31 December 2008

Once Upon a Job

I'm not going to recap the year, because everyone else is going to, or has already done so. We all know what happened: a lot of it sucked, some of it was pretty good. For me personally, it was actually a pretty good year in most respects, and for that I feel very fortunate. Instead, I thought I'd rummage back in the dusty archives of my mind and tell a vaguely holiday-related story.

For about a decade, I worked in the retail division of a fairly large local cultural institution. I'm not going to name it, but I'll make it obvious enough: it's on the waterfront, and it's not the ICA. Retail was never my chosen career path, but we all have to make a living somehow. In 1994 there was a change in management, and the person who took over as retail director made me the book buyer, which was a decent step up and about as far as I would be able to go. I had no interest in being a manager, fearing it would seal my fate to a career in retail that I didn't want.

For three years I made the most of the job, getting a fair number of free books courtesy of my sales reps, going to the occasional trade show, and enjoying the fact that I had a back-office job that rarely required me to work on the sales floor. In the spring of '97 the retail director announced that she was leaving. I was sorry to see her go, because I liked her as a person and we got on well as colleagues (fortunately, we are still acquainted), and because, as my grandfather used to say (in Italian), "you know what you've got, but you don't know what you're getting." How accurate that would prove to be.

The search for a replacement did not yield any particularly outstanding candidates, certainly not of the caliber of the person being replaced. In fact, those of us working in the store (who were, of course, not involved in the search) were under the impression that only one applicant had qualifications that were even remotely relevant, but even so were less than ideal. As is often the case, that person was the one hired, mostly because someone had to run the place.

In addition to dealing with the general learning curve of the job, when the new director started at the beginning of July she was handed a big-ass project: the institution's management had decided to open a satellite store at the airport. It had to be designed, built, staffed, and stocked by Thanksgiving. Some of this activity was already underway, but much of it still needed to be done. We started placing separate orders for the other store, which were stored in a trailer parked outside. The plan was for the merchandise to be trucked to the new store when it was ready, and for all the staff to be there to unload the truck. Over the next several days the stock would be unpacked, entered into inventory, and arranged on the sales floor.

This meant that most of us would have to work our regular hours at the store, then head over to the airport for several more hours of work for several nights in succession, for about a week. The problem was with how this situation was presented. We weren't asked to help, we were told we were going to help. We would be paid overtime, sure, but the way the whole thing was handled was indicative of the new boss's management style, which didn't sit well with many of us.

Shortly before the big move was to take place, the boss came into the stock room, where I had a desk tucked into an alcove. I shared the space with the inventory manager, who had been bearing the brunt of the work on this project, and the bulk of the unpleasantness as well. With no preamble, she announced to us, "The airport store is going to be open 365 days a year. All of us are going to have to work a holiday shift managing there. You can pick one from Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's Day."

I had to ask, "What happened to that store having a completely separate staff? The whole idea was that the people who got hired for there understood that they would be required to work holidays, so we wouldn't have to."

"Yeah, well, that was the plan, but we haven't been able to find enough people willing to do it."

"Well, that's not our fault, and anyway, why should we have to do it? We're not even managers."

"Look, I don't like it, but we all have to pitch in on this. I'll have to do it too."

We sat in silence for a few moments. I looked at my coworker, who gave me the most priceless what the hell has she been smoking? look imaginable. I knew in my gut that a line had to be drawn, so I looked at her and said, "I'm sorry, but I'm not going to do it." My coworker, perhaps emboldened by my declaration, shook his head and slowly said, "That's... not happening."

I don't exactly recall the boss's response. I think it was along the lines of, "Well, we'll see about that." She left the room, and we tried to keep ourselves from laughing too loudly. The store opened when it was supposed to, and someone got stuck working there on Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I don't remember who it was. I wouldn't have given a crap about having to work on New Year's Day, but there was no way I was extending myself for someone who had so little respect for her employees.

Once I made it clear I wouldn't play her games her way, my fate was sealed. It took her almost another year to find a way to get rid of me, and when it happened I was on the verge of quitting anyway. She did me a huge favor because, in eliminating my position, it cost the institution more money (in severance) than it would have if I had left on my own. I had also, through work, established connections with a fledgling e-commerce company that offered me a full-time job a couple of months later. I have no idea what became of the boss, except that a couple of years later, the institution turned over the operation of the store to an outside company, and her services were no longer required. With luck, our paths won't cross again.

Happy New Year, everybody. I hope 2009 is a great year for all of us.

29 December 2008

A Synthetic Holiday

We had a very pleasant Christmas visit, and while it's always nice to get away, it's always nicer to come back home. Getting to Rhode Island was a bit of a challenge, though. At 4:30 PM on Christmas Eve, 93 south approaching the Zakim Bridge was barely crawling. Not exactly a surprise, but not what we wanted to see. (I'd spent a good hour that afternoon breaking up and clearing the ice at the bottom of the driveway, which delayed our departure.)

We noticed that hardly any cars were taking the Leverett connector ramp. A quick check with SmarTraveler confirmed that we were in for a long, slow creep through the tunnel and beyond, but Storrow Drive westbound was moving well, so we did some ad hoc rerouting (without benefit of GPS). We cut through the Fens and over to the Jamaicaway, then connected with route 1 south, which got us to 95 in Dedham. It had taken us nearly an hour to get that far, and about another hour to reach our destination, but at least we weren't sitting in miles of traffic.

We got some nice gifts, including restaurant gift cards that we'll enjoy. But curiously, my mother seemingly decided this was the year of polyester. I got a fleece scarf, some odd gray and brown fuzzy socks (which John Irving book had the prep school whose colors were gray and brown?), and polyester lounge pants. She kept saying things like, "Those are just to wear around the house," even though she's fully aware I rebelled against all forms of polyester 30 years ago.

I'm not really complaining, I just think it's somewhat strange. Polyester is generally unpleasant. It makes you sweaty and causes lots of static electricity. I guess it brings in lots of revenue for companies like L.L. Bean, but I don't even own a fleece jacket. I did get a nice Patriots jacket from my mother, but it's made of a sweatshirt-like material that's 80% cotton, and it's something I specifically asked for. Next year I may need to impose a "no polyester" clause on my mother.

24 December 2008

Traditions Old and New

Traditionally, my family has gone out to dinner on Christmas Eve. Well, that's not completely accurate. The original tradition was that we'd go to my grandmother's for a big dinner, a sort of scaled-down version of the Italian feast of the seven fishes.

When the prep work and cooking involved became too much work for her to manage on her own, she suggested going out to dinner. We went to the same restaurant every year, because it was one of the few that was open past 5 or 6 on Christmas Eve. Along the way, my brother started working there as a bartender.

After my grandmother passed away a little over a decade ago, we continued our tradition. Unfortunately, circumstances sometimes change, and a rift developed in our family that persists to this day. We no longer see our relatives at holidays, or any other time. But it doesn't mean holidays are gloomy. My immediate family gathers as it always has.

For the past two years we went to a different restaurant, after the other one suffered from a noticeable drop in quality. This year the new place is closed for renovations, so after some research my mother decided she'd rather stay home. We assembled a worthy Christmas Eve feast, starting with salad, stuffed mushrooms, and scallops wrapped in bacon. For the main course we had stuffed shrimp, crumb-crusted cod, and sole stuffed with lobster. For dessert, an assortment of holiday cookies and a peanut butter pie (that one was my choice).

However you choose to celebrate your holidays, I want to say thanks for visiting, and I wish all of you joy and love.

22 December 2008


With the double punch of snowstorms our area received, we didn't stray too far from home this weekend. The Friday-Saturday one was more typical, dropping about ten inches in our area. Yesterday there was more of a variation in temperature, giving us more of a snow-sleet-snow combo that then froze. We had heeded the Universal Hub French Toast Alert (that colored box over on the right) and gotten our grocery provisions pre-storm. I was sent home from work early on Friday, and we happily settled in for a Friday night of eating and TV watching.

We had haircuts scheduled for early Saturday afternoon, so I started on the shoveling while the Mrs. called to make sure our hair person, who lives in southern New Hampshire, had made it down to the salon. I spent about an hour and a half getting everything dug out nicely, including the back-breaking area at the bottom of the driveway, which had been packed by numerous plow passes. (Unlike in Somerville, where we lived on a dead end and were lucky if we even saw a plow, here we live on a fairly busy street that is always diligently plowed.)

After our appointments, we did a few errands and headed back home. I was exhausted from the shoveling, and that proved to be a problem yesterday, because while we got only about four more inches, it was much heavier, and I didn't have enough energy to clear everything as thoroughly a second time. I made a half-hearted pass at the bottom of the driveway, which was a mistake because it solidified overnight, and this morning the Mrs. couldn't get out of the driveway. She's dutifully working from home, while I'm starting my two-week holiday break. I think we might need to walk to the hardware store and see about getting a metal shovel, if they have any left.

18 December 2008

Slim Fit

During my shopping trip last weekend, I discovered that there is now a Ruehl store in the Burlington Mall. Ruehl is another branch of the hydra-like Abercrombie & Fitch family of brands that starts with (lower-case) abercrombie for the youngsters, then moves on through Hollister for the teens and the original A&F for college kids. Ruehl seems to be for the post-college years; does this means that eventually they'll have a brand aimed at hipster senior citizens? And what does "Ruehl" mean, anyway?

(Does anyone besides me remember when A&F was just a store for outdoorsy adults, kind of splitting the difference between L.L. Bean and Orvis? Those were the days... their marketing people have spun this whole mythos around the various brands; the Ruehl storefront is supposed to look like a Greenwich Village brownstone, but honestly, when you're walking down the mall past stores with plain, ordinary plate-glass fronts, and you come upon what looks like a really fake soundstage backdrop from a 1940s movie set back several feet from the corridor, it just looks weird and out of place. Same for Hollister, which is meant to look like a beach cantina, which I'm sure is exactly where parents would want their teens to be.)

