30 April 2010

Style File: Spring Shoes

Along with the sweaters and heavy coats, most of the boots have now been stored in the basement as well. Spring has arrived in full force, which means it's also time for lighter-weight, lighter-colored pants, and seasonal shoes to go with them.

The first shoes I bought this season were these tan bucks from Lands' End. I'd been thinking about getting a pair of bucks since last summer, which is interesting, because a few years back I wouldn't have wanted anything to do with them, so it goes to show that our tastes do change over time.
I still wouldn't want a white pair; that's a little too To Kill A Mockingbird for me. There are those who advocate getting a pair of white bucks and wearing them to death so that they don't remain white for long, and there's definitely a certain carefree panache to that, but I feel they wouldn't be appropriate to wear to work, even in my casual office environment.

No, I knew that a pair in light tan would work much better for me. I started with eBay, hoping I could score a vintage pair from Brooks Brothers or maybe even Alden, but I never found what I wanted in my size at a reasonable price. I did run across a very cool pair of vintage light gray bucks from L.L. Bean (old enough so they probably would have been manufactured by Bean themselves, or at one of their Maine neighbors), but they were a size too small.

But this spring, shoes like this are available almost everywhere, in many different shades of tan, taupe, and even darker brown. The first ones I saw this year were from Bean. The price was right ($79) and I was leaning toward getting them, but I was worried that the color was a little too light, and more importantly, I've had problems with the last few pairs of shoes I've bought from Bean, and had to return them because wearing them was causing pain in my ankles and calves. I think their shoes have suffered an unfortunate decline in quality, so for now I'm staying away.

Bass always has this style of shoe, but let's face it, their quality isn't so great anymore either, and they also didn't have the shade of tan I was after. Still, if you just want something to bang around in, they're probably okay. J. Crew has had buck oxfords for at least a couple of seasons, but theirs are more expensive ($140), and the sole isn't the right shade of red. When you look at the images online it looks right, but when you see the shoe in person, it's too dark. (Yes, this matters to me.)

I was in Nordstrom a couple of months back, and got excited when I saw some light gray bucks that reminded me of the vintage Bean ones I'd seen on eBay, until I saw that they had an off-white sole instead of the traditional red one. Too bad. Even more amusing, this shoe also comes in light blue and red, both rather clowny colors for men's shoes. It's difficult for me to imagine who might like these. (Weirdly, if you follow that Bass link above, you'll find very similar-looking shoes in those same colors, so there's probably a common manufacturer there.) This shoe also comes in a very pale beige (which, interestingly, they call white) on a red sole, and it's available in wide widths. I didn't try them on, but maybe I should have.

Then I saw the Lands' End shoes, at the same price as Bean's. At first I wasn't sure I liked the little piping detail you can see in the picture, but it grew on me. The shoes of theirs that I've had in the past have been decent, and while I wish they offered them in wide widths, that shortcoming was offset by Lands' End's prolific discounting. For the past couple of years, LE has made it very easy to avoid paying full price or shipping for their merchandise. I get emails from them literally every day with one discount or another. So I took advantage of a 30%-off-shoes discount and got these for $56, plus free shipping.

(If you live near a Sears that has a Lands' End Shop in it, you can get the discounts there too, and sometimes you find stuff that's already marked down. Recently the Mrs. got a pair of LE shoes on clearance for $6, and a pair of jeans for the same price.)

I think I'll probably even continue to wear these in the summer, with shorts. Until last year, I wore nothing but sneakers with shorts, until I realized that I needed to branch out and have some variety. I looked around for some boat shoes, but I didn't want ones with white soles. I found this pair from Clarks that are among the most comfortable shoes I have, and are water-resistant too.
When I placed my recent Gap order, I needed to get to $100 to get free shipping, so I added a couple of things I wasn't certain I would keep. (This is the oldest trick in the free-shipping book, as long as you can return items to a B&M location and there's one convenient to you.) One was these classic canvas CVO (that stands for "circular vamp oxford," which I didn't know) sneaks. With the discount I was getting on my entire order, they ended up being $24. They're pretty comfortable and lightweight, so these will also be useful this summer.
Still on the wish list: these adidas Rod Laver Vintage sneakers (specifically, the white and red ones). This shoe is a variant of the classic Rod Laver design that adidas has been selling for 40-some years. It's slimmed-down and refined, a bit more grown-up looking, and thus avoids the stoner/Dave Matthews Band/hacky-sack connotations the Laver has acquired.
The red-trim version has not yet gone on sale, but I keep checking the adidas web site a couple of times a week. The other two colorways have already hit their site and sold out, so I was going to try to reserve a pair at the adidas Originals store in Harvard Square, but it has closed. I'm not sure what other options I might have, but I'm thinking of contacting one of the other Originals stores, like maybe the one in Manhattan (where there's a DJ and the music was insanely loud, louder than any other store I've ever been in).

