31 December 2009

Goodbye and Hello

Time to say goodbye to 2009, and to the decade as well. The passage of time definitely seems to accelerate as you age. Ten years ago I'd been married just over a year, and had spent the previous year working for an e-commerce company, where the notion of getting paid for my attention to detail and the opportunity to learn a bunch of new skills seemed like it was about to change my life.

That job lasted into early 2001, and a year after that the company had folded, but my life did change. Because I started with the company when it was so small, I was in close proximity to its founder, and consequently I learned a trememdous amount about almost every aspect of running a business. That job, and the one I'd had previously, led peripherally into my eventual next full-time job, which ultimately led to the job I have now. And working at that e-commerce company a decade ago is how I met A Proper Bostonian, a friendship I feel very fortunate to have (even if she is a crazy cat lady).

Life does change, usually while you are not noticing it. But the important things tend to stay the same. Last year we were supposed to spend New Year's Eve at the home of my college roommate and his wife, but it snowed that day and the Mrs. did not feel comfortable driving to their house and back (they live pretty far out in suburbia) so we ended up staying home and watching 80's movies on TV. But our friends invited us again this year, and the little dusting of snow we got today isn't enough to keep us home this time.

Happy new year to all of you out there. May 2010 be full of good things for all of us.

29 December 2009

At the Door

Funny little story that means nothing: usually my family goes out for dinner on Christmas Eve, but the family has been shrinking a bit over the years. My sister now spends the evening with her boyfriend's family, and this year my brother had to work. (He's a restaurant manager.)

My mother made a lot of phone calls to find a place that was open and serving dinner past 6 PM, but had no luck. We had suggested going to where my brother works, but it's a 40 minute drive from her house, and she was worried about what the weather might be doing, so she found a place whose kitchen was staying open long enough for us to get takeout. Everything was very good.

We had settled down to eat when there was a very faint tapping at the front door. Now, I should explain: a few years ago my mother installed those wireless doorbells, but they would ring almost every time the wind blew, so she removed the batteries and put up little signs that say "please knock." So it seemed likely that someone was indeed at the front door, though no one was expected. Her dog, who barks at everyone and everything, never noticed or moved from his perch just outside the kitchen. I guess he was too focused on our food.

I got up to have a look, and my mother called after me, "Use the peephole." I looked through the glass and saw the top of a very short person's head, which wasn't too helpful, so I opened the door. There was a small woman standing there with a bright red food container in her hand. I said, "Can I help you?" She kind of squinted up at me and eventually said, "I don't know you." I offered, "I don't know you either." She thought about that for a moment and countered with, "Is Val here?" So she was known to the household after all, just not to me.

Turns out she lives next door, and was bringing over banana bread and fudge. That house is an unusual two-family rental in a neighborhood of single-family owner-occupied homes, so it's been decades since I had any idea who was living next door. Also, according to my mother, the elfin woman kind of likes to drink, and clearly she was already well into her personal Christmas Eve celebrating, which would explain the slow reaction time and the general sense of puzzlement. But for a moment it seemed like something out of bizarro Dickens: The Ghost of Christmas Drunk.

27 December 2009

This Week in Awesome (12/27/09)

Hi everybody. Hope you've enjoyed this holiday week, and that you've been fortunate enough to spend some time with loved ones and good friends. I come bearing gifts, of a few bits of amusement...

David Letterman showed a clip from a slightly tweaked version of A Charlie Brown Christmas. (CBS via TV Squad)

This picture of Larry King and his... family (?) defies explanation. (Put This On)

Finally, it's... um... something, and it goes on your head, I guess. You've been warned. (Racked)

24 December 2009

Watch Wednesday Thursday (12/24/09)

I should really be finishing up my packing and the last few things that have to be wrapped, but last night, just as I was settling down in bed, I remembered that it was time for a watch post. This will be the last one of 2009, but the feature will continue in the new year, on the same biweekly schedule. [Side note: don't you hate when people say "biannual" when they really mean "semi-annual"? No? Just me? Okay, whatever...]

This is the first Timex I've featured, which is funny, because even though I have a particular affinity for the Accutron/Bulova/Caravelle offerings, there wouldn't be a Caravelle if it wasn't for Timex (Bulova felt they needed a lower-priced line to compete effectively with Timex), and it was a Timex that first put me on the path to collecting. One day in the early '90s, I happened to go to a flea market that used to be held in the parking lot of the Building 19 in Lynn. Amongst all the junk, I found an old Timex (not this one) that I bought for something like 75 cents, or maybe a dollar at most.

If you are interested in collecting vintage watches, Timex is a great place to start. There is a great variety of styles, they were made in huge numbers so it's not that difficult to find one in good mechanical and cosmetic condition, and they were not expensive watches when new, so they don't cost much now. If you are very interested, there are a couple of sellers on eBay that specialize in them that I could recommend.

I don't exactly remember how I came to acquire this watch, but I think I may have purchased a lot of watches from someone and this was part of it. I approximae its age to the late 1960s, due to the styling and the automatic movement. When I look at this watch, I can't help thinking that Timex was trying to copy the look of more expensive watches of the period, which makes sense. The rolled edge of the dial gives it a raised appearance, the chunky applied hour markers scream Omega, and the cross hairs, which we've already seen on my Accutron Deep Sea and Omega Seamaster, again give a little flair to a rather sedate dial.

This watch is not in the best cosmetic condition; you can't tell from this crappy photo, but there are marks on the dial from the hands, from lack of movement. This is fairly common with older watches; I have no idea what that luminous material is composed of, but I suspect it's pretty toxic.

The strap is a Speidel that I added myself; I can't remember if this watch came with no strap at all, or had one of those stretchy metal Speidel bands that were popular when it was new. The color is just a bit darker than it appears here (natural light, no flash) and works well in summer with similarly colored shoes and belts. I don't usually go for brown straps, but this one spoke to me. Plus, my maternal grandfather spent a good part of his adult life working in the Speidel factory in Providence, so I've always felt an affinity for the brand, even though I don't care for metal bracelets.

And as always, I want to say thanks for stopping by, and wish all my readers joyful holidays.

23 December 2009


I'm back. The streets in Manhattan are slushy and a bit tricky to navigate, but otherwise it's business as usual. The toughest part for me was dealing with the constant struggle between cold and heat: outside you have to be bundled up, but that means as soon as you step inside, you get overheated. Multiply that by 40 or 50 over the course of an average day.

Gifts for my family were all taken care of before I left, so I didn't have the opportunity to shop for them there. (Truth is, I spend a lot more time shopping for myself this time of year, regardless of whether I'm in New York or at the Burlington Mall.) Over the years, it's gotten to the point where we pretty much tell each other what we want, or my mother supplies the info about what to get my siblings. This eliminates a lot of fretting and guesswork, and avoids disappointment.

Since no one in my family reads this, I thought I'd run things down quickly, in case you happen to be stuck for an idea. My brother wants to get an Xbox, so I was told to get him a Best Buy gift card. That hardly even needs to be wrapped. My sister always wants gift certificates to her favorite salon/spa. That required just a phone call, because they don't sell them through their web site (yet, but I keep hoping).

My mother never used to give us any clues or ideas, but she started making a list a few years ago, and my siblings and I divide it up. A while back my sister got my mother one of these charm bracelets called Pandora: all the charms are threaded, so when you screw them all together they make a sort of bead bracelet. So a charm is always on the list for Christmas, her birthday, and Mother's Day. We have a few other things to give her, including a couple of books, ornaments, and two pounds of Dunkin' Donuts coffee (this started as sort of a joke because the Mrs. couldn't stand the Walmart store-brand coffee my mother is in the habit of buying, and now my mother kind of expects it every year).

My father is much more difficult to buy for. He's kind of grumpy all the time, and just isn't interested in things the way most people are. A while back we all kind of gave up and started getting him gift cards for either Home Depot of Walmart. He uses them, but it's not very interesting, and I don't want to give any of my money to Walmart anyway. For the past couple of years the Mrs. and I got him gift cards to Shaw's, but this year I thought I could do better.

I remembered that nine or ten years ago, I'd gotten him an Omaha Steaks gift assortment for a birthday present, and he really enjoyed it. One day last week there was an Omaha Steaks ad in the paper. One nice thing about OS is that they have a lot of variety, and I was able to get him an assortment with sirloin steaks, pork chops, chicken breasts, stuffed sole, burger patties, hot dogs, and even baked potatoes. My dad lives alone and doesn't do much cooking, so now his freezer is stocked and he has the basis for a couple of months' worth of meals. I paid a little extra for gift wrap, for that holiday touch.

Having a small family helps, obviously. If you're not sure what someone on your list wants, ask around among some other family members or friends.