I first encountered Ruehl over a year ago, when I went to check out the Natick Mall's then-new addition with all the high-end stores. At the time I wasn't terribly impressed; the clothes seemed pretty similar to the merchandise available in A&F stores, only made with nicer fabrics and priced higher. At the time the Ruehl web site was not selling anything (it was nothing more than an online window display) and I never made it back out to Natick, so I kind of forgot about the store until maybe four months ago, when I happened to hit the site to see how many more stores they had opened. At that point I found that they were open for business online.

I still didn't necessarily think I wanted to buy anything from them, but I like to know what my options are. I saw a couple of things that were interesting, and thought I'd like to check them out in person. Okay, when I say "things," I mean shirts. I admit, I have something of an obsession with shirts. I have dozens of them. The Mrs. likes to periodically count them, just to know the number; I don't keep count myself. I just like shirts.

So, finding the store in the mall last weekend gave me the chance to get another look at the merchandise. I discovered, to my surprise, that they had a clearance section in a corner of a back room. I was surprised because, unlike most web sites, there was no sale section on the Ruehl site (A&F is notoriously averse to marking down merchandise, so I just assumed they hauled the slow-selling inventory out behind their warehouses and burned it), so I wasn't expecting to find any markdowns in the store.

Some of the shirts had been marked down more than once (a good sign for someone like me who's always on the lookout for a good deal) and were only $19.90 after starting at $78. Jackpot, I thought. But as I've discussed before, size creep has become pretty rampant, so I was wary. I pulled a size large shirt out of a pile to use as a sort of baseline gauge. I held it up: it looked like it might fit a 14-year-old boy, or one of the anemic-looking MassArt dudes I see on the E line.

I moved on to extra large, which has sort of become my default size even though my neck size still corresponds to a large. This one looked like it might actually fit, so I held it up against my torso. I could tell that it was barely wide enough to make it around me; I'd estimate that if I had about a 32 inch waist, it would have fit me okay.

But what was much more strange and surprising was that the sleeves came down to about the knuckles of my fingers. I wear a 34 sleeve in a dress shirt, so I'm not short of arm, which made this all the more ridiculous. I'm guessing that the thin dudes who wear Ruehl shirts are required to keep their sleeves stylishly rolled up at all times (the shirts on the site are all shown with their sleeves rolled), but it's pretty much winter now, and regardless of the season, sometimes I simply want the look I present to the world to be one that has its sleeves rolled down and buttoned.

I didn't bother checking out the XXL shirt, figuring the sleeve cuffs would probably touch the floor. But now I've gone and looked at the size charts on the Ruehl site, and looks like I may have been wrong. While the chest measurement on the XXL is slightly bigger than on the XL, the sleeves are actually a little bit shorter. Maybe this means I could wear an XXL after all. I also noticed that they now have a sale section on the site, but I'm not sure I care anymore.

I hated walking away from something that was 75% off the original price, but I think I'm just too old, too thick in the middle, and too unhip for this place. Upstairs at Martin + Osa, which is quickly becoming my favorite clothing store, I got a V-neck cashmere sweater and a great pair of gray jeans. Both fit me really well, they were at least 50% off their original prices, and I had a coupon for an additional 30% off. Also, one of the clerks said he recognized me from a previous visit, which was sort of nice. And their XL shirts fit me just fine.

15 December 2008

Tree Time

Yikes, more roller-coaster weather. A week ago, I was talking about (and wearing) flannel-lined pants and shearling-lined boots. Today it's already hit 60 degrees, and I didn't even need a coat when I walked the dog this morning. What fun...

Well, things have certainly been busy around the SAR household, as is typical of this time of year. We spent the weekend running around, shopping and doing other holiday-related stuff. I still have a fairly lengthy list of things that need to be done, and one important thing that I was supposed to take care of over the weekend was to get a gift for my office holiday party's Yankee swap, which is tomorrow. I tend to put off these things until the last minute, but maybe that's not so bad, because one of my coworkers said she bought her swap gift a month ago, and now she can't find it.

But I blew it. We went to the Burlington Mall on Saturday, which was kind of a psycho scene. Recession? Maybe so, but people were still out in hordes, and they still seemed to be buying things. Anyway, I'd been saying for weeks that I wanted to go to Crate & Barrel because they have lots of nice gifty things, many of which are attractive and also inexpensive enough to be swap-worthy. C&B has a large, lovely store that opened up at Burlington a while back, but it's a free-standing store outside the mall proper, tucked in a corner of the parking lot, so of course, by the time I was done in the mall I completely forgot about it. Bad brain.

Yesterday was tree-getting day, and we fared much better. We also needed dog food, and in the interest of combining trips we went to Wilson Farm in Lexington (yeah, they sell pet food there). A Proper Bostonian had gotten her tree there, though she ended up not liking it and, in a move worthy of awe and admiration, returned it.

I'm not as fussy about Christmas trees as she is; that's partly because she's been obsessing over them her whole life, but more because I'm not as good at choosing them. (We had an artificial tree when I was growing up.) The only real rule I have is that the tree must be taller than me, so the short, squat ones are out. Beyond that I'm fairly clueless, and the Mrs. grew up in a household that did not celebrate Christmas, so she isn't particularly invested in the decision-making process; she mainly likes having a tree because it makes the house smell good. So over the years I have made some unfortunate tree choices.

I spent about ten minutes wandering around among the trees at Wilson Farm until I found the ones that were at the more agreeable price points of $40 and under. I looked at some trees on one side of a row, then went around to check the ones on the other side. Not liking those much, I went back around to where I had been and saw a woman assessing a tall, beautiful tree. I thought, how did I miss that one? But when they're leaned over against the support racks, you can't always get a good idea of how it's really going to look, so she was doing the smart thing.

I edged over to her and said slyly, "If you don't take that one, I will." I was being facetious, but I meant it. She smiled and said, "I don't know how much it is." I could see the tag attached to the tree, about a foot above her head, so I stretched up on my toes and checked it for her. Only $30 for one of the nicest trees on the lot! She got the attention of one of the staff, who took it off to be bagged.

At that point the Mrs. appeared, having taken care of the dog food. A hunch told me we should look at some of the other trees in the immediate vicinity of the one the woman had just bought. We found two more good prospects in the same row, and eventually settled on the one that was right next to where hers had been. Perhaps some good tree karma rubbed off from that other one?

Once you have chosen a tree, a staff person tears off part of the tag, which you take to the cash register. There's a register outside in the nursery area, so you don't have to wait in line with the folks inside buying groceries. Your tree gets bagged and taken to a waiting area. You bring your car around and show your tag to the waiting staff, they find the tree with the matching number on the tag, bring it to your car, and tie it on for you. They then direct traffic so you can safely back out of your space and be on your way. Great service all around, and this may be the nicest tree I've ever chosen.

10 December 2008

This Year's Model

On Friday night I went to the auto show. I go almost every year, usually with an old college friend who likes cars as much as I do. I made the Mrs. go one year, but she really wasn't into it. She likes her own car, likes that it gets pretty good gas mileage and handles well, but that's about as deep a relationship as she wants with a vehicle.

I, on the other hand, have been into cars for my entire life (which is pretty ironic, since I can't drive). I can remember trips to get Matchbox cars from the drugstore, where they were displayed in a big display case with little compartments for each of the 75 different styles they offered. I built Lego houses to match the scale of the Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars I collected, then moved on to plastic models of classic cars from the 1950s and 1960s.

Growing up, I used to hang around and make something of a nuisance of myself at both a Chevrolet dealership near where I lived and at a hot-rod shop on the corner of our street that was run by a neighbor. I can still look at a car and tell you the make and model, and probably the model year (or at least a range of years, since the details of grilles and tail lights no longer change every year the way they did in Detroit's glory years).

So even though the auto industry's sales recently plummeted to lows not seen in decades, my friend and I and a bunch of other people still paid to get into the convention center last week to look over and climb inside all the 2009 models. (Well, almost all of them: Bentley, Maserati, and Aston Martin all had their offerings behind railings, and the Porsches were locked. Last year the Maseratis were uncorraled and unlocked, so maybe that didn't work out so well for them.)

That's part of the reason why people go to these shows: it's not too often that the average person gets the chance to sit in a brand new Jaguar, BMW, or Mercedes-Benz. I like doing that, but I also enjoy getting a look at the more ordinary cars. A Honda Fit goes for around $15,000, and it's a tiny bit of a thing; when you first look at it, it looks like clowns should be jumping out of it, but then you get inside and realize the outside is something of a deception because it's amazingly roomy inside.

I'm six feet tall, so I like to do sit tests. I get in the front passenger seat and slide it back as far as it will go, to evaluate the legroom. Then I get in the back seat behind where I was just sitting to see how painful it would be to ride back there. I also note things like how low I have to duck in order to get into that back seat, and how close my head comes to the roof when I'm sitting inside.

Some SUVs and crossover wagons now come with rear seats that adjust forward and backward as well, which is pretty clever. The fact is, even though the American auto makers are suffering for their years of bad choices and putting profits ahead of innovation, they are now turning out cars that are genuinely competitive for the first time in probably two decades. Not all of them, mind you--the Dodge Caliber, for example, is a junky, miserable penalty box--but many are the legitimate equals of their foreign competition.