29 April 2010

A Customer Service Story

A while back, the Mrs. and I were at the mall. Typically we go our separate ways when shopping, because she finds waiting around while I shop boring, and I feel the same way about waiting for her to shop. But in this instance we stayed together for a while; it's possible that we were getting something we needed for the house.

We headed into J. Crew, which is not a store where the Mrs. has interest in shopping, so she was getting ready to leave me and go off on her own. This particular store is L-shaped and has an entrance on either end. One enters onto their children's section, which is not in many stores. As we were passing through into the adult part of the store, I spotted a straw hat on a shelf. It looked like an adult man's panama hat, but smaller, with a narrow brim and a madras plaid decorative band. I grabbed it and put it on her head.

She's not a hat lover, but it looked cute. She stepped over to a mirror to see for herself and said, "I think it's actually a little big." I took a look inside and saw that it was sized L/XL. (Being so short, she is sometimes able to fit into children's clothing, depending on how it's cut, so a kid's hat isn't a stretch either.) Later I looked up the hat on the J. Crew web site. The smaller size was backordered, but looked like it would be available in time for her birthday, so I added it to an order I was placing.

Earlier this week, I received an email from J. Crew telling me that the hat had shipped, somewhat earlier than I'd expected it, so this was good news. I didn't bother looking at the tracking info, because I figured it would be several days before it arrived. Yesterday a coworker brought a box to me. It was from J. Crew, but it was a flat rectangular box, three inches high, the kind of box you'd receive a shirt or pair of pants in. It was also very light. As my coworker handed me the box, he said "You got a box of air."

I opened it and found the hat inside, squished down to fit. There was also a loop of rigid foam resting on the brim and surrounding the crown. I suppose this was meant to prevent the hat from being misshapen from the side, which seemed rather ironic considering its condition. The hat is made of straw, so I was more or less able to reshape the crown into something resembling its original state, but the brim had been muckled as well, and would not return to its proper shape.

At first I figured I would just stop at the Copley store on my way home from work and exchange the hat, but then I remembered that that store doesn't carry the kid's line. The only stores around here that do are in suburban malls. I probably wouldn't be able to get the Mrs. to drive me to the mall without explaining why or without her seeing the hat. So I wrote an email to J. Crew customer service.

I sent the email yesterday (at 4:45 PM, according to my account) and included my cell phone number. As I was getting ready to leave work, my phone buzzed. I didn't recognize the number, so I thought, could this be J. Crew calling me? I answered, and it was. It took them less than 15 minutes to contact me. The service rep acknowledged that the way the hat was packed was a mistake, and described it as "insane" that someone would put a hat into a flat box. He said they were sending me another one overnight, and would include a label so I could return the other hat.

It arrived a short while ago, along with a handwritten note from the rep who assisted me. This is certainly very impressive customer service, a genuine and emphatic effort to resolve a situation to my satisfaction, which J. Crew has indeed done. Thank you, J. Crew, for attending to this so quickly and pleasantly. You made me a very happy customer.

28 April 2010

Watch Wednesday (4/28/10)

Obviously I cheated--there's no way I could take a picture this close and sharp, but it's late and I'm wiped out, so I borrowed it from the internet. This is a nice little Citizen watch that's good for everyday wear (which is probably why I waited this long to feature it). It's easy to read, and the numerals and hands glow very strongly, so it's a good watch to wear for things like going to the movies.

