things around here were pretty normal. Like a lot of people, we are kind of ready to be done with 2016, though along with that goes apprehension about what's to come. At the same time, we are grateful that this year has brought some measure of stability back to our lives. The other day I had the thought that 2016 should be sent off by symbolically burning something, perhaps the calendar that hangs on the inside of our back door, but as renters we don't quite feel comfortable lighting something on fire, even outdoors.

So tonight we'll sit down with friends for a home-cooked dinner, and toast to our collective good fortune. Here's hoping that everyone has a fun and safe night and weekend, and that 2017 brings good things to all of us.

30 December 2016

Overheard: Global Perspective Edition

Friday afternoon, December 30th, Newbury Street: "You don't have to be European to be boring."

18 December 2016

Dark Days

Hello out there. I know it's been a while since I've surfaced. Things have been pretty busy around here, leaving me almost no time for thinking, let alone blogging. Between my two jobs, I am regularly working more than 50 hours a week, which includes some late-evening and weekend hours. Sure, it's nice to have a steady income, but it's also stressful.

It's almost Christmas, but to be honest I'd kind of barely noticed. Of course I am in the process of getting gifts for my family, but that happens largely from the chair right here in front of my computer screen, so I have not been out in stores all that much. I used to be more enthusiastic about holiday shopping when I was younger, but age does change us, whether we want to admit it or not.

We're in the midst of the shortest days of the year, when it's dark by around 4:30. This confuses the dog, who thinks that the darkness means it's time for her evening meal. She has a bed in the room where I work, so she comes in from the other room and parks herself there, keeping an eye on me to make sure I don't forget about feeding her.

We go for a walk after she's had her dinner, and I do enjoy seeing the houses in our neighborhood lit up for the holiday season. It takes some of the edge off the early sunsets, and cheers me up a bit. If I remember correctly, by the end of January the sunset happens around 5, so it won't be long before the days start getting longer again.

Anyway, there are more important things to be concerned about. Our country is about to be plunged into an experience the likes of which we have never seen. I suppose the most optimistic way to view the incoming administration is as a gigantic four-year (minimum) experiment in which all 325 million of us (or whatever the US population is these days) are the mice that are being experimented on.

The Mrs. and I have plenty of reason to be apprehensive about what's going to happen in 2017 and beyond. All of us do, whether or not we realize it. To be honest, I am somewhat less worried about what the government might do than I am about the kind of behavior that some Americans think it's okay to exhibit, as though the change in leadership has given them some sort of permission to bring to the surface their worst impulses toward their fellow citizens. This is a far bigger threat to our country's future than whoever happens to be occupying the White House, or any other elected office, or even the seats on the Supreme Court.

But we also have other things on our minds. We have to keep doing our thing, and I think it's crucial to try to maintain some sense of optimism in the face of the ignorance and blatant bigotry that's out there. I made some charitable contributions this month, simply because solicitations arrived in the mail from organizations deserving of support. We are at a point where we can think about planning a real vacation, something we have not been able to do in several years.

I hope all of you have a holiday season filled with friends, family, and happiness. And if I can close with a bit of advice for the coming year: look inward, look outward, pay attention.

03 October 2016

Overheard: Open Window Edition

I was in the kitchen last Saturday morning, making coffee and cleaning up things. The window was open, and from the upstairs neighbors' kitchen directly above (also with windows open) I heard one of the guys who moved in at the beginning of September: "What an great morning! I'm not hung over, and I feel amazing!"

01 October 2016

Greyhound Love, the Sequel

The departure of our dog left a void in our lives, but at the same time I appreciated having a break from the daily responsibilities of feeding, walking, and other assorted pet-parenting. The Mrs. was ready for another dog about two weeks after we said goodbye to London, but I insisted on taking some time for ourselves.

After about three months I felt I was ready. During that period we were able to go to New York for a long weekend without needing to worry about who would look after our dog, and how much that would cost on top of the hotel and other related expenses.

It was a pretty easy decision for us to look for another greyhound. The breed's post-retirement temperament meshes well with our own, and we knew all the specifics of caring for one. The greyhound adoption group that we had dealt with no longer operates in New England, so we started looking around online.

We visited a facility where dogs fresh from the track were kenneled and available for adoption. We found that the dogs there were so excited to go outside and walk around on the grounds that they were not especially interested in us, and we decided that we needed to find another adoption group that fosters the dogs in home settings before matching them with adopters.

Some deeper searching led us to Greyhound Options, which is based out in the middle-western part of Massachusetts but has foster dogs available in greater Boston. We were visited by a volunteer who lives in our city, and our original plan was to drive out to a facility to meet a fresh batch of dogs as they were released from vet quarantine. But the Mrs. wasn't feeling well that week, and we decided that two-plus hours of driving each way wasn't the best idea at the time.

A dog that was being fostered at that location was transferred to this area, and the group suggested we might want to meet her. They even offered to bring her to the volunteer's house so we wouldn't have to travel as far, and so on a Friday evening at the beginning of June we went to meet her. We were immediately charmed by "Jordy," who is almost entirely black with a brown undertone, and a white patch on her chest that turns to pink on her stomach; her back paws and the tip or her tail are also white. She turned four at the end of April.