If you are in the market for a car, the auto show is a convenient way to get a close-up look at many different models all in one place. If you're not in the market for a new car, it's a way to spend a couple of hours on a Friday night with a friend. Or maybe you're like me, and you just like knowing that the charcoal perforated leather seats on the new Nissan Maxima have contrast stitching in bubble-gum pink (though on the web it looks closer to red).

08 December 2008


It was brutal out there this morning. 15 degrees on its own might not be so awful, but when you add in the wind it was pretty vicious. Supposedly it's going to hit 60 on Wednesday, with a nice dousing of wind-driven rain, and we may see snow on Friday. Welcome to the New England weather roller coaster...

I've said before that I hope to never do a post that is solely about the weather (though my own exception to my own rule is that talking about blizzard, hurricane, or other similar severe weather experiences doesn't count), so allow me to veer off and offer some weather-related advice.

When our civilization is finally assessed in hindsight, one of its highest achievements will undoubtedly be flannel-lined pants. You may scoff at this notion, but if you stood outside waiting for a bus this morning, you are probably one of the people who isn't scoffing. It's easy enough to layer up the torso, but not so easy for the lower extremities. I have long underwear, and it does the job, but it makes me feel like I was drugged and someone dressed me while I was knocked out. Wearing another layer of warmth built into your pants feels more right to me. I'm sure there are people who disagree with me, so just go right on wearing your long johns.

I've had flannel-lined jeans for several years, but I recently got a pair of flannel-lined khakis on sale at J. Crew. (These look a little nicer at the office.) J. Crew hopes you'll buy them long and roll the cuffs so the flannel shows, but that isn't my style.

Depending on where you live, you might be able to find these in a store with an additional percentage off the sale price, though some stores are offering higher percentages off than others. I first saw these pants a couple of weeks ago at the Northshore Mall in Peabody, MA. At the time they were offering an extra 50% off markdowns, but they didn't have them (or anything else good) in my size. Last week I went to the Copley Place store to return something else, and they had an extra 30% off markdowns, which wasn't quite as good, but they did have my size so I grabbed a pair, and I'm very glad I did. I still paid only about half of the original price.

(FYI, I find the description I linked to above a bit misleading. At least in the case of the pants I bought, they do not have the grinding and fraying that is common to J. Crew's broken-in pants. The fabric is definitely broken in, but not beaten up. YMMV, though.)

I also have on a pair of shealing-lined boots that I picked up super-cheap last winter from Banana Republic. They're a dark brown leather with a slightly distressed look and side zippers for easier on and off, made in Italy. I found these on their web site right after Christmas, and a couple of days after I got them, the price dropped again. Not everyone knows this, and they certainly don't go out of their way to advertise it, but BR has a price adjustment policy: if you buy something and the price drops within a certain amount of time (14 days, according to their site), they will refund you the difference, if you ask. So I ended up getting the boots for about one-third of their original price, and again it's money well spent.

Stay warm, everybody.

07 December 2008


Wait, it's already Sunday? How did that happen? I guess I've been a little deeper in my work than usual lately, and now that I have the better, stronger, faster computer at work, I have my substantial amount of mp3's on it, so I tend to spend a good portion of the day under my headphones, which seems to make the time go by even faster, so... Anyway, I had a few thoughts along the way that I obviously didn't sit down and write about at the time, so I guess there's no time like now.

There was a lot of hubbub in the Boston media this week about the T's plan to create additional room during rush hour by running trains on the Red Line with seats removed from two of the six cars. I don't ride the Red Line these days, but I rarely get a seat on the Orange Line, particularly in the morning, so I don't think the change is going to make much of a difference in the daily commute for most Red Line riders either, other than packing a few more of them onto each train.

During my Friday morning ride, I looked around the car (while standing) and noticed some examples of how a bit more awareness of personal behavior could make life easier for everyone. First are people who insist on crossing their legs. I was attempting to stand next to a doorway, but the guy in the end seat had his left foot hanging off his right knee, making it impossible for me to move out of the way of other people. (I don't even see how it would be comfortable to sit that way on a train, but that's just me.) I didn't bother trying to get his attention, because he was busily engaged in some obviously important activity with his iPhone. At the next stop I was able to switch to the other side of the car, where I was able to observe the guy continue his ride in oblivion.

Then there are the people who find it necessary to read their newspapers while hunched forward. This is a peculiar affliction, but one I see more often than you might think. I have on occasion been seated between two people of larger size, making it somewhat difficult to sit up straight and hold up the paper or a book in front of my face. I may have had to sit slightly forward in my seat until someone got off the train, but I see people who have the paper on their knees and are leaned all the way over to read it, thus putting their heads and torsos in the space where bodies could be standing.

And then there's my favorite, the torso-sized backpacks and body-sized duffel bags. What do people carry that is so huge? I know that some of those guys with the giant duffels are hockey players, but they can't all be. And do people still lug giant textbooks around? It seems like we would be at a point where there's an electronic solution to that. If you are wearing a monster backpack, it seems reasonable to expect that when you get on a subway train you take off the bag and keep it at your feet.

But that's probably expecting too much. Bottom line, most people are selfish and clueless and don't pay attention to what's going on around them. For the record, I am very conscious of how much space I am occupying relative to other riders. I carry a messenger-style bag that I wear across the body, because it doesn't stick out as much that way. There was another thread on Universal Hub yesterday about a T rider getting bumped by another rider's messenger bag. The fact is, the type of bag matters less than how much you have crammed into it, and whether or not you are considerate enough of others to keep it out of the way.

03 December 2008

Feedback Loop

So let me see if I understand this correctly: the Grammy Awards is having a live nominating concert that's on TV right now. So it's a live prime-time show to announce the nominees for awards that will eventually be presented in a live prime-time show two months from now?

Who's performing, you ask? Let's see... Celine Dion, Foo Fighters, Mariah Carey, B.B. King, John Mayer, Taylor Swift (who?), and Christina Aguilera. Kind of says it all, right there. Poor B.B., how'd you get roped into this disaster? Maybe you'll class up the joint a little.

If you somehow felt that the Grammys still had any relevance and hadn't already jumped the shark (which, in case it wasn't clear, I believe they have), this eliminates any confusion about it.

Where Men Fear to Tread

Not long ago I found myself in alien territory. But I didn't leave the country; I went to a craft store.

Seriously, this is a realm where men rarely venture. Why was I there, then? I was following the advice of the Mrs. I recently acquired a Mad Men poster on eBay, and it's a slightly unusual size, 11" by 17". I wanted to get a frame so I could display it at work, but I didn't want to spend a fortune on professional framing for something so small and mundane.

We were at the Gateway Plaza in Everett, home of our local Target, as well as Costco, Home Depot, and about two dozen or so other stores and a couple of "casual dining" restaurants. She suggested I check Bed Bath & Beyond or the craft store, which I think is called Michael's (I know it's a chain of some sort).

At the time, we happened to be closer to the end of the strip with the craft store, so I decided to check it out. Naturally the place was in full-on holiday mode; it was as though Christmas had thrown up, but it sure smelled nice. Lots of potpourri and candles, lots of holiday cheer-in-waiting, ready for an artistic touch to bring them to life.

I didn't know exactly where to start looking, and there was no floor plan or directory that I could see, so I began walking a clockwise loop. The Mrs. sews and does some other crafty stuff, so it's not like I've never seen a glue gun or a package of Fimo clay, but some of the stuff in there, I couldn't even tell you what it is or what it's used for. There are some things that men just aren't supposed to know.

I found the frames at the back of the store. Along the way, I noticed that I was the only male in the place who was not with a wife or significant other. (The Mrs. didn't need anything craftish and was in another store down the way.) And the men I did see, whether they were keeping an eye on the kids or just following dutifully behind the wife, all had the same blank, dazed expression on their faces: what am I doing in here? There must be a game on that I could be watching instead of this.

Anyway, they had just what I had in mind. The frame consists of a piece of clear plastic and a backing made of something like particle board. The actual "frame" is four pieces of U-shaped black plastic that clamp tightly onto the sides of the clear plastic and backing board. You take it apart, put in your poster, and put it back together, giving you instant framed art for only $9.99 (for the size I wanted).

Then I had to negotiate the gauntlet of the checkout. It was like one of those really busy lunch hours at CVS, only stupider. Everyone has a coupon, everyone argues with the cashier about what the coupon can or can't be used on, everyone leaves sulking. The person just ahead of me had some difficulty with English, so that slowed things down a little more. The bottom line was that her coupon was usable only on the items she was buying that were not already on sale (which is admittedly a fine distinction, and one that you'd think maybe the company's management might consider temporarily waiving at a time when every customer counts).

Just as that person went on her way, the only other open cashier called to the cashier whose line I was in, and she abruptly left her register to go assist hr colleague. I waited around while they puzled over how to fix a mistake made while ringing, wondering why such a situation wouldn't be the responsibility of a manager. (The mind tends to wander in these moments.) Eventually the cashier made her way back to her station and rang me up.

I don't think I'll be in any hurry to go back. Men don't do crafts, but they also don't have the patience for such retail nonsense.

01 December 2008

Technical Difficulties

So, you thought today would be a good day to do some online holiday shopping on your lunch hour, huh? Eh, think again. The entire Gap family of sites, including Old Navy and Banana Republic, was down for about two hours, though it appears that they are now back online. Hilariously, they all posted pages claiming the sites were down for "scheduled maintenance." Maybe it really was scheduled, but somehow I doubt it.

The J. Crew site is still showing a "stay tuned" page after about three hours, with a pseudo-apology that says "even the best sites aren't perfect." Um, is that supposed to be some sort of excuse? Because it's only one of the busiest online shopping days of the year (which companies like you have helped create and promote), and it's not like you can say you didn't know your site was going to see a lot of traffic today.

