31 May 2010

Expense Report #8

I woke up with a headache this morning, which is always a sucky experience. Consequently I didn't do much today. But I remembered that I have been reporting on my spending on Mondays.

The only discretionary thing I bought last week was a photography book called Roadside America. It retails for $40 but I got a 40% off coupon from Borders via email, so I used it to get the book for $24, plus tax.

29 May 2010

This Week in Awesome (5/29/10)

I hope you're enjoying the holiday weekend. There may or may not be a post on Monday, depending on my motivation, inclination, etc. Meanwhile, there's plenty to look at here.

I'm sure if you watched the Lost finale, you had a few lingering questions. This guy sure did. (CollegeHumor)

This very cool short film imagines Los Angeles without cars. (Flavorwire via Vulture)

Here's a Google Earth view of what the World Trade Center site will look like when the rebuilding is complete. (You'll need to install the Google Earth plug-in if you don't already have it.) (New York Times City Room blog)

Most people like cereal, but this slide show of creepy kids' cereals may give you second thoughts. (Huffington Post)

Fall TV: The Same, Only Different

If you've been following along, you may remember that I mentioned I was going to talk about the networks' previews of upcoming fall TV shows. I may have also mentioned something about doing it on Monday. Obviously that didn't happen, but we're here now, right?

For the most part, it's more of the same: familiar genres, familiar faces, and in two cases, outright reboots of familiar (at least to some viewers) shows. A lot of it is somewhat escapist in nature, which is understandable. I've read comments from people in the business that claim that when times are tough, viewers want shows that distract them from their troubles, as opposed to complex, serialized shows that demand a serious commitment from viewers.

Speaking for myself, I can only handle watching so many shows at a time, regardless of whether or not they are serialized. With the departures of Lost and 24 I'll have a couple of viewing slots available this fall, and some tough decisions about which new shows I'm going to watch. (I'm not going to run down every new show, because it would just take too much time and space, and you would all be bored, though if you really are interested I can point you to plenty of places online where you can read all about them.)

NBC, the network many of us love to hate. is offering plenty of standard stuff: two legal shows (one with Jimmy Smits, one with Kathy Bates), a romantic-comedy anthology in the vein of Love, American Style, another Law & Order variant set in Los Angeles, and a series from Jerry Bruckheimer about U.S. marshals. Also, NBC is holding Parks and Recreation until midseason and moving 30 Rock to the 8:30 slot on Thursday so they can launch a new comedy after The Office about a guy who is sent to manage his company's call center in India. I thought the clips from this show, Outsourced, were rather unfunny, and The Office had a weak season (and it's unclear how much gas is left in its tank), so I question whether messing with the Thursday comedy lineup is a good idea.

But there are a couple of shows that could break out. One is a light spy show from J.J. Abrams (Alias, Lost, Fringe) called Undercovers, about a pair of married former CIA agents who are pressed back into service. The other is called The Cape, and it's about a police officer who is framed and is forced into hiding, where he assumes the identity of a comic-book superhero character. This isn't a show I would watch, but I could definitely see it finding an audience.

Fox has what strikes me as a fairly mediocre slate of new shows. They have been accused in the past of not trying very hard during the fall, then coming on strong in winter when you-know-what returns each year. Among their offerings are a Dallas-esque drama about a family in the oil business and a comedy about a self-absorbed jerk (Will Arnett) who falls for a do-gooder (Keri Russell). I think Arnett is hilarious, but the premise sounds trite.

Fox may have better luck with Raising Hope (from the creator of My Name Is Earl), about another wacky family that includes Martha Plimpton and Cloris Leachman. The Fox show I'm most looking forward to won't arrive until midseason; it's a cop drama called Ride-Along from Shawn Ryan, creator of The Shield (so you have my attention right there) that will be filmed on location in Chicago.

ABC is not trying to find a replacement for Lost (they already tried it this past season with FlashForward, and it bombed), but they are offering No Ordinary Family, a show about a family that survives a plane crash and returns home to discover they have super powers. I'm very tempted to call this a live-action Incredibles, but that's not quite fair. I could see this as a show that families would want to watch together, which there isn't enough of on TV.

Elsewhere, they have a couple of relationship comedies, a legal show, a doctor show (two if you count the Quincy-ish Body of Proof with Dana Delany), a comedy with Matthew Perry in midlife-crisis mode, and Detroit 1-8-7, a police dramedy (it's about time) shot mockumentary style (that gimmick is going to be overdone soon), starring Michael Imperioli. Could be okay.