The best thing about Citizen Eco-Drive watches is they never need to be wound and they never need to have a battery replaced. The watch has some sort of rechargeable power cell that is charged by exposure to light, so even if you just leave it lying around it stays fully charged, and if you forget and put it away somewhere, it retains enough power to keep running for up to six months. Eco-Drive watches are available in several hundred different styles for men and women, and they can often be found on sale at places like Macy's for less than $100. (Use those extra discount coupons, kids.)

Oh, and as usual I changed the strap. This one looked too military for me, so I put on one of my basic black leather straps with white stitching. Nice and simple, goes well with this style of watch.

At this point you might be thinking that I must be close to running out of watches, and I am--getting close. So we'll do this feature for a bit longer, and maybe by then I'll have found something else I can't live without, though watches definitely fall in the category of "things I don't really need" and as such are subject to my voluntary spending reduction program. I have a couple that I need to sell, but anything I earn from them should really go on my credit card balance. We'll just stop talking about it for now...

Top Shelf

I've been remiss in not mentioning (sooner) an event taking place this weekend that promises to be interesting and wallet-friendly. Gentleman of style Giuseppe, proprietor of An Affordable Wardrobe, has channeled his thrift-shopping prowess into organizing (curating? masterminding?) a vintage- and thrift-shopping event, the Top Shelf Flea Market, which is taking place Sunday from noon to 6 PM at the Dilboy VFW post in Davis Square (hit the link for address info and directions). There will be books, housewares, records, and other good stuff in addition to men's and women's clothing. There will also be a cash bar, which is a welcome shopping amenity.

This event happens to coincide with this weekend's 12th annual Somerville Open Studios, featuring more than 300 artists, so you can really make a day of it if you're so inclined. If any of you make it to the Flea, look for me--I'll be the guy who looks very much like that little cartoon avatar dude over there on the right. But I won't be wearing a tie, because it's supposed to be like 80 degrees that day.

27 April 2010

Working Hard or Hardly Working?

Like a lot of guys, I appreciate and embrace what has come to be called workwear style: boots, flannel or chambray shirts with two flapped or buttoned pockets, waist-length jackets. I feel I can claim it honestly, because I've been wearing variations on this look for decades. I spent a good portion of the '80s in a variety of thrift-store shirts that had been worn by actual people to do actual work, like a white poplin Dallas Police Department uniform shirt. I also had a sweet khaki Indiana Jones-type shirt with epaulets from Banana Republic back in their pre-Gap days, when they still made stuff that was interesting and utilitarian. (If BR wants to regain some of that cachet, they should ditch that bogus "heritage" line and do a real heritage line of products from their own history.)

The latest company to jump on the "mining our archives" bandwagon is Dickies, who plan to sell shirts and pants made in a factory in Texas using American-sourced fabric. (More than anything else about this announcement, I was surprised to learn they still had an operating factory in this country.) The shirts will cost $175 and the pants $200, which means the people who will most likely be buying them are the same guys who favor those Japanese brands that produce quirk-infused versions of classic American workwear and sell them at ridiculously inflated prices in trendy boutiques to skinny guys with beards who like to talk about selvage denim.

I don't begrudge Dickies for wanting a piece of this action, but it bugs me that they have so completely missed the point. If you want to celebrate your company's heritage, wouldn't it make much more sense to produce something that you can sell at a price that average people can afford, thereby making it more visible to other average people? The type of person most likely to wear Dickies is least likely to be able to afford such gear, and the esoteric connoisseur market (the most likely customer for this type of limited-production item) is least likely to care about the heritage of a company like Dickies, which is just colossally ironic.

[I have one Dickies garment, a short black canvas jacket with a gray corduroy collar and a blanket lining. I picked it up a couple of years ago for around $40 from a place online that sells work clothes, and I typically wear it this time of year. It came with a big red logo patch with a D on it on the pocket, which I removed, not because I don't want to be associated with the company, but because I don't like logos.]

I would have liked to see Dickies land somewhere in the middle, with some pieces inspired by archival designs, made with soft, broken-in fabrics but priced in the $80 to $100 range. (Bill's Khakis are made in Pennsylvania and cost $98 a pair, which is a little steep but still seems reasonable to me.) Maybe they'll do something like that later. But for now they're giving the impression (to me, at least) that they care more about marketing an image than about their own history.