But I'm not exactly surprised; J. Crew made some changes to their site several months ago, and it's been kinda verkakte (to borrow a Yiddish colloquialism) ever since. Just this weekend, I was still coming across products on their site with images that were not displaying properly. (I actually used to get paid to find and fix such errors for a much smaller company, so I know they gotta have at least a couple of people on the payroll somewhere who are supposed to be doing the same thing.)

If any of you come across other sites that are down, let me know and I'll post it here, as a public service.

30 November 2008


Well, that Black Friday shopping excursion didn't happen. The Mrs. wasn't feeling well, so she didn't go to work, and while she wasn't so ill that she needed me to look after her, it was just too easy to stay home with her and watch TV. We did venture out in the evening to the grocery store and to get burritos, but that was it.

And yesterday? We cleaned. Both of us tend to be lazy about this, but the apartment needed some serious cleaning, so we buckled down and it's much improved. Later we went out to do a couple of errands, and met up with Sunny and son for dinner at Christopher's. Today, I'm not sure. The Mrs. wants to try to do some work to make up for the day she missed, so maybe I should do what I'd planned on doing Friday. But T service is lousy on Sundays, so that might hinder me.

26 November 2008

Holiday Time, Plus A Shopping Tip

What's that? No new posts since last Saturday? Well, yeah, I know. But it's a busy time. Stuff needs to be done, and errands don't do themselves. Kids have birthdays. The Mrs. is participating in a holiday craft market, so she's been cranking out baby quilts for the past several weekends and is dropping them off today. Then this evening we're off to Rhode Island, but only for about 24 hours, because she unfortunately has to work Friday.

I do have Friday off, and it's possible I've sustained a blow to the head because I'm considering going into Boston that day. I seriously dislike crowds and I can't remember the last time I actually ventured out to shop on Black Friday, but I've been wanting to get to Newbury Comics for a while and haven't had the opportunity. I used to be able to pop into the downtown store fairly easily on my way home from work, but since they moved over to Qunicy Market a couple of months ago, it's somewhat less convenient to do that. So I'm thinking I'll head into the city for a few hours on Friday to take the pulse of the shopping public, so to speak, and report back about any especially juicy bargains I find.

For now I can pass along a web shopping tip for one of my new favorite stores, Martin + Osa. Through December 1st, all cashmere sweaters, men's and women's, are $79. That's almost an end-of-season price. The brand is from the same parent company as American Eagle but is positioned as an older sibling. The clothes I've bought from them thus far are of above-average quality, in my fairly knowledgeable opinion, certainly better than what AE sells. The style is more grown-up too, more or less splitting the difference between Banana Republic and J. Crew. And who doesn't love cashmere?

Update, 10 PM: Psst, this deal just got sweeter. I got a little holiday mailer from M+O today, and if you use the code 52216266 on the site, you'll get 30% off your order through December 24th. So that would make a cashmere sweater $56, which is a stupidly good deal.

22 November 2008

Not-So-Speedy Delivery

I've been doing a fair bit of shopping lately. Not for the holidays, but for myself, though when I do set out to shop for others, I usually end up buying stuff for myself as well. There are just so many good deals to be found these days, and I've needed some fall and winter clothing.

Over the years I think I've gotten pickier about quality, and I've learned a lot from my attorney friend DC, who has seemingly been aware of this stuff since he was in grade school. So one day a few weeks ago I was roaming around the dusty back halls of eBay and I came across a guy selling new Allen Edmonds belts. I remembered that my friend likes their shoes and belts partly because they are made in the USA (although he says they seem to have slipped a little since the company was sold a couple of years ago). To my surprise, the seller had eight or ten belts in my size. (I'm not a weird size, and that's often a problem--too common.)

The belt I bought ended up costing me $40. That might seem like a lot for a belt, but it's really only slightly more than you would pay for a lesser-quality belt from your local department store, and half of its retail price, plus it happens to match a couple of pairs of my shoes nicely. The seller shipped it on Monday, November 3rd, and that's where the story gets a little more interesting, because it's not really about the belt, but about what happened to it on its way to me.

Not all sellers bother to tell you that they have shipped your item (I always do, so remember that when I start auctioning things), so I've learned to be patient. I have never not received an item I bought on eBay, which I guess makes me pretty lucky. Typically I wait least a week before I send an email to the seller asking about the status of the package. In this case, I waited a little more than a week, until the day after Veterans' Day, since holidays can screw with delivery times.

He responded and gave me the tracking number, and said he had checked the tracking and it said the package had arrived in Boston that day. I went and had a look for myself. What he'd neglected to say was that it was the third time it had arrived in Boston. At this point, I think it would be slightly more entertaining if l just post the whole tracking sequence here:

• Acceptance, November 03, 2008, 3:44 pm, PALM DESERT, CA 92260
• Processed, November 03, 2008, 6:54 pm, SAN BERNARDINO, CA 92403
• Processed, November 05, 2008, 4:31 am, ALBANY, NY 12288
• Arrival at Unit, November 05, 2008, 7:44 am, SCHENEVUS, NY 12155
• Missent, November 05, 2008, 8:51 am
• Processed, November 06, 2008, 12:18 am, SPRINGFIELD, MA 01152
• Processed, November 06, 2008, 4:30 am, BOSTON, MA 02205
• Processed, November 08, 2008, 2:34 am, ALBANY, NY 12288
• Processed, November 08, 2008, 11:45 pm, SPRINGFIELD, MA 01152
• Processed, November 09, 2008, 8:43 pm, BOSTON, MA 02205
• Processed, November 11, 2008, 12:38 am, SPRINGFIELD, MA 01152
• Processed, November 12, 2008, 12:46 am, BOSTON, MA 02205
• Processed, November 13, 2008, 5:06 pm, ALBANY, NY 12288
• Processed, November 16, 2008, 11:18 pm, BOSTON, MA 02205
• Delivered, November 17, 2008, 11:03 am, MEDFORD, MA 02155

So, a priority mail package that typically takes three days to cross the country took two weeks to get to me. That's what happened, but why? If you look at the sequence, you can kind of figure it out. Where it says "arrival at unit," you see that it's some place in New York state that I've never heard of. I went over to Google Maps and found that Schenevus is about 35 miles southwest of Schenectady, on the way to Binghamton. Its zip code is the same as mine, except for the first digit, and that's the key to the whole fiasco. That's why it says "missent" right under that entry. From there, it seems like it would be a relatively simple fix to get the package back on the right track, but it bounces back and forth between Boston and Albany for another week and a half before finally making it to its destination.

In hindsight, everything becomes clear. When I got the package, I expected the seller to have botched my address, but he didn't. It was correct and perfectly legible. But the person who processed the package at the seller's post office entered the wrong zip code when they printed the little postage label with the bar code. Right under the bar code, a little "12155" was plainly visible, and that was the problem. The automated scanners kept putting the package back into the system, and the system kept trying to send it to zip code 12155, which I guess is what it's supposed to do. Eventually a human must have figured it out and intervened, because there was a thick black magic marker slash through the bar code and the zip code on the little label.

After all that, I was expecting that there would be something wrong with the belt, but it was fine. But I guess we're going to have to keep a closer eye on those postal workers.

20 November 2008

Ad Alta Voce

A couple of decades ago, I lived in Allston, and then for a while in Jamaica Plain, before crossing the river to Somerville. One thing all these places had in common is that I've always lived on a bus line, and one thing all the various bus lines--the 57, the 39, the 87, 88, and 89--had in common is that I could always count on seeing an assortment of colorful characters. There was a craggy old guy who shared his CIA conspiracy theories, the socially awkward guy who always tried to befriend me, and the older woman who was always sticking her nose into everyone else's business, just to name a few.

Of course, there are plenty of colorful folks on the subways too, but when you ride a bus route regularly, sometimes even at the same time of day each day, you often see the same people over and over. Since I moved a couple of years ago and started riding the 100 bus along the Fellsway daily, I've seen a lot of the same people, but no one has really stood out. Until now, that is.

For the past month or so, I have been noticing a young guy while waiting for the bus at Wellington on the way home at night, and sometimes on the platform waiting for the train in the morning. Really, he would be pretty hard not to notice, because he sings along with his iPod (or whatever is connected to his earphones). And when I say he sings, I mean he SINGS. He is always in full-voice, full-on belt-it-out mode. And he's pretty good.

I don't recognize any of the songs he sings, but I've listened to parts of some of them and I think they are from Broadway shows. Musicals aren't really my thing, which is probably why I don't know them, but they just have that feel to them. I get the sense that he's practicing for a show he's in, or possibly getting ready to audition for one.

Some of the other riders snicker to themselves and each other about the singing guy. It's true that his behavior is a little unusual, but I admire the guy, because he's got talent and because he's confident enough to stand there and sing in front of the other riders. That's how you build confidence, right? If you want to be a performer, you have to have poise and presence, and you get those by getting used to being in front of an audience. So we're kind of like his homework.

Also, he's respectful enough to stop singing when the bus or train arrives. Singing at the bus stop is one thing, but singing on the bus is another thing entirely. Then you're just another weirdo.

Update, 7:55 PM: After some discussion with A Proper Bostonian, I've changed my mind. I now think he's probably just some dude who's gearing up to audition for a reality show.

17 November 2008

Quantum Quibbles

So, Quantum of Solace was a decent Bond movie, but didn't quite live up to Casino Royale. For me it came down to a couple of things. First, the action scenes are really overedited, in such a way as to potentially induce dizziness. If you or someone you know is prone to seizures, it might be advisable to avoid seeing this movie. This was clearly an intentional choice by the filmmakers, but at times it's almost impossible to discern what is actually happening, which detracts from the overall moviegoing experience.

