31 July 2007

Sleep on It

Over the weekend we went back to Jordan's Furniture to check out mattresses. Well, actually we went there for some Richardson's ice cream, but our mattress is getting on in years and is a little lumpy, so while we were there we had a look around the mattress department, which Jordan's somewhat pretentiously calls the "sleep lab." Both the Mrs. and I have back issues, and we realized some time ago that our current mattress probably wasn't firm enough when we bought it back in early 1999.

On our way to test-drive some mattresses, we passed through the bedroom furniture. At one point I decided to climb on a display bed and test the mattress. It was very firm and quite comfortable, so I flipped up the covers to look for a label. There wasn't one, so it seemed logical to me to go into the mattress section and ask someone if they could tell me what kind of mattress was on the bed in question.

The "sleep technician" looked at me a little oddly, but when I asked my question a second time she seemed to understand. "Oh, those aren't for sale." Now it was my turn to look confused. She continued, "the display beds have what we call demo mattresses, they are old and they're just there to fill the space in the bed frames."

Maybe I'm suffering from a failure of logic, but this seems like a lost opportunity to me. I realize the mattress department is right next to the bedroom furniture department, but why wouldn't you want to put mattress you sell on those beds? It couldn't hurt, and might result in some additional sales. And I'm quite sure that when we bought the previous mattress and foundation (from a different furniture store), it was set up on a display bed. I guess they just choose to do things differently at Jordan's.

29 July 2007

A Tip of the Glass: Deep Ellum

Summer weekends can be kind of a challenge. On the one hand there's the feeling that I should be making the most of the free time and the nice weather to do fun summer stuff. But if it's too hot and humid, I would much rather spend my days off in a bookstore, a coffee shop, or a dark, chilly movie theater. Or even better, a dark, chilly bar.

One thing I do like about summer is that there aren't as many people around. Many of the students are elsewhere, and from mid-July to mid-August, a lot of people go away on vacation. The city seems to empty out for a while, and things slow down a bit. There's less traffic on the Fellsway when I'm waiting for the bus in the morning, and the subway trains are noticeably less crowded, increasing the chances of getting a seat for the whole ride. Restaurants and bars have fewer patrons, meaning shorter waits and potentially more attentive service.

This weekend I opted not to partake in the hoopla surrounding the Police reunion concerts at Fenway Park; while a great place for a baseball game, it's far from the ideal venue for live music. I also chose not to alternately swelter in the midday humidity and get drenched by downpours at the Lowell Folk Festival. I did, however, pay a visit to the newish, beer-centric neighborhood place Deep Ellum in Union Square, Allston. The food is very good, there are something like a hundred different beers available (about twenty of those on tap), and it's a very eclectic and well-informed selection. They also have a list of intriguing cocktails for folks like the Mrs. who like to get their drink on in a non-beer way.

I neglected to get our server's name, and now realize I really should have because he did an excellent job. He was completely unfazed by the squirmy preschooler in our group, immediately picking up on his desire for a hot dog. He gave honest, informed opinions and recommendations for beer and food, paid attention to us after he'd brought our orders, cleared empty dishes promptly, and generally treated us like visiting dignitaries. He was a true professional, and that's very refreshing. We will almost certainly go back.

25 July 2007


The Mrs. and I went to the library, and on the way home we stopped to get something to eat. We were walking back to the car, which was parked in a lot behind the building. and turned the corner just in time to see someone backing out of a space and into the driver's side of our car. The Mrs. ran up and knocked on the other driver's window, which was a good thing because she was about to drive away. We're not sure if she even realized she'd hit our car.

Fortunately she was going very slowly, so there's only a tiny little dent no more than a couple of inches long. The other driver looked to be about eighteen and probably was not very experienced. I say this not to pick on her, but because there was a very generous amount of room between the row she backed out of and the perpendicular space where we had parked, and even as someone who doesn't drive, it was clear to me that she had more than enough room to negotiate out of her space without needing to get as close to our car as she did. Hopefully she will incorporate this incident into her future driving experience.

Oh, and by the way, Colleen's in Medford Square has decent sandwiches and excellent frappes.

24 July 2007

Road Rage Champions

A couple of the car-oriented sites I read regularly mentioned this story about a highway project that drew so much road rage from drivers that the California Department of Transportation decided to close the road to traffic completely for the duration of the project. One worker was hit by a thrown burrito, one was allegedly clipped by a driver, and one guy threatened to climb a tower and start shooting at the road workers.