20 December 2009

Out of Town

No, I'm not going back in time to write about the season premiere of Mad Men. I'll be away until Tuesday evening. It's a long and somewhat silly story, but the short version is that I'm zipping down to New York on a hastily-arranged visit to see a friend who now isn't going to be there, thanks to the storm. But there doesn't seem to be a point to wasting a bus ticket and a hotel room, and I'm sure I can find plenty to amuse myself.

19 December 2009

This Week in Awesome (12/19/09)

Happy holidays, everyone. I can't guarantee there will be a TWiA next week. Certainly not for lack of ambition, but it's more a matter of not being sure I'll have the time, not being sure I'll have enough material, and some appalling computer problems at my mother's house that make getting on the internet far more of an ordeal than it should be. But who knows? Stay tuned.

Having said that, let's dig into this week's offerings. Things are unintentionally a bit weighted toward broadcast television this week, starting with Craig Ferguson, host of CBS's Late Late Show, telling a funny story about a not-so-funny airline experience. (CBS via Consumerist)

Here's the poster for The Simpsons 20th anniversary episode. Prepare to squint. (Hollywood Reporter via TV Squad)

I don't watch Letterman much anymore, mostly because I don't stay up that late, but on Thursday's show he was doing a gift segment, and took a $25,000 cupcake car (I think it's something you can buy from the Neiman Marcus catalog) for a spin around the stage, with predictable results. (CBS via TV Squad)

18 December 2009

Dock of the 'Bay

I know I haven't posted much this week. That's because as we head into the holidays, my office will be closed for winter break, and I'll be using vacation time to bump it up to a full two weeks off, so I need to get my monthly deadline stuff squared away before heading out the office door this evening.

I've also been making a little extra scratch for holiday gifts by selling some stuff on eBay (including stuff that I bought on eBay that didn't quite work out for one reason or another), which takes up a fair bit of time. First you have to take pictures of whatever it is you want to sell (in my case, it's mainly clothing, shoes, and a couple of watches that have fallen out of the rotation). It amazes me that 15 years into the existence of eBay, there are still people who think it's possible to sell something without providing a picture of it. Or, you get one blurry shot from too far away, with a description that reads like this: "Coat, black. Worn only a few times."

Thanks so much, that was really helpful. That leads to step two: a detailed, informative description. I like to put a bit of my personality into this part, including information about where I got the item, how long I've owned/used it, its original retail value. What I NEVER do is say how much I paid for something, because that's irrelevant. What matters is how much you can get someone to pay for it now. Knowing what the item was once worth is a good way to frame your opening bid as a bargain while making sure the auction is worth your time (assuming the item sells).

A couple of months ago, I had an urge for some now boots (I believe I mentioned this in my post about boots from a few weeks ago). During that time I bid on some US-made Red Wing boots that were not really what I was looking for, but were nice-looking and in good condition. I have a tendency to place bids on items that I'm only semi-interested in, figuring that fate will decide whether or not I'm supposed to own them. In this case I won the auction, but the boots just didn't quite fit me right (which is why I didn't include them in the boot post).

So last week I finally got around to taking some pictures and posting the auction in an attempt to turn them around and find them a good home. Within a few hours I'd received a message from a guy in the United Kingdom who was interested in the boots, asking if I would consider opening the auction to bidders from outside the US. Generally speaking, I try to avoid this, because it makes things more complicated, and because the likelihood of being a victim of fraud is much higher with international bidders. That's not intended to be derogatory or prejudiced; it's simply an unfortunate fact of trying to do business on eBay.

In this case, the guy's feedback profile had almost 2300 entries, with a score of a perfect 100%, so I figured I was safe letting him bid. Apparently Red Wings are a big deal in the UK, and are hard to get there. As soon as I'd adjusted the auction, I was contacted by someone in Japan with the same request. This person also had 100% feedback, but only 10 feedbacks. This can be a red flag for trouble, or it could just be someone new to eBay. I stalled by answering that I would take 24 hours to consider the request and research shipping costs. The next day I received another request from Japan, this time from another seasoned bidder like the one from the UK. I decided to go ahead and open the bidding to Japan, figuring that with so much interest, the boots were bound to sell.

The auction closed last night, and the winning bidder turned out to be from Virginia, making my life a little easier. The boots sold for $76 plus shipping, which is 50% more than what I paid for them (though I don't always get so lucky). The other cool thing is eBay's arrangement with the US Postal Service regarding shipping. Typically I get the item packaged up the night the auction closes, then the next day, after receiving payment, I print a shipping label and stop at the post office on my way home from work and use the automated postage machine.

Now I don't even have to do that: from the eBay site you can buy postage using PayPal (essentially withdrawing against what you've just been paid by the buyer) and print the label. At that point the package is ready to go, and you can drop it off at a post office or, if you are using USPS-supplied boxes, which are free, even call for a pickup.

The biggest problem for me is refraining from using the ensuing PayPal balance to buy more stuff on eBay.

16 December 2009

What Army?

So ABBA gets into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but KISS doesn't? That's just not right. I don't care what kind of music you liked in the '70s (if you're old enough to have lived through it), KISS is just way more rock & roll than ABBA could ever hope to be.

14 December 2009

Thrifting and Sleuthing

I haven't really been big into thrift-store shopping for a number of reasons, but mostly because I tend not to find anything that I like. This has to do with fit, quality, style, taste, and the fact that I'm a very fussy human being regarding my clothes.

But since I came across the blog An Affordable Wardrobe a while back and saw that its creator lives and thrifts in the Boston area, and has similar taste, I have been thinking that this is something I should be more open to exploring. I'm also seriously jealous of some of the deals Giuseppe at AAW has scored, like a pair of Bill's Khakis, new with tags, that retail for $98, for $1. Yeah, a dollar. Are you kidding me?

So on Saturday we went over to Davis Square for some sustenance in the form of burritos from Anna's. Next door, where there used to be a video store, there's now a place called Buffalo Exchange that opened a couple of months ago. This is a national chain of stores that buy and sell gently used clothing. I'd never heard of it before it landed in Davis, but it certainly seems like a logical location for it.

We weren't in any hurry, so we went in to have a look. At first I wasn't even sure they had any men's clothing, but a quick walk down to the back revealed the men's racks. I saw some fairly high-end stuff I wasn't expecting; I recognized one Italian brand that I think is sold at Louis, or at least used to be, and one fashion-forward and pricey UK brand with a store in New York that I've never bothered to visit.

I was almost finished going through a rack of shirts when I found a traditional button-down (the collar, not the front) in narrow red and white stripes. The cloth was finer and nicer than oxford cloth, and the tailoring was a notch above the usual (you don't see a two-piece back yoke on a typical department store shirt). It was even my size, but there was no brand tag. None of the other shirts had missing tags, so it wasn't like a Building 19 situation where they are not allowed to reveal the brand in order to protect its prestige.

There was a tag that said "all imported cotton" inside the collar, a laundry tag on the end of the hem, and a small size tag at the neck that also said "made in USA." Well, how about that? The shirt, like all the other long-sleeve shirts I'd looked at, was priced at $17. Not exactly what Giuseppe (or anyone) would consider a thrifting bargain, but Buffalo isn't really a thrift store in the traditional sense. Regardless, it was a decent price for an American-made shirt, and I still got the feeling that I should go ahead and buy it.

When I got home I took a closer look at the shirt. Sometimes there are markings on the buttons, sometimes there is a secondary laundry tag on one of the inner side hems, sometimes there is a season tag telling you when a garment was produced and sold. The shirt had none of those. But all the tags were green, which was ringing some sort of bell in my head, and the style of lettering on the "cotton" one looked familiar. Older J. Crew clothes had green tags, but this seemed too nice for J. Crew, and I didn't think they had manufactured in the US in a really long time, if ever.

There was one other clue: the laundry tag had an RN number. Maybe you've never noticed this, but all clothes have it. It's a way to identify the manufacturer. I remembered seeing a reference a while back on a blog to a Federal Trade Commission database where you could look up these numbers. I just couldn't remember on which blog I'd seen it. I knew it wasn't AAW, so I spent a little while going back through some of the other style blogs I frequent, and eventually I found the link, on The Trad.

The database revealed that the shirt was made by Gitman Bros. of Pennsylvania. They've been around for over 60 years, and still make all their shirts in the US. I used to see their shirts at Syms when they had a store downtown; if you look at the lower right corner of their home page at that link, you can see their logo on a green background, which is what their labels look like and why this shirt was seeming familiar to me. I could still see the thread holes in the shirt from where the label had been removed. Maybe it was irritating to its former owner's neck?

Domestic manufacturing is of course now more costly than having your products made overseas, so Gitman's shirts sell for north of $100 each. So I guess I ended up getting a pretty good deal after all.

(If you're interested in doing some sleuthing of your own, the database can be found here. Of course, your mileage may vary.)