26 April 2010

Expense Report #3

Aside from food, drugstore, and household items, I didn't actually buy anything last week. There were the two aforementioned birthday gifts for the Mrs., and my Gap order arrived, but I made the purchase online last week. I dropped about $40 in Target yesterday, but it was all in the above categories. So, some progress, I guess.

24 April 2010

This Week in Awesome (4/24/10)

Things are more or less back to normal this week, depending on your definition of normal...

Here's a fun web site that collects past views and predictions about the future. (Very Short List)

To the pantheon of stupid TV ads for ridiculous products, we must now add the TV Hat. (Consumerist, etc.)

And in that same vein, the deathless meme of "you're doing it wrong" now has a sort of greatest-hits clip compilation. (Vulture blog via Videogum)

Finally, this month's Esquire is dubbed "The Women Issue." In it, Mad Men's goddess in human form, Christina Hendricks, offers advice in the form of "A Letter to Men." My favorite part: "No man should be on facebook. It's an invasion of everyone's privacy. I really cannot stand it." Told you so. So, for being right about that, do I win Christina Hendricks?

23 April 2010

Style File: Ready for Spring

Winter wound down kind of early for New England this year, but you need to keep the sweaters and one or two heavier coats available in case the weather does a sudden shift back to colder stuff. Now, though, we're a week away from the start of May, and it's safe to put the winter stuff in storage and transition to the spring wardrobe.

Because of how retail cycles work, spring clothes appear in stores starting in January, so I had actually started thinking about my spring needs back then. This jacket caught my eye from the moment it appeared on the Martin + Osa web site. I happened to be at the store shortly afterward and was able to get a closer look at it and try it on, so I knew it was something I was interested in. I had seen another orange jacket I liked, at Brooks Brothers of all places, but it was $400! Eventually it went on sale, but never went below $200, and I didn't even like it as much as this one.
What I like about this jacket is that, unlike most "sporty" outerwear and rain gear, this has a distinct, fold-over collar, i.e. a separate piece of material that is attached to the garment. I've come to the conclusion that I do not care for coats and jackets that have the sort of self-collar that is meant to be worn standing up, like those typically found on parkas and fleece. Last year I replaced my winter parka with a collared coat from L.L. Bean that provides equivalent warmth but looks more dignified (meaning, more suitable to a guy my age), and this goes in that category as well.

The fabric is a lightweight cotton/nylon blend, so it provides some measure of water resistance. Orange is definitely an unusual choice for me. I was surprised at first that I liked it, but the color (which this picture represents fairly well) is not the more typical hi-vis orange, but deeper, with a little red to it, almost like a blood-orange shade. With the large matte-finish metal buttons, it's quite distinctive. I got it for less than half its original price, thanks to an early markdown (probably precipitated by the announcement that M+O would be shutting down this summer). Two weeks after I ordered it, all sizes were sold out from the web site, so I'm glad I ordered it when I did.

One peculiar thing about this: it came with a detachable hood, perhaps a concession to those who are more used to wearing the type of jacket I referred to above. It looked ridiculous, and I knew I would never use it (this is not a serious rain garment anyway). So I discarded it and removed the buttons under the collar that held it in place.

The other thing I need to be mindful of is that when I wear this, the rest of my outfit for that day needs to be fairly toned down. No bold stripes, no bright plaids; khakis or dark jeans, and a solid or small-scale pattern shirt.

Addendum: On my way home from work Friday, a guy stopped me on the street to ask where I'd gotten this coat, and he declared it "gorgeous." I thanked him.

22 April 2010

Resisting Temptation

The hardest thing about trying not to buy so much stuff has been staying away from eBay. If you hang around here, you know that I think of eBay as my personal flea market/tag sale/consignment shop, and I buy things from there frequently, like, um, watches.

Some stuff is fairly easy to put aside or forget about for a while, but there are certain items, like vintage watches, that I have been searching for literally for years. Back in 2001 I was unemployed for most of the year, so of course a rare vintage model of a watch I was looking for came up for auction, in an even rarer dial color. I had already spent money that I shouldn't have during that time, so I resisted, painful as it was. To this day I have not seen another watch like it anywhere.

