30 April 2007

(Another) Weekend Wrap

The Mrs. was away this weekend at a family event in Ohio. I was invited, but there was no compelling reason for me to go, and we would have had to arrange for someone to take care of the dog, so I stayed home. Still it was another fairly busy weekend for me, which has been unusual until lately; it's nice to come out of winter hibernation mode and start doing stuff.

On Friday I met my college roommate for dinner, then we went to see Robert Randolph and the Family Band at Avalon. The show was great; Randolph, in addition to being a hugely talented guitarist on both regular electric and pedal steel, is a born showman and knows just how to work a crowd to full effect. The club was nearly full, though the audience was much younger than we'd expected. We were anticipating more folks our age, and there were some, but the frat-boy contingent was larger and rowdier, and of course it was only a matter of time until someone spilled his beer on me. We couldn't tell exactly what happened, but we think the guy was
simply dancing too hard and lost his balance. It was near the end of the show anyway, so I just wiped it off and resolved to find a safer place to stand next time.

Saturday was a birthday dinner for my friend Anne's 40th. Her family came in for the weekend from points west and south, and there were some other friends of hers there that I'd never met before. The food was excellent, but the waiter was just awful. Once he'd taken our orders, he basically stopped paying attention to the table. Water glasses did not get refilled, plates did not get taken away, and when the staff brought out a cake, we sat there staring at it for several minutes because he neglected to bring us plates and utensils. None of us had been to this particular restaurant before, so I'd like to think it was an aberration. I'll try it again in a few weeks and see how it goes.

I used Sunday to relax, catch up on some things around the house, and do a couple of errands. The dog was mopey, presumably missing the other half of her caretaking team. I gave her some extra biscuits this morning when I left for work, to tide her over until the Mrs. gets home.

25 April 2007

Cup o' Guilt

Lately I've started going to a different Dunkin' Donuts on my way to work, after too many mornings dealing with the aftermath of people who are apparently incapable of understanding the meaning of requests like "extra cream" or "not too light, please," even though they are getting paid to do just that. (I keep hearing that DD is going to switch to do-it-yourself coffee fixin's as part of their overall store redesign plans; I really hope it's true, and I really hope it happens soon.) Even though it adds a few extra minutes to my morning commute, I feel like it's worth it. The people who work at this new place are also more pleasant, smiling readily, chatting with the regulars, and anticipating their orders.

Since it was on the warm side
again yesterday, I ordered an iced coffee (it was perfect: freshly brewed, strong, and they got the cream proportion just right). The counter person put the cup into one of the hot coffee cups before handing it to me. This is a fairly common thing; I see people carrying them this way all the time. It keeps the drink cold, and contains the condensation. But I try not to be wasteful, so I've never asked for the extra insulating cup, and I've never been given one without being asked. Moral dilemma: I felt guilty about taking an extra cup I didn't need, but I also didn't want to be the stereotypical bitchy customer and say "I don't want the extra cup. " I settled on taking the cup and keeping it at my desk to reuse in the future.

23 April 2007

Aural Torture

It's about 80 outside today, so the air conditioning kicked on in my office. There's a vent in the ceiling panel above my head, a few feet over from my cubicle.

Something inside the vent is making a constant chattering-squeaking sound, like a spinning fan that needs oil would sound after sitting dormant for several months.

Occasionally it stops for a moment, but it starts right back up again.

It is slowly, slowly driving me insane...

Weekend Wrap

At the risk of sounding overly mundane (I hope to never do a blog post solely about the weather), it was great to finally get some real spring this weekend. It was warm enough to open the windows and get some air flowing through the apartment.

Friday evening we went to see Grindhouse. It was insane, in lots of very good ways. Whether you revere Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino or despise them, you have to acknowledge their shared love of movies and film history that inspired and pervades this project. Everyone I've talked to about it has had different reactions, but everyone also said the same thing: when it was over, we were all exhausted. It's the kind of thing you need a while to decompress from, preferably with a couple of drinks.

