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.