29 August 2008

Lunch Is Hell

I couldn't decide what to get for lunch today. I was already in the Longwood Galleria, but I wasn't in the mood for my usual Sami's falafel and tabooli combo, so I decided to get something from Subway. I really should know better. The line seemed short, but it took me five or six minutes to escape with a small tuna sandwich.

I'm fairly confident that hell is going to turn out to be very much like waiting in line at a Subway. There are five or six people behind the counter, and at first it appears that each one has a specific task to do as part of the assembly-line preparation of your sandwich. The first person gets the basics: what you want, and what kind of bread you want it on (they have five kinds, in case you haven't been in a Subway in a while). And that person always asks, "Do you want cheese on it?" Did I ask for cheese on it? But see, "with cheese" is the default setting, unless you say otherwise. At least they ask, right?

But in reality, chaos reigns. Everyone is running around and bumping into each other and talking to each other all at once. Meanwhile, your bare, open sandwich sits there on the counter while one person is refilling the bins of onions and lettuce instead of moving your order along, and you're standing there thinking (hopefully not aloud, for your sake) MAKE MY FUCKING SANDWICH, YOU MORON.

Eventually my food got the attention of the person whose job is to add the toppings. Now, I have to be honest, one of the things I do like about Subway is the variety of stuff you can get on your sandwich. Most places have lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and maybe pickles. Subway has cucumbers, several varieties of peppers, and olives. I love olives, especially on tuna, so this pleases me. Also, they have all these sauces, like teriyaki and sweet onion. These are just salad dressings, a trick I've used on home-prepared sandwiches for decades, but they do add to the overall sandwich flavor experience.

However, an abundance of toppings doesn't excuse or make up for poor service. Just as my sandwich was about to be passed to the cashier, a rather hefty woman slid up on the other side of me and distracted the person at the register. "I just want six cookies." The cookies are in a little plastic case in front of the register, so I guess that means if you just want a cookie (or six, you pig), you don't have to wait in line like everyone else. How convenient for you.

I'm trying to eat more sensibly these days, and about the only reason I even go there at all is because their small sandwich, on a 6" roll, is just enough food for lunch. But it's just not worth the trouble, because I'm afraid I could end up murdering someone while waiting for my 6" tuna sub, and I suspect a prison diet would be very starchy.

Too Good Not to Share

Oh, how I love the internet. Today's moment of weirdness.

(Source: AutoUnleashed, via Jalponik.)

27 August 2008

Bagel Day

It's the last week of August, and I admit I'm looking for things to write about. As I've mentioned before, in my office we have a weekly bagel breakfast on Wednesday mornings. Staff take turns supplying the grub, and this week it was my turn. (There's a master schedule, and each person ends up feeding everyone else about twice a year.)

But one can't just get some bagels and be done with it. Additional forms of sustenance are required. Naturally, there needs to be cream cheese. There also needs to be some sort of fruit, for the appearance of healthiness. (We publish health newsletters, after all.) And there's a certain amount of what I guess I'd call "light peer pressure" to bring other things that are tasty and interesting. There usually ends up being at least one sort of baked good, and some other snacky stuff: possibly some type of nuts, or maybe some candy, or dried fruit, or trail mix, or yogurt pretzels, etc. There are at least a couple of people I work with who like to bring something homemade. Good for them.

If I drove to work, I would probably just leave my house a little early and stop at a supermarket along the way. Since I don't have that option, I've found that it helps to plan out my bagel day strategy ahead of time. First I made a list of everything I wanted to get. Then, on Monday evening the Mrs. and I went to the grocery store, where I picked up a coffee cake and some peanuts. Can't buy baked goods too far ahead of time, but a day doesn't make much difference.

Yesterday afternoon, I walked over to the Stop & Shop near our office and bought fruit (grapes and strawberries), beverages (cranberry juice and Newman's Own limeade, which has proved popular at other recent bagel days), two kinds of cream cheese (plain and chive), and a bag of dark chocolate peanut M&Ms. That took about fifteen minutes. I deposited all of this in our office refrigerator, so all I had to carry with me this morning was the peanuts and coffee cake.