Saturday night I went to see a music show with a couple of friends, the gravel-voiced country guitar slinger Junior Brown. It was the first time I'd been out to see a band since Christmas week, but that was an atypically early performance by a friend, and we were able to sit down; this was the first time I'd been out to see a club show with a typical late starting time in about six months. I think this might be as frequently as I can handle them at this point. The opening act came on at 9:45, and the headliner didn't hit the stage until almost 11:30. By midnight all three of us were tired, our feet and legs hurt from standing, and our attention was starting to wander, so we decided to call it a night.

Sunday the Mrs. and I went for a late breakfast at one of our favorite spots, the venerable SoundBites in Ball Square, Somerville. (I've been remiss in not giving the place the "Monsters of..." food post it deserves.) The place is tiny (the seating capacity is probably around 40) and on weekends there is typically a line to get in with a 15-20 minute wait. This time there were only about four people ahead of us in line, possibly because it was such a nice day and people were off doing other things. We noticed that since the last time we'd been, the Mexican place next door had closed, after being open for only about 18 months.

We were chatting with SoundBites' owner, as we usually do, and he mentioned that he is moving the restaurant over into the adjacent space, which is at least twice as large, and it should be ready in about two months. This is great news, as anyone who has been there can attest; while the
food is excellent, the experience has always been slightly diminished by the cramped space and non-decor. So I'm going to delay my write-up until the new space is up and running.

18 April 2007


In the midst of wind-driven rain on Sunday, as we were transferring from old car to new car the insane amount of stuff the Mrs. carts around with her (and trying unsuccessfully to keep it dry), I came across a big roll of masking tape. It reminded me of an incident last summer that (sort of) explains why she carries so much stuff:

We were going out to do some errands on a Sunday afternoon, and she needed to stop at an ATM. We pulled into a newly-built bank branch near the house with a drive-up teller machine. Now, the Mrs. is only 4' 11", so she doesn't always see things the same way or from the same angle that taller people do. Typically she has to get out of the car to use a drive-up ATM, but in this case she believed she was able to reach it from the driver's seat. Unfortunately, neither of us could see that the machine had a design flaw: there was a gap at least an inch wide between the outer housing of the machine and the card slot. Of course, her card fell into the gap (and I'll bet a lot of other people's did too).

She spent several minutes trying to reach her hand far enough down into the gap to grab the card, but it wasn't wide enough. All the while she was understandably
growing more and more angry and frustrated. Another car pulled up; the driver assessed the scene and wisely chose to find another ATM, because the Mrs. wasn't leaving without her card, and she certainly wasn't going to let anyone else near that machine before getting it back.

Suddenly she ran to the trunk and pulled out a big plastic container full of craft supplies. I started to ask her what she was doing, but after more than a decade together, I know better than to try to talk to her in certain situations, and this was one of them. In a couple of minutes she had fashioned a crude
sort of arm from a couple of pens held together with the masking tape, with a wad of more tape, sticky side out, on the end. She stuck it into the gap, and with a little manipulation she had her card back. Relieved, and also justifiably pleased with herself, she said, "I'm definitely keeping that tape in the car all the time." No word on whether the bank has fixed its ATM design or not; we certainly haven't been back there.

17 April 2007


On Sunday, to my surprise and delight, the Mrs. bought a new car. This is a big deal for a few reasons. First, she really liked her four-year-old car, bought used three years ago, and likely would have gotten several more good years out of it. Also, she's the sort who has traditionally said she didn't believe in buying new cars because of depreciation and other negative financial reasons. Finally, she does not like to part with her money in general.

(I say "her money" because the car is not a joint investment in our household. Since I cannot drive, she decided a long time ago that it would not be fair for me to contribute to a vehicle's cost and upkeep. This is a very unselfish point of view, considering that I am a passenger in the car all the time. My part of the deal is that I am responsible for all video, audio, computer, and other electronics-related expenses, which I think is entirely fair, considering I would be buying those things anyway.)