CBS got more attention for its schedule moves and surprise cancellations (Boob Ghost Whisperer, New Adventures of Old Christine) than for its new shows. Still, they are offering the fewest new shows of any network, which speaks to their overall rate of success with proven formulas. CBS is moving Survivor to Wednesday and is bringing The Big Bang Theory over from Monday to Thursday, where it will be followed by Shit My Dad Says, based on the Twitter page (yes, really) and starring William Shatner (yes, really). Obviously they're going to have to do something about that title; the current plan is to write it as $#!+ and to use a bleep sound when it's being spoken. There are so many things wrong with those last couple of sentences; I'll leave it to you to ponder all of them.

CBS's other big bet seems to be on its remake of Hawaii Five-O, which will displace CSI: Miami from Monday to Sunday. They've been trying to build a successful show around Alex O'Loughlin (who will be playing the son of Steve McGarrett) for a while now, and if this one doesn't work, maybe he should just give up and go back to Australia. But I imagine the folks who tuned in on Monday for Horatio Caine and crew will like this show too.

CW? Nothing to see here, move along... Well, of course they're going to have a couple of new shows, but really, do you care?

One other bit worth noting is that all the networks seem to be looking to get viewers to return to Friday nights. In decades past, Friday was home to some of TV's most popular shows, but in recent years it had become something of a wasteland. Looking at the fall schedules, all the networks are offering at least one new show on Friday, and in some cases they are moving established shows to Friday to help lead viewers to new shows.

CBS is moving CSI: New York to Friday before its new NYPD drama Blue Bloods, with Tom Selleck, though I predict that by midseason CSI: NY will be back on Wednesday, mainly because its replacement on that night, a legal show with Jim Belushi and Jerry O'Connell, is dreadful and will make a quick exit. Fox is also moving Human Target to Friday; I was just happy they thought it did well enough in its first season to get a renewal. It's an implausible, escapist, fun action show, and airing it on Friday makes sense.

27 May 2010

Watch Wednesday Thursday (5/27/10)

I totally forgot that yesterday was supposed to be a Watch Wednesday, so in the interest of expediency I've borrowed another picture from the internet. This is the watch I bought on eBay a couple of weeks ago, a Seiko with an automatic movement. It has a medium-sized (36 mm) case, which is actually a little smaller than most of the watches I wear these days. It has a display back so you can see the workings of the movement, and the case is finished in matte stainless steel that (probably intentionally) looks sort of like titanium.

I like the easy-to-read markings on this watch, I like that the day and date are white on black so they blend in with the rest of the dial, and I like that the crown is at the 4 position, a design element that goes back to Seikos of the 1960s. The hands I don't like so much--they're a little fussy-looking for a rugged watch with a bit of a military look, and I find the ball on the "wrong" end of the second hand distracting. (I could certainly get the hands changed if I had the inclination, but I don't think I'm going to worry about that.)

I also don't love the strap--big surprise, I know. It's nylon canvas, and the strap itself is okay, but it has these two metal loops for keepers which are seriously ugly. For now I've borrowed a leather strap from a watch I'm not wearing, but I'll be looking for a permanent replacement.

26 May 2010

Oops, I Crapped on Your Ad

So over the weekend in TWiA I mentioned the faux-denim diapers, but now I've seen the commercial and I just... well, I just don't know.

First of all, seeing it made me I wish I'd never brought it up, and second, there are so many things about it that are just so awful and disturbing, I don't even know where to begin: the glam ladies lunching, the toddler walking in slow motion, the creepy voiceover, the pervy-looking dude on the moped, the chauffeured car, the cheesy techno soundtrack. All that's missing is for the tot to be wearing sunglasses. How the hell did they forget that?

But the worst part has to be the words: "My diaper is full... full of chic. When it's a number two... I look like number one. I poo... in blue." And finally, the tag at the end: "The coolest you'll look pooping your pants." AAAAAAAAAAAAHHH NO NO NO NO please make it stop... need to go to my happy place... phew.

This makes me think of how we've always heard that European commercials are supposed to be so much more clever and risque than the commercials we get here. Not true, at least not always. It also reminds me of Dave Chappelle's assertion (if you watched the commercial, this clip will serve as your mental palate cleanser) that most things are better in slow motion; this clearly falls in the exception category that Chappelle mentions at the end of the clip.