We agreed to move forward with the adoption, but that name... it wouldn't do. She hadn't been called by it for very long, so it would be relatively easy to change it. My thinking was that something that sounded kind of similar would make for a smoother transition. We tried over a hundred potential names, ones that did and didn't sound like Jordy, and found nothing that we felt was a better fit than "Charlie."

Charlie became part of our "pack" just over three months ago. She was brought to our house on a Monday evening in June, and it took about 45 minutes after the adoption group people left for her to climb up on the couch and make herself at home. Getting to know her has been highly amusing. She's very different from London, quite a bit more doglike in many ways. Even so, she has fit right into our household and our lives, and now we couldn't imagine our life without her.

04 September 2016

Random Searches, Random Results

When you search in Google (or whichever search engine you prefer), do you ever look at what results come up when you start typing? It can be very entertaining.
Please note item five on the list, which I have marked. For it to land that high, I believe that means a significant number of people must have typed that question into a search box.

Also noteworthy: the ninth item on the list. If you have to ask, then you may not want to know the answer...

27 August 2016

A Thoughtful Response

Ooh boy, it's been a while. I'm working a lot, you see, sometimes 50 hours a week. It's challenging and draining, and at the end of the day I don't have much energy for anything beyond TV. I wish I was reappearing here with something witty or funny or just interesting, but I'm not. Well, I do find it interesting, but not in the way I prefer to use that word.

Okay, so it's been kind of a terrible year or ten for those of us who consider ourselves progressives. I'm not going to attempt to get into why our country is in the place it is; I admit to not following every nuance of politics closely enough to do that capably (my late father-in-law was exceptionally adept at it, and I wish he was still around). There's a lot of toxicity in our everyday lives, and while not all of it comes from the political arena, much of it does.

I'm sure a lot of you have heard by now of the various heinous things spewed out of the noise-hole of the governor of Maine, who clearly views the Republican candidate for president as a role model in all the wrong ways. The plain truth is that the governor is a racist asshole who is doing his part to destroy any semblance of civility left in our society.

But the reason I have emerged from my bunker/hiding place to write a post is this: the Portland Press-Herald wrote an editorial apologizing to the rest of the country for this man and his behavior. It's brilliant and candid and dead-on, and you should go read it. Unless you share the views of what's-his-name, in which case then please just go away.

17 July 2016

Geography and Convenience

We've been going to Trader Joe's since the store on Memorial Drive opened in... 1999? I'm not exactly sure when it opened, but it was quite a while ago. I even worked there for the better part of a year. There are now 18 stores in Massachusetts (plus two in southern New Hampshire and one in Rhode Island), but we've never managed to get a store closer to where we live. Sometimes we go to the TJ's on route 1 in Saugus, not because it's closer or more convenient but because it's an easier drive from our house, compared to driving through Somerville and Cambridge's always-terrible traffic.

But then a couple of months ago, it was announced that Trader Joe's would be opening a store next year in the Assembly Row complex in Somerville that is roughly two miles from our house. (Our previous residence in Somerville was technically within walking distance of Assembly Square/Row, but it was a bit treacherous to get there.) The newer buildings that were constructed a few years ago were set up for smaller retail and don't have the amount of floor space required for a grocery store, even one like TJ's that's quite a bit smaller than a modern supermarket.

But the older part of the complex, which at one time was a traditional enclosed mall and, long before that, a Ford auto assembly plant (hence the name), is composed of medium-size floor plates and currently occupied by stores like Staples, TJ Maxx/Home Goods, AC Moore, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Christmas Tree Shops. A vacancy came about due to the demise of the Sports Authority chain. I have no idea how Trader Joe's secured the space, but someone must have had someone else on speed dial because it seemed to fall into place pretty quickly after the Sports Authority liquidation and closings were announced.

We've been going to the movies at Assembly Row since the AMC theater opened there, and the popularity of the complex has brought plenty of traffic. It's all right on the surrounding roads, but within the complex itself things can get chaotic. I imagine this will only get worse when the Trader Joe's opens, but I am hoping that Somerville will allow this store to be open until 10 pm like the ones in Brookline and Cambridge (most close at 9). That would give us some flexibility in when we shop and might help us avoid some congestion.

There's also a grocery-related development happening here in Medford. The Wegmans chain, based in Rochester, NY, has been growing quite a bit over the past decade and currently has four stores in MA. They distinguish themselves from competitors by building enormous stores (100,000 square feet is not unusual) with huge prepared-food sections, a response to our culture's desire for greater convenience. Wegmans has agreed to open a store at the site of the Meadow Glen Mall on route 16, about a mile from our house (and closer than the nearest Whole Foods).

The mall was awful, mostly empty with a few tired, sad stores kept afloat by a Kohl's on one end and a Marshalls on the other. (It was used by some seniors for indoor walking, and I don't know where they will go now for their exercise.) The property owners arrived at an interesting solution: the anchor stores have remained and are open while the middle section of the mall building has been demolished, and the Wegmans is going to be built in its place. We have heard that the store will open next year, but the Wegmans website lists it as TBD.

