31 December 2007


To close out the year, I'm going to do something a little different: an autobiographical flashback to my younger and more innocent days. Most of you were not in the picture at the time, but a couple of you were, so let me preface by saying that I have tried to recount things as accurately as possible, and if I've screwed something up, it's because I'm getting old (which means you are too, ha) and don't remember things as well as I used to.

1985 was a big year for me. I graduated from college, entered my first real relationship, became fully self-supportive for the first time, and otherwise did quite a bit of growing up. It was also a very challenging year, as I faced some real adversities for the first time in my life. At this time of year I tend to look back on the events of '85 and think about what I've learned, and how far I've come.

I had lived in the cocoon of on-campus housing for all of my undergraduate years, so as graduation approached, one of the major challenges was finding a place to live. I had a friend who had been living in an off-campus house for the previous year, but he wanted a slightly calmer and more, um, adult living environment, so we decided to find an apartment together. This proved more difficult than we had anticipated: in the spring, everyone else is looking for an apartment at the same time, everyone else wants the good locations and wants to pay the least rent possible. Basically, we were screwed. We were unable to find a place in time, so he ended up staying in his house, and I moved in there as well, sleeping on the floor. That house has probably fallen down by now; if it hasn't, it should have.

By mid-June we had found a two-bedroom apartment, in a much less desirable location way, way out on the 57 bus line in Oak Square, about as far out in Brighton as you can go and still be within the city limits of Boston. (I would later end up living in another place on the 57 line, much closer in, for more than two years; eventually I had the entire schedule--inbound, outbound, day, night, weekend, holiday--committed to memory.) It was one of those horrible, square brick three-story buildings with four apartments on each floor and really thin walls. But it was all we could find that we could afford, $600 a month at the time, split between us.

Meanwhile, during my senior year I had a part-time job. I worked 3 PM to 11 PM on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, sitting at the front door of a small private hospital in Brighton (I'm reluctant to use the term "security guard," though that's how the hospital described it). As the end of the school year approached, I was asked if I wanted to work a full 40-hour week. I agreed, because it meant I would not have to look for a "real" job. In hindsight, this was a critical mistake; because I chose to blow off doing any serious thinking about my future, the reverberations of this decision in the years that followed ultimately set back my career goals by probably a decade.

Naturally, the job didn't last long. I honestly can't remember the exact circumstances, but I'm pretty sure they dumped me right after Labor Day. After an ill-fated stint attempting to do customer service for the IRS, I wound up working at the Harvard Coop. My starting pay was $4 per hour, but it was full-time hours with benefits--try finding that now in a retail job. At first I was what they called a "contingent," meaning I worked in whatever department needed extra staff on a given day. But by the end of my first week, I had been assigned permanently to the textbook department, which I believe is still on the third floor of the rear building over there in Harvard Square. I haven't been in there in years, except occasionally to browse the regular book department, which was moved over to the main building several years ago.

During the summer, my friend/roommate met a woman and started dating her. By fall it was pretty serious, and one day I came home from work and he told me he was moving in with her. This meant I had to find another roommate, or find somewhere else to live myself. It was around the beginning of November when he told me, so I had only a few weeks to make other arrangements. I immediately decided I didn't want to continue living in the apartment, mostly because it was a crappy, roach-infested hell hole in an inconvenient location, things that I figured would make it a tough sell for a potential roommate.

Back then there was no craigslist, so the place most people looked for roommates was the Boston Phoenix classifieds. In the midst of trying to find another place to live, I got very sick. The change from eating unlimited, fattening cafeteria food to feeding myself on a very modest budget (anyone remember Purity Supreme?) had caused me to lose about 20 pounds over several months, but I hadn't noticed. The result was that my immune system was fairly vulnerable, and I caught an early-season flu or something like it. I was knocked on my ass for a week; while sick, feeling the pressure of time running out, I dragged myself out in pouring rain to keep one appointment I had already made to see a room. That probably set back my recovery by at least a couple of days.

By Thanksgiving, it was clear that I was not going to be able to find a new place to live in time. My friend, having already moved out of our apartment and feeling somewhat guilty for leaving me in a bit of a jam, offered to let me stay temporarily in his new place. So on December 1st, I once again packed up my clothes and other belongings, and headed across Brighton to his new apartment, on Comm. Ave. near BC. At the time I felt like I was intruding on my friend's new-found cohabitational bliss, but the offer to stay with them turned out to be the bridge that I needed.

After three or four days, on my day off that week, I decided to check out an untried option, the off-campus housing office at my alma mater, BU. Most of the listings were old, from the end of the summer and the start of the fall semester, but one had been placed just that morning. It was for a room in a house in Allston shared by a total of seven people, and the rent was only $180 a month. I called immediately and talked to one of the residents. Apparently one of the housemates had moved out very abruptly, without giving proper notice, so they were in a bit of a bind and needed someone to move in right away. I was in a bit of a bind myself, so I made an appointment to visit that evening.

The house was on the corner of Cambridge Street, on the 57 line between Union Square and St. Elizabeth's Hospital (just barely in Allston, according to the post office), across from some sort of parochial school. There was a bus stop right in front of the house. It was three floors with a total of ten rooms, plus two full bathrooms. The place was old and parts of it were in pretty rough shape, but it also had interesting details like french doors from the front hall to the living room, lots of original woodwork, and a built-in bench at the bottom of the stairs. The residents were a combination of graduate students and folks with jobs.

The total rent was $1400 a month, a convenient number to divide between seven people. The room was advertised at $180 because it was the smallest bedroom, and very small indeed, just about big enough for my bed, dresser, and desk. Up on the third floor was an enormous space that was almost as large as the entire second floor, and at some point it had been decided that the person who had that room (because s/he had lived in the house the longest) would pay $20 more per month for having so much space, and the person moving into the smallest room would pay $20 less.

I was able to meet all the other residents that night, and felt pretty good about the place. Although I knew I would have to take the first place that was offered to me, this didn't feel like a desperation choice. I left feeling like I would want to live there regardless of the circumstances. I didn't have to wait long. I guess they talked it over after I left, and if I remember right, they had called by the time I made it back to my friend's place to say I was in. I made arrangements to move in that weekend. Just to review, this would be my fourth move since May.

By this point my family had tired of helping me move, so I enlisted a friend to rent a vehicle. I probably should have just rented one of those little U-Haul trucks, but I was trying to spend as little as possible, so we went with one of those Rent-a-Wreck places (do those still exist?). We ended up with a station wagon that was about seven or eight years old, and with the back seat down it had a pretty good-sized cargo area. It had a split tailgate, with a metal-framed glass window that flipped up and a lower door that flipped down. When we were finished unloading the car at my new place, I went to close the tailgate. I lifted up the lower part, then brought the window down. The entire window shattered, leaving just the frame. Made a hell of a noise, too. Fortunately, it was covered by insurance.

I lived in the house for two years. Every time someone moved out, I moved to a better room. By the following September I had moved into the second-largest and second-nicest room in the house, a large space at the front of the second floor. It had a turret section with three big windows, with curved glass and frames that followed the shape of the turret wall. Had I stayed a bit longer, I would have moved up to the penthouse soon enough, but I got tired of living with so many other people. What was I thinking? I would have been able to go up to my third-floor sanctuary and get away from all of them.

There were also crime problems. My bicycle was stolen from the basement: someone had washed their car and left the bulkhead unlocked. A few months later, someone (possibly the same person, we never established who) left the front door unlocked, and someone came in and rifled through dresser drawers, stealing cash and a few other small objects; I lost an antique wristwatch that had belonged to my grandfather.

But regardless, I loved the big beige house. In a way, that house saved me. It got me from uncertainty back to stability, and gave me a place to call home when I most needed one. I haven't been by it in at least a dozen years, so I'll have to do that one of these days, just to make sure I don't forget.

(To be continued...)

30 December 2007

Cinnamon Dreams

Yesterday, our friend (and commenter on this blog) Sandra called to say she was having an "IKEA emergency": her new bed was being delivered, sooner than she had expected, and she needed new sheets, so she was heading to IKEA and wondered if we wanted to come along.

I like IKEA well enough. Their stuff isn't always the best quality, but it looks good and generally it's inexpensive enough so you can buy without feeling guilty. We have a few things we've bought there: a Poang chair, a couple of lamps, a couple of work tables. But the main reason I'm happy that they opened a store within a reasonable drive: the cinnamon rolls.

I've had a jones for cinnamon rolls for as long as I can remember, but it isn't always easy to find good ones. Some bakeries just don't bother making them, and there are mediocre versions like the ones Dunkin' Donuts used to sell in the fall a few years back. (I ate them anyway, wishing they were better.) So when I discovered that IKEA made their own cinnamon rolls, and that they were pretty tasty, I was pretty happy, except that at the time (June 1998) we were on a road trip through North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky, and there wasn't an IKEA store within 250 miles of home.

Fast-forward a few years, and we finally have our own IKEA right here in eastern Massachusetts. Whenever we find ourselves there, I buy a six-pack of the rolls. I had one for breakfast today, I'll have one tomorrow, and one Tuesday. (The other three are for the Mrs; I'm not that greedy.) They're flaky and gooey, not too sweet, a little messy (eating over the sink is recommended) and perfect with a fresh cup of coffee. Pleasant dreams...