12 December 2009

This Week in Awesome (12/12/09)

I had intended to post yesterday, but apparently my brain didn't have anything useful to contribute. No matter, as today I have what may be the biggest TWiAs ever. Back the truck up...

A Toyota dealer in Silicon Valley somehow got Steve Wozniak to participate in one of its commercials. The result is unquestionably one of the strangest things I've ever seen. (Fake Steve Jobs)

Toshiba attached a bunch of helium balloons to a chair and released it up into the sky (to show off its video camera technology, I think). (YouTube via Very Short List)

More cool camera stuff, this time a clip with some nice time-lapse footage of New York. (Digital Urban via New York Times City Room blog)

Now we move on to revisit the part of the segment that's more awful than awesome. But I do this as a public service, if only so you'll be informed, and know how to protect yourselves. I'm sure by now you've heard about MTV's new show Jersey Shore, which is just like all their other "reality" shows except for the setting (which you can guess from the title) and the fact that all the participants are Italian-Americans.

If somehow you've managed to remain unaware of this cultural watershed, I've thoughtfully prepared a little primer for you. You'll want to watch this clip first, then this one, this one, and finally this one. (Soup blog; note that a short ad plays before each clip)

Next, you're ready to check out a Jersey Shore nickname generator (Rum & Monkey via The Frisky). Not enough for you? Here's another one. (Unlikely Words)

Now, as a sort of mental palate cleanser, you should go watch these funny commercials from Scarlett Johansson's appearances on Saturday Night Live. (Hulu)

Finally, for some context, a column from Thursday's New York Times on the show.

I suppose I should be offended by the perpetuation of these stereotypes, but I can't muster enough energy to be bothered by them. I am sad for our society in general, though. And I have to say, the guidettes frighten me far more than the guidos.

10 December 2009

Watch Wednesday Thursday (12/10/09)

This time I didn't forget, I was just otherwise too busy. Last night I was doing laundry, loading and running the dishwasher, and taking photos and preparing some eBay listings (trying to get rid of some stuff and capture some holiday sales). I managed to shoot this picture, but it was closing in on midnight and I didn't have it in me to do the post.

This is a relatively recent addition to my collection (from eBay, of course). There are three or four companies that sell what they claim are "Swiss Army" watches. I have no idea if any one is more official than any other one, or even if such a thing as "official Swiss Army watch" exists.

I was drawn to this watch because of the simplicity of its design: the big round case, the big white numerals set against the black face, the way the bottom parts of the hands are painted black so they seem to float on the dial. I do, however, think there ought to be something printed below the center of the dial to better balance the overall appearance of the face.

Suggested retail on this watch is around $200 ($225 on a metal bracelet), but you can find them for much less. Last time I was in Kohl's, they were selling a watch like this for $90; I spent a few days looking on eBay and got this one for $45. It had been used in a store display window, but had not been worn, and came with its accompanying boxes, manual, and usual assorted paperwork.

I'm not a huge fan of the brown strap, but it will do, and it's a weird size (21 millimeters wide--watch straps are more typically an even width like 18, 20, or 22 mm) so the effort I'd have to expend to find a replacement is probably not worth my time.

Update: I went on eBay to look for a strap, just out of curiosity. Apparently one of the high-end Swiss brands makes watches that take 21 mm straps, and I found a really sharp-looking black one with red stitching.

08 December 2009

Cheese to Go

I took care of a couple of errands on the way home from work tonight, so I was a little later than usual. At North Station I switched from Green to Orange, and as I was walking across the upper level of the station, there was a table right in the middle. I thought it was one of the people who sells Celtics or Bruins stuff before games, so I breezed on by without really paying any attention. Just after I'd passed I heard the guy behind the table say, "Free cheese!"

Wait, what? There was no train coming, so I turned and circled back around to the front of the table. Free cheese is almost as good as free beer. Turned out he was handing out samples of Cabot cheese, little flat slabs in cute packages.

The one he handed me was mild cheddar, so I traded it for the "seriously sharp" variant. Having had it before, I knew I preferred it. When I got home, I ate it with some roasted-garlic flavored Triscuits. Mmmm.

07 December 2009


Still catching my breath from the weekend. New York in December may not have been the best idea. There were teeming hordes everywhere. I don't teem; it's bad for my skin. Plus it rained all day Saturday.

It was still fun, but I have to temper my enthusiasm. We viewed the Rockefeller Center tree from across Fifth Avenue in front of Saks; we couldn't get any closer because the sidewalk on the other side of the street was completely filled with people. The city had put up those metal things they use to hold people back during parades and such, and it's a good thing, because otherwise people surely would have been falling into the street.

By comparison, parts of the city that are normally kind of crazy, like Soho on a Saturday afternoon, didn't seem as bad. And we spent a very pleasant hour at the Strand Bookstore later that night, where the store was certainly busy but was still rather hushed and civilized. So it's a mater of perspective.

05 December 2009

This Week in Awesome (12/5/09)

While I'm away, I've left you some goodies to enjoy over the weekend...

For those of you who just don't know what to do with your piles of money, a compendium of outrageously expensive high-fashion holiday gifts. Don't forget who tipped you off to this valuable resource... (Refinery29 via Racked)

On the opposite end of the spectrum, and in the tradition of Look at This Fucking Hipster, we have Hipster Is the New Homeless.

And here's another video mashup for those of us of a certain age who fondly remember a cheesy 1970s sci-fi show (starring Martin Landau, no less) called Space: 1999. (TV Squad via James Lileks)

03 December 2009

Overheard: Glazed Cruller Edition

As the Orange Line train was pulling in this evening at the Massachusetts Avenue station, two guys came down the stairs and passed behind me, engrossed in a conversation. Just before I boarded, I heard one say to the other, "Remember that girl you were supposed to sleep with at the Dunkin' Donuts?"

I almost didn't get on the train so I could hear what came next, but the desire to get home won (barely). Is that some sort of secret menu item you hve to know how to ask for? Was he supposed to have sex with the girl at Dunkin' Donuts? Did she work there? Would doughnuts be involved somehow? The mind reels...

Charlie's Trip

Most people in the Boston area have at least passsing familiarity with the old folk song "Charile on the M.T.A.," but did you ever wonder how the song came to be?

On Monday the New York Times published the obituary of Bess Lomax Hawes, of the eminent Lomax family of folk-music scholars, who passed away last week. In the 1940s she performed in a folk group with Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, and later co-wrote the song (its official title is "M.T.A.") that became a hit for The Kingston Trio in 1959. But the song's origins are somewhat surprising, and if you hit that link above you can find out more.

(Related trivia: the head of our department took banjo lessons from Ms. Hawes as a boy in Los Angeles in the 1950s.)

01 December 2009

Season's Greetings

On Sunday I accompanied friends on a visit to the Enchanted Village, newly installed at Jordan's Furniture in Avon. This was largely for the benefit of a six-year-old boy whose mother is trying to instill and foster a sense of wonder and joy regarding the holiday season that is centered on more than just toys and goodies.

The Village is a throwback, a reminder of a simpler time in many ways. It was commissioned by the late Boston department store Jordan Marsh (no connection, and the source of many radio-ad jokes over the years) and was first displayed in 1958 (the link above has a somewhat more detailed history). For a lot of people of a certain age who grew up in this area (including the boy's mother), a visit to the Village was an annual tradition. I am of the right age, and I grew up in Rhode Island, which is not that far away, but I come from a family (and a state with a cultural quirk) that did not like to go far out of its way if it could be avoided, so I never experienced it.

After Macy's bought Jordan Marsh in the late 1990s, the city of Boston bought the Village, but after a few years they could no longer afford to display and operate it. Jordan's bought it at auction and restored it, and is displaying it in an effort to revive a local holiday tradition, so parents can share their memories with their own children.

So what was I doing there? I'm not a parent, and I don't even like kids all that much. Why would I stand in line for 90 minutes (!) to look at a bunch of mechanically "animated" figures in scenes that look like Norman Rockwell paintings and would have been considered quaint when first shown over 50 years ago? Curiosity, mostly. Obviously, people have fond memories of the Enchanted Village and feel a strong connection to it, and even if I missed out on the experience when I was young, I can still appreciate its spirit. I don't think I need to go back and see it again, but now I can say I've seen it.

Of course, the Village was also a marketing tool for Jordan Marsh, just as it is for Jordan's Furniture today. Even so, people who experienced the Village as children identify with it on that level, just as we all identify with other seasonal traditions that have nothing to do with gifts. I enjoy giving and receiving gifts as much as anyone, but it's important to remember that this time of year is about much more than that.

In my own family, decorating the house inside and out was a ritual nearly on the level of going to church. It's what people mean when they refer to the "spirit of the season." It's that feeling I get when, heading home from work in the dark of December, I get off the bus and I can see decorated houses lit up all the way down my street. We want to share that warmth with others.