Meanwhile we have made a couple of visits to the closest open store, in Burlington, to sample the offerings. While not life-changing, they were certainly tasty, no more expensive than comparable items one might purchase elsewhere, and the staff were uniformly very pleasant and helpful. (The chocolate-chunk cookies with pecans are worth a repeat visit.)

Again it will be interesting to see how traffic is affected; there is also a proposal for an almost 500-unit apartment complex to be built on land directly across the street from the mall property (ironically, there used to be a Shaw's supermarket there). Neighbors have protested that the housing development would be too dense for the size of the property, and the Wegmans is likely to add significantly to traffic in and out of the area.

The Wegmans was announced first, but the Trader Joe's seems more likely to open first. Either way, upon hearing of the latter the Mrs. responded, "I guess we can never move." That remains to be seen...

02 July 2016

Milestones

Some events have occurred in our lives in recent months that I did not specifically discuss here, mainly because I find it difficult to devote time to blogging on my current schedule. So I'm going to take advantage of the long weekend and the brief pause in my regular activity to do a little catching up.

In February we had to say goodbye to our beloved greyhound London. She was 14 and a half, a ripe old age for a dog, and as would be expected that age brought with it a general decline in her health. For most of 2015 we were able to manage her needs, but by January nearly every aspect of her everyday life had grown very difficult. She had a hard time getting up from her bed, she needed to go out every couple of hours, she needed to be supported when squatting outside and when going up and down the ramp.

While she still enjoyed going outside and still had a good appetite for the food that the Mrs. cooked for her, she was on a lot of painkilling medication and had reached a point where she could no longer stand up by herself long enough to finish eating a meal. She was not suffering, but she was definitely struggling, and after some soul-searching and an objective assessment of the situation, we came to the conclusion that propping her up with higher doses of medication for another couple of months, or however much longer she remained with us, was not worth pursuing. We did not want her life to end in suffering, so we made a humane choice to have her euthanized.

Be assured this was a very difficult decision, one we had hoped we would not have to make. Every day I quietly wished that she might go to sleep and simply not wake up, in order to be spared any further decline, but that didn't happen. It is an inevitable part of the cycle of being a pet owner, or pet parent, or pet caretaker, and it's incredibly hard but it must be done. We have never doubted that we made the right decision, and beyond that I feel more human for having had this experience. We miss her every day.

At the beginning of June we marked ten years living in this apartment. We lived in our previous home for nearly 11 years, and I did not think we would remain here this long, but I have no regrets about it. My lengthy period of unemployment certainly got in the way of any thoughts of moving, and with the housing situation in greater Boston being what it is, living elsewhere would certainly be costing us a lot more; in the time we have been here, our rent has not increased, an extremely fortunate circumstance.

We are starting to feel that it would be nice to have a bit more space, like one more room that could be used as a dedicated office, so that we could then have a dedicated dining room. But I don't feel like my situation is stable enough yet to consider trying to find another place to live, so we will be remaining here for another year, at least. We really like our community, which is a definite asset, and if we do end up moving, we hope we can remain in this city.

20 June 2016

The Pop Paradox

Last weekend we attended a bar mitzvah; the young man is the son of a colleague and friend of the Mrs. The event was really nice, with teenagers running semi-amok and a delicious meal. A DJ was on hand to keep things festive, spinning pop hits covering the past decade or so.

A couple of things struck me about the music. I don't exactly follow pop these days, but I knew the majority of the songs, or at least the performers. But nothing was played as a nod to the adults in the room; nothing from the '80s, or even the '90s. (What the Mrs. thought was "Baby Got Back" turned out to be its sample-child, "Anaconda.")

But more notable to my mind (and ears) was a sameness to the music. Other than the occasional vocal performance, nothing really stood out. There's a similarity to how modern pop songs are constructed, even down to some of the chord changes they employ, that suggests they emanate from a factory somewhere. You hear the same structure, the same types of flourishes, the rap verse dropped in at approximately the same point.

It's not just simple nostalgia, or even the argument that the music we love and connect with as teenagers remains the most powerful and most significant to us. Divorcing myself from those sentiments, today's music just isn't as good as pop from eras past. While the roster of performers may come from more diverse cultural backgrounds, the music they are producing is not nearly as diverse as the sounds radio offered in the 1970s, or even the '80s.

05 June 2016

Hey, There

A few times over the past couple of weeks, I've wanted to post but felt like I didn't have enough to say to justify it. At the moment I'm almost ready to head off to bed, but a few thoughts are swimming around and I can probably turn them into small bits.

My work continues more or less the same, though my employer has allowed me to shift my hours so that my work day now finishes at 6 pm instead of 7. While I did like having time in the morning to accomplish certain things like paying bills, drinking coffee and eating breakfast, and catching up with my online reading, I much prefer being done earlier and having that time free in the evening. So that's something.