Second, the movie was devoid of any bit of humor. I'm not suggesting that it's necessary or desirable to return to the corny, campy, lecherous tone of the Roger Moore era, and I realize that this was primarily a revenge story so it's somewhat excusable, but I missed the element of wit. I'm hoping that next time out, Bond will feel like he can lighten up a bit.

14 November 2008

Friday Afternoon

Deadline time looms once again, but on this dreary Friday afternoon my brain has decided it's pretty much done for the week. I may attempt to do a little work over the weekend, something I've done on occasion in the past.

Meanwhile, we're going to see Quantum of Solace tonight. Some of the early reviews don't seem too favorable, but we enjoyed Casino Royale so much that reviews probably don't matter. I'll post my two cents over the weekend.

Since I expect the theater is going to be quite busy, I went to the trouble to purchase tickets ahead of time. This is a silly modern frivolity, but at the same time it's nice to know the seats will be waiting for us.

11 November 2008

Checked Off

People still write checks at the grocery store? I saw someone do it yesterday, but I'm still kind of in denial about it. It just seems so... antiquated. Do they still save S&H Green Stamps too? (Go ahead, read the Wikipedia entry, I'll wait...)

09 November 2008

I Can't Hear You...

On Friday night we went to check out Roadhouse, the new barbecue place in Brookline. It's on Beacon St. out past Washington Square, in the building where the original Vinny Testa's used to be a long time ago, and it's run by the folks behind The Publick House a short distance up the street.

The wait was between 45 minutes and an hour, which we expected on a Friday. Once we were seated, I got a look at the beer list, which is extensive and well chosen, as I'd expected. We enjoyed our food and beers, but it was too noisy to maintain a conversation. I expect busy places to be loud, but there's loud and there's loud. I hate to sound like a curmudgeon because I know that's what people are going to think, but really, it's nice to be able to hear what the person sitting right next to you is saying.

A couple of weeks ago the Mrs. and I went to Tavern in the Square in the Porter Exchange building, and experienced the same thing, only worse. We really couldn't hear each other across the table. I managed to discern that the waitress was asking if we wanted dessert. I said, "I would like dessert, but we can't stand the noise so we're just going to go." The odd thing about this is that, a couple of weeks prior, I had been to the other Tavern location in Central Square, on a Saturday night, and it wasn't nearly as noisy.

I've always worn earplugs at concerts. I guess I need to start wearing them when we go out to eat too.

05 November 2008

The Great Divide

I've intentionally stayed away from the overtly political and ideological, but after last night I want to make just a brief observation. I watched the candidates' speeches, and I noticed that when McCain mentioned Obama, the ignorants in the crowd booed (to his credit, he hushed them), but when Obama mentioned McCain, the audience applauded politely. I think those two little moments encapsulated the ideological divide between the two sides quite accurately. I still think Democrats are frequently too soft and too nice, but I'd rather be on the side of the bigger person.

04 November 2008


While grocery shopping last night, I discovered that the egg nog has arrived. If you hate Christmas creep then this news will probably make you unhappy, but if, like me, you're a nog lover, it's great news. I highly recommend the vanilla flavored kind; it tastes pretty much exactly like a vanilla milkshake.

But in some parts of the country, the nog has been available for a while now. Over at Consumerist, there was a post about a grocery store in Missouri that was selling Halloween egg nog. Frankly, I think this is brilliant marketing, but it's also ominous. Before you know it, we're going to end up with one continuous holiday season stretching through the last three months of the year.

02 November 2008


When we lived in Somerville, we never had a single trick-or-treater on Halloween in eleven years. I think it was mostly because we lived in a little dead-end street, even though there were some kids who lived in adjacent buildings. We always bought candy, just in case.

After we moved, it was nice to be part of the neighborhood Halloween experience. Two years ago, one of our upstairs neighbors came down and we pooled our candy. We all sat in the vestibule with the outer door open, so people could see that this was a house they should visit. The dog greeted each group of kids, thinking they were there to see her.
Last year we went to California to visit the Mrs.' sister, so we missed Halloween. (We had a dog-sitter staying here who did give out candy.) So this year we were ready for the festivities again: the Mrs. came home at the beginning of the week with six bags of candy, and she even got a costume for the dog, a queen's cape and crown, highly appropriate for a dog we refer to as "her highness."

The first group of kids arrived, and one of them, perhaps around ten, sized up the Mrs. and said, "You're tiny." (She's 4' 11", which is tiny by adult standards.) Nobody likes a Halloween smartass, but he got candy anyway. It was such a nice night that we decided to sit out on the porch. We kitted out the dog in her costume, though she didn't much care for the crown.

By now we know quite a few of our neighbors, and some of them stopped by. One family is kind of the charter members of London's neighborhood fan club, and as they came around the corner, we could hear the mother saying, "Oh, there's London!" It seemed it was as important for them to say hello to her highness as it was for the kids to get their candy.

At one point all the kids were standing on the porch and London was giving them the sniff-over. One boy, around five, suddenly exclaimed, "She's trying to sniff my penis!" Well yes, I suppose she was. Oops, sorry about that. The grownups had a laugh, the kids got their candy, and they went on their way. See you next year.

31 October 2008

For the Dogs' Sake

This week, two of my coworkers asked me my opinion on ballot question #3, which would prohibit dog racing in Massachusetts as of January 2010. People in the office know that we adopted a retired racing greyhound two years ago, so it makes sense that they would want to know what I think.

I plan on voting yes on question #3, which is a vote in favor of the prohibition. It may not constitute animal cruelty, but even for dogs that do well, the life of a racing dog is difficult. Dogs are our domestic companions, and while greyhounds are gifted with exceptional speed, it strikes me as unfair to subject them to the stress and potential injury of track life.

Our dog still reacts when she hears the sound that certain diesel truck engines make; it's clear that it reminds her of her racing days, being transported to and from the track, and she's worried that hearing that sound might mean she has to go back. Then the noise subsides and she remembers her racing days are over, and she puts her head back down on her comfy dog bed and breathes a sigh of contentment.

Even if the question is approved, it won't mean the end of racing everywhere; although our dog was kenneled in Massachusetts, she ran all her races at the Seabrook track, just over the border in New Hampshire. Adoption groups have placed many happily retired dogs with loving families, but these sweet-natured, intelligent animals deserve a life of happiness and love without having to first earn their retirement on a race track.

Leaf Sweeper

This morning while walking the dog, I saw an elderly woman on the opposite sidewalk sweeping leaves off her lawn and sidewalk and out into the street. I suppose that's one way to get rid of them, but besides the lazy and un-neighborly aspect of this behavior, it seems fairly likely that the wind will eventually carry them right onto her property again.

30 October 2008

Stopping & Shopping

Stop & Shop built a brand new store right next to the existing one where we do most of our food shopping. It opened a couple of weeks ago, so I've had the chance to have a bit of a look around.

At first the idea of plopping a new store next to an existing one seems a bit puzzling. But renovating an existing building is not always the most practical or cost-effective option. New construction allows the existing store to remain open for business without disruption until the new one is ready, and also invites the use of more environmentally friendly building techniques and materials that may not have existed when the older store was being built.

In the case of this particular store, due to the way it was situated on the property there was no way to expand the building's footprint except to come forward into the parking lot, and that would surely have disrupted the store's normal operation. The adjacent strip mall had a large empty store, the former site of an Ames that closed over a decade ago, so the builders simply knocked down that part of the structure, leaving more than enough space for the new store.

Meanwhile, the new supermarket follows the basic template that Stop & Shop has been using for its recent stores. Bakery, deli, and prepared foods are given prominent and more abundant space just inside the entrance. We don't do a lot of cooking, due mostly to laziness, so this arrangement suits us nicely. The asiles of the rest of the store seem a bit wider, and the general newness of things makes trips to the grocery store somewhat more pleasant. And atmosphere definitely affects sales. It seems subjetive, but I believe that people do connect with stores on an emotional level, at least a little bit.

Supermarket chains survive on very thin margins, and if companies don't invest in keeping their stores up to date, shoppers will go elsewhere. Having lived near an undersized, run-down, and generally quite depressing Star on Broadway in Somerville for over a decade, I can attest to this. I avoided this miserable store for exactly these reasons (unless it was an emergency), and always wondered why the company didn't bother to fix up the place. Then Stop & Shop opened a big, shiny Somerville store a short distance away, and that pretty much eliminated any remaining reasons for people to keep going to the ratty old Star; it closed, supposedly for renovations, a couple of years later, but it turned out to be permanent.

I don't know what's going to happen to the old Stop & Shop building now. I suppose it could be subdivided into smaller spaces (which are easier to lease), or maybe it too is going to be razed to make way for something else. This particular strip mall has had its share of ups and downs over the years, and recently there has been a fair bit of other retail development in the area as well, so with that and the sucky economy, it may be a while before anything happens.

27 October 2008

Yeah, That'll Work

Okay, so a little demo and reno seems to have done the trick, which is another way of saying that there were too many values that needed to be changed in the old design template to get it to display any wider (and the trial and error that goes along with checking each one and making sure they don't conflict with each other), so I just picked a different template that is wider to begin with. I'd been thinking it was time to make a few tweaks anyway.

It looks like this template adjusts itself to fit whatever size you have your browser window set to, which is preferable, and what I would have liked the other one to do. Hey Blogger folks: how about some new template designs?

Can I Get a "What What"?

This is old by now, since it was from last weekend, but if any of you didn't catch Amy Poehler's Sarah Palin rap on Saturday Night Live, I decided to post it here, just because it was effin' hilarious. It runs about three minutes; enjoy.* (I think you need Flash for it to work properly.)