(Speaking of carrying, I'd gotten about six steps off my front porch on the way to the bus stop when one of the handles ripped off the Trader Joe's bag I was using to carry the coffee cake and peanuts. Not helpful. And it wasn't even heavy, so it must have had insufficient glue.)

Next, where to get the bagels? Obviously, they have to be fresh (otherwise what's the point?), so they really should be purchased on the way into the office. In my opinion, the best bagels that I can pick up easily on my way into work are from Finagle A Bagel. (If I lived in Brookline, I'd probably go to Kupel's, but from my current commute that would be seriously out of my way.) There's a Finagle right on Boylston St., across from Copley Square. I can walk up Clarendon St. from Back Bay station and be there in a couple of minutes.

Since I've done this a few times now, I go so far as to prepare a list of how many of each kind of bagel I want and hand it to the cashier, who hands it to the order packer. It seems that they appreciate this, as opposed to the people who stand there staring at the bins of fresh bagels going, "Um... two plain... um... two sesame..." while everyone waiting in line is sighing and tapping their feet. (This place is pretty busy in the mornings, and it's small; today the line went right out the door onto the sidewalk.)

Bag of bagels in one hand, bag missing a handle in the other, I scurried across Boylston and diagonally across Copley Square to the 39 bus stop across from the Copley Plaza hotel. A bus pulled up just as I got there, which was nice. Once I was on the bus, I consolidated everything into one bag, and made it to work about ten minutes later. I got out some trays and bowls from the kitchen, arranged everything on the conference room table, and then it was time to eat.

The coffee cake was a hit, as such things usually are; by the time we were finished, it was completely gone. There were only a few strawberries left, and no grapes. There are usually a few extra bagels, because not everyone eats a bagel, and not everyone who does eats a whole one. But these are often gone by lunchtime. Anything else left gets nibbled away as well. In all, it went fine. It would be easier to transport everything with a car, but it's not that big a deal.

Hopefully, no one will ever decide to have their bagel day catered.

25 August 2008

Wet Dog

Yesterday the MSPCA had its annual "Paw Wash" benefit dog-washing event, but unlike in past years, it was not held at Angell Memorial in Jamaica Plain. This year they had it down at Gillette Stadium. The dog needed a bath anyway, and eventually I was able to convince the Mrs. that it was a cause worth driving out of our way for.

The MSPCA had help and support from LaundroMutt in Cambridge, where we've taken our dog a few times. Oh, and did I mention the actual dog washing was being done by New England Patriots cheerleaders? Yeah. They even treated the dog to a leave-in conditioner, so her fur is soft and lustrous.

But wait, it gets better. You could also have your dog's picture taken with cheerleaders. So of course we had to go for the whole package. I don't have the pictures yet; they're going to email them to me. The Mrs. thinks we should use it for our holiday card this year. Not exactly Christmasy, but certainly different.

21 August 2008

Sportin' Wood

This goes a bit outside the usual scope of my ramblings, but really, shouldn't part of what I'm doing here be trying to expand your horizons? (Don't answer that.)

Anyway, this is actually right in line with one of my big personal interests: cars. I've been fascinated by and enamored of cars since I was about three years old. (It's a particularly pointed irony that I can't drive, then, isn't it?) Even though my family never had new cars when I was growing up, each time we traded in our car for another one was a big, exciting deal for me. As a kid, I was often tasked with looking through the used car ads in the newspaper to find suitable possibilities to see and test drive.

Over the years we had several station wagons, and about half of them were the kind with fake wood trim on the sides and back. (I wish I had some pictures, but I don't have access to them at the moment. Check out this site for scans of tons of vintage car brochures.) Several of our neighbors and friends' families had them as well. And the names they had: Kingswood Estate, Country Squire, Grand Safari, Sport Suburban. Smell that? That's the scent of pure marketing fantasy, cut with hot vinyl seats on a summer day.

The wood-sided station wagon is an icon of 20th century American car design, but as station wagons faded from popularity and were supplanted, first by minivans and then by SUVs, as the family-hauler vehicle, the vinyl wood decaling faded as well. Literally and figuratively, heh.