[So, since it's December first, is it okay for me to plug in the holiday lights I have strung on my cubicle?]

This weekend, we're going to New York (yes, again) with the same friends. We're going to take the boy to see the tree at Rockefeller Center (something I've never done, so I'm looking forward to it), and we're going to walk along Fifth Avenue and look at the holiday displays in the store windows, and all the lights and decorations, and we're going to love it. Except maybe the Mrs.--she's kind of a Scrooge where the holidays are concerned. But we're working on her.

30 November 2009

This Week in Awesome: Bonus Bit

This clip should have gone into the weekend post, but I forgot to go find it after watching The Soup last Friday night. Pretty clever in a "Why didn't I think of this?" way.

29 November 2009

This Week in Awesome (11/29/09)

Holiday week, everything's off schedule, and I only have a couple of things, but a couple is better than none...

The Muppets do a cool cover of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." (YouTube via TV Squad)

This is from last week, but it's still amusing: some of the letters in a Queens hospital's sign were burned out, leaving an uncannily appropriate sequence of letters. (New York Times City Room blog)

28 November 2009

Style File: Boots

Yesterday is a blur... of nothingness. I was home all day, I did some laundry, I walked the dog, and that's about it. We did venture out last night for a couple of hours, but not for Black Friday shopping. It was more for errandy stuff.

I wandered into an Old Navy for a few minutes while waiting for the Mrs. There was a sign on the window that said "Everything in the store is on sale." I guess that's a good thing for some people, but since I can't get my gray undershirts there anymore, it didn't help me. And of course, the checkout lines were ridiculous. (What is it about that store? There can be three people shopping in the whole place, and you head up to the checkout and it takes ten minutes.)

Anyway, this is the post I was planning to do yesterday: fall is boot season. (Maybe not if you have to wear suits to work, although there are options that work for that.) I think I inherited my affinity for boots from my father, who was a motorcycle cop. He wore tall boots with breeches, always shined to perfection.

When I was getting ready to go to college, we went over to the local shoe repair place. The proprietor carried a small selection of boots, and I bought a pair of waterproof, insulated Herman Survivors, which were that wheat-yellow color that later became so popular. I didn't realize I was ahead of the curve at the time; I was just looking for winter protection. I had them for more than 20 years, and when I eventually donated them to a winter clothing drive, they still had useful life in them.

In the 80s I had an amazing pair of Zodiac boots that I bought at Urban Outfitters. They had pointy toes and angled heels like Beatle boots, and a thin strap that went all the way around with a buckle decoration. I wore them for years and years. I had them resoled a couple of times, to the point that the leather and padding under the sole inside had also worn away. At that point I had to get rid of them. Recently I saw a pair of the exact same style on eBay, but not big enough to fit me now. And I'm not sure I'd want them now anyway; they belong to my youth.

But I have plenty of other boots. Back at the beginning of the decade, you could get quality, Italian-made shoes at Banana Republic and J. Crew for very reasonable money, and they typically went on sale at the end of the season. That's how I got these great side-zip boots.

They were originally $150, but by the time I came across them at J. Crew they had been marked down to $100 and then again to $70. Usually by that point only the very small and very large sizes are left, but they had a good selection. I was working at Trader Joe's at the time and not making much, but I couldn't pass them up. Now, though, they don't fit so well anymore, so I'll probably be putting them on eBay. I tend to be more comfortable in wide shoes, and I think that's why. These only came in medium width, which is typical of J. Crew shoes. Now their $150 shoes are made in China, and they're making a big deal about a new group of styles that are made in Italy, and sell for $300.

Another style I've been wearing for some time is this work boot from Caterpillar (made by Wolverine under license). I got my first pair about ten years ago, and after I'd worn them to the point that they were no longer appropriate to wear to work, I relegated them to outside duty for things like snow shoveling and got this new pair. Because they are intended to be used as work shoes, they are very comfortable to wear for long periods, but these don't have steel toes so they are not as heavy as some others. (The logos are conveniently covered by my pants.) I like these so much, I got another pair in a different color:

A few years ago I was seized with the urge to get a pair of motorcycle boots. I must have seen them in a store somewhere, or maybe in a magazine. The decision came down to a choice between engineer-style and harness-style. I went with harness, mainly because of the more distinctive squared toe, which is called a "snip toe." Marlon Brando I'm not, but these are rugged and look good, and they are made in the USA.

Recently I had another of those urges, but this time for a Chelsea boot. I didn't want one that was especially dressy (this is what I was getting at above, to wear with a suit) because I don't dress dressy that often. Timberland (a company whose shoes I generally don't pay much attention to) has a nice style that is waterproof, runs wide, and has a lightweight, flexible rubber sole. I tried them on at a Timberland store, but I didn't care for their color choices. The brown was too dark, and the tan was weird--it looked too orange.

Later I found the same style online in a rich, beautiful darker tan that, for whatever reason, the Timberland stores and web site don't carry, so I ordered them. They arrived damaged--one of the leather pulls was torn completely off the boot at one end--and of course, when I went to return them for an exchange, they no longer had any left in my size. More than a month later, they still don't. But a couple of weeks ago, I found this pair of Cole Haans on eBay:

They are similar to the Timberlands, though the leather is a little darker and they are just a bit dressier overall. They have leather soles, but whoever had them before had rubber caps put on the soles and heels, and then didn't wear them. I had seen these in DSW for around $160 (from an original retail of $250) and thought that was too much; I ended up paying less than half of the DSW price, and still significantly less than what the Timberlands cost.

But what about when it gets cold? Around here you have to be prepared. The Caterpillar boots are surprisingly cozy, even though they are not insulated. They also are not waterproof. (I really need to invest in a decent product to prolong the life of my shoes and make them more weather-resistant.) When it gets down below 30 degrees or so, they aren't warm enough. I used to have a pair of insulated Orvis boots that I bought from Sierra Trading Post, but my feet were always cold when I was outside waiting for the bus, and then when I'd get to work they would be too warm, so I gave up on them a couple of winters back.

If it's cold but dry, I have these Banana Republic boots with a shearling lining that I got a couple of winters back at an after-Christmas sale for around 1/3 of their original price. Made in Italy, too. They are slightly "distressed," which I wasn't crazy about, but for the price I was willing to overlook it.

For seriously bad weather, I bought these Chippewa pull-on boots that are waterproof and heavily insulated. This was more about practicality than anything else (a pull-on boot is easier to deal with than a tall boot with long laces), but they look good enough that I can keep them on when I get to work.

26 November 2009

Watch Wednesday/Thursday (11/26/09)

It's still Wednesday night somewhere, right? (I think it's the reverse; it's already Friday morning somewhere...)

Okay, let's get serious. This is an Omega Seamaster De Ville automatic from somewhere in the early 1960s. I don't know the exact year, but I'm sure there's a way to date it from its serial number. I like to think it's from 1963, the year I was born.

Vintage Omega watches are not as popular (or as expensive) as Rolex and some other brands, but they made plenty of interesting watches with quality movements. I acquired this one back in 2001; at the time it was a pretty good deal, but now it's unlikely I would be able to afford a comparable watch.

I think what makes this watch distinctive are the cross-hair lines on the dial. The Accutron Deep Sea also has them, and it's a small detail that elevates a classy but otherwise plain design. I've seen other Omegas that are otherwise the same but don't have the cross-hairs, and they just don't look as nice.

I apologize for the awful picture, but I'm in the midst of getting ready to leave for the day and I don't have enough time to fuss with lots of pictures. I'll try to post a better one tomorrow.

Update: I think this picture is better.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

25 November 2009

The Next Few Days

Programming may be light for the next few days. I'm off work today, but I have a bunch of things I need to do, and we're busy tonight too; there will be a watch post later tonight, I promise.

Tomorrow I'm heading down to Rhode Island, but only for the day. The Mrs. has to work tomorrow and Friday, so it's easier if I don't stay overnight. I am working on something (hopefully) interesting for Friday though.

Oh, and here's my annual anti-Black Friday pitch: stay home. If you absolutely need to shop, there's this thing called the internet, and there will be plenty of deals there. Plus it's going to rain (where I live, anyway). My plan for Friday: eat junk food and watch TV.

23 November 2009

Two Left (and Two Right) Feet

For the past couple of months, I've been selling some of my excess stuff on eBay. Most of it is clothing and shoes, with a couple of messenger-type bags and a couple of watches that I no longer wear. There are some things I've bought on eBay that didn't quite work out for one reason or other, and the best thing to do is to turn it over again to someone else. Often I make only a few bucks on each auction, but after a dozen or so sales it accumulates to a respectable amount of money.