*Does not constitute endorsement of a particular candidate

26 October 2008

The Catalog of Ridiculous Excess

From time to time I like to check out the gleefully snarky site Jezebel, which considers itself a women's site with an emphasis on pop culture, shopping, and sex, but I suspect a lot of men read it too, simply because it's quite funny. One of Jezebel's features that I really like is called Today in Catalogs, where the writer critiques the products, the accompanying copy, and the presentation of a particular catalog, usually not in a positive way.

So when a Hammacher Schlemmer catalog ("America's Longest Running Catalog") landed in my mailbox, I got the idea to do something similar. If Sharper Image is was the store for people with more money than sense or taste, then HS is its snobby older cousin with a tricked-out BMW M3 and a Bluetooth headset: even more money, still questionable sense and taste, and an attitude of superiority to go along with them.

Twenty years ago I had a boss who was quite enamored of this catalog, and it's quite clear why: buying stuff from it was a way to show off and stroke his ego, and if you need to do those things, then this is the place for you. HS is so full of itself and the specialness of its merchandise that each of its product names begins with "The," as in "The 1950s Countertop Soda Pop Machine" ($160), "The Lighted Billiard Balls" ($250), and "The Indoor Dog Restroom" ($150). There's also "The Aquarium Coffee Table" for $600, "The Personal Towel Warmer" for $100, or "The Stainless Steel Wallet" (huh?) for $90.

Those really sound like must-have items, don't they? Well, it gets better. There are also certain items that are described as "best" or "world's best": These "best" items are supposedly tested and deemed superior by the "Hammacher Schlemmer Institute," which is surely as impartial as it sounds. "The Best Electric Blanket" ($110 to $200, depending on size)--does anyone still use an elcetric blanket? I had one when I was growing up, three-plus decades ago, but I didn't ask for it and I didn't like it; my mom was just stingy with the heat in the winter.

Then there's "The Best Electronic Pants Presser" ($500), which costs ten or twelve times what a decent iron will cost you. Or how about "The World's Best Tabletop Prelit Noble Fir Tree" ($130), which is 40 inches high by 30 inches wide. I get why people buy prelit Christmas trees, but I think something this small is pretty pointless, and if you don't have enough space for a full-size tree, then you probably shouldn't be wasting your money on stuff like this anyway.

HS also seems to have a peculiar obsession with heated clothing. There are heated gloves ($25), socks ($25), insoles ($100), and a carbon-fiber vest ($150), all of which accomplish their tasks via rechargeable battery packs. What, no heated underwear? (Probably next year.)

To be fair, the folks at Hammacher Schlemmer do sell some things that are actually practical and useful, most of which tend to fall in the categories of fitness and personal care (blood pressure monitors, swim goggles, therapeutic heat/cold wraps). But these seem secondary to the rest of the useless, showy, and overpriced crap like the $2000 remote-controlled 1:10 scale Ferrari hydroplane, the various Thomas Kinkade holiday decorations, or the $3000 authentic Pac-Man arcade game.

These things sound just so appropriate for our current financial-crisis times, don't they? But maybe the events of the past month or so haven't affected you and your fortune. Maybe you're one of those people who equates lavishing expensive gifts on friends and family with your own self-worth. If so, Hammacher Schlemmer may have just what you need: "The 6 Foot Working Ferris Wheel Kit" ($500), or better yet, "The 14 MPH Cooler" ($500), which is basically a go-kart with an electric motor built around a cooler with an optional seat/backrest ($30). That probably isn't going to end well, so maybe this is a good gift idea for someone you don't like all that much, huh?

21 October 2008

People Behaving Oddly Unit

Today I witnessed this exchange while waiting in line to buy my lunch. The woman in front of me had a bottle of Gatorade, or some other equally garishly colored drink, and a clear plastic take-away container with something vaguely golden brown inside. It was hard to tell, because whatever it was had steamed up the container.

The cashier rang her up, and the woman looked at the total. She said that it was too much. The cashier explained that it was X amount for the drink and Y amount for the french fries. The woman said, "Oh, this isn't french fries, it's chicken. I brought it from home and they cooked it for me in the kitchen."

First of all: huh? You're bringing food from home and having it cooked for you? You couldn't cook it at home and reheat it? Do you know something about the cafeteria food that the rest of us don't? Second, if you insist on such a bizarre lunch regimen, don't you think it would be a small courtesy to explain to the poor, baffled cashier what exactly is going on, so she doesn't have to guess and make a mistake? Wouldn't it make a ton more sense to head that off?

19 October 2008

Wife, Work, Dog

Ugh, what a week. Fortunately I have finally shaken off the remains of my cold. I think Friday was the first day I really felt like I was approaching normal again. Of course, right on schedule, the Mrs. seems to have caught it, or a similar bout of blechness that's going around her office, so yesterday was kind of a lost day. She slept most of the day; I was bored and was going to head into town by myself, but then I remembered that the T is doing work on the Orange Line this weekend and is running bus shuttle service instead of train service, and I decided it would end up being too much trouble to even try going anywhere.

Work, well, it's coming along okay. I didn't accomplish quite as much as I'd hoped to, but given the disruptions in schedule over the past week or so, it's not surprising, and I still got a lot done. I was talking with a coworker about why the powers that be scheduled our annual meeting, which took up half a day, during the same week as a holiday, meaning most of the people in the office effectively lost almost two days of work this week. It doesn't seem like very well thought-out planning; they have asked us to provide feedback, so I will suggest having the meeting a week later next year and hope that others do the same.

Then there's the dog. At 2:30 this morning I was awakened by her whining. I went to check on her and it seemed like she was just whining because she was cold, so I covered her and went back to bed, but fifteen minutes later she started whining again, so I knew that meant she needed to go out. I got dressed and took her out to the back yard, where she proceeded to start sniffing things, as if it was just a casual trip outside. Now I do love this dog, but if she's going to wake me up in the middle of the night to be taken out, she'd better focus on doing her thing when she gets out there, you know? So we had a little chat, and she got her priorities straight.

She woke me up again at 6, and I went and covered her again. That was good for an hour; at 7 she started whining again, and I figured since the sun was now up, I might as well walk her. Luckily after we got back I was able to go back to sleep for a couple of hours. This is the third time in the past two weeks that she's awakened us during the night, so something may be up with her digestion. Hopefully it won't require a trip to the vet.

But you know what? A good cup of coffee, a bright, sunny fall day, and an ALCS game 7 can make everything feel better. Go Sox!

14 October 2008

A Brief Public Service Announcement

This is a tricky week for me. I'm still not entirely over my stupid cold, I have to go to this sort of retreat thing for work tomorrow that I am very much not looking forward to, and in theory I need to get my monthly assignments done by Friday. Not sure if that's going to happen, but I will try.

Anyway, I wanted to be a bit civic-minded and point out that here in Massachusetts, tomorrow, October 15th, is the deadline to register to vote in the November 4th general election. You can find information on how to register on this page.

I'm one of those people that thinks it's important to vote. I would not presume to suggest who you should vote for, because I don't want this blog to be about politics, and because that's a decision you need to make for yourself. But this has been an extraordinary year in so many ways, and I think that's going to be reflected in a high voter turnout in this election. I'd think people would want to be part of that.

11 October 2008

Friday Night at the Grocery Store (A Sort of Reverie)

Last night the Mrs. went to sleep super early, and I found myself watching TV a little after 9. I was about to switch over to the Red Sox game when I was seized with a snack attack. A quick spin around the kitchen confirmed that no suitable snacks were on the premises, so I put on my shoes and headed to the nearest grocery store, the Foodmaster at the intersection of route 60 and route 28 in Medford.

What I had in mind was some butterscotch pecan cookies that they bake on the premises, but unfortunately they were out, which was not surprising since it was about 30 minutes before closing time. I settled for some Ben & Jerry's. As I made my way around the nearly empty store, it reminded me of an idea I had years ago.

A long time ago, let's say 11 years just because today's the 11th, we were on our way home from somewhere on a Friday night, and remembered that we needed something at the store. It was a little after midnight when we walked into the same Stop & Shop where we now do most of our regular food shopping. We had never been there quite so late, and the store was bustling with restocking activity, but had hardly any customers. Interestingly, they had also turned off about half of the overhead fluorescent lights, giving the store a much cozier ambiance than usual.

This was right around the time that bowling alleys started doing the "atomic bowling" thing, with the colored lights, blasting music, and blacklight-glowing pins and balls. Almost instantly my brain went, "Atomic shopping!" Late-night grocery shopping with a dash of socializing mixed in, or vice versa, depending on your point of view. It seemed like an obvious and cool idea to me, but let's face it, it's usually easy to impress yourself.

Several years later, through a combination of circumstances I found myself working at Trader Joe's on Memorial Drive in Cambridge. One evening I was helping a coworker set up one of the wine tastings and the atomic shopping idea popped back into my head. The wheels started turning: a lot of young, single people shop at this store. Why not play to that audience? Add some festive lighting, hook a DJ into the store's sound system, sample some appetizers along with the wine. Turn Friday nights at Trader Joe's into a singles party.

I actually proposed this idea to the manager, but he was not receptive. Your loss, I thought, you'd probably get some extra business out of it. But that's how it goes when you're an underling. I still think this idea would have merit in the right circumstances, so if anyone who is reading this is in a position to make it happen, feel free to borrow my idea. And send me pictures.

10 October 2008

Random Bits of Randomness

--I got smart and stayed home yesterday to try to shake my cold. I really should have stayed home on Wednesday, but I felt like I needed to get to a certain point in my monthly work process. Also, I have determined that the decongestant that now comes in most multi-symptom cold medications is for shit. In the aftermath of widespread thefts of Sudafed for use in making crystal meth, companies rushed to reformulate their cold products. That's kind of pointless, since a multi-symptom pill contains more acetaminophen than anything else, and now we're left with cold products that do a lousy job of decongesting. I'm feeling better, but maybe I would have felt better sooner if I'd taken something more effective.