But the fact is, I can't trust my own willpower, so the only way to refrain from unnecessary purchases is to not see the items for sale in the first place. I can't stop browsing altogether, but I have cut back on how much time I spend browsing and what I look at. For now it seems to be working.

The other factor I have to contend with is impending gift purchases: during the first two weeks of May I have my sister's birthday, Mother's Day, and the Mrs.' birthday. There is no getting around these expenses, so I need to offset them by not buying stuff for myself. I've already gotten a couple of gifts for the Mrs., which I'm not going to talk about here (even though she isn't the most regular reader here, some of you are in regular contact with her, and no offense to anyone, but I want them to remain surprises).

21 April 2010

Overheard: Direct Line Edition

Woman walking north on Mass. Ave. near the Orange Line station yesterday afternoon, talking into her phone: "That's what the Lord told me this morning."

20 April 2010

News of the Tipsy

The Wheels blog of the New York Times alerts us to the story of a man in England who was convicted of driving drunk... in an electric Barbie car. This comes on the heels of the reports late last week of a 20-year-old woman, also from England, who has been banned from buying or drinking alcohol in any pub, club, liquor store, or other place that sells alcohol in that country (and Wales, too) for two years, due to a large number or previous drinking-related offenses. Do we sense a pattern here?

18 April 2010

Expense Report #2

Aside from food, drugstore, and household items, I did make a couple of discretionary purchases this week.

The Mrs. needed to go to a craft store one night, and rather than wait in the car or follow her around the craft store in mopey boredom, I opted to venture into the depths of the Kmart next door. Kmart is like hell on earth to me; I have never been in one that even approached being pleasant (though we did go in one with the Mrs.' sister one time out in California that was almost bearable). But I hadn't been in that one in several years, and this one in longer, so I was a little curious: had anything changed? Would there be anything I might consider buying?

The answer to the first question was no, nothing had changed; if anything, the store had gotten drearier since my last time there, and it also seemed smaller. The answer to the second question, surprisingly, was yes, because I found multi-packs of gray undershirts. Several months ago I mentioned seeing these on the Kmart web site, but I never bothered to order them, and the site led me to believe that these were not carried in the stores. But there they were, $10 for a package of four. I still hadn't resolved the undershirt problem from back in November, so I bought two packages and got out of there as quickly as I could.

I also ordered a shirt from the Gap web site, after trying unsuccessfully to find it in stores. I've been after a red chambray shirt for about two years now. I wasn't interested in paying the $150 or whatever it was Polo was charging for the RRL one they sold last year, and by the time I discovered it, it was sold out everywhere anyway. J. Crew introduced one earlier this spring for $98, still too high. Gap's just came out a week or two ago, and it's $49.50. Now we're talking.

But wait, it gets better. Because I have a Gap credit card (actually Banana Republic, so same thing), I get lots of offers and coupons for discounts. This week they were offering 30% off from Thursday through today. I went looking for the shirt after work the other day, but the stores don't seem to have it in yet, so in order to get the discount I went ahead and placed an online order. I like the flapped pockets on the Gap shirt, but I'm getting tired of the extended throat tab--it just gets in the way. Next weekend I'm going to visit the tailor with the shirts I own that have one to have them removed.

(To those of you who might be inclined to suggest that I might have waited for the next discount offer from Gap, you're not necessarily wrong, but the way their product turns over, it's a very real possibility that by then I wouldn't be able to find my size, and I had to weigh that against whether or not to spend the money now.)

17 April 2010

This Week in Awesome (4/17/10)

It's a sad time indeed when having to do actual work gets in the way of scouting the cobweb-filled corners of the web where I usually find interesting bits for TWiA, but that's how it goes sometimes during deadline week. However, all is not lost...

There are certain kinds of crazy I just don't understand, and this is one of them. But it's certainly fun to watch someone else be crazy. (Unlikely Words via Kottke)

So, Top Gear goes to Iceland to film a segment about driving on an active volcano, and a week later that very same volcano erupts. Coincidence? Unlikely. (Jalopnik)

There's this show on Fox called Glee, about a high school glee club. I don't watch it, because, really, why would I? But Jane Lynch is on the show, and I love Jane Lynch. She is just the best, and this is one reason why: next week's episode is Madonna-themed, and as a promotional gimmick, Lynch and a couple of the kids from the show did a shot-for-shot remake of Madonna's "Vogue" video. Enjoy...