Which leads us to the point: someone has seen fit to bless the world with fake wood trim kits for modern cars. This is not exactly new; such kits have been around for the Chrysler PT Cruiser for a while. But this company, Woody Wagoons, has taken the idea a step many steps further, offering kits for cars like the Scion xB (the little car that looks like a saltine box) and the Honda Element (the car that looks like a slightly larger box with gray plastic fenders--how about it, DM?)

This is all gloriously cheesy, because these cars were never designed to have this crap stuck on them, plus the kits seem to be executed in a very amateurish way. The one that actually kind of makes sense to me is the Jeep Commander, because it's a spiritual descendant of those big old Jeep Wagoneers that used to come with wood trim in the 70s and 80s.

And when I first saw the new Ford Flex, I immediately thought, "someone needs to come up with a 'Country Squire' fake-wood trim kit for this thing," because Ford can call it a "crossover" if they want, but this car is a station wagon, and indeed a modern equivalent of that 70s suburban staple. But I have to be honest: I was wrong. The wood trim kit looks terrible on it. I guess you can't go home again after all.

19 August 2008

Paleolithic Packaging

We went on one of our periodic sojourns to Costco last night, this time for food items, but I spent a little time wandering around and looking at some of the other stuff. I was idly browsing the aisle of books, DVDs, and CDs, when I came upon a CD encased in something I believed was extinct: a longbox.

That's right. Those of you born before the dawn of MTV will probably remember that CDs used to come packaged inside a shrink-wrapped cardboard sleeve about six inches wide by twelve inches tall. This was originally conceived as a way for what used to be called "record stores" to stock those newfangled CDs in their existing racks, which were originally intended to display LP records, as well as a theft deterrent.

[The Mrs. found another CD nearby that was not packaged in a longbox. It was a Journey CD. You can go ahead and insert your own joke here--I'm on deadline, and it pretty much writes itself anyway.]

Longboxes were phased out in the early 1990s, in response to increasing pressure from environmental groups regarding the wastefulness of the excess packaging. So why is Costco still using them? That's an excellent question. Why are their bundle packs of things like toothbrushes or deodorant packaged in swaths of cardboard and hard plastic? Why does a pair of discounted movie tickets need to be sealed in a sheet of plastic a foot wide?

I know that the answer is mostly to keep people from walking out with the stuff, but Costco is a fairly progressive company in general (one of the reasons I choose to spend my money there), and it seems like they could devote some resources to devising some more eco-friendly packaging options. For example, things like the movie passes and gift certificates could be sold at the customer service desk, where they could be kept in a locked cabinet or case.

I'm not necessarily singling out the warehouse clubs--some of their econo-size packaging is actually less wasteful than buying multiple smaller size packages of the same item--but they do seem to be particular offenders with certain products. I don't regularly frequent BJ's or Sam's, so I don't have any comparative evidence. Anyone?

17 August 2008


Earlier last night, we found ourselves in Swampscott. Having had dinner with friends, we were in the mood for dessert, so we followed them to an ice cream place. We drove past it and turned into a big parking lot, which belongs to a restaurant called Anthony's Pier 4 Cafe & Hawthorne by the Sea Tavern (a satellite branch of the Boston waterfront restaurant). The lot probably holds four hundred cars (it looked like the kind of place that hosts a lot of weddings and other functions), and at around 9:30 on Saturday night, it was maybe a quarter full.

We parked the car and got out, and a guy came walking across the lot toward us. I thought he was some sort of valet (he was wearing a white polo shirt and black pants) but he said, "Are you going to the restaurant?" We said no. He said, "I'm sorry, but you can't park here."

I imagine that North Shore locals are familiar with this place and its policy, but it really struck us as dickish. It's not like there was any shortage of spaces, and we probably weren't going to be there more than fifteen or twenty minutes.

We drove back onto the street and found a space nearby, but it's just such a selfish and unfriendly thing. The idea that this place feels it's necessary to pay someone to stand out in the parking lot and chase away the riff-raff makes me pretty sure I'd never want to go there.

Party On, Dude

We had a little excitement last night in our corner of Medford. The teenagers who live in the house next door had themselves a not-so-little party, and they managed to draw the attention of Medford's finest. The only bummer is that I missed all the action, even though we were home and awake at the time.