Outlet shopping ain't what it used to be. On Sunday of Memorial Day weekend we visited Freeport, Maine, the home of L.L. Bean. We hadn't been there for a number of years and I kind of bugged the Mrs. into going. Even though we have Bean stores around here now, it's always fun to visit the original, but aside from that it wasn't a very exciting day. I didn't see anything in the stores that interested me much; part of that is just what's available at a given time, part is that outlets serve a different function than they used to; and part is that my tastes and preferences have shifted somewhat, and I also try to think more carefully before making purchases. Truthfully, my shopping urges could have been satisfied at the Kittery outlets, which are an hour closer than Freeport.

The weather cooperated; the day before it was 96 here, but the day we went it barely managed to hit 60. We did stop for dinner at the Portsmouth Brewery, which is always a good idea; they take the food as seriously as they do their beer. And following dinner we made our way over to Annabelle's Ice Cream, which I first visited over 30 years ago. It's still in the same place, and as far as I can tell it hasn't changed at all.

27 May 2016

Word Salad: What Do You Call It?

Okay, two weeks is a long time to be absent from here, and I apologize. I admit that I've been devoting most of my free time (what there is of it) to catching up on some of the backlog of TV shows on my TiVo.

Anyway, at work we had a listing for a multi-function pocket knife, and the description of its various tools and features was a little garbled. "... knife, saw, double jagged, scissors, bottle opener, can opener, the screwdriver, file, the threading, scissors, red wine drill." The last one is my favorite—it can only be used for red wine?

15 May 2016

Back to New York, Part 3

(I'd planned on making this only two parts, but part 2 ran a little longer than I'd expected and I wanted to give this enough space.) Normally I wouldn't have much to say about the final morning of a trip like this; we'd pack up, get something to eat, and head home. But this time we had a destination, and we had to be there on time. We had tickets to the observatory at the new World Trade Center building. (Neither of us went to the top of the original, and I'll always regret not doing so.)

It's roughly a ten-minute walk from the hotel to the eastern edge of the WTC site, but the observatory entrance is on the west side of the new building, which is situated at the western edge of the site, so it took a few minutes longer to get over to it. Upon entering the building we were sent down an escalator to a security screening much like at an airport, then through a winding passageway, decorated with mementos and artifacts from the construction process, to the elevators.

As we ascended, the walls of the elevator showed a video projection representing the growth of New York City from its founding to the present day, in the space of about a minute. That's all it takes for the elevator to rise to the 102nd floor. We were ushered into a long, narrow room to watch another video, this one maybe three minutes long, hyping New York in general. Then the screens pulled away for a look outside. After a few moments they closed again, and we were briefly confused: was that it?

But then they sent us through another door and down another escalator, to where the staff hit us with a hard sell for rental of a tablet device ($15) that would provide additional information about what we'd be seeing through the windows. Ignoring them, we moved around a corner to where some other staff tried to get us to pose for and buy a photo in front of a green screen; we waved them off and finally went down one more floor to 100, to the observatory itself. (I'm sure some of you might be interested in these extras, but that's not us.)

We deliberately chose the first timed entry of the day (9 am) thinking it wouldn't be quite as crowded, and that was a good choice. We had room to move around and take plenty of pictures without having to jostle with others for window space. Here's a sample:
There's a gift shop, of course, and a cafe if you want to hang around and enjoy the view a while longer. We left after about half an hour, which was more than enough time to make our way around the entire floor. Some of the photos had glare or reflections on the glass, so I can see the value of going in the middle part of the day when the sun is higher. (You can also go at night, though that costs more.)
Leaving the building, we made our way around to the memorial area where the original buildings stood. Even if we hadn't gone to the observatory, we would have made time to visit the site for this. Hundreds of trees have been planted in rows, but of course the focal point is the two voids, which have been made into fountains, with metal panels around the edges bearing the names of the victims. It would be easy to spend a couple of hours there, just moving along the sides and reading all the names. The letters are cut out of the metal, and here and there a flower had been inserted through a name, surely left by a relative or friend. Seeing the empty spaces where those buildings stood was a deeply emotional experience, one I didn't wish to compromise by taking photos.

(For those of you who may be wondering, the 9/11 museum is separate from the observatory. We did not visit the museum; I would be willing, but I don't think the Mrs. has any inclination to do so.)

We returned to the hotel to gather our things and check out. We took a cab back to retrieve the car, which was fine (let's hear it for a lower crime rate and an older vehicle). Before leaving we had one more thing to do: a stop at the Doughnut Plant on the Lower East Side, a short drive from where we'd parked. Unfortunately, the guy ahead of me got the last peanut butter and blackberry jam doughnut, so I had to settle for chocolate.

11 May 2016

Back to New York, Part 2

Right, where were we? On Sunday morning of our weekend trip to New York, the Mrs. was tired from all the walking we'd been doing and wanted to get some extra sleep, so I got ready and left the room, not really knowing what I'd do but eager to get outside and enjoy a beautiful day. (We were fortunate to enjoy fantastic weather the whole time.) The hotel always has coffee available in the lobby (along with some sort of treat, like cookies or muffins) so I fixed a cup and went outside.