First, you have to wonder what sort of brain-damaged subhumans would commit acts of violence against the very people working to improve the road they use. The closure of the road in question has added miles and minutes to drivers' commutes.

Second, how is it that something like this hasn't already happened here in the land of the Massholes?

Verbal Jousting on the T

Yesterday I got on the Green Line at Brigham Circle to head home from work. The train operator came on the PA and said, "The other conductor neglected to mention that we'll be standing by for a few minutes."

A moment later the PA crackled again and another voice said, "Sorry about that, folks. The conductor in the other car is having some issues with his medication."

Short pause. First voice: "Once again, we are standing by for a few minutes. The other conductor's wife picks on him and beats him up regularly."

Pause. Second voice: "Folks, he's going to classes to learn how to be a better human being."

Now this might have been a bit unprofessional, but it certainly was funny. Who knew T operators had senses of humor?

20 July 2007

Sure Don't Feel Like Kenmore Square

So Mr. Butch died last week, in a motor scooter accident. This might be news to some of my friends who read this blog from outside the Boston area. It's not my intention to pay tribute, mainly because a lot of other people have already written about it, but also because I didn't have any kind of personal relationship with him. But reading about his death did give me cause to think about how much has changed in the city since I came up from Rhode Island to start college in the fall of 1981.

In the 80's and a good bit of the 90's, anyone who went to BU, or hung out at the Rat, or even just went to Red Sox games during that time, is likely to have encountered Mr. Butch at some point. He was, in his own unique way, as recognizable a part of the fabric of Kenmore Square as the Citgo sign. The Square was, well, scuzzy would be a nice way to put it, I guess. Parents delivering their college-bound kids to school for the first time would come through the "gateway to BU" and raise their eyebrows in apprehension: this is where you're going to school?

I remember going to orientation after arriving at BU and hearing someone say, "the city is your campus," as though apologizing for the school not having rolling hills and a nice big quad. But for those of us who were looking for the opportunities only an urban college experience could provide, Kenmore Square was our quad, and we were okay with that. The grime was part of its charm and allure. It was real, authentic, earned.

Sure, things got a little iffy sometimes. There were frequently fights on weekend nights, particularly outside Pizza Pad, where the bridge-and-tunnel club kids would clash with the in-town rockers, or something like that. A friend was menaced by a crazy old lady with a knife in Charile's Cafeteria. And once when I was walking home alone after a late movie, a guy tried to "make friends" with me. But I never really felt unsafe, because there was always so much going on and so many people around.

But about a decade ago, the rumblings of gentrification started to hit the Kenmore area. BU had long wanted the area cleaned up, and as owner of a significant amount of property, eventually the school was able to exert some influence. They had managed to get rid of the nightclub Narcissus; it became a Gap and eventually a Bertucci's restaurant. Pizza Pad got turned into a McDonald's.

It's my understanding that around this time, Mr. Butch was told by the BU Police that he was no longer welcome in Kenmore Square. I suspect he knew what was to come and probably didn't want to stick around there anyway, so he headed up Comm. Ave. to Harvard Ave. in Allston, which did (and thankfully still does) manage to maintain its funky rough edge, and where he was welcomed by the community.

It was touching to read that a memorial service for Mr. Butch has been organized for this Sunday, including a New Orleans-style jazz funeral procession along Harvard Ave., and that his family will be in attendance. It's clear that he was loved by many, which is really all any of us can hope for in our time here.

A while back the BU alumni magazine Bostonia did a back-page piece on the changes in Kenmore Square, the most dramatic of which was the demolition of almost an entire block and its replacement with the Hotel Commonwealth. I don't get over to Kenmore much these days, but I was there the other night to go to a baseball game, and looking across the square at that hotel, it just doesn't look right.

Sure, Eastern Standard is a nice restaurant, but I look at it and think, that's where the Rat should be. It was never my favorite club, but who I was seeing was more important than where I was seeing them, and I have so many great memories from seeing bands there over the years; its significance in the local music scene cannot be denied, and young kids just starting bands will never experience the rite of passage of playing there.