Due to the amount of time involved in setting up an auction--taking decent pictures, writing a good description, posting the information, answering questions, packing the items and shipping them to the winning bidders--I tend to post only one or two auctions at a time on a sort of rolling schedule, one new auction every couple of days or so, so that I am not completely overwhelmed by the process.

Last week I sold a pair of adidas sneakers to a guy out in California. To maintain my ranking as a trustworthy seller, I make the effort to ship the winning bidder's item the next day. It's easy enough for me to stop at the Milk Street post office, which closes at 6, on my way home from work (I used to stop in the Prudential Center, but they cut back their hours and now close too early). I usually pack the item and get it ready the night before, but for some reason this time I didn't, so in the morning I had to scramble to find a shoebox-sized box and some packing material. (Given the amount of stuff I buy, I have amassed a substantial stash of boxes and packing supplies in the basement that comes in handy for this.)

Yesterday I got an email from the buyer: I sent him the wrong sneakers. I had two pairs of adidas sitting next to each other in their boxes, and I posted the auction for the second pair a couple of days before the first auction ended. In doing so I mixed up the boxes, and because I was in a hurry I didn't bother to look at the shoebox before enclosing it in the outer box.

Sending him the correct pair is the easy part. I had a few people watching the other auction, but no bids yet. Thinking it would take too much time for him to send the shoes back to me, I asked him if he would be willing to send the "wrong" shoes to the winning bidder if I reimbursed him for the postage. He replied that he could do that, but then he offered to buy the other pair. Under the circumstances it was the easiest solution, and even though I'm probably not making any money on this situation, I guess I'm lucky he liked those other shoes too.

22 November 2009

Gray Area

I have a small crisis on my hands, and I spent a good portion of my free time this week trying unsuccessfully to deal with it.

Old Navy has stopped carrying the gray undershirts I've been buying for years. I don't know when exactly this happened, because I haven't paid attention in several months. But about a week ago, I was folding my laundry when I noticed that some of my gray Ts were looking kind of old, and then I wore one to work and the neck got all stretched out of shape during the day, so I figured it was time to replace some of them.

I took a look online and saw that they had only white, where they used to also have gray and black. This launched me on a search, both online and in stores, for suitable replacements, and so far I'm not really having any luck with it, but I'm running out of places to look.

I'm not even sure why this happened. Used to be, almost every store had something like what I'm after, but now no one seems to. I've tried every store I can think of, except for places like Saks that sell ridiculously overpriced underwear by the likes of Armani. Yesterday I found a two-pack of gray Tommy Hilfiger T-shirts at Macy's for $20, which is twice what the Old Navy shirts cost. Hanes, Fruit of the Loom, Jockey--all the usual suspects have nothing available. I've checked Marshalls and Kohl's, and even places like Sears--nothing.

I have a couple of options: Old Navy sells individual gray T-shirts in a slightly heavier fabric which are currently priced at two for $15, but I have some of these that I bought a few months ago when they were three for $15, so I'd rather wait and see if that deal comes around again, especially with Christmas approaching. Target sells something similar for $5 each, but the sleeves are longer than typically found on undershirts, and they stick out of short sleeves. Fine for the cooler months, but no good when warmer weather comes back around.

I did find a site that sells American Apparel shirts for about half of their usual retail price. The company's president and founder has a reputation as something of a creepy sleazebag, but I have to give him credit for building a manufacturing business in the United States that pays its employees a living wage and provides them with health benefits, so maybe that's the way to go. I've also found some gray Hanes T-shirts on the Kmart web site, but they are not sold in stores so I'd have to get them shipped, but they are a much better deal than the American Apparel shirts: currently a four-pack is $9 before shipping.

This is such a silly, trivial thing, bit it does serve to remind me of the value of buying and stockpiling things that may not be needed until several years down the road, because you can't rely on them always being available.

21 November 2009

This Week in Awesome (11/21/09)

Busy day, didn't have time to post these this morning...

For your upcoming holiday parties, this product is all kinds of multiculturally festive. (Oriental Trading Company via Unlikely Words)

Here's a clever flow chart to help you figure out what to eat when you're on the road. (Eating the Road via Grub Street)

And, in the vein and spirit of People of Walmart, the inevitable People of Public Transit. (Universal Hub)

19 November 2009

New Wave Flashback

My monthly deadline has been met, so I can return to the land of the blogging. This afternoon while working I was listening to the 1980 DEVO album Freedom of Choice, which I've always thought was their best. I remembered that when the album came out, the band made an appearance on the ABC late-night show Fridays (which was a short-lived attempt to emulate the success of Saturday Night Live) that I saw.

I wondered if there might be video of that appearance floating around on the web, and sure enough, a quick look at YouTube found it. So, please to enjoy... (There are two songs, and in the first one, "Girl U Want," the video appears choppy at times, but having seen the original broadcast, I can say that it was done this way on purpose.)

17 November 2009

Where's That Bus?

Last week, the state's Department of Transportation announced a pilot program to release real-time location data (from GPS transmitters) for buses on the MBTA's five busiest routes. Within a couple of days, an enterprising programmer by the name of Joe Shaw had written a program that embeds this information in a Google map. Well done, Joe.

Well, imagine that: the T gets half a clue. I first had the idea that this would be useful years ago while standing at a bus stop one cold winter morning, though I didn't share it in this space until a bit over two years ago. Admittedly, at the time I was still thinking of it too narrowly, in the form of a system that would disseminate the information via some sort of readout affixed to bus stop sign poles. Clearly that's a terrible idea relative to a system that puts the information in front of you right before you leave your home or office or, even better, puts it in the palm of your hand while you're standing at the bus stop.

For the moment the service is limited to just the five routes, which were chosen because they are the most heavily used in the system. That makes perfect sense to me, and I can even take advantage of it because one of the routes is the 39, which I sometimes use when heading home from work. And you iPhone users don't even have to download an app, because Joe has made the information available on a simple web page.

16 November 2009

Pretty Hype Machine

"So, I heard there's some movie about vampires coming out this week?"

"Oh god, please make it go away..."

That was a little (over)dramatization of the two sides of my brain fighting with each other in a valiant struggle to ignore the revving engine of the Twilight/New Moon hype machine. This is not easy, believe me, because as I'm sure you've noticed, the coverage is frickin' EVERYWHERE.

And the bad news is, there are two more books in the series (with more to come, if the author has any sort of sense), and they plan to make and release movies based on them on more or less a yearly schedule, so that means we have at least two more years of this to endure. At least...

Now, don't misunderstand me. I like vampire stuff. I cut my horror teeth on the Saturday afternoon "Creature Double Feature" on channel 56, which had its share of schlocky vampire movies. On Halloween night the Mrs. and I watched The Hunger, which is a rather sexy twist on the vampire myth. The brilliant Buffy The Vampire Slayer is among my all-time favorite TV shows. Vampire stories of all kinds are pervasive, and they've been part of the cultural vernacular for centuries.

So what's the problem? Well first, the target audience for these particular books and movies is teenage girls. I know this because I read reviews, and because the media coverage is heavily weighted toward young ladies screaming and swooning over the two pretty, hunky dudes who star in the movies. The young lady seems to get less attention, and in the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly, she doesn't even look all that happy in the photo spread, like she'd rather be somewhere else. (I read that she's been cast as Joan Jett in a biopic about The Runaways, which may better suit her sulky mien.)

Second, and probably more important, an all-consuming hype machine tends to have a repelling effect on me. The bigger it is, the less likely I am to be interested in it. I don't do this to be contrarian (though that's a sometimes beneficial side effect); it's just who I am.

In the case of the Twilight saga, at least after the movie opens, the roar dies down for a few months, until it's time for the DVD release, then another few months until the next movie opens.

14 November 2009

This Week in Awesome (11/14/09)

I'm up a bit earlier than usual for a Saturday, but the coffee's hot and it's raining outside, so I'd rather be posting TWiA.

More weird products... this one is in the vein of the Snuggie, but is more, um, inclusive? (Consumerist)

As you know, I think Twitter is a stupid waste of time. But this guy has it figured out. I really should have tipped all of you off to this a while ago. Now he's gone and gotten himself a sitcom deal. I can't imagine the show will be any good, but I'm also worried that the twits will go downhill as well. (News article: Hollywood Reporter via TV Squad; original twit clue-in: Dave Rationale)

Here's a nice little commercial parody that popped up this week. (Back of the Class via Sex and the Ivy via Universal Hub)

For those of you suffering, like me, until next summer when Mad Men returns, here's a compilation clip of some of Roger Sterling's one-liners. The clip describes them as "complete," but it's more like a smattering. (New York Magazine's Vulture blog)

And one more Mad Men parody, a good one too. (Atom Films via Entertainment Weekly's PopWatch blog)

12 November 2009

More Substitutions

After my shirt story from a couple of weeks ago (and no, I did not for a second consider saying "shirt tale," you weirdos), I realized that I'd recently had another similar experience. You want to see how obsessed I can get about clothes? Read on...