There is a patio-type area adjacent to the building that serves as a beer garden during warm weather. Being only April it wasn't yet operating, but the tables and benches were there, so I sat in the sun to absorb some vitamin D (with a hat on, of course) and drank my coffee. I saw a man walk by with a dog and watched them cross the street heading toward the East River, just a couple of short blocks away. I remembered reading that the city had constructed a path along the river's edge, so I got up and followed the man.

The path was full of activity, with bicyclists, joggers, and people walking dogs. I sat for a while watching people, got a smoothie from a guy in a little hut, took some photos, then walked north for a bit, to the site where South Street Seaport is being rebuilt (it was heavily damaged during Hurricane Sandy). At that point I decided to head back toward the hotel and started walking down Water Street. When I was almost back I remembered that Century 21 was about to open (11 on Sundays), so I turned west and headed in that direction.

C21 is like a TJ Maxx on steroids, but also a somewhat nicer store environment. The store adjacent to the World Trade Center site has been remodeled and expanded, and now covers six floors (plus an annex with shoes). It sort of reminds me of an old-time full-line department store, with a substantial housewares department on the basement level. They sell a lot of discounted designer clothing, and plenty of everyday stuff too. The store had just opened so it was nearly empty, and I spent most of an hour browsing. I got a text from the Mrs. saying she was up and getting ready, so I headed back over to the hotel and found her in the lobby getting coffee.

We had a brief conversation about brunch, and decided we needed our Junior's fix. Sometimes (depending on where you are and where you want to go, and what day it is) a cab ride is easier and quicker than taking the subway, and 20 minutes later we were being seated in a booth. After eating we took the subway back to Manhattan, heading for the Cooper Hewitt Museum, but first we decided to stop in Union Square and visit the Strand Bookstore. The Mrs. got a case for her work iPhone, and I got a book on the history of pop music.

We continued uptown to the museum, and later had a very pleasant dinner with relatives at Maya, a Mexican restaurant on the Upper East Side. They take the food a little more seriously than what's typical at many Mexican places, but still offer crowd-pleasing fare like tacos (mine had smoked brisket, pickled onions, and avocado).

After dinner we went over to 2nd Avenue to get a bus back downtown (that particular route stops right outside the front door of our hotel). When we got to the bus stop a bus was there, but all the passengers were getting off because the bus had been involved in a minor accident with a truck. When the next bus arrived a few minutes later, the driver waved everyone onto the bus without collecting fares. (This provided some balance to an incident earlier in the day when we were going back into the subway at Union Square. The entrance had no regular fare gates, just the vertical kind with the metal prongs. The gates took money off our Metrocards but wouldn't allow us through. Thanks, MTA!)

05 May 2016

Forms of Communication

As I have mentioned previously, my longtime friend Just Bud Fox is on tumblr, but I'm not. I don't fully understand how tumblr users communicate with each other, but they often "quote" each other's posts in order to reply to or comment on them publicly.

In response to another user's comment, "Remember the ‘90s, when getting email was fun?" JBF responded:
Come grow old with me? Some Assembly Required and I have been friends since 1985. Of that time, we lived in the same place for less than two years in the aggregate. We used to write big long letters and have periodic two hour phone calls. Then email took over. More contacts. Less content. Lately, we mostly text. We are aging through technology together. Gracefully, I hope.
I hope so, too. It feels a little weird to have known someone for that long, but also gratifying.

04 May 2016

Car Stuff: Basic Black

I saw the '72 Grand Prix again yesterday, parked in the same spot where I found it in January (which is making me wonder if its owner happens to live nearby). It was wearing its new coat of paint, so now we know what color its owner decided on:
I'll admit I was hoping for something more interesting than black, but I also have to be honest and say that huge 1970s cars tend to look good in black. The lack of its original vinyl roof or any other exterior ornamentation is giving it a sinister look (probably what the owner was going for) and making me think of that terrible '70s movie The Car.

02 May 2016

Back to New York, Part 1

When I mentioned going to New York a couple of weekends ago, I may have indicated that I would be writing something about it. So let's not let it get any further into the past before that happens...

It had been four years since I'd visited, and almost that long since the Mrs. and I had been there together, but that one was only an overnighter. After a visit in July of 2011, we'd concluded that we did not really need or want to spend time there again in the depths of summer. The Mrs. gets a day off for the Massachusetts holiday Patriots Day (commemorating the start of the Revolutionary War), so we decided to plan around that.

We drove down on Friday, making it out of the house around 8:30 am and getting onto the highway not long after, following a coffee stop. The ability to monitor traffic conditions and construction activity via smartphone app makes a big difference in car travel; we were able to avoid the seemingly perpetual construction on 95 southbound in Connecticut by switching over to the Merritt Parkway, which roughly parallels 95 a bit further inland.

Normally we go to whichever hotel we're staying at and check in so we can unload and leave our luggage, then we go and find a spot to leave the car. This can depend on where we are staying, but generally the Village and the East Village have worked out pretty well for us; we've also parked in Brooklyn. Street cleaning takes place either on Mondays and Thursdays or Tuesdays and Fridays, and often varies from one side of a street to the other, so signs must be checked carefully.