Instead of Kenmore Army-Navy, there's now Jean Therapy, selling high-end designer denim. Instead of the IHOP that replaced Charile's, there's a boutique chocolate shop. There was an old-school Dunkin' Donuts with sit-down counter service (anybody remember that?), and Deli Haus, and Planet Records, and the India Quality restaurant--now all gone. The hotel has tried to reference the Square's past by designing its street-level retail space with some stores one flight above the street and some one flight below, but it seems like an empty gesture. Maybe the Square is nicer these days, but it feels a lot less vital, and somehow less real.

On the other hand, the Kenmore T station is finally getting a long-overdue fixing-up; it even has an elevator now, and they're building a snazzy new glass-canopy bus shelter that's going to look pretty cool when it's finished. So some progress is good, but some isn't; progress is inevitable, but we don't have to like it.

19 July 2007

Would You Call It a "Spiser" or a "Mender"?

Overheard, out of context, in the bleachers at Wednesday night's Red Sox game:

"I'm such a miser."
"You're kind of a miser and a spender."
"Well, I'm bipolar, so that's why."

17 July 2007


I'm deeply disturbed by something, and I need to gripe about it: it seems that one of the worst music groups of the entire half-century of the pop/rock era is popular again. I'm talking about Supertramp. I keep hearing them on that damn TD Banknorth commercial that runs nearly every morning on New England Cable News. Blessedly, the name of the specific song in question escapes me, and I'm not about to make any effort to find it out, so you'll have to take my word for it. And if you know, don't tell me--I really don't want to know.

Typically I mute the TV when commercials come on, but I watch a little NECN in the mornings while having breakfast, then I leave the room to get dressed, and the commercial always seems to come on when I'm out of the room. By the time I can make it back to the TV, the song has already triggered that alcove of my brain that stores memories of songs, and it's too late: even though it's been three decades since its inexplicable popularity, it's lodged in there until I can get out the door, get my headphones on, and force it out with something else.

Then the other day I was in a store, minding my business doing an errand, when another song of theirs came on. I felt trapped. I felt queasy. I wanted to run away without buying my shampoo. I know that retailers pay a lot of money to companies to select the music that gets played in their stores, and that makes me think: really? This is the best you could come up with? The soulless, musically bankrupt, late 70's analogue of the Dave Matthews Band? I was only in junior high back then, and I didn't like it the first time.

I know whose fault it is, too. I can pretty much guarantee that some baby boomer working at an ad agency or "branding consortium," someone probably a couple of years older than me, who lost his or her virginity in the back seat of a Duster (look it up, kids) a couple of hours after seeing a Supertramp concert, is responsible for this travesty being forced upon us. I don't care about your blissful memories of sexual awakening. Just stop it. Stop torturing us. I think I actually liked it better when everyone's songs weren't for sale, and we were forced to endure cheesy jingles.

14 July 2007

(Beer) Blast from the Past

When summer rolls around, I like to change up my beer choices a little. In winter I like to drink moderately heavy stuff--the various Sam Adams and Harpoon offerings, Sierra Nevada, Brooklyn Brewery, and of course Guinness--but in warmer weather I prefer lighter beers.

The Mexicans have the combination of decent flavor and light body down pretty well, and each year I enjoy reacquainting myself with the pleasures of ice-cold Dos Equis, Tecate, Carta Blanca, etc. (Corona is okay in a pinch, but it's kind of like drinking colored water.) I used to like Rolling Rock as my summer beer, but since it was bought by Anheuser-Busch last year and is no longer brewed in Latrobe, PA, I can't bring myself to buy it anymore.

A couple of weeks ago I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about a guy who bought back the rights to the Narragansett brand and has reintroduced the beer to the marketplace, at least in New England. This was news to me, but being a born-and-raised Rhode Islander, where the beer originated back in 1890, I was curious, so on the way home from work I stopped at the liquor store. They did indeed have it, though only in 16-ounce tall-boy cans. I never buy beer in cans because drinking it tastes like drinking the can, but in the interest of, um, "research" I went ahead and got a six-pack.

I thought it might be amusing to sit on the front steps drinking it out of the can to see what sort of reaction I might get from the neighbors, but I decided that might be a little too Larry the Cable Guy. So I sat on the back porch instead, and used a glass. The results of my unscientific testing? It's not bad. It isn't going to win any awards, but it certainly tastes better than Miller or Budweiser (I've long held that I would rather drink tap water than either of those) and kind of reminds me of Coors, which is probably just a coincidence.