--This morning I headed to the cafeteria looking forward to my weekly Friday treat, an egg and cheese sandwich on an English muffin with either sausage or bacon. I stopped eating lunch from this cafeteria a long time ago, but I love their breakfast sandwiches. Usually there are a bunch of them pre-made and sitting in a bin on a warming plate, but today the bin was empty. Sometimes this happens, and the person working the grill behind the counter will make me a fresh one. Today I asked the person for a sandwich, and she told me they had run out of English muffins. Oh, the humanity! Fortunately I've started keeping some breakfasty food at the office, so I had to make do with pineapple chunks and a Quaker Oatmeal to Go breakfast bar.

--Recently I was in the TJ Maxx at Downtown Crossing. I didn't find anything interesting, but on my way out of the store I got to witness something amusing. The store is above street level, so you have to ride an escalator up to it. The down escalator was not operating, so I started walking down. I'd gone about a third of the way when I heard a "Hello?" from above me. I didn't think it could have anything to do with me, so I kept walking. Again, "Hello?" slightly louder, then, "Miss?" That got the attention of the woman in front of me, who stopped and looked up. Since I couldn't keep walking, I looked up too. One of the store clerks was there, leaning over the railing and holding something in her hand. She said, "You forgot these!" and waved a small black item, then dropped it. The woman in front of me caught what appeared to be a pair of socks or tights, looked back up and said, "Thank you!" and proceeded on her way.

08 October 2008

Oh Goody, A Cold

The week started off well: the weather was nice, I had lunch on Monday with A Proper Bostonian (something we've been trying to accomplish for a while now), and I love October in general, so it tends to put me in a good mood.

Then on Monday night, it crept up on me. I kept waking up during the night, unable to breathe because my head was so congested. My throat hurt. Yesterday I felt achy and run down in general, and today all of these are worse. Lucky me.

I don't get sick often, and I'm usually pretty careful about potential germ exposure, but when you ride public transit to and from work, there's only so much you can do. An alternate theory is that I was playing with the dog on Sunday afternoon, and her slimy nose accidentally made contact with my lips, yecch. Who knows, though, and does it really matter now? Bottom line: I'm sick.

I need to get to a drugstore to lay in a supply of hand sanitizer, pocket packs of tissues, Airborne, and whatever cold medication looks like it will do the best job. And I really feel like I need some sleep. If I get enough done at work today, I could use a sick day tomorrow and rest.

I really need to get better, because I have a ticket to see The Feelies on Saturday night. They got back together after 17 years, and it's probably been closer to 20 since I saw them live, so I ain't missin' this show.

06 October 2008

Location Shot

The Mrs. was supposed to go to Brooklyn this weekend (without me) to see a friend and her new baby, but she (the Mrs.) wasn't feeling too great on Friday, so she canceled her plans because she didn't want to chance making the baby sick, and she probably wouldn't have been much in the mood for driving anyway. So we stayed close to home, catching up on TV and such.

I finally got around to watching this past week's episode of Fringe. It's managing to be just interesting enough to keep me watching. However, since the show is so reminiscent of The X-Files, it made me realize that, for all the confusion fostered by that show's intricate, arcane, and ultimately ridiculous "mythology," the stand-alone episodes generally attempted to offer some sort of explanation, however far-fetched it may have been, for the mysterious occurrences being investigated by Agents Mulder and Scully. By contrast, Fringe has made few such attempts so far, while presenting a growing array of unanswered questions that will quickly become tedious and annoying if answers are not forthcoming soon.

But the only reason I mention the show now is because of my previous discussion of its Boston fakery. As it happened, there was an actual shot of Boston in the most recent episode: a night shot from above of the North Station area. The train tracks, Garden, and Tobin Bridge loop ramps were clearly visible, and the city looked all bright and twinkly. Hopefully they'll use more of these shots, and start explaining some things as well.

03 October 2008

Damn My Feeble Brain!

Today I managed to forget my glasses. You might wonder how that's possible, since I wear them all the time. When I took the dog out before leaving for work, I put on my (prescription) sunglasses, and put my regular glasses and their case on the edge of my desk, right next to the chair where I had set my bag.

We came back from our walk and I got the dog her breakfast. In order to receive her food, she has to go into her crate and lie down. Today she decided to be stubborn about it and wouldn't lie down. It's pretty much the only thing she can do to express her displeasure at being left home alone all day.

Generally at this point in the morning I'm ready to run out the door, so this sort of glitch tends to make me a bit flustered. If I leave the room for long enough, London will generally get tired of standing and will lie down on her own (especially if I leave the food sitting on top of the crate), but I didn't have time to wait around for that today, so I sort of helped her along a little, gave her her food, and left, but the whole thing was enough of a distraction to cause me to forget the glasses; since my sunglasses were still on my face, I could still see what I was doing, more or less.

Clearly I should have slipped the glasses and case into my bag, but it's not as bad as it sounds. I spend the bulk of my day sitting in my cube looking at my computer, and when I'm working at the computer I take off my glasses anyway. I do the same thing when I'm reading: if something is close enough, I don't need my glasses. The office is familiar enough and the lighting is good enough so I can walk around safely, but for things like getting around outside and crossing the street, they are rather necessary

Hopefully I'll make it home before it gets dark. And I think I have a really old pair somewhere at home that I can bring in to keep here, just in case I do something this stupid again...

02 October 2008


Recently I happened to be looking through an issue of Details magazine. I don't normally read Details, as it's aimed primarily at guys in their 20s, which I haven't been for a long time now. But I was waiting for the Mrs. and the magazine happened to be there, so I flipped through it.

Details is full of contradictions. On the one hand, it aims to give guys advice on post-college living and becoming more grown up, but on the other hand, it tells them things like it's okay to just wear your khakis wrinkled. I suppose it depends on where you're wearing them. I try not to iron on weekends if I can help it, but sometimes it's necessary.

The wrinkled look has been popular for a while, though I'm still not sure if it's going to run its course or become part of the zeitgeist. I can recall seeing instructions a few years ago, either on the Polo or J. Crew web site, for how to get your shirts to have a just-so wrinkled look. The basic idea was--and I swear I am not making this up--to take your wet shirt out of the washing machine and tie it in a knot, then put it into the dryer. Now you don't even have to work that hard; some clothes come pre-crinkled.

I have to take issue with this attitude. I'm not looking to portray myself as some avuncular advice-giver, but this is just stupid. I have no love for ironing, but I prefer to present a persona to the world that does not look like it slept in its clothes. If you're doing construction or working at a used CD store, you can wear pretty much whatever you feel like. But if you have any kind of "real" job, or hope to get one some day, you need to project a certain degree of respectability, regardless of how indolent you really are. You have to be able to fake it; that's what it really means to be a grown-up.

Other than early-morning dog-walking, when I leave the house I ask myself: if I witness an accident or something and end up being interviewed on TV, would I be embarrassed by my appearance? Would my mother be embarrassed on my behalf? Think about it. Why does it seem like the eyewitness who gets interviewed on camera is always the person wearing a dirty T-shirt with the sleeves cut off?

If you fold your pants flat when they come out of the dryer and then stack them flat instead of hanging them, some of the wrinkling works out on its own. And how long does it take to iron pants anyway? About five minutes, if that. Or you could go ahead and try the wrinkle-free kind, if you must. Personally I can't stand the feel of whatever fun chemical compounds they're using to treat the fabric. It feels like I'm wearing laminated pants.

Shirts take longer to iron, yes. Lots of oddly-shaped weird bits. You could try having your shirts done at a cleaners (or "cleansers" as it's often called around here, for whatever reason), but this is expensive, and you risk damage, loss, and the dreaded "shiny shirt syndrome." If your shirts are all white or light-colored this is less of an issue, but if you like darker colors, you risk looking like your shirt has been laminated, too.

I've been told fabric softener is the answer, but I've never tried it. No particular reason, just never have. It was never used in our house when I was growing up, so I never learned to use it in my own laundry. Environmentally, it's probably a toss-up between the added chemicals in the wash water vs. the electricity needed to run the iron. But if you think like that too much, your head will start to hurt. I suppose I should try using fabric softener, in the name of research, to see if it makes any noticeable difference in my clothes.

The other suggestion that I think has merit comes from GQ's Style Guy, Glenn O'Brien, a man of considerable knowledge and taste. He suggests using a hand steamer because "life is too short" to iron. This is something else I may need to pursue. Do any of you esteemed readers use a steamer? Fabric softener? Other hints, tips, suggestions?

29 September 2008

Times Two

Today marks an anniversary of a different sort: two years since I started this blog. In that time I've done just shy of 275 posts, and I probably could have made it to 300 if I'd been slightly less lazy. But it's not all about quantity. Mine is just one voice out of the millions out there in the blogosphere, but it's there, and that's really the point.

Since I started this, two of my friends have started their own blogs, and I'd like to think I had something, however small, to do with that. If any of you have the inclination, if you've been thinking about blogging but haven't taken that first step, I would urge you to just go ahead and start writing. It couldn't be easier to set up a blog. Don't get hung up on what to call it or what template to use; you can always change that stuff later.

I can't say for sure how long I'll keep doing this, but I don't feel even close to finished, so I imagine it's going to be a while. Thanks for reading.

28 September 2008

Happy Anniversary

On Friday the Mrs. and I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary. These days that seems like a big deal, though perhaps it shouldn't be. We marked the occasion by having dinner at Flora in Arlington. Maybe we should have done something fancier or more elaborate, but it just isn't our style.