14 April 2010

Watch Wednesday (4/14/10)

For this installment I have another vintage Caravelle. I apologize for the crapitude of the picture; I just couldn't get this one quite right, and I took about twice as many shots as I typically do.

Caravelle produced a version of this watch for several years in the early 1960s. The dial has a sort of grayish tinge to the white, but I'm not sure if that's its original hue or if it has faded over the years. It's another older watch that is just a little too small to look normal on my wrist, so I don't wear it, which is too bad, because I really like the simplicity of the dial, and the font they used for the numerals.

What makes this a slightly more interesting example is that it has a display back:
I've read that these were given to the salesmen so they could show off the movement. I don't know if that's true, but at least it makes sense. Around the outer edge it says "Caravelle anti-magnetic base metal case shock resistant," but there doesn't seem to have been any room for the Bulova date code, so I don't know exactly when this watch was produced, but I'm almost certain it's at least as old as I am.

13 April 2010

Chocolatey Goodness

Deadline week rears its ugly head again. My goal for this month is to have everything finished by Friday, so I can take Monday off without feeling any guilt. Patriots' Day is one of the few holidays that is not a paid day off for us, but I usually take the day so I don't have to deal with throngs of Marathon watchers. Also, I just like having a day off now and then, and I have plenty of time available to use, so why not?

In the meantime, I don't want you, my loyal readers, to feel neglected. Tina Fey hosted Saturday Night Live this past weekend, and it was pretty funny, definitely an above average episode. I don't know whether or not her presence spurred the writing staff to do better, or if she just took over and wrote everything herself; either way, I don't really care. I just want the show to be funny.

One of the funniest bits from this show was this fake commercial for a snack food product aimed at a pretty specific target audience:

And how about some props to the prop department for this one?

12 April 2010

Expense Report #1

I promised that as part of my effort to rein in my impulse buying, I would account for my purchases. Other than food and drugstore items and the previously mentioned pocket knife, the only other discretionary purchase I made last week was a bunch of discount movie passes through my employer.

I consider this an instance where spending money ultimately ends up saving money. The movie theater now costs $11 per ticket, but by buying these passes ahead of time, I save almost $3 per ticket. And unlike certain kinds of discount passes, these don't expire and there are no restrictions on when they can be used, so if we decide we want to see a movie on its opening weekend, we can just go and not have to worry about how long it's been showing.

I didn't go into any clothing or shoe stores, and I didn't buy anything on eBay, which is probably more significant for me. But I am going to need to buy a more robust surge protector soon, because on Friday there was another power outage while we were at work, and I had to deal with more TiVo crankiness, though thankfully it wasn't of the magnitude as the earlier crisis. But it took two or three restarts and several hours for the new machine to get back to behaving properly, which was troublesome and troubling.

10 April 2010

This Week in Awesome (4/10/10)

It was really nice out today, and it felt good to get outside in the fresh air and sunshine. But if you'd rather stay indoors and look at stuff on the internet, I can help out with that too...

It's kind of cool how so many things can be summed up via a Venn diagram. (NextRound via Very Short List)

I never had much interest in remote-controlled cars, but after seeing this Nissan commercial that was made with 1/10 scale R/C vehicles, I may rethink that position. (There's also a making-of video, if you're into that sort of thing.) (YouTube via Autoblog)

Here's a very cool little clip about pixels escaping from an old TV and taking over the world. (Daily What via Gamefreaks)

Sort of like the Australian distracted-driving PSA clips I posted last week, The British Columbia Dairy Foundation has made a series of fake product infomercials for people who are weak (because they don't drink enough milk, get it?). Consumerist highlighted the "Food Lift," which is how I found out about them. (The Weak Shop)

09 April 2010

Two for Two

After the cable channel AMC found critical success and a rabidly loyal audience for Mad Men, its first scripted show, they had to figure out what other original programming they wanted to develop. When Breaking Bad premiered two years ago, a couple of months after the first season of Mad Men ended, I wasn't sure what to expect, but I was pretty certain there was no way it could live up to the level of quality established by Mad Men.