Damn, I miss that show...

25 May 2010

Mark Your Calendars

Just a friendly reminder: season four of Mad Men premieres exactly two months from tonight.

Another Rock & Roll Swindle

Another strategy for not spending money is to browse somewhere that doesn't have anything that interests you. I did this on Saturday, when we decided to drive into the city and wander Newbury Street for an hour or so around dinnertime. Some stores were already closed, which helps, and the ones that were open tend to offer fashions that are not to my taste.

I discovered that British import AllSaints Spitalfields had opened in the former Pottery Barn space (sorry, city dwellers, if you want to ogle PB's wares in person, you'll now have to trek out to a mall in Natick or Burlington). I had read that the New York AllSaints opened last week (on Broadway in Soho, naturally), and I knew from A Proper Bostonian that work on the Boston store was progressing, but I didn't know that it too had opened.

I went in out of curiosity, just wanting to get a look at the stuff, not expecting to find anything I liked, and in that respect the store met my (lack of) expectations. It's certainly a cool-looking space, dimly lit and with rows of antique sewing machines lined up in the windows. Inside the floors are rough boards, and there are ram skulls (the brand's logo) everywhere.

As for the clothes, they are all components of a very specific rock & roll aesthetic, and I didn't see much that would fit in with my current style. 25 years ago I would have gone nuts for this stuff, except that it's pricey now, and even in 1985 dollars it would have been well beyond my means. But regardless of cost, these clothes are meant for the young, and I'm no longer in that category.

Denim is in the range of $130 to $150, boots (all carefully pre-distressed) around $250, certainly cheaper than John Varvatos's main line (which is what I was most reminded of when looking at these clothes), but still expensive enough that the average person would likely have to think twice about a purchase.

Still, I imagine there will be plenty of tourists and parentally-supported students, unable to find this iteration of prefab cool for sale wherever they come from, who will snap up what AllSaints is selling, while the starving artists and musicians will continue to find their own versions of these looks in local thrift stores.

For this kind of money, I also wonder how durable this stuff might be (in both the literal and stylistic senses of the word). Stores like H&M and Zara and even Old Navy, for better or worse, have gotten shoppers used to the idea of fast fashion: you can buy something very cheaply, wear it a few times, then get rid of it. But the clothes at AllSaints, while priced too high to fit into this construct, don't suggest that they will last more than a couple of seasons, and even if they do, they will probably be horribly out of fashion by then.

I did see one item that caught my eye, a simple black mackintosh-style coat with a black-and-cream plaid lining. It was very smart-looking in its minimalism, and I could see getting some use out of it, but for $275 I could certainly find something comparable for less, and I wouldn't need it until fall anyway, so even thinking about looking for something similar can wait.

24 May 2010

Expense Report #7

Good news: I resisted temptation again this week. After last week, I kind of had to. And we were at the mall for a bit yesterday, so I was definitely tempted, mostly by the laid-back offerings from Lands' End's Canvas line, on display in, of all places, Sears.

I had taken a quick glance at this stuff once before, but this time I looked over several items more carefully. The fabrics are pleasantly soft to the touch; I would guess the khakis and button-front shirts have been given a prewash treatment. They feel as nicely broken-in as any of J. Crew's comparable items, but without any distressing or fraying.

Cuts are a bit slimmer compared to typical LE items, but not as divergent from the main line as L.L. Bean's Signature is from regular Bean. And for those who don't care for slimmer-fitting stuff, the khakis come in two fits, straight and relaxed. For $40 these are pretty much a no-brainer (and, I should point out, $20 less than the non-sale price of a pair of J. Crew's broken-in khakis), and with a quick ironing they'll look dignified enough for any casual office environment. (Shorts are $5 less, but they only come in the straight fit.) But I didn't buy anything--not yet.

22 May 2010

This Week in Awesome (5/22/10)

Hello and welcome to a gorgeous spring Saturday here in this corner of the world. To my great relief, the internet found its groove again this week, and has provided us with plenty of good stuff.

Google has some proposed changes to its Android phone operating system, and the Onion News Network has the (fake) story.