We had a low-key wedding, both because we wanted it that way and because we paid for it ourselves. The important thing was that our family and friends were there to celebrate with us. So we rented a historic house owned by the town of Arlington, which turned out to be a very nice and appropriate setting. We bought many cases of wine at a New Hampshire liquor store, hired a friend to DJ and an attorney/justice of the peace to officiate, and had the food catered by an Italian restaurant. Our guests had to line up to fill their plates buffet-style, but they didn't seem to mind.

We are planning on taking a nice vacation as our way of celebrating, and we chose to bank this year's tax refunds and our government stimulus check toward it, but we have not yet decided where to go or when. Suggestions are welcome.

25 September 2008

Get Fluffed

This weekend is the annual "What the Fluff?" festival in Somerville's Union Square. I have yet to attend this fine event, but as a lifelong Fluff lover, I feel a near-irresistible urge to go, so I'm getting my act together this year.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Fluff, it's a thick, marshmallowish spread that was invented in 1917 in Union Square. It's used in many recipes, but is perhaps best known and best loved as a sandwich companion to peanut butter, which is known as a Fluffernutter. It's most definitely a New England thing. In my experience, people from other parts of the country are often (needlessly) scared of Fluff.

The festival is scheduled for Saturday, September 27th from 4 to 7 PM. Of course, this being New England, we're supposedly in for some stormy weather over the next couple of days. The organizers have yet to decide whether or not to move the Fluffage to its rain date, Sunday the 28th. They say they are going to watch the forecasts and decide on Friday, so check that link tomorrow for the updated info.

24 September 2008

No Shoes for You

For someone who likes to shop as much as I do, and who owns as many pairs of shoes as I do, it's somewhat unusual that I have never purchased anything from Zappos. But it's not because I haven't tried to. On several occasions I have found shoes I wanted on their site, only to be disappointed when they did not have my size.

In the most recent episode, I was looking around for some casual trail-type sneakers. These are good shoes to wear on weekends if the weather is iffy, but I'm not a runner so I don't need anything overly technical. I have a pair of New Balance shoes of this type that I have not had long, maybe 18 months, and suddenly whenever I wear them they are extremely uncomfortable, so I feel like I should cut my losses and replace them.

I spent part of my lunch hour poking around sites like Zappos, looking at sneakers. I found some that I liked, and of course they didn't have my size. But the thing about this that's particularly galling is that Zappos does not tell you the inventory status until after you have clicked the "add to cart" button. Only then do you learn that the size or color you wanted isn't available.

From a customer service standpoint, this isn't an especially winning practice. More than a decade into the era of e-commerce, it is certainly possible to have accurate inventory information and to provide it to customers. Plenty of other web sites do it. I don't know why Zappos chooses to do it the way they do, and they seem to do just about everything else right, so it's puzzling.

I was eventually distracted by a different style of sneaker that Zappos also did not have in my size, so I went and bought them somewhere else.

22 September 2008

Emmys Post-Mortem: Awards Healthy, Show DOA

Last night was the 60th Emmy awards show, broadcast on ABC. I generally don't watch award shows, though the Golden Globes tends to be a bit more lively and interesting because it's a dinner and everyone's drinking. But since I spent the time writing up my Emmy nomination observations a couple of months ago, I felt somewhat obligated to watch the show. Yeesh, what a waste of three hours that was.

It was mind-numbingly bad, due mostly to the conceit of having the five nominees for best reality show host serve as the host of the awards show itself. Wait, they give out an Emmy for reality show host now? Seriously? What a useless waste of whatever metal those statues are made of. Their collective "bit" was that they didn't have any material prepared, and it fell flat. It was clear that the audience thought the hosts were just fooling around, but the joke was on them, and those of us watching at home: they really didn't have anything prepared.

That right there, inside the first ten minutes of the show, should have warned me to change the channel or go find something else to do with my time. But I didn't, to my regret. A bit later on we were "treated" to singer Josh Groban (who is he, again? I've heard of him but I have no idea what sort of stuff he does) performing a medley of TV show theme songs. I hit the mute button and went to the kitchen to get some ice cream. Next year I'll just wait until the show is over and read the list of winners online.

With regard to the shows that won the awards, today the critics are noting how the majority of the big winners were shows on cable networks, with the exceptions of supporting actress in a comedy (Jean Smart for ABC's Samantha Who?) and NBC's great 30 Rock's wins for best actor, best actress, and best comedy. 30 Rock is always going to be an underdog in the ratings, because it lacks the mainstream appeal of workplace comedies like The Drew Carey Show or Mary Tyler Moore. It's point of view is deliberately absurd, and much funnier for it, but as long as it collects awards and critical praise, NBC will probably keep it around.

By now, a lot of people have heard the story of how Matthew Weiner, the creator of critical darling and last night's best drama winner Mad Men, pitched the show to HBO when he was working as a writer on The Sopranos, and never got any kind of response from them, not even a rejection. Surely HBO's execs are kicking themselves now. Awards and buzz don't translate into revenue in quite as direct a way as ratings do, but you can be fairly sure that AMC is planning to start charging more for ad time on Mad Men now that it's the network's signature show.

And it's not always entirely about ratings. A show like Damages might draw two or three times as many viewers if it aired on one of the big broadcast networks, but when people who do watch it start talking about it to their friends, and then people who don't watch the show see Glenn Close win an Emmy, it raises the cultural profile of the FX network along with the show.

The proliferation of drama shows on cable networks is a clear sign that the television audience is becoming more fragmented and less of a mass audience than, say, a decade ago. But more importantly, it shows that quality shows are finding audiences on cable channels, and being recognized by the academy for their work. I believe this is due at least in part to the networks' over-reliance on reality shows. How ironic, then, that the networks fill much of their schedules with this debris, then have to sit by and watch as cable channels like HBO and even basic cable networks like AMC and FX reap the most prestigious awards.

To be fair, there are reality shows on cable too. There are plenty of people who are happy to watch reality TV; my mother is a huge fan of The Amazing Race, and my understanding is that it's better than most other reality shows. But there are also plenty of people like me who prefer scripted TV, and will seek out the thoughtful, entertaining shows on whatever networks they air.

19 September 2008

A Proper Introduction

Well, my friend LT has made good on her threat promise to start her own blog, so I will refer to her henceforth by her new nom de blog, A Proper Bostonian. Expect intelligent opinions, sharp wit, and plenty of words about food, especially cake.

17 September 2008

Counterfeit City

September brings us the beginning of another new TV season, and you all know how much I love my TV (both the set itself and the shows). A couple of new shows have already started, including Fringe on Fox. (Fox tends to start its fall shows ahead of the other networks, because their annual coverage of the baseball playoffs consumes a significant chunk of their prime time broadcasting in October.)

comes to us courtesy of J.J. Abrams, who has also given us Alias and Lost. (He seems to like those one-word titles.) Fringe is about an FBI agent who is called upon to investigate a mysterious occurrence at our own Logan Airport that may have a supernatural connection. Though Mr. Abrams would probably be reluctant to admit it, Fringe plays an awful lot like a certain other Fox show that premiered fifteen years ago, in which two FBI agents investigated mysterious occurrences with possible supernatural connections.

But I'm not looking to compare and contrast the two shows. This morning I followed a link from a Universal Hub story to a critique of the things that Fringe has gotten wrong about greater Boston. This is absolutely not intended to malign that writer's observations; I'm merely using it as a jumping-off point for my own thoughts.

I agree that some of these inaccuracies--referring to Back Bay as having its own police department, moving Stoughton to the coastline--are fairly egregious to us locals, but as someone astutely points out in the comments, it's entirely possible that the producers and writers are not making any particular effort to be locally accurate. This can happen either due to ignorance or deliberate intent. I'm inclined to extend benefit of the doubt and assume the latter. Any fictional universe, be it in a book, a movie, or a television show, is a creation of the imagination, and while many of these bear a strong resemblance to the places we live and work, we should not be too surprised when artistic license is taken.

A New Yorker might be appalled if a writer referred to a character driving north on Broadway, but I remember seeing Dennis Lehane speak several years ago, and someone asked him about a scene in one of his books in which a car drives on Washington Street downtown, but in the opposite direction from how traffic flows on it in real life. He basically shrugged it off, saying (paraphrased) "It's my story, so I can make the traffic go however I want." So when an agent on Fringe pursues a car "south on Fenway" after leaving a hospital and we all know there are no hospitals on the portion of the Fenway that goes south, we just have to let it slide. It's probably in there so the folks watching out in Missouri can go, "Oh yeah, Fenway, like the baseball park."

There have been hundreds (thousands?) of TV shows over the years that take place in one locale but are made in a different one. It's the nature of the business; location shooting is an expensive drain on the budget of a weekly television series. What helps them conjure an authentic sense of place is a nice batch of pretty, atmospheric establishing shots: aerial views, skyline shots, nighttime vistas of twinkling lights in buildings that we all recognize. This is where Fringe comes up short in its depiction and use of Boston; I don't believe that any of the exteriors or establishing shots they have used were filmed locally. I certainly haven't recognized anything.

Sure, they're shooting the show in Toronto or one of those cities that gets used as a stand-in for many other places. Fine, but not even a few authentic cityscapes? That's kind of lazy. Send a crew out here, shoot for a few days, add some CGI snow if necessary (the pilot took place during the winter, but who knows when it waa shot), then come back one or two more times to get some assorted shots in different seasons. Shows don't bother much with opening credit sequences anymore, but when done right, they can look great, and make our city look great as well. How about it, Fringe folks? Show us some local love.