This purchase came about because she kept getting letters from the dealer where she'd bought her previous car: we need your used car, we'll give you $X over Kelley blue book value, please come see us. At first she just ignored them, but then she started to wonder what they would offer her for the trade. The car was at about 55,000 miles, and the window of opportunity for a decent trade-in typically closes at around 60,000. So we took a drive to the dealer, in the midst of a nor'easter; consequently the place was pretty dead, so we didn't feel hurried.

She knew which model she was interested in, so it was a fairly simple matter of determining trim level and desired equipment, assessing the trade value, choosing a vehicle from inventory with the required features, and plugging in the numbers. I assumed we were merely involved in an exercise in the hypothetical, and I honestly did not expect her to go through with a purchase. But there were a few arguments in favor: slightly better gas mileage and decreased emissions, due to more sophisticated engine technology (good for the planet); added safety features such as anti-lock brakes and a phalanx of airbags (six in all); the added convenience of such things as radio controls on the steering wheel (which, it can be argued, is also a safety feature, since it lessens distraction while driving); and the purely subjective, such as deeper cup holders in a more sensible location and an iPod jack.

A car salesman is a car salesman, but the one we dealt with was fairly low-key, unlike some we have encountered in the past. Our favorite was the hipster type with a backwards Kangol cap who tried to rope the Mrs. by asking the classic "What if I could put you in a new car for the same monthly payment as a used car?" but was stopped in his tracks by her response: "Does it have at least 120 horsepower?" (It did not, which we already knew, but he had to look it up.)

It's also nice that this dealership orders a good selection of cars with all the
available safety features, but without loading on thousands of dollars in unnecessary options, so there are cars from which the practical can choose. The final issue was color. The Mrs.' previous car was an extremely vivid shade of blue, one of the reasons she liked it so much. The new car was available in a similar hue, but only on the more expensive trim level she had ruled out, so other choices had to be considered.

There was a sort of eggplant shade she liked, but it came only with a beige interior, which she hated. Also, the Mrs. happens to be in a somewhat sensitive line of work (one of the main reasons I do not use my real identity in this blog), and ultimately she reasoned that a somewhat less, uh, memorable color might make a certain sense, so in the end she chose a gunmetal gray, which is quite attractive. Now, if those cup holders can keep her from spilling coffee in the car, everything will be fine for years to come.

13 April 2007


Easter isn't a big holiday in our house. I guess it used to be when I was growing up, but we don't have kids, and somehow I don't see much point in having the dog hunt for decorated eggs, unless they were made of rawhide. But we still drive down to to my family's house in Rhode Island for dinner.

When we go there, we usually bring London with us, because my mom really loves her (I guess she figures the dog's as close as she's going to get to a grandchild) and because even though she doesn't care for most other dogs, London gets along with Connor, my mom's overweight, weirdo beagle, the most antisocial dog I have ever encountered.

Mom likes to buy London toys, though London isn't much for toys in general. She has a few stuffed animals that she'll throw around and gnaw on for a couple of minutes at a time, then she's done. This time she got her a little stuffed duck, maybe four or five inches high, with one of those chips inside that makes it quack when squeezed. Well, she went completely nuts for the thing, flailing around with it for nearly an hour and repeatedly trying to take it out in the yard. The quacking noise seems to trigger her play instinct, but she still seems not to have figured out that she's causing the thing to quack by biting down on it.

She's also still trying to take it outside with her every time we go out, and into her crate at night, but I have to take it away from her at bedtime, because we're not interested in being awakened by the quacking if she happens to roll over on it or something during the night. When I remove it from the crate, she gets this look on her face like I've just told her she has to sleep outside. I substitute a non-noisemaking stuffed pink hippo, but it doesn't seem to make her happy, although she often ends up using it as a pillow. In the morning the first thing she does is lunge for the duck.

So the dog has a new toy she really likes, which is great, up until the point she finishes the gradual, inevitable process of chewing it to pieces. I'm not sure what will happen then, but hopefully it won't involve scouring various pet stores for another one to replace it.