The Pursuit of Perfection

I'm not presumptuous enough to say I predicted it, but back in January I did make this comment after the Patriots lost to the Colts in the AFC championship game:
What I'd love to see is a season similar to 2003 and 2004, only better, where the team hardly loses all season and is really dominant, not just in their division but in the whole AFC. I want to see a year where the Pats are the #1 seed, giving them the first-round playoff bye and two home playoff games at Gillette Stadium, a magic carpet ride of a season that leads them to wherever the Super Bowl is being played that year and their fourth championship. That's my idea of fantasy football.
I've held off on mentioning this because I didn't want to jinx them, but now that the regular season is over I think it's okay. This season has been even better than I could have imagined, but we all know what we really want, and it's not going to be easy. But right now it feels like the Patriots can do pretty much whatever they want, so let's see if they can make some more history in the next few weeks.

29 December 2007

Of Loos and Logos

This is just a random observation: to get to the men's room in the Lord & Taylor store at the Burlington Mall, you have to go through the children's department. This creeps me out, as I feel like it's practically inviting a pedophile to grab a kid and whisk him or her into the bathroom. Is there something wrong with me for thinking about these things? Really, shouldn't the men's room be adjacent to the men's department?

The Mrs. and I were shopping in Macy's last night at the same mall, up on the third floor in The Cellar (ponder that one for a moment), because we got a gift card from my brother and sister and we're thinking about getting a new coffee maker, the kind that grinds the beans and then brews the coffee in one unit. Turns out that in that Macy's, both the men's and women's restrooms are in the children's department, which is adjacent to the kitchen stuff. I guess I can see the logic of this: when the kid says, "Mommy/Daddy, I have to go to the bathroom," it's certainly more convenient if the bathroom is right next to where you're shopping for overpriced kids' clothes with shrunken versions of adult designer logos.

Seriously, have you seen this stuff? I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Nearly every popular adult clothing designer had a kids' line. I know it's about money and "extending the brand" in marketing-speak; what it really means is turning kids into consumer whores before they even realize that's what they've become. As parents, how do you fight this? We don't have kids, so this is not an issue we have to face.

23 December 2007


What a week. Never mind the weather, there were plenty of other reasons why it was crazy.

My absence from blogging these past few days is largely attributable to work. My office closes for the holiday break; we won't be back at work until January 2nd, and we get paid for this time off, which is awesome, but the price we pay is that lots of stuff needs to be finished before the break starts. And these are rigid deadlines, as in, this has to be finished because someone else needs the results of what you do, so if you don't get your stuff done, everyone down the line from you is screwed. I don't need blowback like that, so I worked like a hamster in a wheel all week to make sure everything was finished.

In the midst of that, on Wednesday, was our office's holiday party. Our parties are actually fun, not the sort of thing people dread and try to get out of attending. But we do have a Yankee swap, and I had completely forgotten about getting a gift for it, so at lunchtime the day of the party I headed off to the Prudential Center, which is the closest shopping emporium to work. (By placing a location and time limit on the required purchase, I was able to eliminate a lot of the second-guessing I tend to do in such situations. Hmm, note to self for next year...)

I care more about whether my gift is liked than about what gift I end up with. I spent about fifteen minutes in a bookstore, figuring the worst-case choice would be a gift card from the store. But as I passed a display of assorted page-a-day calendars, I spotted something: a New York Times crossword puzzle-a-day calendar. Most of the people in my office are editors and writers and, in one form or another, word people, and word people tend to like crossword puzzles, so this seemed like a pretty good swap gift choice. I was even able to get it wrapped at a table outside the store by volunteers from the local Hadassah group.

The thing I find weird about Yankee swaps is that people always seem to give the crappiest possible gifts. I know that's sort of the idea, and if you're doing a swap with family or friends, people you know fairly well, that can be fun. But when it's your coworkers, when someone you see every day has to go home with something you brought to the swap, it seems like you should make a little more effort.

I happened to draw number 1, which has never happened to me before. 1 is the best number because, according to the swap rules, after everyone is finished, the person with number 1 gets to survey all the gifts and swap if s/he so desires. The gift I selected turned out to be a hideous set of reindeer salt and pepper shakers. I mean, these things were seriously UGLY. They looked demented and deformed. Even my mother wouldn't have wanted them. So I watched and waited, but as the swap went on, I wasn't seeing any other gifts I would want. People seemed to have taken the easiest and cheesiest way out. No food, no booze, no gift cards.

I briefly considered swapping for my calendar, but that seemed silly, so I ended up swapping for a different calendar. The pages are sticky notes, so it may have some additional note-making value down the line. But I always seem to come away from gift swaps feeling like I've made more effort than everyone else has. Even though I say I care more about what I give than what I get, I guess it's not really true (surprise): I want everyone else to care as much as I do.

18 December 2007

One of Those Days

Yesterday was not a great day. In fact, it was a pretty trying day. When things don't go well, they have a way of piling on. To wit:

The icy conditions made getting to the bus stop pretty tricky. Most of the distance between my house and the corner where I wait for the bus is buried in now-frozen snow, thanks to the selfish, ignorant assholes who never, ever clear their sidewalks. So I was forced to walk in the street. When I made it to the bus stop, I found that someone had made the effort to shovel out the Herald box, but didn't bother to go the three feet beyond it that would have enabled people to actually get from the sidewalk to the street. So I climbed up on the icebank and stood there.

When the bus came, I got scolded by the driver, more or less along the lines of: "You can't stand up there. If you slip and fall under the bus, I'm liable. So tomorrow you're going to have to stand in the street, or I won't be able to pick you up." Easy for you to say, Ms. Bus Driver (who, to be fair, is generally very polite and pleasant, certainly more so than the average T bus driver); you're not the one who has to stand there with the cars whizzing by, wondering which SUV-driving twit yapping on a cell phone will be the one that hits you.

When I made it to work, I remembered that we had a temp starting that day, and somehow it had been deemed my responsibility to train and supervise this person. It took me about three hours before I had him set up well enough so that I could go do my own work.

I made a bad lunch decision: I got the pasta primavera, and it wasn't until I'd gotten back to my desk that I remembered that I'd gotten it once before, and it was full of squash and red peppers, about the only two vegetables I don't like.

On the way home, I got stuck on the Green Line between Prudential and Copley for about 20 minutes, while we waited for a disabled train to clear out ahead of us. This caused me to miss my usual bus, as well as the one 20 minutes after it. Now, I don't really care about missing the bus in and of itself; sure, it's aggravating, but it's not a crisis. But with the Mrs. away, I've been on morning and evening dog duty, and a delay in getting home means the dog has to wait that much longer to go out. Fortunately, she was able to hold it until I'd made it home.

Also, while changing trains at North Station, I forgot that I'd taken off my hat (because we were not moving for so long, I got overheated) and put it on my lap. When I stood up, it fell on the floor, but I didn't notice until I was down on the Orange Line platform and the train was long gone. So not only did I lose a brand new hat that I really liked, but I had to stand outside hatless in the 24-degree cold because I missed the bus. When I finally made it home, I found that the garbage people had caused the lid of our trash can to vanish, for the second time this year.

One bit of luck: the bus I take runs every 20 minutes during rush hours, but for some reason, I didn't have to wait another 20 minutes for the next bus. One showed up after ten minutes. I assumed we were going to sit and wait until 6:40, but we headed right out. It's possible that it was the 6:20 bus running late, but when I came out of the Orange Line station, it was just after 6:20 and there was no one else waiting for the bus, so I figured I had to have missed it. At that point, I didn't care which bus it was; it was warm, and it was moving, and it got me home.

17 December 2007


I find that the weather makes people do strange things, but what surprises me most is the folks who seem to be completely oblivious to weather conditions. During Thursday's storm, there were a couple of people waiting for the bus with me who were wearing sweatpants and sneakers. It was about 22 degrees at that point, and we were outside for almost an hour; my boots were inadequate against the cold, so their feet must have been pretty well frozen at that point.

It's not like the storm swooped in unexpectedly--we'd been hearing about it for days beforehand--and it was just as cold that morning as it was later in the afternoon, so I have to wonder what a person is (or isn't) thinking when he or she gets dressed on a day like that. This holds true especially when you rely on buses and trains to get around, because you know you're going to be spending some time standing around outside.

Some people just don't get sick; my father was like that until about five years ago. But most of us wear multiple layers and take multivitamins and feel lucky if we make it through the winter without catching the flu or a serious cold. It makes me wonder about the people who are wandering around in snowstorms wearing inadequate clothing. Do they get sick? How often? If they don't get sick, why not? It would make for an interesting experiment (you can tell my medical work environment is rubbing off on me when I start designing studies), but definitely not a pleasant one for the test subjects.

16 December 2007


The Mrs.' father passed away yesterday, from complications related to melanoma lymphoma. He had just turned 70 in October.

Though he lived in California for 35 years, Bill was an East Coaster at heart. He spent his early years in Brooklyn, then his family moved to the coastal town of Long Beach on Long Island. He went to Columbia, where he was on the crew and football teams. He spent some time in the Army in Europe in the late 1950s. When he returned, he went to work in journalism, which took him to some interesting places. He covered the Apollo 11 launch from Cape Canaveral, and even went to Antarctica.

In the mid-1960s he went to work at the Nashville Tennessean. While there he worked with a staff photographer on a series of articles about strip mining, which was prevalent in the Smoky Mountains and many other areas of the country at the time. Eventually, due to the negative publicity generated by his articles and others, the mining companies were forced to abandon the practice. He was nominated for a Pulitzer for his work, but unfortunately the stories led to him getting blacklisted from working for certain newspapers. Shortly after moving to southern California, he gave up journalism and went into business for himself as a political and public affairs consultant.