A few months back I came across a guys' style blog out of Vancouver called On The Daily (which has since changed its name to Inventory Updates). Their tastes run to a lot of obscure, very expensive Japanese labels influenced by classic American workwear that are typically available only in Japan, but they're also into a lot of basic, classic made-in-America stuff like Filson coats and Red Wing boots that I could appreciate.

Reading through some of the older posts, I learned that they had a web store, and they'd had some cool oxford cloth shirts made just for them in a collaboration with Pennsylvania shirtmaker Gitman Bros. The shirts were available in white, gray, and red. When I saw the red one I flipped out. I'd been looking for an oxford cloth shirt in this exact color for a long time, but I'd kind of given up, figuring that no one was bothering to make anything like it. The gray oxford was pretty nice-looking too. I don't wear a lot of solid color shirts (I tend toward stripes and plaids), but these were very nicely done and I could see wearing them with a tweed vest, of which I have a couple.

The shirts had been produced in very limited quantities and had gone on sale months before I'd discovered their site, so of course they were sold out. Even if they'd had any left, they were $150, which is an awful lot of money to even consider spending on a shirt. I was also a bit wary of how the shirt might fit, since it seemed like they were cut on the slim side. Near the end of August I saw a post saying the red shirt was back in stock, but when I clicked over to their store it had already sold out again (it looked like I'd missed it by about an hour). The same thing happened a few days later with the gray shirt. I figured this was a message from the universe that I was better off not having to face the temptation.

Then the Mrs. and I went to New York near the end of September, and made our now-customary trip to Uniqlo in Soho, eager to check out their fall offerings (our previous visits to the store had been in early spring and summer months). They stock dress shirts year-round, but I was more interested in what they might have in the way of long-sleeved casual shirts. I came across oxford cloth shirts that were made of a much heavier fabric than a typical oxford, but were also very soft. They had them in white, blue, pink, and what do you know, gray:

I already have a pink one and didn't want a blue one, so I got the gray and a white one, since I didn't have one and they were only $19.50 each. (Yes, you read that right. That's one of the reasons I love Uniqlo so much. A similar shirt would be $40 or $45 at the Gap and would never be of such a nice, substantial fabric.) I left the store happy, and hoping Uniqlo would add additional colors down the road, maybe some stripes.

A few weeks later I was still thinking about the red oxford, but I hadn't seen anything comparable except for a shirt at J. Crew that was more of a brick red that wasn't doing anything for me. One Sunday the Mrs. said she wanted to go to Kohl's and I went along. Kohl's is a store I don't bother with much, but I have bought the occasional pair of jeans or khakis there, so I typically do a quick once-around and then go see what the Mrs is looking at.

Kohl's carries a lot of clothing by Chaps, which was a low-end brand started by Ralph Lauren back in the 1970s before Polo got big. A lot of people seem to be under the impression that it still has a connection to RL, but they unloaded it years ago and probably wish it never existed. The clothes are inexpensive and look it, generally made of poly/cotton blends and not of particularly good quality, but they usually have one slightly nicer collection of all-cotton items each season, and I have a plaid Chaps shirt (that I got at Kohl's a couple of years ago) that works fine for the office, so I stopped for a look.

All of a sudden I see... a red oxford cloth shirt. I thought I must have been seeing it wrong from a distance, but when I got close to it I saw that's indeed what it was. They wanted around $30 for it, which just wasn't worth it to me. But for kicks, I looked on eBay when I got home and found someone selling one, in my size, new with tags, for $15, so I bought it.

(Just as a point of reference, that's 10% of the cost of the one from the Canadian guys, and while that shirt had some nice little details and I know that it's of much better quality, I would just feel way too guilty spending that much on one shirt.)

There's only one problem: the shirts from Chaps that are 100% cotton usually have an ugly embroidered logo, and as you all know by now, I can't stand logos.

But I figure that if I wear it under a vest or sweater, no one's going to know. At some point, though, I'm probably going to want to wear it on its own. I may try removing the embroidery, but I know that can end up leaving holes in the fabric. If I want to venture into really obsessive territory, I can wait until the end of the season and pick up another of the shirts on clearance, and have the Mrs. use it to make me a new, plain pocket. She rolled her eyes at this and shook her head in exasperation, but she also likes a challenge, and she admitted she could do it.

11 November 2009

Watch Wednesday (11/11/09)

What's this? A Watch Wednesday post--on Wednesday? Why, it's a miracle... or not. You can thank the powers that be for giving me the day off and thus allowing me the time to do this when it's supposed to be done.

This is the last of my three Casio analog watches, and perhaps the most interesting. I got sucked into this one because of its technology. It's called a Wave Ceptor, and it receives time signals (on a radio frequency of some sort) several times a day, calibrated to the NIST atomic clock in Boulder, CO. Pretty heavy stuff, but also pretty cool. It requires a little fussing with those buttons on the sides to set it to the correct time zone, but when that's done it's fun to watch the hands move on their own to the correct time. Because of its accuracy, I use this watch as a baseline for setting my other watches and keeping track of their accuracy.

Once again, this watch came with a cheap, uncomfortable resin strap--pretty much the norm for any Casio that isn't on a metal bracelet--so I replaced it, but again it was a quick and cheap fix and I don't really like this strap either. I found one I'd like to replace it with, but it's been out of stock for some time, so i don't know if that's going to work out.

I think this watch also has features like an alarm and a stopwatch, but to be honest, I haven't bothered to try to figure out how to do anything else with it other than set it to the correct time zone. It didn't come with instructions because it was some sort of store display model, so I downloaded them from Casio, but they're kind of difficult to understand. I'll take another crack at it some time.

10 November 2009

This Morning's Observations

On the bus this morning I ended up sitting next to T-Mobile guy. I noticed a couple of things about him that I hadn't before:

He always carries a duffel bag, but I had never gotten a close look at it until today. It's made of black vinyl or pleather or something like that, in a cylindrical shape, and the ends of the bag are Volkswagen hubcaps, presumably from a vintage Beetle. For real.

Also, he was using an iPhone. This means that he's either got an AT&T account that he pays for in addition to (I would assume) a free or subsidized T-Mobile account, or he has a jailbroken iPhone that he's using on the T-Mobile network.

I realize that none of you care about these things, and that's fine. I just can't help but notice and comment on them.

09 November 2009

Shut The Door. Have A Seat.

The third season finale of Mad Men was very satisfying, and showed once again just how great the show is, and why. (Spoilers, if you haven't seen it yet...)

Most of the focus of the story was back on the business, the agency, the partners, something that many people, including me, felt the show hadn't spent enough time on this season, so it was nice to have some of that sense of balance back. I predicted this outcome back at the beginning of the season, though it was a statement that only the Mrs. heard, and her recall is not always the best, so I have no way to back it up and you'll just have to trust me.

It was good to see Don have to humble himself a bit and admit that he needs people like Pete, Peggy, and even Lane around because they are good at things he isn't. Don has certainly been taken down a few pegs this season, both at home and at work, but it was also good to see him be the one stepping up to convince Bert and Roger that they needed to act to preserve the business they have all worked hard at for a long time.

And Lane--who saw that one coming? Sure, he was acting in his own self-interest as much as anything else, and the others couldn't have pulled off their little stunt without him, but he seems to have come around to a greater appreciation of his American colleagues, and saw that ultimately he would be treated better by them than by his own people. Loved his kiss-off to his boss in London ("Happy Christmas!") and to his smarmy assistant.

Pete may be good at client relationships, but he's still a clueless, utterly self-absorbed child (he thought Roger and Don had come to his apartment--on a Friday night--to fire him because he'd gone on an interview at a competing agency), and I imagine he will continue to be all those things. On the flip side, I think Peggy still needs to become a little more self-aware; she needs to realize that being with Duck isn't going to get her anywhere.

It's wonderful to see Joan back in the fold and taking charge of things like she always did. Unfortunately, I don't think we're going to be seeing Sal again, since the tobacco company was the key account they needed to make the move, but I'd like to be wrong about this. If not, I'll miss his wit and style. It appears that Paul and Ken were also left out in the cold, but we may still see them again next season--part of the fun of getting wrapped up in this show is speculating about what will happen in the future.

Some people seem surprised that the Drapers are really going to get divorced, but I believe it was inevitable. If you think about it, how families coped (or didn't) with familial strife and the changes it wrought is as important an element of the sociocultural environment of the 1960s as civil rights, Vietnam, the changing role of media in people's lives, or any of the show's other major themes. Showing the effects of the split on Don, Betty, and the kids is going to be a significant part of the show's storytelling next season and beyond.

