27 March 2008

A Plague of White Shoes

I'm worried. I've spotted a men's fashion trend for the coming spring-summer season that is very disturbing. I'm talking about white shoes.

Last week I happened to be in one of those self-serve shoe-store chains that have become popular. They offer a large selection and the pretense of a good deal, but if you pay attention to prices or do a little online comparison shopping, you'll find that these stores charge pretty much the same as what you'd pay for the shoes anywhere else.

Anyway, there are two of these stores within about a mile of our house, different, competing chains. The names of the stores don't matter, because they sell the same shoes. There's also that big one downtown, but does anyone bother to shop downtown anymore? Last time I was down there, on a weekday after work, it was like a ghost town.

So I was wandering around the shoe store, mostly just killing time, and I started to notice all kinds of white shoes in the men's section. Some were leather, which is bad enough, but some of them appeared to be fabric, which is I don't know how many kinds of horrifying. Most of them were in the form of loafers or what are sometimes called "driving shoes."

I'm starting to think that fashion designers sit around going, "Let's see, what can we come up with that's completely hideous, but if we package and present and market it the right way, people will think they have to have it?" "Hey, I know--how about we do the white shoes again?" "Perfect! Ha ha, those suckers. Pass the espresso, will ya?"

I lived through this fashion scourge the first time around; it was called the Seventies, and it wasn't any more pleasant back then. When you wear white shoes, you abandon any element of dignity you might have had. There is one exception to this: white bucks, those suede shoes with red rubber soles that are favored by wealthy WASP types in the summer months, most likely with no socks. It's pretty much impossible to be anything but dignified in those.

If you feel like you want to try to rock the white bucks this summer, be my guest. But any other white shoes that are not sneakers or golf shoes are just wrong. Proceed at your own risk.

24 March 2008

Don't Sit There

Coming home from work this evening, I got on a train and started to lift a piece of newspaper off the seat right next to the door. A person sitting across from me said, "Don't sit there, it's wet." I lifted the paper to find some sort of beige gunk. It looked like it could have been hummus, if hummus was more liquid than solid.

The next seat over also had papers on it, so I started to move those. The woman said, "No, that one's wet too," but I was a little too fast. There was more beige goo on that seat, which had gotten smeared on the paper, so now it was smeared on my glove as well. I moved away and the woman said, "I tried to warn you." She did try to warn me, so I looked at her and nodded and said, "Yes, you did," suggesting that I appreciated her effort. I used another piece of discarded newspaper to wipe off my glove.

At the next stop a man sitting next to the woman got off the train, so I sat next to her. We watched as people got on the train, and as they attempted to sit in the gooey seats, she repeated her warning for the benefit of the newcomers. Next stop, same thing, except this time there was another impatient person like me, who got goo on her hand despite my seat-mate's warning. She looked at me and said, "See, you're not the only one." I said, "It's like watching an experiment." She nodded in agreement and added, "a social science experiment."

Maybe it really was an experiment.

22 March 2008

With This Ring...

I made it through my deadline week, this time with a bit less angst than in the past couple of months because I was actually a little ahead of things this time. It was nice to be able to email the person whose work depends on me finishing my work and tell her everything was ready, a day or so earlier than when I usually do. And it made yesterday a pretty low-key day in the office, since quite a few people had already taken the day off for the Easter holiday.

Back in February when we went to California, the Mrs. stayed behind a few extra days to spend some time with her sister in Santa Cruz. While she was there, they happened to go to a jewelry store that was closing because the owners were retiring. As it happened, everything was 50% off, so she decided to buy us new wedding rings.

We got married almost ten years ago, and we paid for our wedding ourselves, so we did not spend a lot on the rings. We had them made by someone at the Cambridge Artists' Cooperative, and while they were a good value, I think it's accurate to say that neither of us was ever really that happy with them. The rings were white gold, or at least that's what we asked for, but they had a distinctly yellow cast to them. I don't do yellow gold; it just isn't me. No gold watches, no gold anything. I won't even wear a belt with a brass buckle.

But some things just end up not being that important in day-to-day life, so we wore the rings, and that was that. Of course, over time I put on some weight, and eventually I realized that I could not remove the ring. I had no reason to, but it had gotten kind of tight on my finger, and I figured that wasn't good. So I was quite excited when the Mrs. surprised me with a platinum wedding band. Platinum is what I'd always wanted, but we couldn't afford it back in '98.