I couldn't have been more wrong. It's nothing like Mad Men, but it is equally fine television. The premise is deceptively simple: a high-school chemistry teacher learns that he has terminal cancer, so in order to provide for his family after his death, he looks up a former student who is a small-time drug dealer, and together they make and sell methamphetamine. Bryan Cranston has won the Best Actor Emmy the past two years for his portrayal of teacher turned meth-maker Walter White, in what is unquestionably one of the most amazing performances television has ever given us, while the show has grown as emotionally complex and morally ambigiuous as The Sopranos.

We're now three episodes into the third season (it airs at 10 PM Eastern time Sundays) and Breaking Bad just keeps getting better. Without giving anything away, these first three episodes have been a slow burn, but the feeling that all hell is going to break loose (as Tim Goodman put it over at The Bastard Machine) is just below the surface. And the most recent episode ended with one of the greatest "holy shit" moments I can ever remember seeing. With just three words (one of which had to be edited to satisfy the FCC's ridiculous standards), Walter's wife Skyler utterly blew his domestic fantasy out of the water.

At the same time, the show's tension and darkness is cut with a vein of pitch-black humor; I usually laugh out loud at least a couple of times each episode. Like a growing number of cable-network shows, Breaking Bad is filmed in the area where it takes place (in this instance, Albuquerque), and the photography and use of natural settings are outstanding.

If you're interested in this show (and it should be pretty clear that I'm trying to spark your interest), the first season had only seven episodes (due to the writers' strike), and season two had thirteen, so you could get into the show pretty quickly. AMC usually does a mini-marathon of current-season episodes at some point during the season, so you still have time to get on board. [Just checked their web site: the first five episodes of season three will be shown on Friday, April 23, starting at 8 PM Eastern.]

Unfortunately, unlike most other networks, the one thing they don't do is show episodes online, so to catch up on seasons one and two, you will have to either buy them from iTunes or Amazon, or Netflix the DVDs. But I guarantee it's worth your time. Breaking Bad is the best show airing now that you are probably not watching.

08 April 2010

Pie for Dinner

Some years back, we used to frequent Calareso's farm stand on route 28 in Reading. I'm not sure why we started going there; I think maybe the Mrs. was going to a dentist whose office was nearby. At the time there wasn't any place convenient to where we were living that had consistently good produce; these days our options are much better, including the Medford Square farmers' market and a little place on Mystic Avenue called Roberto's that has an impressive selection and an incredible price/quality ratio.

One reason we kept driving out to Reading was because adjacent to the farm stand, there's a place called Harrow's that makes some of the best chicken pot pie I've ever tasted. They've been in business for over 70 years and still make their pies fresh every day using the same traditional recipe. The pies come in several different sizes and can be purchased fresh and ready to cook, or (this is a stroke of brilliance) if you call 90 minutes ahead, they will cook the pie for you so you can pick it up hot.

Now Harrow's has opened a second location, coincidentally also on Mystic Ave. in Medford, so it's even more convenient for us. They also sell dessert pies (apple and blueberry), which we haven't gotten around to trying yet, chicken salad, and side dishes. If you're in the mood for traditional New England home cooking, I highly recommend Harrow's.

06 April 2010

Spendy Ways

I guess I struck a chord with yesterday's post, because I've already received a couple of comments about it. A Proper Bostonian pointed out that she still spends money on food and at CVS, and I was indeed very relieved to know that she is not intentionally starving herself. Those are not discretionary purchases; those are necessities.

The definition of "necessity" can, of course, be somewhat fluid. Yesterday I bought a new Swiss army knife at REI. I had mine confiscated by the TSA on my way home from California a couple of months ago, and I've been somewhat lost without it. I use it frequently, and it holds my keys, and it was all of $18 anyway.

If I feel that I need something, I'm going to buy it, and I intend to be honest about what I do buy. But there are plenty of things that fall into the category "I'd like to have it, but I don't need it." Those are the things that I need to cut back on. Food, toiletries, and the like are necessary. And beer. I'm out of beer at home, and that one is absolutely non-negotiable.