These kids have a few parties each summer, but this one was bigger and rowdier than the previous ones. When I took the dog our for her "last call" around 11:15, there were about 25 kids in the adjacent back yard. In the past we've usually had the AC on during their parties, so the noise hasn't kept us from sleeping, but it's been nice enough lately that we haven't needed the AC. (Of course, we could always turn it on if we needed to block the noise, but when the houses are this close together, people should have a little more respect for their neighbors.)

About an hour later, I was watching TV, and the Mrs. was engaged in one of her Wordscraper games on Facebook. We were kind of waiting for the party to burn itself out so we could go to sleep with a reasonable chance of not being disturbed. Suddenly she jumped up and went outside. At first I thought she'd gone to get something from the car, but she didn't come back. Turns out the arrival of the police sent kids scattering, and she wanted to make sure that none of them used our yard as an escape route. She came back inside about ten minutes later and told me what was going on. Somehow, I didn't notice that any of this was happening.

In the light of the morning, we could see that not only did the departing kids leave a swath of debris in the next-door back yard, but they also managed to pull down part of that yard's back fence as they climbed over it. Sweet. I'm sure their landlord will be excited. I can't help wondering where he was last night, since he lives on the second floor of the house next door. You'd think that given the previous parties, he'd want to keep an eye on things. But they're his tenants (though maybe, not for long?) so they're ultimately his responsibility.

And I don't know who called the cops, but I'm glad someone did.

14 August 2008

Rain Gear

With all the rain we've been having this summer, I thought it might be a good idea to get a lightweight rain jacket of some sort. Indeed, it's a little odd that I've managed to get along without one for this long, but I'm starting to feel a little silly on the rainy but warm days, standing at the bus stop wearing shorts and holding an umbrella. So it seemed like a simple jacket in a breathable fabric with a hood would be a smart choice.

I do have a waterproof rain coat with a removable hood that I like, but it's too warm to wear in summer and is kind of large on me anyway (it's cut very full to take a fleece liner, plus it's a tall; I got it on clearance for next to nothing and that's all they had left). And while I know that Gore-Tex fabrics have long been the standard for waterproof breathability, I was hoping to get away with not spending so much, and there are newer fabrics that claim to do the same thing just as effectively but cost less.

I thought finding something suitable would be a quick task online, but it's become one of those things that lands in the category of "easier said than done." This part of the outerwear category is dominated by makers of outdoor clothing like Patagonia, The North Face, and Marmot that make products that sell in outdoor stores like REI for premium prices. A simple rain jacket from one of these companies can easily run upwards of $200, which is simply ridiculous. I was hoping to get away with spending $50 or less. Also, many of these jackets are really, really ugly.

Somehow my online wanderings led me to the web site of a company in New Jersey called Campmor that sells all kinds of outdoor gear. I was familiar with the company, because my brother has been getting their quaint catalogs (which are printed on newsprint paper and are filled with line drawings of the merchandise) for probably three decades. I occasionally get them myself, but I never look at them, and I had never been to their site (which, thankfully, features photos of the products instead of drawings).

Campmor carries the fancy brands, but they also have clothing manufactured for them under their own brand. I have no problem with house brands as long as they're decently made, so I browsed their selection of rain gear and decided to buy a jacket called Storm Venture (I think this is meant to reference a similar style of jacket made by The North Face called Venture). Campmor's jacket had a "regular price" of $65 but was being offered for $39.99 in five colors. It looked plain enough, so I chose "cobalt" and ordered it. I thought to myself, that was easy.

It arrived in two days via UPS (New Jersey isn't that far away), and when I unpacked it, I could see right away that the color was off, definitely not anything you would call cobalt. Not a terrible shade of blue, but not what I wanted. This is not that uncommon; monitors render colors differently, the art department decides to pump up the colors so they pop off the screen better, etc. But more importantly, the thing just looked cheap, because it was cheap.

Of course I needed to try it on before making a final decision. I unfolded it and started to unzip it. The zipper gave me a lot of trouble, which was another bad sign. Then I saw the interior of the jacket. Many of these jackets have sealed or taped seams to ensure their waterproofness; in this case, it looked like someone had literally slathered clear tape over all the inside seams. It made the outside look classy. I did try it on, but I already knew it was going back. Just for fun, I showed it to a coworker. She made a face and asked me how much it cost. I told her, and she made a different, even more unhappy face.