An artist who works for Pixar has come up with an unusual crossover idea: a collection of picture-book illustrations based on classic movies that are not typical children's fare. (/film via Videogum)

Faux-denim diapers. So obvious, and yet so wrong. (Denimology via Racked NY; also How's Your Face? via The Awl)

Raise your hand if you remember Twin Peaks. Okay, get ready for a TP rap song from one MC Chris. The video is nothing more than a quick-cut montage of scenes from the show. Cramazing. I was really tempted to post this earlier in the week when I first saw it, but some things, you just have to wait for the right time. (BuzzFeed)

21 May 2010

Weekend Reading Assignments

What's this? Friday afternoon slipped by without me posting anything? Believe it or not, I was doing actual work. I have something in the works about the TV networks' new fall show announcements, but in order to do it justice, I need to do my due diligence and watch all the clips the networks provided, which will take some more time. So, Mondayish?

But don't despair: in the meantime, I'm going to point you in the direction of the generally superb site This Recording. For some thought-provoking pleasure reading, check out this excellent piece on masculinity, femininity, television, and the intersection of those things. Lots of pretty pictures of Jon Hamm, Tina Fey, and others. (And re: those first two pictures of Jon Hamm--might they be production shots from season four of Mad Men?)

If that's not quite your speed, New York magazine did an interesting article in last week's issue about Japanese retailing juggernaut (and SAR fave) Uniqlo.

20 May 2010

Shop Your Forgotten Stuff

Last week I didn't do so well in my thrift quest, as I described on Monday. But it could have been worse: during last week I also came across a nice-looking pair of adidas Samba shoes in light gray suede with white trim and soles. I thought they were much better-looking and more wearable than the traditional black Samba, but the adidas online store had nothing larger than a 9, and with adidas shoes I need at least an 11, sometimes an 11.5, depending on the style.

Normally I would have zipped over to Zappos or Piperlime or some other online shoe seller to look for the shoes in my size. But I'd just bought that watch on eBay, so I exercised some self-discipline and refrained from shoe shopping.

Over the weekend I was in the basement (which these days resembles a very large walk-in closet), swapping cold-weather clothing for shorts and other warm-weather stuff. I was pulling out some of the shoes I tend to wear only in summer, like my boat shoes and certain sneakers, when I came across a USPS box for shipping shoes. I didn't know what was in the box, and I didn't remember putting it in the basement.

Inside I found light gray suede sneakers with white trim and soles, not adidas but Puma. In fact, this particular style is called The Suede. I bought them from eBay a couple of years ago, and I know I wore them at least a few times because the soles showed minor darkening. But I'd completely forgotten about them. They're not quite as sleek-looking as the Sambas (I think the Pumas are meant to evoke old-school basketball shoes), but they fit and have a decent amount of room in the toe box area, which is sometimes a problem for me with sneakers.

So now I have a "new" pair of sneakers that I can wear guilt-free.

[By the way, remember the headphones that started this whole thing? The ones that separated that I decided to super-glue back together instead of replacing? Well, the right earbud just came apart, so I super-glued that one back together as well.]

19 May 2010

Final(e)s Week

The days are ticking down until the final episodes of Lost and 24, which will air this coming Sunday and Monday, respectively. I've managed to stay more or less current with both shows this season; I still need to watch last night's Lost, but I'll certainly do it before Sunday.

I'm hoping to watch both finales live, so I won't end up having anything spoiled by the media in the following days. In the meantime, I ran across this Boston Globe article about how TV show finales are almost always letdowns. The article itself is all right, but what I really liked was the accompanying comic book-style mashup of the two shows.

[And Lost fans, don't forget the special edition of Jimmy Kimmel Live airing at 12:05 AM Monday morning, after the finale and the late news. He'll have as his guests members of the cast along with the show's executive producers, and supposedly there will be alternate endings. If you're really feeling like a maniac, you can watch the original two-hour pilot episode on Saturday night at 8 PM, and a two-hour retrospective on Sunday at 7 PM, before the finale airs at 9. (All times Eastern)]

18 May 2010

Overheard: Pretend Drive-Up Window Edition

On Saturday we were doing some of our usual errands in Medford Square, and we went into the Dunkin' Donuts there to get coffee. As we neared the door there was a woman on the sidewalk, talking on her phone. I couldn't tell if she was waiting for someone or had been approaching from the other direction (the store's entrance is right on a corner), so I held out the door behind me, but she ignored me and kept talking, so I let it swing closed. Just before it did so I heard "...and I want some of the mocha syrup, but tell them to put it on the bottom."

Once inside, there was one person ahead of us at the counter, and I heard her say, "...mocha syrup, and can you put it on the bottom?" So, Woman A was giving her drink order to Woman B over the phone, while standing outside on the sidewalk. I started to let myself think about why she might be doing this, instead of just coming inside, but I realized that way madness lied and let it go.

