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.