I'm not saying Narragansett is a great beer, but the company's new leadership understands the beer's heritage here in New England. For a couple of decades it was the official beer of the Red Sox, and for many people it was their one and only beer. Both my grandfathers and my great uncle on my mom's side were loyal Narragansett drinkers. Its recipe had been altered several times under its various owners, so the new president went to the trouble to find the company's old brewmaster to return Narragansett to its original flavor.

It was decades of ownership by companies like Pabst and brewing in places like Wisconsin that caused the world to forget about Narragansett. Currently it's being brewed in Rochester, NY, which is a lot closer than Wisconsin and close enough to be almost New England. The company president says he hopes to start brewing it in Rhode Island again next year. I think that would be great. It would be like the Rolling Rock situation in reverse: in an era when it seems like everything is the same no matter where you go, it would be nice to have something with a distinct local flavor again.

09 July 2007

Cock Blocks?

Some people in Oregon think the traffic-blocking posts the town had installed are too suggestive-looking. See for yourself.

(From KOMO-TV Seattle, via Jalopnik.)

Hacked-Up Hairball

Friday night we did a couple of errands, then went home to relax (yes, we are boring, thank you). In our cable TV lineup we have this group of movie channels that are not considered "premium" (like HBO or Showtime) but show movies unedited and with no commercials. Frequently there's nothing interesting on any of them, but sometimes we find movies worth watching. In this case, we stumbled on a movie so lame, so cheesy, so stunningly awful, we had no choice but to watch: Hackers.

This 1995 debacle might just be the most
awesomely bad movie I have ever seen. It's nominally about a group of high-school kids in New York City (who all happen to be whiz-kid hackers) who must fight an evil computer genius bent on unleashing some sort of virus. At least I think that's what it's about. The main character is supposed to be some sort of super-hacker who caused the catastrophic crash of thousands of computers worldwide, and he's supposed to have done this when he was like ten or eleven years old. Wow. As a result, he is banned from using a computer until his eighteenth birthday--such a cruel punishment!

Whoever wrote it had clearly read a bunch of William Gibson novels and was trying to emulate some of the cyberpunk aspects of his writing, but in a contemporary, non-scifi setting. I like Gibson's books, but you can't copy him; it just doesn't work. Whatever Hackers is, it's a mess. Much of it makes no sense, and as with most movie and TV portrayals, the "hacking" is completely unrealistic. Decent soundtrack though: Underworld, Stereo MC's, Massive Attack, to name a few. (According to IMDB, there were actually three soundtrack albums released for this movie.)

One of the great pleasures of watching cinematic fertilizer like this is spotting the otherwise-respectable actors who stopped by to pick up a quick paycheck and maybe, if we're lucky, chew some scenery. The girl-hacker crush object is played by none other than Angelina Jolie, in one of her earliest film roles, sporting a Peter Pan pixie haircut to make her look tough but still sexy and vulnerable. I give her a pass because she was young and probably didn't know any better.

Hey, there's Lorraine Bracco, in an obvious midcareer slump between Goodfellas and The Sopranos, and blonde no less (dye job or wig?), playing some sort of vixenish criminal mastermind. Huh? Wait, here comes Mr. Lopez himself, Marc Anthony, playing... a Secret Service agent? Yeah, credible. Other folks making brief (luckily for them) appearances include Penn Jillette as a bad-guy hacker minion, Dave Stewart of Eurythmics as a white-hat hacker helping the kids, and Felicity Huffman as a prosecutor.

Now, I have to be honest: we missed the first ten or fifteen minutes of the movie, so there were a couple of things we didn't get that may have been explained in that early portion. But really, it just made us want to see it again, and it looks like we'll get the chance: as the credits were rolling, a message at the bottom of the screen told us what movie was coming on next, then said, "You've been watching Hackers. See it again on July 21st at 9 PM." Hmm, bad movie-watching party at our house?

08 July 2007


The Mrs. and I celebrated our nation's independence in a most patriotic and quintessentially American way: we went shopping. But we didn't go to just any old stale suburban mall; no, we went outlet shopping.

Outlet shopping is one of the few things I can't do on my own, because of the locations. The outlet center we visited on Wednesday is located about 35 miles southeast of Boston. It is not close enough to any public transit, so you have to go by car. There is a company that runs bus charters, but it costs around $35 round trip, which is just outright robbery. The other relatively nearby outlet option is Kittery, Maine, just over the border from Portsmouth, New Hampshire. This too is beyond the reach of public transit. As such we go maybe three times a year, which realistically is often enough, considering the time and travel involved.