This time we had plans to meet up with a friend who was already on her way into the city from New Jersey, so the Mrs. wanted to find parking first. We wasted some time because I had her get off FDR Drive too soon, but after we got ourselves into the back and forth of the one-way streets in the East Village, we found an open space on Avenue C a few blocks from Houston St. We took our bags and walked down to Houston, where we got a cab to our hotel.

We've been to the original Bubby's in Tribeca a number of times, but they have opened a new location adjacent to the High Line elevated park and the new Whitney Museum, which was our Friday evening destination, so that's where we ate dinner Friday. Bubby's serves up comfort food and many varieties of pie. The Whitney is a multistory white box facing the Hudson River, with some of the upper floors turned at an angle. It has less character than the previous building on Madison Avenue, but I think it's trying to take a back seat to the artwork on display.

On Saturday we ventured to Staten Island via the ferry to see a former coworker of the Mrs. I'd thought she was going to meet up with us in Manhattan, but the Mrs. wanted the experience of riding the ferry and seeing what the island was like. (The answer to that is: New Jersey, because geographically it ought to be part of that state.) It also looks like a lot of the Boston area, which isn't that surprising. So, been there done that, probably don't need to go back.

We returned to Manhattan and headed for Midtown to do some shopping. Going to Uniqlo isn't as much of a big deal as it was back in 2007 when we first visited the Soho store (they've been offering online shopping in the US for several years and now have stores in Boston and the surrounding suburbs), but the gigantic 5th Avenue store is still something to behold and experience. Muji, another Japanese store, has several stores in Manhattan now, and the one across from the public library is also much larger than the original Soho store. It's deceptive from the street, because most of the space is on the lower level.

After satisfying our shopping urges, we hopped a bus and rode down to the East Village for dinner at Veselka, which has become one of our favorite spots. Open since the mid-1950s, Veselka is like a really good diner/neighborhood place that also happens to serve Eastern European favorites like pierogi and potato pancakes, because it was started by Ukranian immigrants. It's open all night and is lively and fun. Despite its proximity to NYU and Cooper Union, it doesn't seem to draw a large student crowd, but perhaps they don't show up until the wee hours.

After that we retreated to our hotel, and I'll resume with my Sunday morning activities...

21 April 2016

The Gift

Here I am, doing this again... it's been a rough year for musical greatness.

By now I'm sure all of you have heard that Prince died earlier today at his home/studio. The details are as yet unknown, or at least are not yet being shared with the public.

I got a text from a friend saying, "You introduced me to his music." I responded that I was only able to do that because someone else introduced me to it. In this instance, I knew who Prince was, and I had probably heard a couple of his early songs, but it wasn't until my sophomore-year RA, a law student, loaned me his copy of 1999 that my personal experience with Prince's music began.

I grew up in a household where music was on a lot. My father was a big fan of all the Motown artists, plus James Brown, Ray Charles, Sly and the Family Stone, Wilson Pickett, and many others. I knew R&B and soul before I knew any other style or genre of music. And what I loved so much about Prince was how he smashed and fused genres, while at the same time drawing a line from the R&B of the '50s through Jimi Hendrix, 1970s funk, and all kinds of rock, showing us it was all part of a larger whole.

I consider myself really fortunate that I got to see Prince live twice (both times at what used to be called the Worcester Centrum), first on the Purple Rain tour in March of 1985 (the tickets even said "wear something purple" so I wore a skinny purple tie), and then again in October of 1988, the amazing spectacle that was the tour for the album Lovesexy. I wish I could remember more than I do from those shows, but it's enough to know I was there.

He was only 57. That's sad, and also ridiculous. I mean, if anyone was going to be wheeled onto a stage somewhere in his eighties still able to turn a guitar into a flamethrower, it was going to be Prince. That's the thing; we live with the music of a great artist for decades, it becomes a part of us, and it feels like its creator is immortal. Then something happens, and the artist is gone.

But the music does convey immortality, in a way. It lives on, reminding us of all the moments where it played a part in our lives. Being a musician is complex and challenging, but it also gives a gift to the world. Music changes people, transports them, heals them. And I think we're all so lucky to benefit from those gifts, to share our world with these artists. I think it makes being alive so much better.

So let's remember Prince by celebrating what he gave us. He was a goddamn genius.

Update: a fitting tribute from Boston.

19 April 2016

Unexcused Absence

Hello there.

I know it's been awfully quiet around here lately. Life has just been hectic, as it is for many people. For a long time I had the luxury of a job that wasn't all that demanding, which allowed me time during the day to compose ramblings here. Then I was unemployed for a significant chunk of time. Now my work days are busy from start to finish, and I do some extra work at night and on weekends. It's hard enough to motivate myself to do that, so swinging by here often gets pushed aside.

We also just got back from a long weekend away, something we have not been able to do for a while. I may be able to whip up something about that in the next day or so. It was really nice to take a break from everyday life and go do stuff, see friends and family, and have some great meals.