Eventually she did end up coming inside, though she appeared reluctant to do so. Maybe she was worried her friend hadn't explained the request properly, maybe she thought the person working wouldn't make the drink right, or maybe there was someone in there she didn't want to run into?

17 May 2010

Expense Report #6

I slipped this week: I bought a watch on eBay. It's a Japanese-market Seiko model (which means it is not officially sold in this country*) with an automatic movement that I've had my eye on for a long time. It's regularly available on eBay from several sellers, so I could have bought it at any time, or if I'd waited a while it's likely I still would have been able to find it from one of the same sellers at about the same price, but almost all those who sell it are located in either Hong Kong or Singapore.

[*This may be incorrect; the watch's price tag is in English and the price is in US currency.]

I try to avoid making purchases from international sellers, because there is always a bit of a question as to whether or not your package will actually arrive, and what condition it will be in. (This is not prejudice; it's simply a fact that the vast majority of the fraud committed on eBay originates outside of the U.S.)

A seller's feedback score can help provide some sense of that person's reputation and reliability, but I have yet to come across anything that I wanted badly enough that I could not eventually locate from a domestic seller. Such was the case with this watch: the seller I purchased from is in Texas, the watch is new, and it's coming with its original box and paperwork, which swayed me to make the purchase (those last two are often not available from the overseas sellers, another sign that you may not be dealing with someone entirely legitimate).

I also bought a few items of clothing over the weekend. I've developed an affinity for JCPenney's American Living label clothing, even though too much of it comes with a gaudy embroidered eagle logo. But the quality is good (it's designed and manufactured for Penney by Ralph Lauren) and, due to the way Penney operates its business, it is almost always on sale at very reasonable prices. We were heading to Salem on Saturday, and the Northshore Mall is on the way, with one of the only Penney stores in our area, so we made a stop.

I've been lucky enough on previous shopping trips to find a couple of AL shirts without logos (like Polo, they seem to make a few logo-free items each season) and I found another on this trip, on a clearance rack for 70% off its original $50 list price, which was just too good a deal to pass up. I also got a couple of pairs of shorts, something I know I'm going to need to buy each year anyway.

The shorts looked big, and since I had forgotten to bring my tape measure I compared them to a different brand's shorts, and found that they were approximately two inches larger in the waist than their tagged size (confirmed by a trip to the fitting room). Some of the shorts also have the eagle logo, but these don't; they have only a small brand tag above the back pocket that is easily removed. (It may have been my imagination, but it seemed like they may be cutting back on the percentage of stuff with a logo.)

There was an additional 15% discount on top of the already-low prices, so I walked away having spent less than $50 for three items. I might have bought more stuff, like store-brand polo shirts for $12 in a wide array of attractive shades (polos are almost as disposable to me as undershirts, and I typically buy/replace a few each summer), but they had none of the colors I wanted in my size. Hopefully I'll be able to get them on a future visit, but maybe it's just as well I didn't end up spending as much this time.

This Week in Awesome Bonus Bit

[Hopefully this will sort of make up for what I considered to be a lackluster edition of TWiA this past weekend...]

This appeared a few weeks ago, and I was remiss in not posting it in the first place: at a minor league baseball game in Texas, Will Ferrell stirred some shenanigans by pretending to be a pitcher from Venezuela named Rojo Johnson. The whole thing was some sort of gag that tied into a charity event. Unfortunately, this clip doesn't provide any context or explanation, but it is amusing.

16 May 2010

This Week in Awesome (5/15/10)

Sorry for the delay, but yesterday was kind of a busier day than usual, plus I had some difficulty coming up with material this week. I always get a little worried when this happens, because, you know, what happens if the internet ever does run out of stuff for us to read and look at? What will we do with ourselves all day?

Early this week, I came across this humorous fake commercial, for a beauty product no woman really needs, but I suspect that somewhere, a marketer is thinking, "hey, we should do that!" No, you shouldn't. (The Gloss via Racked)

You've heard of trainspotting? I don't mean the movie, I mean people whose hobby is actually standing around looking for specific types of trains. Well, this guy may be rethinking his interests. (LiveLeak via The Daily What)

And the last SNL Digital Short of the season will put a bounce in your step and get your day off to a great start. Or perhaps exactly the opposite of those things. (Hulu)

14 May 2010

Sound Sampler

I've been attempting to keep to a more or less regular schedule of posting something every weekday, my weekly link collections on Saturdays, and usually not posting on Sundays. But yesterday just slipped right by me. Pressure? Me? Nah...