05 April 2010

The Challenge: A Month of Thrift

I spend a good portion of my work day with headphones on, since I don't have an office where I could close the door. Last week, I was removing my earbuds to get up from my desk when the left one separated into two pieces. Apparently the molded halves had been glued together at the factory, and the glue wore out or something.

I took a look at the inside and saw that the wires and other components were intact, and the problem was only with the plastic housing. These are noise-canceling headphones, and they are nice to have around the office sometimes, and even more useful during commutes. Normally I would just buy another pair, but I am trying to curb such impulsive purchases so I can make some progress on my credit card balance.

These days, when something breaks, especially a piece of electronics, it's not fixable by you or me, and it's often not worth the cost of having it fixed by a professional. But in this case it was a simple, straightforward repair, and I really like these earbuds, so I took a walk over to the nearby drugstore and bought some super glue.

Of course I managed to get glue on several fingers in the process, and all over the outer housing of the earbud, but the glue held. I've decided to use this as a starting point to see if I can curtail my buying impulses for the rest of the month. I'm going to try to resist the urge to click the "buy" button for things that I don't genuinely need. I'm way overdue for this sort of thing, and I need to start acting with a lot more restraint.

At the same time, because of this general lack of restraint, I have plenty of things that I've bought that I am dissatisfied with for one reason or another, or that I have used but just no longer want, that I could probably get a few bucks for, so I need to get going on another round of eBay sales, and maybe also put some of the clothing and shoes on Style Forum. Progress reports will follow.

03 April 2010

This Week in Awesome (4/3/10)

Just realized that I forgot to do this--been running errands, bathing the dog at LaundroMutt (the receipt says "Lave Canem"--clever), reading, catching up on this week's Lost, etc.

The Australian government has produced a series of ads to discourage teenagers from texting while driving. You think any network in this country would ever show these? (Autoblog)

It's called "instant CSI." Click and you'll see why. (Videogum)

Someone went to a lot of trouble so you could stare dazedly at this page full of animated GIFs. (It will take a while to load, no matter how fast your internet connection is.) (GQ Eye)

If you'd prefer to stare at some more famous art, stuff that you or I may never be fortunate enough to get to see in person, the Vatican has thoughtfully produced a virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel. (World's Best Ever)

02 April 2010

Friday Funny: Remember to Disconnect

The internet knows how to make fun of itself. (Everything Is Terrible)

01 April 2010

Watch Wednesday Thursday (4/1/10)

Guess I was supposed to post this last night, but what fun is consistency? I got this watch (on eBay, of course) a couple of months ago, after seeing it in a Fossil store in Manhattan when I made my brief visit there just before Christmas.

Back in the early 90s I was a little nuts for Fossil watches, the way some people were for Swatch watches in the 80s. It was mainly because at the time a lot of Fossil's stuff had a decidedly retro vibe. As they moved away from that, I lost interest, and shortly afterward I started buying old-looking watches that were, you know, actually old. I hadn't paid much attention to Fossil in a long time, other than an occasional glance at their counter when passing through Macy's.

So this watch kind of jumped out at me with its combination of restraint and boldness. I find the large, blocky numerals eye-catching. I like the blue accents (this pic isn't showing it very well, but the upper right quadrant of the bezel is a distinctive metallic blue, which ties in to the blue second hand and dial stamp. It's also available with orange accents instead of the blue, and now apparently in an all-black version as well, though I don't think that one works as well, because the contrast of the punchy color is kind of the point.

[Late addition: apparently I missed it last night due to fatigue, but this style is now also available with dark red accents, though it comes on a truly fugly striped nylon military-style strap.]

Also, this watch is pretty big: the case is 45 mm across and well over a centimeter thick, which is pushing the limit of what I can realistically wear because I have thin wrists. It came on a blue rubber strap, which I assumed would be junky like the ones that come on Casios, but it isn't--it's actually quite nice. I put on this black faux-carbon fiber strap with blue stitching (again, you can't see it very well) to tone it down a little, but when the weather warms up I'm going to switch back to the blue one, to bold it up again.