He knew some famous people. He grew up with basketball coach Larry Brown. For about a year, the desk behind him at the Tennessean was occupied by a young reporter named Al Gore.

He loved knowledge and information, and read at least two newspapers every day, front to back. His collection of books, probably several thousand in all, are being left to his two grandsons, in the hope that they too will find pleasure and inspiration in them. He loved football. He would watch any game that was on with any teams, pro or college. I think if there was a station that carried the Canadian League, he would have watched those games too. He loved to tell stories. He had some good ones, but I think it was really being the center of attention while telling a story that he enjoyed.

He was extremely proud of his two daughters, and justifiably so, because he was largely responsible for raising them, due to their mother's health problems. They inherited his fierce independence and his desire to help other people. I'm happy that we got along well, because everyone wants to have a good relationship with their in-laws, and I'm grateful that I knew him for the time I did.

Rest in peace, Bill. We'll always remember you.

14 December 2007

Snow Day

That was a fun little snowstorm, huh? We haven't had a serious one like that for a while. A friend who works at BU called around noon to tell me they were being sent home at 1 PM. I thought, we should get to go home too. We did, but it was strange that the email telling us we could leave at 1 didn't arrive until 1:10.

I ended up staying at work for about another hour after that, just because I wanted to get some more work done, and I figured the hour wouldn't make much difference. In hindsight, I wish I had left earlier, but everything was so screwed up all afternoon that I don't know if it would have mattered. A trip that usually takes about an hour took two and a half hours, but a lot of people had it much worse than I did. I had the bad timing to be on an E train that all the Boston Latin kids tried to get on at once, so it was a packed ride all the way to North Station.

When I got to Wellington, I waited almost an hour for a bus. We were told that all the bus routes were running, just not on time, but no bus for my route ever showed up in the station. Instead, an empty, sitting bus was designated to make the run on my route, so I feel pretty fortunate there was a bus and a driver available. The bus trip usually takes about ten minutes, but it took 30, because everything on the Fellsway was just crawling; I suspect the road hadn't been plowed yet, but it was difficult to tell because all the windows were fogged over.

And of course, once I finally did make it home, the dog needed to be taken out; her need to relieve herself doesn't stop just because it's snowing outside. In fact, for a dog that's kind of a wuss, she loves the snow, and wanted more than anything to romp in it. I did my best to indulge her, then spent about two hours shoveling, then went back out around 10:15 for another 45 minutes, to remove the last inch or so that had fallen since the first round. (The landlord pays us to shovel, so we make an effort to do a good job.)

I learned that, while my waterproof and insulated boots are indeed waterproof, the insulation is inadequate for standing around outside for extended periods when it's in the vicinity of 22 degrees, and, when wading through snow with a wound-up greyhound, it might be nice to have something a couple of inches higher. So it's time to find some serious winter boots.

13 December 2007

One (Liter) for the Road

Oh yes, this absolutely had to get posted:

Man chugs entire liter bottle of vodka in airport security line. The guy didn't want to throw the bottle away, nor did he want to pay extra to check his bag.

I can't decide if this is incredibly stupid, or kind of cool. Or both...

(From MSNBC, via Consumerist.)

12 December 2007

Holiday Tip

This is a follow-up to yesterday's piece that I forgot to include: if you have to participate in a Yankee swap this year, and you don't really like your coworkers (or friends, or family members) all that much, then Building 19 is probably an excellent place to find a swap gift that will have everyone scratching their heads.

11 December 2007

Heart of Bargains

On Sunday I ventured somewhere I rarely go: the discount juggernaut known as Building 19. For those who have never partaken of this particular shopping excursion, or who don't live in the Boston area, "the 19" (as I like to call it) is a locally-owned chain of discount stores that specializes in the sort of stuff that other stores cast aside.

They started out in the 1960s dealing with insurance salvage, and over time established arrangements with retail stores, distributors, and factories to get truckload lots of past-season, irregular, closeout, bankruptcy, and any other sort of island-of-misfit-stuff merchandise that might find its way to them. They joyfully embrace the ethos of frugality, with slogans like "have a cheap day"plastered around the store on homemade signs made of garish yellow cardboard. But descriptions don't do the place justice; it has to be experienced firsthand.

Thought its roots are in furniture, Building 19 carries quite a wide selection of merchandise: clothing, housewares, mattresses, hardware, food, toys, garden, seasonal, automotive. Its strongest areas are probably remaindered books and rugs. I did buy a book that I'm going to give to someone for Christmas (obviously I don't want to say what the book is or who it's for, in case that person is reading this). If you need a cheap rug this is the place to go, though they have a surprisingly good selection of high-end, hand-made Oriental rugs too.

On any given trip to the 19, you have no idea what you might find. Well, that's not entirely true. They produce defiantly old-school circulars featuring the week's choicest bargains. These are hand-drawn and hand-lettered (in black ink only; color printing costs extra, you know) for a cheesily low-tech, home-grown appeal. If you see something in one of these flyers that you think you really want, you'd best get to the store as soon as it opens on Sunday, because sometimes there are only a few pieces of an item allocated to each location, and the good stuff goes fast.

So, given all this bargainy goodness, why don't I go there more often? For starters, it doesn't matter which location, what day of the week, or what time of day you go, the place is going to be utter chaos. I'm kind of allergic to crowds to begin with, and I really don't enjoy fighting with other people for alleged bargains (which is why I avoid shopping on Black Friday). Aside from the people kind of chaos, the stores also tend to be really messy; they aren't paying a bunch of people to go around straightening stuff, because it's just going to get trashed again in a matter of minutes anyway. This can make it difficult to find something specific.

But more than any other reason, I don't shop at the 19 much because they just don't have much I'd want. I love a bargain as much as anyone, but I am not the sort who adheres religiously to the Tightwad Gazette lifestyle. I just saved 15% on a new Mac by buying a refurb; I care much more about that sort of savings than I do about saving 20 cents on dish soap. I try not to waste money, but I don't have to worry about things like kids' clothes or how much I'm paying for cereal. I do find the occasional book or useful household item there, but Building 19 is a place where I prefer being a tourist, rather than a regular.

10 December 2007

Spot the WASPs

Today I'm going to take the easy way out (hey, no one said there was any kind of work ethic around here) and link to the fruit of someone else's effort.

The blogsite Jezebel, which bills itself as "Celebrity, sex, fashion. Without airbrushing" has a feature called Today in Catalogs, where they deconstruct the printed offerings of various retailers. These are generally pretty amusing, and naturally the holiday season offers plenty of fodder. Today's victim is Brooks Brothers. Sure, it's sort of an easy target, but I did enjoy the captions the Jezebel folks have so kindly provided.

08 December 2007

Giving and Receiving

The holiday shopping isn't going too badly this year. I have a small family, and this year I was told exactly what to buy for two family members, which eliminates a good bit of the hassle and headache. But when I go shopping, I tend to end up looking for things for myself. I don't do it intentionally; I just think, while I'm here I should go look in the men's section. Sometimes I use it as research to give other people ideas for what to get me, but I often don't end up getting the things I ask for.

I'm not sure why this is. The Mrs. doesn't like to rely on lists for me because she feels that after more than a dozen years together, she should be able to come up with gifts I'll like without any help, but in recent years she has kind of given up this noble stance and asked for a list. One year she just took me shopping and had me pick out some things I liked, which was fine with me but disappointed her.

This year, I haven't even given her a list yet, and she doesn't seem much in the mood for shopping anyway. Yesterday we went back to the schmancy new mall in Natick that I wrote about a couple of months ago. She got herself some stuff at Bath and Body Works, and I ended up buying a couple of pairs of corduroy jeans, which I like to wear in colder weather. But neither of us bought anything for each other, or for anyone else for that matter. She said she won't be going near another mall until after the season is over. I get where she's coming from, and if I didn't go to a mall again for the next few weeks, I wouldn't be too troubled. But I was thinking of maybe heading out this afternoon, to check out the markdowns in a couple of places. And our friend Sandra wants to go to the Wrentham outlets tomorrow...

04 December 2007

Eau de Idiot

This morning on the T, I noticed an unusual aroma. This is nothing new, but it wasn't the typical T scent of wet newspapers, piss, or body odor; it was sweet and fruity. I looked around, expecting to see someone eating fruit salad for breakfast. Then I noticed a pair of college-age young ladies a few seats away. They were trading samples of each other's perfume, by spraying it into the air in front of them.

First, thanks so much for that. I really enjoyed being forced to suck in that cloying bouquet until the olfactory fatigue kicked in. Second, who the hell wears perfume that smells like fruit? Do young guys really find this attractive?

02 December 2007

Gift Nag

Every year around this time, my mother asks for ideas for what to get us for Christmas. This isn't terribly surprising, since I've always been notoriously hard to buy gifts for. But the key word is "us." Ever since we got married, my family no longer thinks of us as separate people when Christmas rolls around.

There is some merit to this, but not always. Mostly that's because we've been together long enough now that we have pretty much everything we need, bit they keep buying us gifts that tend to fall into the category of "well-intentioned, but kind of useless," like most Yankee swap gifts. Things like an air ionizer, a stove-top grill that fits over the burners, and some sort of cheese set with a big wooden box with a drawer that had three tiny knives inside. When we moved last year, we got rid of all this stuff, either by giving it away or putting it on our moving-day trash pile.