Since I wasn't with her, she'd guessed on the size, and this one was too big, but better too big than too small. We managed to get the old ring off my finger with some liquid soap and about five minutes of manipulation. I left my finger bare for a couple of weeks to see if the indentation would go away; it's now been about five weeks and it's still there, though it is less pronounced than it was.

After that I started wearing the new ring, but it wiggled around. I knew I could get an inexpensive ring guard to attach around the underside and make it fit better, but I wanted to have it sized. A couple of years ago the Mrs. bought a ring from Barmakian Jewelers in Framingham. Barmakian is kind of a fancy place, but they've been in business for almost 100 years, and they believe in the old-fashioned sort of service that's not so easy to come by these days. They also have a store downtown in the Jewelers' Building, on Washington Street across from H&M, so I decided to go there. I had called the store, and was told the resizing would cost around $50.

The store is open later on Thursdays, which was the most convenient time for me to stop by. They occupy two separate areas of the seventh floor of the Jewelers' Building, and of course I went into the wrong one first, but they got me turned around and sent me in the right direction. The wedding ring department was pretty dead; the clerk said he could have the ring resized for me in about ten minutes, so I sat and waited. He came out with it after it had been resized but before it was polished, to ensure I was happy with the fit.

When it was finished he came back and gave it to me. I put it on and looked at him, then looked around for a cash register. I looked back at him and said, "Uh, this didn't come from here." He thought about it for a moment, then kind of shrugged at me, as if to say, "I won't tell anyone if you won't." I thanked him and went on my way.

So, consider this a plug for Barmakian Jewelers. Not just because they gave me a freebie, but because they care about making their customers happy, even ones who haven't actually bought anything.

18 March 2008


I have a long-standing policy of not belonging to any of the social-networking sites. I was going to say I have resisted joining them, but I haven't really resisted, because there wasn't anything to resist; I just didn't care. I have no need to be on MySpace because it's for kids, bands, and would-be predators, and I'm none of those. Facebook is for the college crowd, I'm not LinkedIn, and mercifully, I don't Twitter (it has "twit" right in its name, that's a pretty clear sign to stay away).

Due to my stubborn and contrary nature, I often resist doing things precisely because others are doing them. At times I have been asked or prodded to join one of these networks for various reasons. My friend Sandra has tried on numerous occasions to get me to join one or more of these sites. More recently, my former boss invited me to join Facebook, which I politely declined. (I hope he wasn't offended, but I didn't hear back from him, so...) Even if I was interested in joining, after some of the things I've heard about how hard they made it for people to cancel, I'd have second thoughts about it anyway.

The truth is, I just don't really like people all that much (which, if you've been paying attention at all, should be fairly obvious). I'm over 40, rather set in my ways, and have a decent complement of friends already. I have all the social network I need. That's not to say that if I met you for the first time tomorrow, we wouldn't become friends. I'm just happy with the way things are. But there's a new twist to all this, and I'm not sure what to make of it.

The Mrs., who if anything cares less about this stuff than I do, has joined Facebook at the urging of her sister, so they can play Scrabulous, the Facebook version of Scrabble. The really strange part of this is not that she joined, but that she would do so to play Scrabble. She has always hated Scrabble because she's not such a great speller, and because her brain is not as good as other people's at finding words amidst a jumble of letters sitting on a little wooden shelf. But in the online gamespace, she can take her time and try out words to see if they are, in fact, actual words. Her sister seems to be at about the same level of ability, because their games have been very close. The Mrs. now has games going with a couple of other friends as well.

Now she's also gone and joined LinkedIn, mainly because she's looking for a job. I feel a bit differently about LinkedIn, because it's a professional networking site, as opposed to a social-networking site. Sure, people may join partly to locate and reconnect with old friends (that seems to be the extent of the "networking" the Mrs. is doing so far), but that isn't its primary purpose. I admit that I'm also tempted to join, but fortunately I'm not looking for a job, and I don't plan to be, now that I've finally got some occupational stability.

There are some old coworkers and friends I'd like to touch base with, but I could probably find them some other way if I set my mind to it. So I probably won't join. Why ruin a good thing?