I packed it up and sent it back for a refund, but that means I still don't have a jacket. I spent some time browsing some other sites, and found myself back at old faithful L.L. Bean. I guess I should have looked there in the first place. There are two styles that I'm interested in, one of which is a breathable fabric called TEK 2.5 (seriously, that's the best name they could come up with?) and the other is Gore-Tex. This breaks my price rule, but I'm starting to think that I'll be more satisfied in the long run by buying what I really like. Also, the proximity of a Bean store means I can try on the jackets and inspect them in person. But it will probably stop raining as soon as I buy something.

11 August 2008

Yard Work

We have a cute little backyard at our house. At least, it used to be cute, as you can see. But these days, it's looking pretty junglesque, thanks to all the rain we've had in the past month or so.

Things have gotten out of hand. Normally, the landlord comes by every few weeks and tidies up the yard and the shrubs in front, but we haven't seen him in a while. I usually communicate with him by email, so I'm not sure what, if anything, is going on. Meanwhile, the weeds and grass have gone crazy. This made me feel somewhat guilty, even though we have no explicit responsibility for taking care of the yard or grounds (aside from a winter snow-removal arrangement). I don't like doing yard work, or for that matter any other sort of outdoor labor, especially when it's hot, but it bugged me just the same.

Finally, I decided to visit the local home-improvement megalith to see about getting a string trimmer. Not being a homeowner, I don't pay much attention to outdoor power equipment, so I found these things kind of crazy expensive, at least the gas-powered ones. I really couldn't see the point of buying a gas-engined trimmer, for a few reasons. The high cost of gasoline is a pretty significant one, plus the hassle of getting the gas, and the potential hazard of storing it. An electric trimmer seems like a good alternative, until you realize that means you need a long extension cord and a place to plug it in.

Eventually I settled on the idea of a cordless trimmer that runs on a rechargeable battery that snaps into the trimmer's handle. It eliminates the main disadvantages of the gas and electric models, while still providing decent power (the battery is about the size of a standard brick, and weighs about as much). The battery charges in only an hour when snapped into its charger (which, of course, is sold separately). Also, these things are part of a line of power tools that can all be powered by these same batteries, so if someday I need (or just feel like buying) a cordless drill, I already have a battery and charger that will work with it.

Last Monday, I got home from work and set out to do battle with the yard. I didn't realize that the grass would still be wet down at the roots from the previous weekend's rain, and the trimmer quickly became caked with clippings. I gave it another 24 hours, and tried again. The grass was still a little wet, but the trimming went better. Another thing I hadn't realized was that I would have to keep pressure on the trigger, which quickly grew tiring. I persisted until my hands hurt from the vibrations. I managed to clear about 20 40 percent of the yard, a large enough space for the dog to wander around and pee when I take her out just before bedtime.

Of course, we've had a good bit more rain since last Tuesday, so I have not been able to make any further progress on the yard. Maybe later on this week, things will be dry enough. But I'm now thinking that when we do buy a house, it might make more sense to buy into a condo association that hires someone else to do the yard work.

08 August 2008

Troll Trolling

I have a troll. Not one of those hideous plastic dolls with the stand-up shock of hair, but an anonymous commenter who seems to have it in for me.

Whenever I write a piece about men's fashion, this person pops up. The commenter seems to think that an interest in fashion makes me gay, and the comments are generally disparaging, mocking, and homophobic in nature. The first couple of times, I went ahead and posted them (you can see an example here). Also, I have written a couple of posts about the strange behavior I've witnessed in the rest room here at work, and the troll seems to think that this also makes me gay (example #2).

Eventually I decided to stop posting these comments, but that doesn't stop them from coming. Here's the latest:
Warning! This Blogger is seriously Gay

Gay! Gay! Gay! I mean really, why would a grown man prefer to look at other men's pants? I bet you would like to see men in shorts. Really short shorts. Who wears short shorts?

Why don't you talk about something serious that would greatly help the average consumer. Like women's bikinis?
Either it's someone's lame idea of a joke, or someone who has a real problem and doesn't know how to deal with it. But seriously, enough's enough. I decided to confront the problem head-on by posting about it, on the assumption that the troll will read it, since he (presumably it's a male; I really can't see a woman writing these things) seems to follow the blog.