Last year, we decided we needed to be proactive. I told my family we were planning to get a plasma TV, and they should forego gifts and just give us money, which we would put toward the purchase. It worked. I wanted to do the same thing again this year, except we don't have any major purchases planned. I thought about inventing one, just to keep the practice going and head off more unneeded gifts. It might be slightly deceptive, but isn't it better than getting something else we don't need and won't use?

My dad has the right idea though. He just gets us gift cards for stores like Target, because he knows we'll always use them.

29 November 2007

Fashion Tragedy

In the name of crimes against fashion, what is up with this? I knew Members Only was attempting a comeback, but I if this is the best they can do, they should just give up.

If it has short sleeves, I don't think it can properly be called a jacket. And the guy looks like a refugee from a Stray Cats video or something.

28 November 2007

Kid Wisdom

As I mentioned yesterday, on Sunday I went to my godson's fourth birthday party. I got a ride from my college roommate and his wife, and since it was a kids' party, they brought their seven-year-old daughter, who is charming, cute, and frighteningly smart.

As her father was delicately backing their SUV into a snug parallel parking space, she offered from the back seat: "You should have taken the Audi, it's smaller."

27 November 2007

There and Back

After her first extended stay in California, the Mrs. had to return there to provide some additional assistance to her ill father. This time around she's been gone almost two weeks, which means she missed both our godson's fourth birthday party and Thanksgiving.

Normally we take the dog with us when we visit my family in Rhode Island. She (the dog) enjoys the freedom of being able to run around in my mother's large, enclosed back yard, and she gets along pretty well with her oddball beagle, who tends to behave more sociably when his doggie cousin is there. Missing a holiday dinner isn't such a terrible thing, but without the Mrs. to drive, it left me in a tricky position. Being unable to drive myself, I had to either find someone to take care of the dog for 36 hours or so (not easy when most people are away visiting their own families), get someone to drive me and the dog to RI, or not go at all.

I thought one of my siblings would step up and offer to come get us, but they, like me, are native Rhode Islanders. There is a strange phobia about driving long distances common to those indigenous to the state, and yes, such a person would consider 50 miles each way a long distance. I cannot explain the reasons for this phenomenon, but it definitely exists. It's documented in a book I have at home (and thus don't have access to at this moment) called The Rhode Island Handbook, a humorous collection of local quirks written by Providence Journal columnist Mark Patinkin.

At any rate, I wasn't going to get any help from them. I even played the dog card: "With her mom gone, I think it would be really good for her to be around people besides me who will give her some attention and love, and for her to have the chance to run around free in the yard." Nothing. Some half-hearted excuses were made about the cost of gas, which I offered to cover, but for whatever reason it didn't compute. I considered telling them I wasn't coming because I was annoyed at their unwillingness to help me out, but I decided that since holidays are supposed to be enjoyable occasions, creating more stress and angst wouldn't be productive.

I explained all this to the Mrs., who got in touch with a friend and colleague, who had in the past expressed a willingness to dogsit and who, it turned out, was not going out of town for the holiday. When the Mrs. offered Jenna the use of her car, sitting idle in our driveway, as an added reward for helping out, Jenna said as long as she could use the car (her own is old and not highway-worthy), she would be willing to drive me and the dog to my family's house, and come back and pick us up the next day.

So Jenna came to our rescue, for which I'm very grateful, and the dog and I had a very nice Thanksgiving. She even got a little turkey mixed in with her food. The Mrs. will be coming home in a few more days, and hopefully everything will be back to normal for Christmas.

21 November 2007

Black Friday Blackout: The Sequel

How about another holiday gripe? Last night while watching TV, I saw a commercial for the Black Friday sale at Kohl's. I thought I heard it say their stores were opening at 4 AM, but that couldn't possibly be right. Yes, there it was on the screen. 4 AM store opening on Friday.

Sorry to break the PG barrier, but WHAT THE FUCK? This is utter insanity.

Then I saw a commercial for Big Lots saying their stores would be open on Thanksgiving. I almost threw my glass at the TV, but that only would have resulted in damage to the set. A check of the Big Lots web site revealed a sliver of sanity: stores in Maine, Rhode Island, and here in Massachusetts will not be open on Thanksgiving. We can probably thank the blue laws for this--how's that for irony? I still can't buy beer at my local Stop & Shop, but we can manage to stave off the onslaught of Black Friday madness, at least for one more year.

I wrote about this last year (and the link allows me to reiterate it for those of you who may have missed it at the time, but be warned: it contains some tongue-in-cheekage that was misinterpreted by at least one person), but it seems that much worse this year. It's been a rough year for a lot of people financially--and by "people" I do not mean "corporations"--but these maneuvers have an aura of desperation to them, don't you think? There's been a lot of coverage in the business pages about how retailers are expecting this to be a dismal season for sales due to high gas prices, the mortgage crisis, etc. These early openings and holiday openings are just one more gambit by the retailers to eke out a few extra dollars in sales.

Let's face it, this isn't going away. Retailing has simply become too powerful an engine of the economy in this country. I think we should just give in to the inevitable: before long, every store is going to be open 24 hours a day, starting on Thanksgiving morning and continuing right through Christmas Eve. Oh wait, we already have that--it's called the INTERNET, and it means there's no need for you to be at Kohl's in the middle of the night unless you really want to be, in which case you're too far gone for me to do anything to help you.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

17 November 2007

Holiday Cred

This story has been around since the beginning of the week, but as usual, I'm just catching onto it now (blame the Mrs.: she went back to California for two weeks and left me to take care of the dog by myself): Jim Sullivan over at Suldog has started a campaign called Thanksgiving Comes First to try to get people to pay a little more attention to the holiday, but more importantly, to try to nudge retailers into dialing back the Xmas frenzy until the turkey celebration is over.

Jim shares some memories of the season from when he was growing up; he's a few years older than me, but my own memories more or less align with his. Beyond mere nostalgia, the Christmas season was more special 40 or so years ago precisely because it wasn't so prolonged. Each holiday received the attention it deserved, and there were actually times during the year when stores weren't pushing any sort of holiday merchandise. Not so today: walk into any CVS the day after a holiday like Easter or Halloween, and they're already in the process of putting out the crap associated with whichever holiday comes next on the calendar, even if it isn't for another two months.

This is a noble effort, and I applaud it. I can't go as far as he does and say I'm never going to shop at Target again because, well, that's just crazy talk. Honestly, I depend on them for far too much of the stuff I need for my daily existence to stop shopping there. Macy's, yeah, I could pretty much get by without them at this point, and they suck now anyway.

What I like about Thanksgiving: the food, obviously. Spending time with my family (yes, I mean it). The fact that they are only 50 miles away so I don't have to deal with the insanity of air travel during the holiday period. The pies from Community Servings that help feed sick people in the Boston area who can't care for themselves. And we have some of our own traditions: we start the meal with Italian wedding soup, mostly because my mom likes it. She always makes sweet potatoes, even though she's the only person who likes them. And we always have a group rest period between dinner and dessert, when we go watch football in the family room (this year we'll get to watch the Cowboys beat up on the Jets) and doze off for a while.

A couple of days ago, while walking the dog, I came across a house in the neighborhood with one of those large, inflatable lawn decorations. (It is Medford, after all.) Plenty of houses around here had pumpkins and such for Halloween, and plenty of people put up Santas and what-not for Christmas. But this house had a turkey. At first I laughed, but then I thought, here's someone who is giving the holiday its due, which seems to be in keeping with the spirit of the message Jim is trying to spread. So take a moment to enjoy Thanksgiving for what it is. Don't rush Christmas, because it's already here and gone too quickly.

ADDENDUM: At least one retailer agrees with this assessment. I just found this on The Consumerist blog: "Nordstrom Opposes Christmas Creep." Nordstrom is waiting until Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, to deploy Christmas decorations in their stores. I don't know if I'd call it a Christmas miracle, but it's a refreshing whiff of sanity in the holiday maelstrom.

13 November 2007

Drip, Drip, Drip

It was raining this morning, but I had to wait for the bus for only a couple of minutes. When I got on I sat in one of the side-facing seats in the back (where I usually sit because it's easier to get out when the bus gets to Wellington) and started reading the paper.

Shortly after I'd sat down, I noticed my knee was damp. I thought, that's weird, I was standing under a tree with my umbrella, so why is my knee wet? Then I saw the drop of water fall on my knee. Then a couple more drops fell. Apparently the bus roof was leaking, and the water was collecting inside the plastic cover for the ceiling lights, and falling from there onto me and some of the other passengers. I know I shouldn't have been surprised by this, but it was early and I was caught off guard.

Riding the T is so much fun, because you just never know what sort of shit is gonna happen next. Maybe that should be their slogan?

12 November 2007

Block the Noise

A few months ago I decided to invest in a pair of noise-canceling headphones to use on the T. It turned out to be a very good purchase, but I didn't get it right on the first try.

I had been thinking about the purchase in a non-specific way, meaning I hadn't done research on specific models. Then one day I found myself in the Sony store in Copley Place, and they had a pair for $50. This was the arbitrary price ceiling I had assigned to the item in my mind, so I went ahead and bought them, but I made sure to ask about the stores' return policy. "30 days" was the response. "Even if I'm just not satisfied with their performance?" I clarified. "30 days, any reason." Sold.

They required batteries for the noise-canceling circuitry, but if I remember correctly, they were included. Maybe I found some in the supply room at work; either way, I was able to try them out on my way home that day, which is what I wanted. I was instantly impressed with how well they worked. They really blocked a significant portion of the train's rumble, and not only could I hear the music more clearly, but I didn't have to have it as loud as I usually did.