I just want to tell you that I'm not giving up or going away, but maybe temper your expectations about the frequency of postings here. Life goes on...

10 April 2016

Word Salad: That's Not What You Meant

A listing for cell phones contained this nugget: "Photos shows condition of the photos." We assumed they meant to say "phones," and we also corrected the agreement problem.

02 April 2016

Word Salad: Not to Scale

My job continues to provide moments of amusement from the material that I'm checking. We had a listing with the title Assorted Rugs, 7" x 10". No one noticed it before it got to me. The first thing I thought was that they might be for dollhouses, but the dimensions and weight of the shipping pallet did away with that idea pretty quickly. I suppose a Spinal Tap reference would be appropriate, though.

18 March 2016

Retro Video Unit (3/18/16)

You've probably figured out by now that when it comes to music and the artists I choose to feature here, I have a fondness for the obscure. In an era when most of the past century's output of recorded music is available at our fingertips, I relish the idea that there are still bands that most people have never heard of. And I consider it (sort of) my mission to bring them to your attention.

That leads us to The Motors and "Love and Loneliness." Originally part of a scene called "pub rock" (which was something of a cross between bar band and power pop, and also birthed the likes of Graham Parker, Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, and Elvis Costello), their ambitions were much bigger and so was their music. They only released three albums between 1977 and 1980, so they missed the MTV era. I have no idea where this clip comes from, but I'm glad there is at least this opportunity to see the band performing the song.



Go big or go home, right? Unfortunately this clip cuts off both the beginning and end of the song (though the end is just a fade), so in order to get the full experience of it (and the tasty drum fill that opens the song), you can check out this audio-only clip.

Oh, and can someone please get Arcade Fire to cover this? Thanks.

15 March 2016

A New Late-Night Voice

I try to avoid getting into any political stuff in this space, mainly because there are many, many other people who understand politics better than I do and are better qualified to write about the important issues our country is struggling with. But I also haven't hidden my opinions or views, and if you've been coming around for a while you have probably noticed that I align with the more progressive side of things.

That is a preamble to: there's something I think you should watch. Former Daily Show correspondent Samantha Bee now has her own show on TBS, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. There must be something in the water at the building where The Daily Show is produced, because its alumni are doing some really impressive work. John Oliver's weekly half-hour HBO show Last Week Tonight typically devotes 15 to 20 minutes to a single story, doing long-form think pieces that are also very funny.

Ms. Bee is working in a vein closer to that of The Daily Show, but man, is she killing it. The show's voice grows more confident each week. Last week she examined the state of the Republican party, and... well, like I said, I just think you should watch this:





My only wish is that she might find a wider audience. No offense, TBS, but Samantha Bee is too good for you. But in the meantime, Full Frontal airs Mondays at 10:30 pm (Eastern time).

11 March 2016

Overheard: One Thing Not Necessarily Related to the Other Edition

I stepped outside a few minutes ago to put out some trash and recycling. While I was in the driveway near the back of the house, I heard a voice and saw someone passing by the front of the house, talking loudly on his phone: "I went to Harvard, I don't need to be yelled at!"

08 March 2016

Car Stuff: Off Limits

I still have a few car photos on my phone that I haven't gotten around to posting. This one is from last summer, which is kind of discernible from the bright sunshine and greenery.
That's a 1960 Ford Thunderbird convertible sitting way back in that driveway. (The photo would be sharper if I hadn't had to crop out so much.) I spotted it in Somerville, not far from Union Square. It caught my eye because of the color, which I would be inclined to call turquoise but Ford chose to call "aquamarine." I couldn't quite tell what it was from where I was standing, so I got out my phone, took a shot, and zoomed in.

It appears to be in very decent, driveable condition. It's clean, there are no flat tires, and it looks like it hasn't even been in that spot for long. Maybe it will make an appearance at a car show somewhere. The second-generation Thunderbird is one of the better designs from the otherwise overwrought late 1950s period.

I was about to head back into the yard to take more pictures when I noticed a "No Trespassing" sign on the fence, and thought better of it. I prefer finding cars parked on the street or in motion, but cars parked in driveways or yards are fair game as long as I remain standing on the sidewalk, which is generally not considered a part of one's private property. If there hadn't been a sign, I probably would have ventured closer, but the place looked run-down in general and I didn't need any trouble.

02 March 2016

Word Salad: Rough Guess

From the description of a bra assortment: "Note: The size tag on the bra may be wrong. You might have to figure it for yourself." (The second sentence was deleted before the listing went live.)

29 February 2016

Laundry Solutions Unit: Smoke Gets in Your Clothes

Having purchased plenty of used clothing items over the years, from both thrift shops and eBay, I have occasionally had to deal with the problem of lingering smells. Not gross, sweaty smells, but most commonly tobacco. Sometimes all that's needed is to hang the garment outdoors (I installed a hook on my back porch for this purpose), but sometimes that isn't enough.