11 April 2007

Orange Alert

Damn. Somebody knocked over, pulled down, or otherwise felled the big ol' orange dinosaur that marks the mini golf place on route 1 in Saugus. What a rotten thing to do. The reptile's a roadside icon that's been there for almost 50 years. I love seeing it when I pass by there. I've even played at that course a couple of times. Sounds like the owners are determined to fix it, which is good. Hopefully it will be watching over putters again soon.

09 April 2007

Animal Style?

This morning, in an attempt to inject some enthusiasm and color into an unseasonably cold Monday, I put on a bright red sweater. Then I got to work and took off my coat, and noticed my sweater was covered with dog hair. That's me, always a class act...

Brain Freeze

One thing I love about this time of year is seeing people who have decided they are going to dress based on the calendar and not on what the weather is actually doing. Saturday night in Davis Square it was probably 35 degrees, but we passed a young lady in a Tufts hoodie and no other outer layer, visibly and audibly shivering while waiting for her friend to open the door to an ATM booth. Guess her prestigious liberal arts education hasn't taught her any common sense.

05 April 2007

Don't Label Me

A few days ago when I wrote about my failed shopping expedition, I mentioned that I like Ralph Lauren stuff as long as it doesn't have the polo player logo on it. The catch is that only a small portion of the product comes without that logo, which brings us to the corollary to my thoughts about boring clothes and my difficulties finding things I like: too damn many logos and labels.

Men's clothing (and, to a lesser extent, women's) is a wasteland of logos: horses, reptiles,
rhinoceri, birds in flight, various swooshes and stripes, numerous faux heraldic crests, sailboats, flags, mountains, trees, clovers, stars, moons (most of those are real). J. Crew started putting a guy with an oar on some of its outlet-store merchandise, in case it's unclear to anyone what "crew" they're referring to. Even the frickin' Gap, usually a refreshingly logo-less refuge (except for the sweatshirts with the giant GAP on them), has polo shirts this season with an embroidered gothic G on them. Swell. Thanks, Gap.

When I was a young lad back in the paleolithic (pre-cable TV) era, clothes didn't really have logos. The one place you would have found a label was the little leather patch on the back of my jeans: first Wrangler, later Levi's. When I was a teenager those Lacoste shirts with the little embroidered crocodile showed up (we called them "alligator shirts"), followed a little later by the Polo players on their horses. I had some of each (it's no accident my first job was at Jordan Marsh--I was a shopper even back then), mostly because I wanted to fit in at school, but by the time I was in college I was realizing that I didn't really care for clothes with logos on them, and that fitting in wasn't so important to me anymore (a crucial life lesson, courtesy of American commerce).

A while back I started removing all the external labels and tags from my clothes. Many brands of khakis come with some sort of label above the back pocket: gone. Some shirts have a tag sewn along the sid
e seam of the pocket: gone. Even the leather patches on the backs of my jeans: gone. I used to ask the Mrs. to do it, but I've gotten pretty good at doing it myself; you just have to go slowly, do it before you wash the garment for the first time, and use very small scissors. The Mrs. was an accomplished seamstress in a previous version of her life--at her college theater she made costumes for the likes of Debra Messing and Robin Weigert--so we have every size and shape of scissors known to man on the premises.

However, she has informed me that despite her abundant skills, she has no intention of wasting her valuable time removing embroidered logos from
any clothing I buy (assuming it's even possible to do so, which depends on the manufacturing process). I don't feel confident enough to take that step myself, so I haven't yet figured out how to overcome this obstacle, which has prevented me from buying some otherwise nice things, which, if I let myself think about it too much, gets a little depressing and annoying, and I end up seeming a little pathetic.

This is why I end up buying a good chunk of my clothing from places like L.L. Bean and Lands' End. Their stuff may not be exciting, but it's mercifully unadorned. Plus it tends to be made a little better than department-store stuff and has better customer service backing it up. It's sad that I've become such a boring old fud, but I have to be true to myself: my clothes should express who I am without needing the
assistance of a supposedly status-conferring logo, and I should be able to get dressed in the morning without having to be a walking billboard.