I first discovered the joys (and disappointments) of outlet shopping in the early 80's on a visit to L.L. Bean in Freeport, Maine. The surrounding storefronts on Main Street had been filled by retailers looking to take advantage of the Bean faithful flocking to Freeport by unloading some of their past-season merchandise on them. Outlet retail has grown into its own entity; companies like Gap and J. Crew now produce separate product lines
specifically for sale at their outlet stores.

This can sometimes lead to confusion among less-savvy shoppers. The thing about shopping at outlets is, the "bargains" are often dubious.
There's a lot of merchandise that just isn't very good, and some things that I would be interested in but that aren't discounted enough for my liking. Then there are the near-misses: not the right color, not the right size. My friend David says, "You have to know what things cost," meaning that having some idea of what the item sells for in the non-outlet world gives you a sense of whether or not you are in fact getting a good deal at an outlet store.

I tend to have the best luck when I'm not looking for anything in particular. I have in the past gone looking for a specific item and found it, but that doesn't happen often. This time around I was hoping to find several things, so naturally I didn't find any of them. I didn't come away empty-handed, but it wasn't as successful a trip as some others have been. The Mrs. has a bit of a bag fetish, so I was not surprised that she bought a new bag, but I was surprised that it was for her sister and not herself. But she got a new bag when we went to New York a couple of weeks ago, so maybe next time.

03 July 2007

Office Space

My office at work moved to new office space yesterday. Fortunately it was within the same building, so it wasn't as traumatic as it might have been. The move was handled by professionals, so all we had to do was pack our belongings into plastic crates and label everything with numbers corresponding to our locations in the new office.

Yesterday was designated a work-at-home day, because we would have just been in the way. I'd never worked at home before, but it meant I had to bring my work laptop home to use, because it has all the software I use daily as well as the needed setup to access the work network remotely. But being at home was distracting, and when I went to make something for lunch, there wasn't anything to eat (because we're bad about shopping regularly). So today I'm back in the office, in my new workspace.

To be honest, I have mixed feelings about it. I'm in a cubicle, like I was before; that doesn't bother me. But my cubicle is at the far opposite end of the office from my boss and the other people in my department; any further away and I'd be out in the courtyard. I'm stuck outside the big bosses' offices, across from their administrative assistant. I'm not sure how or why this happened, and my boss didn't seem too sure either, because originally he'd told me I would be at the other end, in the same general area with everyone else. The overhead lighting is too bright, and it's several degrees warmer than the other part of the office.

On the other hand, this space is newly built, so we have much better kitchen facilities including a new coffee-making device, a nice new conference room (the old "room" was a table in the middle of the office, right next to my cube), and some incidental stuff like new phones and desk chairs. And there's a secondary exit next to my cube for
when stealth getaways are needed. On balance I guess it's all right. It is nice to be in a space that on one else has used, and that was configured specifically for the department's needs. If I can get them to turn off or undo a couple of the fluorescent lights, I'll be fine.

02 July 2007

Weekend Bits

—On Saturday night the Mrs. and I went to see Richard Thompson at the Berklee Performance Center. I've seen him at least half a dozen times, but this was the first time I had seen him perform with a full electric band since about 1998, and it was a killer show. He never fails to entertain, but this time the combination of material from his new album and a choice selection of older songs made it the second-best show I've seen him do, after his awesome "1000 Years of Popular Music" in the fall of 2004.

The Berklee has great sound, but the seats are just awful. They're old, lumpy, and uncomfortable. Over the course of a two-hour show, they really take a toll on your back. There must be a famous
music-star graduate out there who would be willing to cover the cost of new seats.

—A while back I said I would do a post about the newly expanded SoundBites restaurant when I had a chance to visit the new space. We finally made it there yesterday (I think they moved next door about a month ago), but they aren't entirely up to full speed yet. We waited in line much longer than usual; according to the owner, the new kitchen has some limitations that are affecting preparation and/or cooking. We definitely waited a long time for our food; typically the plates are on the table within five minutes of ordering. He's planning to add a second kitchen to handle the weekend crowds, and when that happens things should even out somewhat.

The new room is very attractive, with a couple of distinct sections, a roomier self-serve coffee area, and a full bar, a holdover from the location's previous incarnations as a Mexican cantina and, before that, a barroom of varying levels of seediness depending on the crowd it was trying to attract. So we'll have to check back in to see how things are progressing.