With many eBay sellers, they are not selling their own clothing but rather items that they have acquired to resell, so they may not know an item's history. Even if a seller states that they have a nonsmoking home, an item could arrive smelling of smoke. This happened to me a couple of months ago. I bought a flannel shirt, nothing special, for only a few dollars. In this instance I did not pay close attention to the listing regarding info about the household, so it was up to me to try to get rid of the smell.

My first step is always a normal run through the washing machine, but I avoid the dryer because it can "seal in" stains or smells, which is what I think happened to this shirt before I ever got it. Next I soaked the shirt in the washer with some Oxi-Clean, which also yielded no results. I had recently learned that Oxi-Clean now sells a more specialized odor-fighting product, Odor Blasters (I am unclear as to why it's pluralized), so I decided it was time to try it.

The product recommends using hot water, but depending on the garment that might not be a good idea. In this case I went with warm water, and since I soaked the shirt for six hours it didn't stay warm long anyway. The product itself has a fairly strong smell (I generally use unscented detergent and unscented regular Oxi-Clean), so after hanging it in my basement I needed to wait a few days for that smell to dissipate.

Once the Oxi smell had faded I could still detect a smoke smell, but it was much fainter than it had been. I decided to do one more round, and I left the shirt in the machine for longer this time, roughly a whole day. (You can opt for an overnight soak if that's more convenient.) When doing a soak with any Oxi-Clean product, I find that it tends to remain in the fabric, so I run a second rinse cycle to remove it more thoroughly. This time, when the shirt had dried and hung for several days, I couldn't detect any sort of smell except a very, very faint trace of the Oxi. A regular wash will probably get rid of that.

Occasionally I receive an item that has been washed in a very strong-smelling detergent. People do this to reinforce that a garment is clean, which is well-intentioned but unnecessary. I find most detergents have an annoying smell, which is why I prefer ones that are free of perfumes and dyes. I recently got another shirt from eBay that arrived smelling "aggressively clean." A run through the regular wash cycle did not remove the detergent smell, so I again turned to Odor Blasters. This time I soaked the shirt for only an hour, then ran the regular wash and a second rinse cycle. After drying it smelled clean, and nothing more.

Obviously the results will vary depending on the fabric and the nature of the smell, but Odor Blasters has earned its place among my laundry products.

23 February 2016

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #42

Since I am working at home I don't have to deal with a commute, which means I can get up a bit later. But I don't sleep in too long; I try to allow enough pre-work time to tidy up the kitchen, eat breakfast, and take care of any small tasks before I start my workday. I realized that with proper time management, I can probably squeeze in some early-morning blog posts.

I have definitely neglected the car category. Back in September when I was commuting to Harvard Square daily, I was looking out the window of the bus one morning as we passed the garage where I had spotted a couple of cars about a year earlier. I wasn't able to get my phone out in enough time to get any pictures, and then on at least one subsequent day I forgot to sit on the correct side of the bus, and then one day it was raining, and so on. It took a while for all the conditions to line up properly to get these shots.
The modern Dodge Challenger isn't that uncommon a sight, but examples of the original 1970-74 variety are not seen much outside of car shows. Initially I noticed the car because it was red, and tucked up against the building like this, it wasn't so easy to get good photos of it. I happened to pass this spot on weekends during this time, but the car was never around when the garage was closed, so I had to make do with these shots.
The Challenger was Dodge's version of the Plymouth Barracuda, which was Chrysler Corporation's attempt to offer a competitor to the Mustang and Camaro (and a car I have talked about before). But the Barracuda was never a strong seller, and by the time the Challenger arrived as a 1970 model, the muscle-car era was already in decline, and personal-luxury cars were the hot new category. Both Barracuda and Challenger were dropped after 1974. This appears to be a '70, and while I thought it might have been a higher-performance R/T model, it lacks the correct hood.

18 February 2016

Word Salad: So Close...

My current job involves proofreading for an e-commerce website. The product listings are prepared by the sellers, which occasionally results in some awkwardly formed constructions. Some of them are (unintentionally) amusing so I've decided to share periodically, starting with this one:

"Please note that the flat rate shipping cost is only for the 48 continuous states."

13 February 2016

Retro Video Unit (2/12/16)

It's well past time to restart this feature; I keep thinking about it, and then I either forget again, or my time gets consumed by other things, as it tends to these days. This song has been in my head for a couple of weeks, but it was only two or three days ago that I remembered that there was a video for it.

Back in 1980 I was not an ardent fan of The Who, but I certainly knew their music and liked it. I was absorbing a lot of music at the time, both older (1960s and '70s bands I was familiarizing myself with) and current (early new wave). When Pete Townshend released the solo album Empty Glass, it got a fair amount of airplay on WBCN (which was my main outlet for new music at the time), plus I had a high school friend who was an ardent Who fan, so naturally he jumped on Empty Glass.

In that pre-MTV era, some performers were making early music videos, sometimes at the urging of their record companies. Townshend's video for "Rough Boys" showed up on late-night TV. I was also quite enamored of the Fender Telecaster (the less-flashy sibling of the Stratocaster) at the time, so seeing him play one in the video got my attention.