I was wrong about my Miss Farrell prediction. Will Don take up with the free-spirited teacher again now that he's going to be a swingin' bachelor in the city? Or will she no longer interest him when there's no illicit allure to their liaisons? And I really don't get what Betty sees in Henry. You have to figure he's not quite the white knight he appears to be.

So much to mull over and discuss. Now comes the hard part: waiting the nine months or so for season four.

07 November 2009

This Week in Awesome (11/7/09)

Sorry for the delay in posting this, but we had some unanticipted drama today: the Mrs. took the dog to a greyhound open house for some dog socializing, but one of the other dogs up for adoption bit our dog, and our regular vet was closed, so we had to take the dog to Angell Memorial for treatment. She's still a little groggy and refused food (!), but she should be fine in a few days.

Now, let's look at some stuff on the internet... Unlike last week's ill-chosen parking lot clip, it's okay to go ahead and chuckle at this forklift driver's misfortune. Mmm, schadenfreude. (Gizmodo)

Ford has a solution for people who need a car but can't afford one. (Onion News Network via Jalopnik)

There are a couple of movie mashup clips making the rounds. This first one takes a rather literal approach to some famous lines from the movies (you'll see what I mean)... (VideoGum via The Awl)

...while the second blends in bits from TV shows, and gets an assist from Auto-Tune. (YouTube via Waxy.org via Unlikely Words)

And I leave you with a mashup of a different sort: Kristen Wiig reads the poetry of a famous person. (Best Week Ever via TV Squad)

06 November 2009


It's already time for the third season finale of Mad Men, which airs this Sunday night, November 8th. The waits between seasons are tough, but I don't think I'd want them to do more than 13 episodes a season. I think it's better to produce a season of a show (not just Mad Men, but any show, really) that's as good as can be and leaves the audience wanting more. This past spring and summer, FX aired a 22-episode season of Rescue Me, and while I thought it was one of the show's better seasons overall, it felt a little stretched out and overlong by the time the end rolled around.

One of the quirks surrounding the production of Mad Men is the terse, obtuse episode descriptions that deliberately give almost no information about what's going to happen in a given week's episode. These blurbs, which appear in listings and accompany DVR recordings, always pull out the most minuscule and unimportant bits of information, or understate more significant developments.

For example (this is gonna get kinda spoilery), for last season's episode "The Mountain King" the blurb says, "Don meets up with an old friend." Technically that was true, but (a) it was during his business trip in LA when he abandoned his work and literally disappeared for weeks, and (b) that "old friend" was his fake ex-wife. Or from this season's episode "Souvenir": "Pete helps a neighbor." Sure, Pete helped the neighbor's au pair deal with a stained dress that belonged to her employer, but then he also helped himself to the au pair, so I guess by "helps" they meant "drunkenly forces himself upon." See?

The same vagueness and misdirection extends to the little preview clips at the end of each episode. These are always disjointed assemblages of moments from the upcoming show that have nothing to do with each other, and are sequenced in such a way that they suggest Something Big is going to happen, but it's deliberately misleading: what they portend is never what actually ends up happening.

Clearly show creator/executive producer Matt Weiner keeps a very firm hand on exactly what information is revealed about each week's episode, and I suspect that if it was entirely up to him, the blurbs would contain nothing more than the episode titles, and there would be no preview clips at all.

Before seasons two and three began, there was much speculation as to how much time would have passed on the show. (This info usually ends up being revealed a few days before the season premiere by critics who have received review copies of the first episode.)

But even from week to week, we don't always know how much time has passed. Two episodes ago it was Halloween 1963, and then we saw at the beginning of last week's show that Roger Sterling's daughter Margaret's wedding had not yet taken place; early on in the season we'd seen the invitation with the date of November 23rd, so we knew it was somewhere between those two dates, but it wasn't until the scene in Harry's office, with the TV on in the corner, that we knew it was That Day, the one we'd been anticipating the show's treatment of all season.

And it was brilliantly done: Harry turned down the TV so he and Pete could talk seriously, as we the viewers saw the bulletin appear on the screen and could just barely make out the voice of Walter Cronkite, but the two of them were paying no attention to it until the door flew open and a bunch of people burst into Harry's office to commandeer the TV.

But rather than finding all this annoying, I find it endearing. I appreciate the show's commitment to building some anticipation for the episodes, and I applaud their restraint and secrecy, unlike some other networks (cough *NBC* cough) that are in the habit of giving away far too many details about upcoming shows in their promo ads.

And you know what? It works. I time-shift just about all of my TV watching, but on Sunday nights I try to watch Mad Men live, because I just don't want to wait until the next evening to see what happens. In fact, since the Mrs. goes to sleep rather early, I usually end up watching the episodes again with her on Monday evenings. And I usually go back later and watch the whole season again.

At the end of last week's episode, I was expecting AMC to show the usual batch of incongruous and unrelated snippets from the upcoming finale. Instead we got this clip, which is a rehash of things that have already happened this season. How's that for not giving anything away? And the blurb reads: "Don has an important meeting with Connie [that's Conrad Hilton, a client]. Betty receives some advice. Pete talks to his clients." We know what those things mean, but we don't know what the outcomes will be. I imagine critics won't be getting any advance copies of this episode.

Good thing the Patriots-Colts prime-time game is next week, but if I had to choose, I'd watch the Mad Men finale and record the game.

05 November 2009

Last Week in Pinhead

In last Saturday's TWiA, I linked to a video clip of an SUV suddenly accelerating and climbing up onto another car, kinda sorta crushing it, then driving away.

I realized, too late, that including this clip might be sending the wrong message. I do not think what the BMW driver did in this footage is awesome. I think it was cowardly and despicable. My only excuse is that I was taken in by the fact that you don't see this sort of automotive gymnastics every day, but really, I should have known better.

Yesterday I read that the owner of the blue Hyundai that was the unfortunate victim of the parking problem was given a new car by Hyundai Canada, which is certainly a happier ending.

03 November 2009

TV Fatigue

You may recall that back in September I did a fall TV season preview. At the time I talked about a couple of promising new sci-fi shows on ABC, FlashForward and V. FlashForward has been on for about six weeks now, and V premieres tonight. So this is the point I should be telling you how good FlashForward is, and that you should plan to watch V because it's also really good. But I'm not going to do either.

I recorded the first five episodes of FlashForward before I ever watched a minute of it; it was only because the Mrs. was working on a sewing project one night last week that I found myself in front of the TV alone and decided to finally check out the pilot (she'd made it clear she wasn't interested in the show). After watching it, I went back and forth for days about whether or not I wanted to keep going with it, and yesterday I decided to delete the unwatched episodes and cancel the season pass from the TiVo.

Which is not to say it isn't any good. I have heard that some critics, after seeing a few episodes, don't think it's living up to the promise of its pilot, but I really didn't get far enough into it to form an opinion either way. Right now I just don't feel up to the task of keeping up with another show every week, and I figured it was better to cut the cord before getting any deeper into the show's overarching mysteries.

Normally I will give a new show at least four or five episodes before deciding whether or not I consider it a keeper, and that may continue to be the case with future shows, but at this moment I just can't muster the energy to care about FlashForward. If any of you are watching it, I'd love to hear what you think.

The reviews for V that I've read have generally been quite favorable; if anything, it sounds like a better show than FlashForward, but again, I'm not sure that's enough to draw me in. The mitigating factor here is that, if I decide not to watch it and later change my mind, I can catch up online.

The bottom line is that I believe it's only possible to handle regular watching of a certain number of shows at a time. Even someone like me who loves TV has to have a limit, and I find that there is always one show that settles to the bottom of the TiVo queue that we end up having to catch up on later. We are watching two new shows this fall, but both are comedies: Modern Family on ABC and Community on NBC. Sitcoms are much easier to digest, because you can watch one in 20 minutes if you skip the commercials.

Elsewhere in TV land, if you're a fan of the CSI franchise, you probably already know about the three-part crossover coming up next week. If you're like me and only watch the Thursday show (which I like to refer to as "CSI: Original Recipe"), you'll probably want to be home on Monday and Wednesday nights for the Miami and New York editions of the show, or set your recording device, because the case is going to carry across all three shows next week, and Laurence Fishburne's Ray Langston is going to appear in all of them. At least the producers and writers had the decency to structure the story so that it starts on Monday and concludes on Thursday.

02 November 2009

That Was Intense

(I had originally intended to post this during October, so it's not quite as on-target as it might have been, but I'm going to forge ahead anyway...)

25 years ago this autumn, I first became acquainted with a movie that came to mean a great deal to me: Repo Man. Directed by Alex Cox, the twisted, dark-hunored, low-budget punk/sci-fi satire quickly became one of my favorite movies, and it still is.