(By the way, I used the Macy's gift card on their web site, on a pair of sneakers they don't carry in the stores.)

04 April 2007

Pet Peeve Unit: Slowpoke Edition

The MBTA has had its new fare collection system in place since the beginning of the year, with the stored-value cards and such. People seem to have gotten the hang of it, and in most cases boarding a bus or trolley is actually faster than it was before.

So why do I keep getting stuck directly behind the morons who insist on holding up everyone while they attempt to feed their crinkly old dollar bills into the fare box over and over? Did you seriously not realize you were going to be riding on mass transit today? Or are you really such a technophobe that you can't manage to store a few dollars on a fare card? My wife doesn't even take the T to work, but she has one, just in case.

01 April 2007

Attempted Shopping

Where did the week go? It's a little frightening how time can slip by. But I'm not here to get philosophical. Let's talk about shopping.

Or more accurately, attempting to shop. The nice weather on Friday put me in the mood to look for some new clothes, and I had some time I needed to kill anyway. I have a Macy's gift card I received for Christmas, so I started there. Normally gift cards are like having a hot coal in my pocket--I have to get rid of them immediately--but I've been trying to use this one for nearly three months. Every time I went to Macy's, I was sure I would find the perfect thing, and every time I came away empty-handed. One time I actually did find a shirt I liked, but it turned out to be cut too snugly for my middle-aged frame (more reverse size creep) and I couldn't find it in a larger size.

On this most recent visit, there were several clearance racks filled with Polo stuff, which I tend to like as long as it doesn't have the horse on it. So I pawed through those, elbowing aside the
occasional dazed tourist, and I did find a couple of things I liked, but after wasting several minutes locating a working price-scanning machine, the discounts weren't as good as I'd hoped they'd be, or thought they should be after hanging around the store this long. (Tip: never trust the signs on the racks; always check at a scanner or cashier, because often the item has been marked down even lower than the price that's on the tag.)

This got me to thinking: why is Macy's men's department so boring? The women's departments seem to offer a range of style options, but not so the men's. I'm long past the age when anything in the "young men's" section has any appeal for me, what with all those giant logos and supersized or superslim styles. The regular men's area is just stuffed to the ceiling with the most staid, bland clothes on earth. The only real shot of color to be found is in the annual spring batch of polo shirts (as opposed to Polo shirts, which tend to be too colorful year-round), the Hawaiian-style printed shirt trend has persisted far longer than it has any right to, and how many pairs of khaki cargo shorts can one guy own?

Come to think of it, I'm not even ready to be thinking about summer clothes. I was looking for something I could wear in the spring, but that stuff seems to be gone already, not that there was really anything of interest to me in the first place. But it still leaves my question: why is Macy's so boring? And I don't mean to single them out; it's not just them, but really all big stores.

Here's what I think: the majority of guys don't really care what they wear, as long as it doesn't cause them embarrassment, which means plain and safe (think of the typical army of guys clad in the business-casual uniform of blue shirts and khaki pants, zzz...). And a lot of men's clothing choices are actually made by their wives or girlfriends, who aren't going to risk choosing something their men will reject as being "too fashiony" (except the ones who naively consider their partners a work in progress and think they can change them). So the stores continue to offer the plainest and safest choices, so sales will remain consistent.

So where does that leave me? Seeking out other options, as usual. Not that I consider myself fashion-forward. I read and enjoy GQ, but most of the casual clothing looks ridiculous (dress clothing is a different story that I'll tackle at some future point). I prefer stuff that is timeless but still looks like some thought was put into it. This is getting harder to find. It's like music; everything is so splintered into styles and subgenres that the only thing left in the
mainstream is boring beyond belief (John Mayer, I'm looking at you...). If I had the means, I'd attempt to start my own clothing line, if only to give myself something to wear. But I guess I'll just keep looking. Somebody must want my money.