So, Anonymous: what the fuck is your problem? It doesn't even matter that I'm not gay, because your comments are just as offensive to me. I believe in tolerance, not ignorance. It's 2008, and believe it or not, most people are a bit more enlightened these days. Those who are not are eventually going to be marginalized and, hopefully, ostracized for their hateful, backward views.

Besides all that, you're missing the point. I'm not looking at men's legs. Sure, there happen to be legs in the photos that accompanied the article I referenced in the post that prompted your most recent response. But if I did want to ogle men's legs, I'm sure I could easily find better material, like Olympic athletes. I'm critiquing the fashion industry, and I'm going to keep doing it, so if you are not interested in reading that sort of thing, maybe you should just stop visiting my blog.

In fact, I'd prefer that you stopped visiting. I'm sure not going to post any more of your comments. You are no longer welcome as a visitor. If I could figure out how to block your IP address, I would. Just go away.

05 August 2008

Shorts Sighted

I continue to be fascinated, bewildered, and sometimes appalled by the disconnect between the clothes real men wear in their daily lives and what the fashion industry thinks men should be wearing.

My friend LT (who swears she is starting her own blog any minute now) asked me if I had seen an article in the Style section of the New York Times about men wearing shorts to the office. I thought, I wear shorts to work, what's the big deal? But I guess the point of the article was that these were professional men, who would otherwise be going to work in suits and ties.

But wait, there's a picture accompanying the article of a guy wearing a blue blazer, dress shirt and tie, and... khaki shorts, along with what look to be suede wing tips. Oh, and did you see that other picture, to the left? The guy wearing the matching jacket and shorts? What do you even call that? A shuit? (Shorts + suit.)

Excuse me for a moment... Sorry about that, I was just laughing my ass off. Holy gilded crap, could you imagine walking down Franklin Street in an outfit like this? Newbury, maybe. Maybe. But still, iffy.

I guess the reporter went out and found some guys on the street who were dressed this way (because if they were dressed and posed, that would be fabricating a story, right?), but I look at these pictures and can only think this must be some designer's fantasy of how men should dress on Planet Runway, because it sure doesn't look like my planet. Also, all the shorts these guys are wearing look like they have an inseam of about six or seven inches, which is fine for playing tennis, but too short for my liking.

I have a neighbor I know from the bus stop. He's around 30 and works in banking, a pretty conservative field as far as dress is concerned. His office has a summer dress code, which means no jackets or ties; short-sleeve collared shirts are okay, but he still has to wear business casual pants and shoes. I didn't think to ask him about this, but I can pretty much guess what his reaction would have been.

I also have a close friend who is an attorney. I solicited his opinion, and here's what he had to say: "The place where I work now would never tolerate this. We are a relatively conservative law firm (still expected to wear at least a shirt and tie most days, and suits for court, etc.) We do not have a set dress code, though open necked dress shirts appear relatively often on days when no clients are being seen by the wearer. You often see shorts on clients coming in for real estate closings or if they have just come from the golf course, but never on lawyers. Things are more relaxed on the weekend and shorts are seen then. I used to work at a much smaller firm with no dress code and while shorts afforded a comfort level, they tended to detract from the professional feel of things."

And the shoes? Loafers, driving shoes, sandals, sure. But lace-up dress shoes with shorts? It just doesn't make sense. You're either dressed up, or you aren't. To me, these outfits say, "I'm trying too hard." I can only conclude that this look is for guys who work in creative professions, or possibly the fashion industry, who are fashion-forward individuals to begin with and who expect their attire to be critiqued by their coworkers and business associates.

As for semi-professional office drones (like me), if your office, like mine, has a relaxed summer dress code that allows shorts, then why, if it's warm enough to warrant shorts, would you want to add a jacket and tie? The whole point is to be casual and comfortable. Right?

01 August 2008


The Mrs. was talking to her cousin on the phone earlier this evening. His wife's father passed away unexpectedly, and his wife is originally from the Czech Republic, so they had to fly to Prague for the funeral. He said, "You know, it's terrible that her father died, but it's also a trip to Prague, so it's like a funecation."