17 March 2008

Heads Up Follow-Up

So, it seems that lamppost stunt I linked to last week wasn't real after all. Well, it was real in the sense that it was a PR stunt, so yeah, not real.

13 March 2008

Laugh of the Day

This blog has nothing to do with anything, it's just one of the funnier things I've seen in a while. Maybe you'll agree, maybe you won't. But it does make you wonder about they mysteries of human attraction.

12 March 2008

American Branding

Last month, JCPenney launched American Living, an exclusive (to their stores) line of clothing and home goods. You may have seen the commercials, which resemble the TV equivalent of glossy fashion magazine ads. In an unusual arrangement, the products are being produced for Penney by Polo Ralph Lauren, though (not surprisingly) you won't find his name anywhere on them, or in any of the advertising. This is the first time that Polo has agreed to produce products to be sold under another brand, and it's a clear attempt to draw new, more affluent shoppers to Penney.

I had been eagerly (and somewhat irrationally) anticipating the arrival of this line since first hearing about it last year. Although I'm not a big Penney shopper, I do have several pairs of their store-brand jeans, and I'm always on the lookout for new sources for the kind of clothes I like to wear, and figured that the prices would be lower than for comparable Polo-brand items.

About the only time I get near a JCPenney is when we go to the Northshore Mall in Peabody (not that often), but as it happened, when I was in California last month, we went to a "lifestyle center" (industry-speak for an outdoor, village-style mall) that had a JCPenney, and although the line had not been officially launched at the time, they had pretty much all of the men's clothing in-store already.

Naturally I was pleased by this, until I started looking at the clothing. All the shirts had a big, colorful eagle embroidered on the pocket. Sound familiar? The eagles were bigger than the polo players that have kept me from buying lots of Polo clothes over the years, but, to be fair, at least these shirts had pockets. I know, I should have seen this coming, but somehow I didn't. I wanted to believe that someone could market a line of clothing that didn't need logos, and I also thought that Penney, being a somewhat traditional, middle-of-the-road store, wouldn't go for something so, well, bourgeois.

Anyway, my disappointment was tempered (somewhat) by the fact that the clothes seem to be decently made. In fact, the khakis (which had only a little fabric label on the back) seemed indistinguishable to me from Polo khakis, and I would not be surprised if they were made in the same factories. While it's true that the quality of Polo clothing has declined from what it was say, fifteen years ago (when it was also somewhat less ubiquitous), in general they still use better fabrics and their clothes tend to feel nicely broken-in even when new, which for me is part of their appeal. And the prices, while high for Penney, are indeed lower than what you'd pay for a pair of khakis with a Polo label in Macy's, and the Penney clothing will frequently go on sale, to stimulate sales and interest in the line.

After I had returned from my trip, I decided I wanted a pair of the khakis, so I ordered them online, along with a belt. My order was processed and shipped the same day, which was encouraging. Shipment was via the US Postal Service, which was not. "Tracking" USPS shipments, unlike those of UPS or FedEx, is more of a concept than a reality. The status of your package is updated once per day, if you're lucky, and often says something vague like "shipping information received" or "arrival at unit."

After almost a week had gone by, I figured that I should have received my package, but every day I had looked up my order information on the JCPenney site, and had gotten a tracking number full of zeros and "no information available." Uh-oh. The next day, however, I got not only a complete tracking number, but the information that my package had been delivered. Two days earlier. So now the USPS can bend the space-time continuum? Even though the mail room stopped handling our packages after our office moved within the building last summer, I headed down there, just in case. Nothing there. I checked again the next day. Nothing.

I called Penney customer service. I was told that no action could be taken until ten days after the shipment date, which was still another day or two away, and a Saturday. After the weekend I checked the mail room again (nothing, of course) and called customer service again. They offered to cancel and re-enter my order, but I opted to just cancel and get a refund. I guess I'll just buy the pants next time I'm at the mall. But I have to wonder: that package was allegedly delivered somewhere, just not to me. Who's got my pants?

10 March 2008

Sleep Research

I arrived home late Saturday night with a few more beers in me than is typical these days, and with my ears ringing because I'd forgotten my frickin' earplugs when running out the door to see that band I was plugging the other day. (It was an excellent show, by the way--they sold out Lizard Lounge.)