According to IMDB, Repo Man premiered in May of 1984, and the Boston Globe archives show a review from July (which I unfortunately can't read or link to because they still expect people to pay for access to their archives), but I became aware of it after returning to school in the fall, and I first saw it at the Nickelodeon Cinema near campus (now gone) at the beginning of October.

It's long enough ago now that I don't remember who I saw it with the first time, but I do remember that it made such an impression on me that, for the rest of the month of October, I convinced different groups of people to see it with me every Saturday night. I ultimately saw the movie more than a dozen times, and of course I own the DVD (a gift from a fellow admirer).

What I loved most about it was its attitude, the perfectly encapsulated gleeful nihilism expressed in lines like, "The more you drive, the less intelligent you are" and "Ordinary fuckin' people... I hate 'em." And also, it was sort of about the cars, which made it automatically of interest to me.

A couple of months ago, the car-nut site Jalopnik did an interview with Cox, which was what triggered the idea to write this. The interview is mostly about the cars used in the movie (no surprise on a car site), but it's also revealed that there is a sort-of non-sequel on the way: Repo Chick, according to IMDB, is scheduled for a 2010 release. I can't imagine how it can possibly live up to its antecedent, but I'll go see it anyway. "Let's go get a drink!"

31 October 2009

This Week in Awesome (10/31/09)

Happy Halloween, everybody. I'm going to eschew the obvious and not do a Halloween-themed post, because we've all had about enough of it by now, right? I mean, Halloween is fun, but everything is so overdone these days that it's hard not to get sick of it. Just go buy some 50% off candy.

I was originally heading toward a completely different theme this week, but I decided it wasn't really viable in this context. So, onward... (BTW, all this week's links are video clips.)

This motorist had a slight parking problem that was captured by what seems to be a security camera. Funny, unless it happens to you. (YouTube via BoingBoing)

A mashup of sorts, comedically combining crime-fighting and tasteless fashion. I like this, and hope they do more with it. (Funny or Die)

Finally, see what happens when funny lady Amy Sedaris visits funny lady Chelsea Handler's show. It gets a bit, un, clinical, though not in a raunchy way, and Chelsea seems a bit taken aback at first, but really, what would you expect from these two? (YouTube)

30 October 2009

Smoke Signals

Another day, another incident with an ignorant smoker. I had intended to write about something much lighter and fun today, and maybe I'll still do that later, but I'm still so angry about this I need to vent.

The bus stop near my house is generally smoke-free, but occasionally someone lights up while waiting. Generally they have the decency to stand where their smoke isn't going to bother anyone. But there's one woman who clearly doesn't care, and she arrived just after me this morning, and her noxious cloud arrived a couple of seconds later.

I stepped over to her and asked her if she would move to where the smoke would not waft toward the rest of us. She just stood there and acted like she hadn't heard me. Bad sign, right there. I raised my voice and said, "What are you going to do, just stand there and ignore me?" She retorted with, "This is a public sidewalk, right?" (That comment suggests to me that she's had this type of encounter before.) "I'm standing away from everyone else."

I tried again. "You're not standing far enough away, and the wind is carrying the smoke right past the rest of us. If you would just go and stand on the other side of the group..."

She turned to the others. There were maybe three or four other people, though none of the people who are usually waiting at the same time were there today. "Is this bothering any of you?" They all just stood there, and no one else said anything. She gave me a look that said fuck you, I win.

(By the way, big thanks to my fellow commuters there. Way to step up and do the right thing.)

Not seeing any other viable option, I moved back from the curb, and the bus arrived a minute or so later. But I'm absolutely livid about this woman's selfishness and disrespect for other people. In my experience, people who smoke are by nature somewhat less concerned with others, otherwise why would they inflict their exhaust on the rest of us? But this was jerkage on a higher level. This was willful disregard for my discomfort.

When I find myself in such situations, I always approach the person calmly, with initial respect, and try to make an appeal to their sense of common decency. If it's an open, outdoor area with no specific prohibition posted, I will only ask a person to move rather than put out the cigarette. But I think this is the first time I've encountered someone who obviously carries sociopathic tendencies and simply refuses to capitulate.

So I'm asking all of you, in complete seriousness, what would you do? Continuing to berate the woman wasn't going to do any good. I considered taking out my newspaper and using it as a fan to send the smoke back toward her, but at that point my behavior would have turned aggressive, making my behavior no better than hers, and might even run the risk of a harassment complaint. (If she won't move when asked to, who knows what she's capable of?)

If a nearby factory was disgorging polluted smoke into the air in my neighborhood, I'm sure people would not tolerate it. Inconsiderate smoking is still a public health issue, just on a smaller scale. If we just walk away and stand somewhere else, every selfish smoker wins, and this allows a minority (currently less than 20% of the US population, I believe) to inflict its toxins, which are known and proven to be harmful, on the majority. I can't just stand there and say nothing.

I'm not asking people to pick fights and put themselves in danger. I'm saying that we, as the majority of nonsmokers, need to stand up for ourselves and make it clear that smokers' behavior is offensive.

I know there are far more important issues we all need to deal with in our lives. I know some of you are going to think I'm just nuts. But I would like to know what you think about this.

29 October 2009

Watch Wednesday Thursday (10/29/09)

AAUGH! I forgot again... (Since it's Halloween week, the Charlie Brown exclamation seems appropriate.) Seriously, why doesn't anyone email me and say "Hey, why no watch post?" I guess you'd rather sit back and enjoy watching me screw up. All right, fine...

This time we're back to vintage, and while by no means have I exhausted all my Accutron-Bulova-Caravelle holdings, I thought it was time to venture elsewhere. This is a Zodiac Aerospace Jet from, I believe, the mid-1960s. They didn't date-code them the way Bulova did, but a couple of minutes of searching on the web seems to confirm my assumption.

You probably noticed that the watch has a 24-hour dial, because it has a 24-hour movement, meaning the hour hand goes around the dial only once per day. In the picture above, the watch is showing 8:10 PM. As you might imagine, telling time with this watch takes a little getting used to. I made a reference to this in the Accutron post last month, but other companies made such movements too. They were popular with pilots and military personnel. I tend to gravitate to watches that do things that have nothing to do with my boring life, but that's because those are the watches that tend to be the most interesting looking.

The watch doesn't do anything other than tell time--no date, no chronograph functions, no alarm. I guess Zodiac figured telling the time on it was tricky enough. As far as I can tell, it's completely original too: it has the correct case back with Zodiac markings, and the crown is marked with that little cross-in-circle symbol that's on the dial. I added the strap, my standard black leather with white stitching. This is one time when I'm not unhappy with the strap; in fact, I bought three of these from The Watch Prince.

Zodiac has always been a below-the-radar brand, and they still are. It's very European, and I don't even know who carries them--maybe Tourneau? Consequently a watch like this is not especially valuable compared to other Swiss brands, but it's rare and cool, and that makes it valuable to me.

28 October 2009

Tweed Encounter

This morning my bus came pretty late, and sometimes when that happens I'll switch to the Green Line at North Station. Even though I dislike riding it, sometimes it makes more sense to take it, because while there are numerous buses that run through Ruggles that can get me to work, they run less frequently after 9 AM. On Wednesdays we have our weekly breakfast at work, so I don't eat breakfast at home, and I didn't want to get stuck waiting for a bus and end up late and hungry.

So this morning I was on the Green Line, sitting in one of those perpendicular seats near the middle of the car, reading the paper and minding my own business. I noticed a really strong cigarette smoke odor, so I glanced around. There was a guy standing directly in front of me, and clearly he was the source of the smell. He took the opportunity of me looking up to get my attention and start talking to me.

"Is that cap a Donegal tweed?"

I was in fact wearing a Donegal tweed cap, so I knew he had to be talking to me. He told me he was from county Donegal in Ireland, and he certainly sounded the part. I hadn't completely disengaged my brain from the paper, I wasn't entirely awake yet, and I was still a little distracted by the smoke stench, so at first I wasn't sure how to respond and I managed only, "I haven't been there, I got it here."

We proceeded to have a conversation about the Irish imports shop in Cambridge where I'd gotten the hat some years ago (in fact, it was so long ago that the store was actually in Quincy Market at the time) and how to get there. Not knowing whether he was familiar with the area, I told him it was on Mass. Ave. between Harvard and Porter, on the northbound side of the street. He allowed that he would just go to Porter and ask someone there where to find it, which seemed fairly sensible to me.

I considered mentioning the Scottish import shop that's also in Porter Square, upstairs above the bagel place, but decided it was too early in the morning to provoke that sort of angst. By that point we were pulling into Park Street, and he abruptly left the train, without saying goodbye or thanks or anything. Maybe he was just a figment of my imagination. Wait, did I meet a nicotine-addicted leprechaun on the T?