But... after about 20 minutes, they started to hurt my head. I've been wearing earbud-style headphones since long before there were iPods, because I find them more comfortable, and because they are easier to use in the winter, when I'm typically wearing a hat. These things were big, honkin' over-the-head style headphone "cans" that fit my skull very tightly. I tried adjusting them and wearing them in slightly different positions, but nothing made a difference. I knew they had to go back, which meant I had to find something to replace them, because they worked too well for me to go back to using ordinary headphones on the T. The Sony store had earbud-style noise-canceling phones, but they were twice as much.

I hit the web, started looking for other noise-canceling earbuds. Through PriceGrabber I found a pair by Panasonic, with an $80 retail but available for $35, so I ordered them. I felt their noise-canceling circuitry wasn't quite as good as the Sonys, but that may also have been due to the added sound isolation gained from the over-the-ear design. For the money, they worked well enough.

As an added bonus, I took them with me on the trip to California. I think these headphones were originally developed to block airplane engine noise. They aren't going to block the sound of a screaming infant, but on the plane they made a marked difference, reducing much of the engine roar. I'd highly recommend them to anyone who flies frequently.

07 November 2007

West Coast Observations

It's stating the obvious to say that California is quite different from Massachusetts. But it's driven home when you experience it firsthand.

For one thing, I noticed a distinct lack of litter on the streets of Santa Cruz. I don't know if this is because the city is especially vigilant about picking it up, or the citizens don't litter in the first place, or both, but a look around any street in any part of this area is enough to leave me embarrassed. Littering is something I have always had difficulty comprehending. Boston and its surrounding cities deserve a share of the blame (I often see trash cans full to overflowing because they don't get emptied frequently enough, then a wind comes along and strews the trash all over), but people are just as much at fault.

Over the course of several days of driving around, I also noticed that no one honked their horn at us. Not once. No one was in danger of having an aneurysm because we didn't accelerate away from a stoplight or make a left turn quickly enough. And it's not because they are slow drivers; they drive just as fast on the highways as we do here. They're just a lot more relaxed about the journey. Around here people treat driving as if getting to any destination, no matter how trivial, is a matter of life and death.

But the most amusing contrast came, of all places, at my nephew's birthday party. As I listened to the parents of the other guests talk to and about their children, I noticed that almost all of them were named things that I'd never heard used as names before. Here are some examples (I made sure to write these down during the party because I didn't want to forget any of them):
  • Sienna
  • Justice
  • Trinity
  • Zephyr
  • Denali
  • Rider
Clearly there's a lot of fruit-flavored crack being passed around up in those hills. I was relieved to hear that one girl's name was Brianna; that one's practically a townie classic. (Maybe her parents relocated from Saugus?)

But here's the thing about these names: half of them are current or former names of cars or trucks. If you're going to make the extra effort to saddle your kid with a weird name, shouldn't it signify something other than a vehicle? Unless, like the kid named Dodge on My Name Is Earl, it's in honor of where s/he was conceived.

06 November 2007

Travel and Travail

Hi folks, I'm back from my west coast jaunt. Actually I've been back for several days, but I had a pretty rotten sinus headache for the first 36 hours or so, and then I just kind of vegged out for the weekend, hibernating from Saturday's storm, sitting in front of the TV catching up on what my TiVo had recorded while I was away, watching the Patriots come from behind and finish the job against the Colts, and so on.

Overall it was a good trip, with excellent weather and some interesting activities and diversions. The travel itself was, to our enormous relief, largely painless. Nonstop transcontinental flights are a great thing; I have always found air travel to be especially tedious, which is a little silly considering we crossed the breadth of the continent going west in a bit over six hours, and returned in exactly five (awesome night view of Chicago from over Lake Michigan), but not having to switch flights somewhere in the middle (or worse, very close to one end or the other) makes things a good bit more tolerable.

JetBlue's planes have more legroom than any other commercial aircraft I've ever been on, and being six feet tall and long of leg, this makes it possible to actually be comfortable, and even to stretch my legs without standing up. They dish out lots of cool snacks, and they get bonus points for serving Dunkin' Donuts coffee.

We got to see most of game 3 of the World Series, thanks to the onboard satellite TV. It was a bit strange and surreal to be sitting in the quiet plane, with most people tuned to the game and everyone using headphones, but with the occasional bursts of applause at Dice-K's strikeouts and Sox hits. After we landed and got our bags, we listened to the rest of it in the car. Sunday evening found us watching game 4 in a bar in downtown Santa Cruz called 99 Bottles, which provided the obvious libations, the required large television, and some pretty good pub food as well. We were sitting upstairs, and we could hear some fellow Sox fans applauding from the downstairs bar area, which was sort of like the week before, when they were beating Cleveland and we could hear cheering coming from one of our neighbors' houses.

The only glitch in the proceedings was the health of the Mrs.' father, who hasn't been doing so great lately. He lives east of Los Angeles and made the seven-hour drive up to see the rest of the family, but he was lethargic and weak most of the time, and it quickly became clear that (a) he shouldn't have come, and (b) he was incapable of driving himself home. Plan A was for me to come back home to relieve our dog caretaker while the Mrs. drove her dad back to his home, then flew back from there. But by the day of my scheduled return he'd gotten worse, and it was necessary for him to go to a hospital. So the Mrs. postponed her return flight, stayed on while her dad was stabilized in the hospital, drove him home over the weekend, got him admitted to another hospital there, and finally flew back to San Jose and caught her return flight home early this morning. The dog and I are very happy she's back.

26 October 2007


So, tomorrow we leave for our trip to California (thankfully, not the part that's on fire), and today is the Mrs.' last day at her job. She's quitting because she's burned out, which is completely understandable after six and a half years in her field, human services.

It takes a certain sort of person to do this work, and the Mrs. is definitely that sort of person, but unfortunately the work has a tendency to chew people up, so she's pulling the plug before she loses the ability to care at all. We often joke about each other's jobs, how I couldn't stand doing hers because I don't like dealing with people, and how she would die of boredom if she had to do mine because she can't stand sitting at a desk and staring at a computer all day.

Last night she made up gift bags to give to her immediate group of coworkers. Along with a couple of other trinkets, each one contained a little bottle of vodka and two equally small bottles of mixers. It's kind of a joke, but not really, since she's said that drinking seems to be everyone's favorite pastime in her office. I certainly don't condone drinking to excess, but I understand it: my father was a police officer for twenty years, it's how he coped with the stresses of the job, and there are a lot of similarities between human services and law enforcement. Maybe it's a good thing she's leaving, after all.

She doesn't know what's next, and at the moment it doesn't really matter, hence the vacation. We'll spend some time with her family, and she can try to clear her head, maybe give some thought to what she might want to do.

My biggest dilemma regarding the trip? We're going to be staying in a home with no TV reception and no cable, so I'm probably going to miss the rest of the World Series and Sunday's Patriots game. Also, I'm pretty sure her sister still has only dial-up internet access, so I'm going to experience some web withdrawal as well. I don't even recall any bars in her little town. I guess I'm going to be forced to relax too. Hopefully I'll have something interesting to tell when we get back...

24 October 2007

Assault with A Tasty Waffle?

I know this happened a few days ago, but I do have a job and a few other responsibilities, so I'm just getting around to it: over the weekend, Kid Rock was arrested for beating up a guy in Atlanta.

Now, let me state up front that I really don't care about Kid Rock one way or the other. To me, he's a human cartoon, and I'm certainly not interested in his music. (I try to stay away from celebrity trash culture as much as possible, though I do watch The Soup on the E! network, and that half-hour per week is just about enough).

The main reason the story caught my attention in the first place is because the assault happened at a Waffle House. First, the idea of a B-list celebrity and his entourage throwing down with a guy at a branch of the Southern roadside institution is about as perfect a scenario as it gets; seriously, you'd be hard-pressed to come up with something better. Second, I've been to a couple of Waffle Houses, and they're pretty awesome. Decidedly low-rent, but that's part of what makes them awesome.

I know people, like my father-in-law, who turn up their nose at the place, but they've been around for over 50 years, so they must be making some people happy. If you're driving in the South, it's pretty much a mandatory stop, something you really should experience for yourself at least once. I recommend the waffles.

ADDENDUM: While I was writing this piece, I was having trouble coming up with a good, catchy title, so I asked the Mrs. if she had any ideas. Unfortunately she didn't, and I didn't either--I was not happy with this one, but it had to have something. Days later, I was describing the story about the assault to one of our friends, and the Mrs. suddenly blurted out "Waffles and Whup-Ass!" I looked at her and said, "Where was that when I needed it?"

22 October 2007

I Saw Stars

Not the ones in the sky, and not the kind you sometimes see when you whack your head on something. These Stars are a band from Montreal, and Friday night's concert at the Berklee Performance Center turned out to be one of the most enjoyable shows I've seen in many years.

I first heard of them in a New York Times review of their third album, Set Yourself on Fire, which came out in late 2004 in Canada and early '05 in the US on the independent Arts & Crafts label. The album resonated deeply with me, because the lyrics of several songs seemed like they were describing events from my own life. Their music is difficult to categorize: sometimes orchestral, sometimes intimate, sometimes aggressive, sometimes tranquil. I wondered how some of it would translate to live performance.

Beautifully, as it turned out. The house was gratifyingly full, and the band jumped right into the songs from their new album, In Our Bedroom After the War, later coming back around and playing much of Set Yourself on Fire. Sometimes, there is a real connection between performers and audience, and if you're lucky, you get to experience that and feel it as it's happening. That's what happened Friday night. Rarely have I seen a band so completely invested in every moment of its performance, and so grateful for the opportunity to share its music with its fans.