Before falling into bed, I remembered that Daylight Savings Time was kicking in, so I went around and set all the clocks an hour ahead. So by that reckoning, it was already after 2 when I hit the pillow, and I ended up getting around seven hours' sleep. Usually I have a rough time adjusting during the week following the springtime hour change, but on Sunday afternoon I found myself with an opportunity. The Mrs. had gone out, the dog was dozing, the house was quiet, and I decided that I should take a nap.

I slept for almost two hours, and woke up with a big grin on my face, feeling great. When I woke up this morning, I felt none of the grogginess and disorientation I've experienced in the past. Looks like I've discovered the secret to surviving the DST switchover. And really, if you think about it, is there much that sleep can't cure or relieve?

07 March 2008

What Are You Doing Saturday Night?

I know it's kind of short notice, but a plug is in order: our friend Sandra's main squeeze Dave has himself a band called The Rationales. They're playing a show tomorrow, Saturday the 8th, at the Lizard Lounge, which is on Mass. Ave. in Cambridge between Harvard and Porter, downstairs from Cambridge Common. Eight bucks gets you in, and you'll also get to see Chick and Joyce from 90's local faves Scarce do an acoustic set, and more.

06 March 2008

Heads Up

What's our world coming to? I wish this was some sort of joke, but it's on Yahoo News, so probably not.

How can we hope to thin the herd, Darwin Awards-style, when there are those who would try to thwart it?

04 March 2008

Tell Me a Story

I just got an email from a friend asking, "where's the blog?" Do you all miss me that much?

The truth is, I often write these things during the workday, and many of those times I should have been doing my work. Lately work has just gotten too busy for me to take time out to spend so much time on my posts, and it's probably going to stay that way, so I suppose I will have to adjust. I get a full hour for lunch, and I take it every day, so that would seem like a good time to post.

Anyway, there's also the matter of material. Believe it or not, there are times when I don't have any topic ideas at the ready. Sometimes my daily commute provides me with impromptu blog fodder, but (thankfully, really) that doesn't happen every day. But sometimes inspiration comes from unexpected places, and I did read something in the paper this morning that raised my eyebrows.

For the second time in less than a week, the author of a memoir has been exposed for fabricating the work. Last week the person in question happened to be a resident of this area, but the story I read about today was more interesting to me, partly because I happened to read a profile of the writer in the same paper just last week. Even then, there were elements of her story that did not sound quite right to me, and some things were glossed over in the profile that left me wondering.

This woman wrote a book under a different name, presenting it as the story of her childhood and adolescence as a half-white, half-Native American living in a black family's foster home in South Central Los Angeles. She said she had followed her foster brothers into the Bloods gang and worked as a drug runner for gang members. In fact, she is white, was never a foster child, and had a reasonably privileged upbringing as a Valley girl. She now says that much of the book is based on the experiences of people she met while working with anti-gang violence organizations, and that she felt those people did not have the opportunity to tell their own stories, so she (sort of) did it on their behalf.

When I hear about situations like this, what I wonder is: how do you think you can pull off a lie of such magnitude and get away with it, especially now that we're in the age of the internet? This woman's older sister saw the profile I read last week, that had the fabricator's PICTURE in it, and contacted her publisher to tell them she was a fake. (Gotta be some bad blood in that family, huh?) But if it wasn't a family member, it might have been someone she went to school with, or a neighbor of her parents, or her piano teacher, or any of a dozen other possibilities.

If you're trying to scam the world in such a manner, why not say to the reporter, "Um, yeah, I would really prefer if you didn't put my picture in the paper because, well, there might be people from back in my gang days who wouldn't want me talking about this stuff so openly" or some bullshit like that. Maybe it was intentional--maybe it was all just a publicity stunt, except that the publisher has recalled the book and pulled the plug on her tour, probably not the desired end result.

One other nagging question: why has there been this recent spate of embellishments and falsifications? What's so terrible about presenting these stories as fiction? Why try to fool everyone? It would be clear that they were informed by real people and events, and would certainly be as powerful as a memoir. I can't understand why one would risk so much: reputation, friends, possibly livelihood. It doesn't seem worth the price.

I occasionally fudge dates a little, such as saying something happened "yesterday" when it actually happened a few days or a week before--sometimes I don't get around to telling the story right away--but I don't make up stuff.