The stage was decorated with flowers, and during the course of the show, the band members threw them out into the audience. By the end, the lucky recipients were holding their flowers up as they sang along.

Now, the good part: you can listen to a live Stars performance right here, courtesy of NPR's All Songs Considered online concert series. Unfortunately it isn't of Friday night's show, but the night after, when they performed in Washington, DC. Still, it will give you an idea of what they're like, and what you missed.

17 October 2007

Warehouse Wanderings

Last night I found myself at our local Costco, because that's what happens when you're married and it's Tuesday. But I'm not complaining; I like going there. It's usually pretty calm on weeknights, and there are almost always some unusual or interesting items for sale. I spent a few moments gazing longingly at the new high-definition TiVo, but I didn't buy it. Yet. Maybe I'll drop some hints about it for Christmas. And I found a nice pair of black Calvin Klein jeans for $22, something I was kind of looking for anyway.

But practically speaking, the main reason I go to Costco is because I like being able to buy large quantities of certain things. There's usually some savings involved, but often that isn't my primary motivation. I just don't like to run out of stuff, so as long as it can be stored without too much difficulty, I'm there.

On last night's visit I picked up a package of 24 rolls of Breath Savers. (I don't like Altoids because they're noisy and the dust gets everywhere.) Single rolls of these mints can cost as much as a dollar each, depending on where you buy them. Even if you buy a five-pack at CVS or Target, that's typically around $2, and I'll go through that package in a couple of weeks. (I'm slightly obsessed with avoiding bad breath.) This way I can keep some in my desk at work and some at home, and it will be a couple of months before I need to buy them again.

I also got two pounds of whole bean coffee for $10. It's a custom blend roasted for Costco by Starbucks, using Fair Trade beans, so that's a pretty good deal, and it will last about a month.

As I wandered around the store, I became aware that I could hear "Jingle Bell Rock." I felt suddenly queasy and thought, no way, could they possibly be piping in the Christmas music already? A minute or two later I didn't hear anything, then a few minutes later I heard a different holiday song. I believed that what I was hearing wasn't coming from the store's sound system, because I'm fairly certain they don't have one. But they did have Christmas trees and decorations on sale and on display, and that's where the music was coming from. After I'd heard it the first time, I had moved away to a different part of the store where I couldn't hear it, and I hadn't yet noticed the trees.

Even so, it gave me a scare to realize how close we are to the holiday-season onslaught and all that goes with it. It's only October 17th, but when I get back from my upcoming vacation, it will be a mere three weeks until Thanksgiving. I plan my shopping ahead as much as possible, and I do as much of it as possible online, in order to avoid the crowded, overheated, soul-crushing experience of being in stores during the holiday season. (A decade-plus of working retail will have that effect, and many others, on you.) When I do have to make a holiday visit to a store, I need time to prepare. I don't like being ambushed by Christmas music without warning.


I haven't complained about people's behavior in at least five or ten minutes, so...

What is it about revolving doors that causes most people's brains to instantly calcify? I'll grant that they are annoying, but they aren't really that difficult to operate. Or are they? Because it seems like about 75% of the time when I'm approaching one, someone in front of me, or on the other side of the doorway, has some sort of problem negotiating the door.

I've seen people try to crowd into the same section as their friends. I've seen people walk up to an already-moving door and just stop dead in their tracks, not knowing what to do (and of course, since I'm behind them I also have to come to a sudden stop). I've seen the same thing happen with a door that isn't moving. I've seen someone step into a door that was slowing down and, when it stopped, just stand there instead of pushing--maybe they thought it was motorized or self-propelled in some way?

I guess the revolving door is the pedestrian equivalent of the rotary: even if you know what to do when you come upon one, you can't assume that other people do.

16 October 2007

Full-Contact Commuting

As I was getting off the bus this morning to head into work, the guy exiting in front of me nearly got impaled by a kid on a bicycle. Fortunately, the bicyclist was able to skid to a stop before hitting the other guy. And it wasn't a messenger type, as you might expect given their general behavioral tendencies (you don't see many of them in the Longwood area), but a teen on a BMX bike.

The same thing happened to me twenty years ago on Commonwealth Avenue, except I was the person getting off the bus, and the bicyclist did hit me. Somehow I managed to avoid any injuries, I think because the bicyclist wasn't going very fast.

But come on, this is just stupid. You're pedaling along on your bicycle, and you see that bus up ahead of you slow down and pull to a stop, and the doors open. What do you suppose is probably going to happen next?

12 October 2007

Screw That Noise

So now we have to suffer music in T stations. Swell.

For the moment, at least, "T-Radio" (why is it hyphenated?) is an experiment and is only being tested in North, South, and Airport Stations. I pass through North Station twice a day, on my way to and from work. In the morning I stay on the Orange Line, unless I'm running really late, but on the way home I switch from Green Line to Orange Line, so I have been subjected to this a couple of times.

Just in case there's any ambiguity, I'm less than thrilled. There's already plenty of noise in the stations, and from my brief exposure, I thought the music was far too loud. If it was played at a low enough volume, it might just blend into the background and be innocuous, but that isn't the plan.

The music is basically the same sort of middle-of-the-road junk you'd hear in the supermarket. Fine, so be it. But what the press release conveniently omits is that there is also going to be advertising. Ah, now the picture becomes a little clearer: the T is looking for additional revenue. I guess I can't blame them, but there must be other ways to do so without making the ridership any more angry than it is already.

I can appreciate the idea of wanting to use the system to promote local cultural and entertainment destinations that are T accessible, but there's already a PA system in place that finally, after years of futility, seems to be audible most of the time, so why not just use the existing system? I'd rather hear those types of announcements than the incessant platitudes of the general manager every two or three minutes, assuring us that "safety is our number one concern." (Shouldn't attempting to keep the trains running on time be the T's number one concern? Just asking.)

Amazingly, the T has provided a convenient way for riders to express their opinions on this experiment: on their web site there is a feedback form, which is also accessible via a link on the main page of the MBTA site. I encourage everyone reading this to use the form to offer your thoughts, whether for or against. If the T hears from enough people, they will know we are paying attention. And if you happen to see the students that the T is hiring to survey riders about the project, it might be good to give them a couple of minutes of your time as well.

One more thing: I have to wonder what this experiment says about the T's priorities. Is piping crappy music into stations really more important than working to reduce the crime rate on the T, or than trying to find ways to improve the system's performance? Or is it possibly meant to distract us from those issues?

10 October 2007

Back from a Break

Wow, has it really been a week? Well, I've been sort of busy. I got stuck in some of that T madness last Friday. With the morning chaos on the Orange Line, I ended up leaving Wellington station after standing around for about 30 minutes staring at trains that were too full to get onto and weren't moving anyway; I backtracked on my usual bus route to a point where I could connect with an express bus that took me into Haymarket. Ultimately I was about an hour late for work, not that anyone's keeping tabs on me. Then in the afternoon, there were some Green Line delays as a result of the fire in Park Street, though thankfully I did not experience the Red Line problems firsthand.

We also had representatives of our Midwest-South contingent in town for a few days, which necessitated a drive to Maine for some eating and shopping. The rest of the long weekend was taken up by watching football and baseball, reading, and general hanging around.

Now things are back to the normal routine, though we are gearing up for an actual vacation at the end of the month to the environs of the Mrs.' sister, otherwise known as Santa Cruz, CA. It's quite a beautiful and pleasant place, and I imagine that I will forego blogging for a few days while there, and report on our activities after we've returned. But the trip isn't for another couple of weeks, so in the meantime I will (hopefully) get back to something resembling a normal posting schedule. Stay tuned...

03 October 2007

Blog Design 101

I've been keeping this one to myself for a while, but I can't hold it in any longer. To all the cool kids who think white text on a black background is the best-looking and most stylish choice for their blog's template: guess what? No one can read that without going blind, cross-eyed, or both. Your blog might be something I'd actually want to read, but if you choose this color combo, I'm not even going to try.

30 September 2007

Year of the Blog

Yes, I have indeed been blogging for a year. Time flies, huh? The actual anniversary of my introductory post was yesterday, but I was sorta busy. There were haircuts, errands, dinner with the Mrs. to celebrate our ninth wedding anniversary. Before I knew it, it was after midnight, and at that point, being tired, I decided I might just as well wait until morning.

In fact, one thing I've noticed over the past year is that there tends to be a lag time between events and my blogging about them. I think it's just my style: I like to digest and filter things, and it's not like what I'm covering hard news or anything. I'd like to think this process makes me a better writer, which was one of my original goals when I started.

I have learned a lot through this experience. I was never much of a journal keeper, so this is the most sustained writing I have ever done. It's been beneficial to me in many ways, and what has been probably the biggest surprise to me is how thoroughly satisfying it is to do this on a regular basis. I'm enjoying it far more than I would have expected.

In looking back, I think I have remained true to my original ideas of what I wanted to accomplish, and at the same time I have added dimensions to the scope of this blog that I would not originally have considered, to its benefit and mine. I hope that next year at this time, this will be even more true. Thanks for coming along on this ride.

27 September 2007

Live in Concert

I was able to nab a pair of tickets to see Bruce Springsteen when they went on sale on Monday. I'm excited about the show, largely because I've never seen Bruce live. But I did experience some guilt and hesitation before making the purchase, because the tickets were so expensive.

A hundred bucks is a lot of money for a concert. When I went to see my first rock concert, which was Queen at the Providence Civic Center back in 1977, I think the ticket cost $8.50, which seems like a pretty solid deal in retrospect. I have long had an unofficial ceiling of what I am willing to pay for a concert ticket, somewhere in the vicinity of $50. Normally this amount is only exceeded by the biggest acts at the biggest venues, so it hasn't been much of an issue. I've passed on seeing U2 one or two times in the past decade because I didn't feel like it was worth $75, and I'd seen them two or three times back in the 80s anyway.

So when the Springsteen shows were announced with tickets priced at $65 and $95, plus Ticketbastard's outrageous fees and "service" charges, at first I balked. I can afford it, but that isn't really the point. Would it be worth it?

I know that Broadway show tickets broke the $100 barrier a while back, but I don't necessarily have a problem with that because, even though I don't care for musicals and would be very unlikely to go to the sort of big, elaborate, mainstream show that is Broadway's bread and butter, I understand how expensive they are to produce, and how many performers and crew members are required to stage those shows night after night. Even though a concert tour also requires support staff, to my mind it just isn't on the same level of magnitude.

Then I looked at it from the other side. I've been a fan of Bruce's music for thirty years. (Before I started working, I used to babysit for friends of my parents, and once I accepted a copy of Darkness on the Edge of Town as payment for an evening's babysitting.) Since I've never gone to one of his shows, I've never spent money on tickets to one of his shows, so after all this time a hundred bucks doesn't seem like such a big deal. (A bit of rationalization, I know.) And the seats are excellent, right at the front corner of the stage (the venue's web site has a cool tool that lets you see the view from your seat), but a few rows up, high enough so I won't be craning my neck the whole time. I'm sure it's going to be an excellent show, and I'm sure when it's over I'll feel like it was worth it. But I probably won't do it again, at least not for a while.

25 September 2007

Got Milk?

A little while ago I went next door to the cafeteria to get some coffee. I had sworn off going there a while back, and I have not gotten any food from there in close to a year, but I'm finding these days that, instead of stopping for coffee on the way into work, I'm coming into the office and then going to get coffee about an hour later, which obviously limits my choices. Also, the cafeteria's coffee has improved (I'm not sure why), and if you bring a travel cup to use, they give a decent discount (around 25%) as a sort of reward for not using another paper cup, heat sleeve, and plastic lid.

As I was adding cream to my coffee, a student-looking young woman appeared next to me and asked, "Do you know if the milk is hot?" I had no idea, but I suspected not. I pointed her in the direction of the dining-services person in charge of the coffee and its associated fixings. Only then did it occur to me that her question was somewhat curious. Hot milk? Is this a standard option at the fancy coffee places I don't patronize? Was she trying to fall asleep? What sort of school had she attended previously where hot milk would be considered typical dining-hall coffee fare? I'm left to wonder.

Wrong Way

Driving through Medford Square last night around 7:15, on the one-way section of route 60 westbound between city hall and the light at Main Street, we encountered a car driving toward us the wrong way. Several cars honked at the oncoming vehicle. As we passed, we saw that the driver had her cell phone up to her left ear. Maybe she was trying to get directions?

24 September 2007

Mirror, Mirror

I was in the shower this morning, trying to think of something to write about, when I realized the answer was literally in front of my face.

See, I'm a shower shaver. I started about two years ago. I have very sensitive skin and used to suffer nicks all the time, but since I started shaving in the shower, I almost never cut myself anymore, because the moisture and water vapor helps keep my pores open, resulting in smoother shaves. I know doing this uses more water, but I only have to shave a couple of times a week; if it was a daily necessity, I would be more hesitant.

If you're going to shave in the shower, obviously you have to have a mirror, preferably one that resists fogging. I had one of these that I had bought from the Improvements catalog web site, but recently I found that it was losing its non-foggingness. I felt like I should get another one, but I didn't want to buy the same thing only to have it happen again down the road, so I wasn't exactly expending a lot of effort to find a replacement

So a few weeks ago, I found myself in Bed Bath & Beyond, a place I don't venture too often. I was looking for something; I don't quite remember what it was, but I think I found it. I also found this non-fogging mirror for only $10, which I figured was cheap enough. To my surprise, it's much better than the one it replaced. It really stays clear, it's not distorted like the old one was, and the suction cups are stronger so it doesn't fall off the wall. I like it so much that I'm going to go back and buy another one and put it aside, so if this new one also loses its ability to stay fog-free a couple of years from now (which I suspect it will), I'll have another one at the ready.

18 September 2007

Shop 'Til You Nap

Being a dedicated shopper, I had to get out to Natick this past weekend to check out the hugely expanded mall (let's just establish now that I'm never going to call it the "Natick Collection," and I don't think most others will either). I wanted to go last weekend, but the Mrs. dislikes crowds more than I do, so she wasn't having any of that opening-weekend madness.

We probably could have waited a little longer before going, because there are still about a dozen stores (out of more than 70) that are not yet open. I'm sure the opening day for the expansion was firmly established a long time ago, so it's a little surprising that so many retailers would miss the guaranteed publicity and crowds generated by the opening. But none of those were stores I was interested in, so I didn't feel I was missing anything.

The addition is nearly as large as the rest of the mall. If you come off the Pike you'll approach the mall from the back, which means the first thing you'll see is Neiman Marcus; you might want to refrain from eating beforehand, because the outside of the building looks like some sort of regurgitated Frank Gehry nightmare that could cause you to lose your lunch.

Many of the stores (NM, Gucci, Vuitton, Burberry) are Metrowest outposts of high-end stores already in Boston's Copley Place or Back Bay, but that wasn't why I wanted to go, since I don't shop in those places anyway. My primary interest was in visiting several retailers that previously had no presence in this area, and who don't (yet? ever?) sell their stuff online. I'm highly bored with the stores I already had access to around here; one of the reasons I was excited to visit Uniqlo in New York earlier this year was because it was a store I hadn't been to before.

I was eager to see fresh merchandise, and I had hopes of finding some interesting new stuff. And yet, yesterday I came away empty-handed. Here are some brief thoughts on these new-to-us stores:

Zara: Zara originated in Spain and has hundreds of stores on four continents, but is relatively new to the US market. Their business model is somewhat similar to that of H&M, in that new merchandise is constantly flowing into the stores, but from what I saw, I would say Zara's stuff is of higher quality. Stylewise, the closest reference points are probably Club Monaco and Banana Republic. Men's suits were only $259 (I didn't check to see if that was for both pieces or just the jackets, but they were all displayed with both pieces on the same hanger). I noticed a number of non-English-speaking couples shopping and buying, which tells me that Zara is known to a lot of people from other parts of the world, by reputation if not by experience, and that people have been waiting for them to open here.

Everything seemed very small; I tried on a vest I liked that was supposedly a large, but it was way too small for me, and there was only the one piece in that style, so I couldn't compare it to another size. Even the stacks of pants seemed like they were made for very, very skinny Eurodudes (they are thinner than us porky Americans, right?). In general, the clothes were far more dressy than what I generally wear to work. Not that I don't like dressing up, I just don't often have cause to do so, and when I need to, I already have plenty of appropriate clothing. I suspect this will be a store I will go into, take a spin around, and leave. The Mrs. assessed the women's section: she wasn't impressed. She said the higher-priced items didn't seem like they were of good enough quality to justify their prices.

Ruehl: In an effort to be all things to all demographic groups, Abercrombie & Fitch has started Ruehl to try to attract customers who have aged out of their other brands' target markets. They are attempting to conjure a hipster Greenwich Village vibe: the outside of the store has been made to look like a brownstone (ooh, how cool!), there are only two narrow entrances, and the name appears only on one awning on the far left, so it would be easy to look at this store from out in the mall and have no idea what it is, which is kind of their intent.

When I went inside, I was greeted by a faux-cheerful college-age gal. I felt like she should have been handing out candles or glow-sticks, because Ruehl is without doubt the darkest retail store I have ever been in, and that includes the gargoyle place on Newbury Street. I almost expected to find couples making out in the dim corners; indeed, instead of A&F's trademark oversize, black and white photos of naked guys, Ruehl has oversize, black and white photos of naked guys and naked girls together.

The clothes are on tables with pin-spots pointing down on them, or in vitrine-like cubbyholes in the walls that are lit from within. The walls are painted black, the wood flooring is medium-dark, and the doorways from one room to the next are narrow and dim, which only enhances the sense of disorientation and claustrophobia. If you stand near the front of the store and look toward the back, it looks like it could be one of those fun-house places where the ceilings become too low for adults to stand upright. Oh, the clothes? A lot of $80 shirts, for one thing. They were made of very nice, substantial cotton and, as far as I could tell without a flashlight, were devoid of any logos, but I don't spend that much for my shirts. Maybe when they start marking things down...

Martin+Osa: Like A&F's Ruehl, M+O is a concoction of American Eagle aimed at older customers, but that's where the similarity ends. Whereas Ruehl seems like merely a more expensive and slightly more grown-up variant of its parent brand, you would never know this store has anything to do with AE. Apparently Martin and Osa Johnson were real people, world travelers and adventurers in the early decades of the 20th century, and they are serving as the inspiration for the stores' design (woodsy lodge + Zen garden) as well as the clothing. That's swell, but does a clothing store really need a "back story," as it's described on their web site? Did I hear someone say "marketing overkill"?

However, some of the clothes at M+O were things I could actually see myself wearing. There's a (slightly) rugged, outdoorsy touch that reminded me a little of Orvis, but a without that brand's stuffy-CEO-weekend-wear vibe. I wasn't wildly excited about anything, but it feels like they have potential. Also, it seemed like there was a lot of open space in the store; this may be by design, or it may be that not all the merchandise has arrived yet, but either way the offerings seemed a bit thin. I'll check back in a month or so, when stores start bringing in their holiday-season collections, which tend to have slightly more distinctive items than the regular collections.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention Nordstrom, even though it doesn't quite fall in the same category as any of these stores. Nordstrom is not new to New England; they opened a store in Providence several years back. But this is the first one in Massachusetts, and it's a good bit closer (although I can get to the Providence Place mall via public transit, whereas I can only get to the Natick mall by car). I don't buy a lot of clothing at Nordstrom, but over the years I have bought a few things, and the shopping experience is always so pleasant that it makes me want to go back. There are plenty of stores that could learn from the way Nordstrom treats customers; it makes me wonder why they don't.

17 September 2007

A Word of Thanks from Your Host

I'd like to take a moment to say hello and thanks to everyone who stopped by for the first time last week. Adam over at Universal Hub has linked to my posts several times, including last week's bit about the cupcake place that brought a lot of new visitors; a link in a posting on the same topic on LiveJournal's Davis Square page did the same.

In fact, I had over 400 visitors last week, making it my best week yet, for which I'm very appreciative--it's nice to know someone is reading (besides my friends). The cupcake critique also got more comments than anything else I've yet written, so please keep commenting as well. (And to "George Bush": I rejected your comment because it was offensive, but I suspect you already knew that.)

I don't know if all of you will keep coming back, but I certainly hope so. I suppose it's really up to me to make it worth your time. My one-year blogiversary is approaching, and I am pondering ways to celebrate. To that end, I welcome your suggestions.

Regular programming will resume shortly...

13 September 2007

T Time

Some randon, T-themed observations:

--I guess the T has decided that summer is over, because it seems like the Orange Line trains I rode on today didn't have their air conditioning on. It wasn't hot outside, but it was still warm enough on the trains that the AC would have been nice.

--Since the bus I take in the morning runs at fixed intervals, I tend to catch the same bus (unless I'm running late) and thus I see a lot of the same people from day to day. One guy who has been on my usual bus for the past couple of weeks emanates a funkiness that suggests that either he or his clothing, or possibly both, have not been cleaned in a while. This isn't unusual on the T, but since he's on the same bus most days, it stands to reason that he's going somewhere specific, and he does not otherwise have the appearance of someone in indigent circumstances. If he's going to a job, his coworkers must be starting to feel a little uncomfortable.

--Remember a few months ago when the T announced that they were going to try to keep stations cooler this summer by installing water misters in some locations? So, did they ever do it? I saw a few stand fans around Downtown Crossing this afternoon, and it made me realize that I didn't hear anything else about it after that initial story. If they did do it, did anyone feel like it made a noticeable difference? If they didn't do it, why not? I tend to go through downtown without getting off the train, so it may have happened and I just hadn't been around to notice.

11 September 2007

Doggie Styling

The dog was looking a little dingy and smelling a little doggy, so on Sunday we paid a visit to LaundroMutt, the dog-washing place near Fresh Pond in Cambridge.

I know that some people are quite content to bathe their pets at home, in the tub or the yard. Our outside faucets only deliver cold water, and since greyhounds have very little body fat and a thinner coat than a typical dog's, they get cold very quickly, even on a hot day. As for the tub, well, she's kind of big to wrangle in and out, plus we don't have a hand-held spray or any other way of directing the water.

This is why LaundroMutt exists: because many dog owners don't have the necessary facilities, or it's just easier to take care of the dog-cleaning somewhere other than your home.

The tubs for larger dogs have ramps so you don't have to lift your dog up and over the side. Once your dog is aboard, a staff member slides the ramp out of the way underneath, and inserts a removable piece of the tub wall to block the opening. There are vinyl aprons to protect your clothing. You can bring your own shampoo, or they will supply it for you. You can adjust the water temperature to your dog's liking, and use the hose to spray the water where it's needed.

After the bath, you can opt for a hot-air blow-dry, but on a previous visit London did not like that one bit, so we went with the standard method: they give you a towel and a chamois, just like you'd use to dry your car after washing it. Of course, the dog is going to shake itself silly at the first opportunity, regardless of how well you dry it.

The basic wash-and-dry without the hot-air dryer costs $15. That would probably be an indulgence if we were doing it monthly, but we brush her thoroughly a couple of times a week, and we were told by a professional trainer that dogs, if brushed regularly, do not need to be bathed very frequently, as long as they stay out of nasty stuff. Our dog does not get opportunities to roll around in mud or do other messy things. (This might be a disappointment to her, but since she can't talk, we'll never know for sure.) So, for the two or three trips we make per year, it's totally worth it, and as I like to point out, it's also supporting a local business.

LaundroMutt also sells a variety of treats, so you can reward your dog for putting up with the trauma of being bathed. We got London a turkey jerky patty, which she had inhaled within about 20 seconds of getting in the car. Poultry seems to have magical properties for her.

09 September 2007

Hey, Cupcake

The Mrs. and I are avowed sweet lovers. We love good (dark) chocolate, we love pastries, we love baked goods of all kinds. So when I heard that a new cupcake place was opening in Davis Square, I knew we had to check it out.

The place is called Kick Ass Cupcakes, which is cute, and it's located on Highland Avenue just outside the square proper. We headed over there on Friday night (they're open til 10 PM on Friday and Saturday nights), their first day open for business. Their web site promised about ten different varieties of cupcakes, including some unusual flavors, so we were anticipating some good stuff.

Unfortunately, the cupcakes were practically microscopic. Now, there's nothing wrong with mini cupcakes, but these were almost small enough to be considered mini-sized, yet they cost $2.75 each. By way of comparison, when we went to New York in June, we ate lunch in the basement cafeteria at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where we split a delicious, gigantic cupcake filled with raspberry goo that was $3.50.

We did end up buying some cupcakes, and they weren't even that good. The Mrs. said she felt like she wanted to go back to talk to the proprietor, to give her some friendly advice. I don't like to say bad things about someone trying to make it running their own business, because I know how difficult it can be, and I like to support local businesses whenever possible. But I fear that a lot of people are going to visit Kick Ass Cupcakes once, and not go back. I hope the people running the place rethink their pricing or their sizing, or both.

Saturday we stopped in Ball Square to get a snack at Lyndell's bakery. They make some pretty great pastries; I'm quite partial to their raspberry danish. And they also make cupcakes, which are generously sized and cost 90 cents each.

05 September 2007

Today's Special

I've been getting lunch from the cafeteria of one of the hospitals down the street. It isn't great food, but it does the job. I've determined that I should pretty much stay away from the cooked food, but since I usually get a sandwich anyway, it works out fine. It solves the lunch problem quickly, cheaply, and with a minimum of fuss.

As with most institutional cafeterias, there are a number of daily specials. How special they are is fairly subjective; whether or not I get the special depends on what it is and what I'm in the mood for that day. Today's deli special was an Italian sub. I love Italian subs, though I don't eat them as much as I used to, because they're pretty bad for me (and you, and everyone else).

It's been a while since I've indulged in one, so I decided that I would go ahead and get the sub. There are two servers at the deli station, and the woman behind me ordered the same thing at about the same time, leading to both of us being asked more or less simultaneously, "Do you want mayonnaise on it?" I looked at the woman, who looked back at me. We both said no, then looked at each other again. I said, "Mayonnaise? On an Italian sub? That's just...wrong." She nodded in agreement. Ugh.

Mayonnaise has its place, but the idea of it on an Italian sub is stomach-turning. I thought maybe this was another of those quirky local food things that people think are so charming (like getting rolls with Chinese food, or what everyone else calls a milkshake is a frappe around here), but I'm local and I've never heard of it in my entire life. I think maybe the cafeteria ladies decided to embellish on their own. Good thing they asked first, or today's lunch wouldn't have been too enjoyable.

04 September 2007

Getting Out

So, another long weekend is over, and what did I do with my three days of freedom? Not much. We ate our way around greater Boston, did a few errands, and watched Zodiac, but as is frequently the case, I'm left with feelings of post-long-weekend regret. We should have planned some activity, should have taken advantage of the great weather and the freedom from work and other commitments to do something fun. But we didn't.

We tend to not plan much ahead of time. We like to pretend that this is an advantage of not having children--that we can do what we want, when we want--but the truth is we're just lazy, and the result is that on many weekends we end up not doing much of anything. As I put out the trash on Sunday evenings I often think to myself, "Where did those two days go, and what do you have to show for it?" I don't like this. It feels like we're prematurely old or something, and it isn't good for us. It's a rut we need to get out of.

The Mrs. has a tendency to sleep a lot on weekends. I don't begrudge her the extra rest, because her job is stressful and she needs more sleep than the average person anyway. But I often find myself sitting around waiting for her to wake up. I try to make use of that time by doing household chores, but I still end up feeling bored and restless. At times I have gone off to do things by myself; spending time separately is healthy, but one point of weekends is that we're supposed to spend time together, so even if I just run off to the mall for a couple of hours, it sort of feels like I'm abandoning her.

I think we need to try harder. I think it might help if we start planning something, anything. Each weekend we should have at least one planned activity, no matter how minor or trivial. Find a new place for brunch. Take the dog somewhere that she can romp and play for a while. Hit some yard sales. Take a drive somewhere we haven't been before. It isn't hard to come up with ideas, but it is going to require some effort to get off the couch and make them happen.