Regardless, let's not dwell but rather move forward. GQ's blog The GQ Eye inaugurated a new feature this week called The Rebellious Jukebox, presenting a streaming audio track by "unsung artists" each weekday morning. This week's batch includes The Fall, The Clean, The Loft, ESG, and The Durutti Column. Just something a little different to try when you get bored with your regular iTunes playlists.

12 May 2010

Watch Wednesday (5/12/10)

For the sake of variety, I thought I'd feature a vintage watch that I got for the Mrs. some years back. It's a classic Snoopy design (I'm pretty sure there were watches with other Peanuts characters) that was first marketed about 50 years ago.

I don't know the exact age of his example, but I suspect it's from the late 1960s or early 1970s. It's in outstanding condition and runs well, though I don't know how accurate it is. The strap is not original; as is my usual habit, I added it after acquiring the watch.

I'm not sure what the deal is with my camera, but it has a tendency to misrepresent color. In this case, both the watch face and the strap are a bit more red than they appear here.

11 May 2010


I wasn't sure what to get my mother for Mother's Day, so I texted my sister to see what she was doing. She said she was getting her a charm for this bracelet she'd gotten a couple of years ago. It's an easy and reasonably-priced gift, one we've chosen in the past, so I figured we would get her one too.

The company that makes these bracelets and charms is called Pandora (not to be confused with the internet-radio site, which I bet the jewelers wish didn't exist, because it means they can't have the pandora.com URL). The charms and bracelets are threaded, which makes them easy to add and rearrange. They are carried by a number of jewelry stores, and they now have a couple of free-standing stores as well. So after looking at their web site to get an idea of what we thought my mother would like, we set off for the mall on Saturday to get a charm.

We got to the mall around 6:30 PM and spent a few minutes looking at jewelry in Nordstrom before heading out into the mall. The Pandora store is located just outside the Nordstrom in this particular mall, and as we walked across the area just outside the store, we could see that there was a line of people waiting to get into the Pandora store. It stretched down a side corridor and was about 30 people long. (Someone in Nordstrom told me there had been a line on Friday as well.)

I know it was the last minute, but I still had no idea these things were so popular. We had been in this store once or twice before, and I had purchased a charm for my mother for Christmas, but I had gone to the store in the Prudential Center on my way home from work, and had done it at least a couple of weeks before the holiday. Apparently charm bracelets are a big deal for those of the mom persuasion.

My first inclination was to come back later, but the Mrs. went and stationed herself in the line right away, so I figured I had no choice but to join her, seeing as it was my mother we were shopping for. Clerks from the store were walking along the line, passing out catalogs so those waiting could decide, or at least narrow down their choices. There was a lot of cell phone activity as people called spouses and siblings to discuss which charms to get.

The Mrs. buttonholed one of the clerks and he confirmed that the style we wanted was in stock, so at least we knew we weren't wasting our time waiting. Once we made it around the corner and into the store, it didn't take long to make our selection and finalize the purchase, but in all it had taken about 45 minutes from the time we got in line. But hey, Mother's Day is only once a year, and mom is worth at least that much time.

10 May 2010

Expense Report #5

I spent more than usual on food and entertainment this week--dinner with my family yesterday for Mother's Day, of course, and Friday I had dinner with a friend and then saw Avatar at the IMAX theater at the Aquarium--so in between, the Mrs. and I ate our evening meal at home on Saturday, which we normally wouldn't do. (She doesn't have a thrift problem; she has to be talked into buying even things she needs.)

Elsewhere, I did make a purchase this past week, and the story is kind of an exclamation point to the J. Crew story I told last week. After I had received the replacement hat, I emailed the rep who had helped me to express my appreciation. He encouraged me to contact him again if I had any other issues or needs. I decided to take a chance and ask if he might be able to locate the gray plaid flannel shirt that I've been going on about for months now.

Given how quickly it sold out in the fall, and that my previous attempt at ordering it from their web site had gone awry, I didn't hold much hope of him locating one, but it seemed like it was worth asking. A couple of days went by, and I thought it was a bust. Then, last Sunday afternoon, I found an email from him in my inbox. I thought it was strange that he'd be working on a Sunday, but customer service doesn't get weekends off, and he explained that he had been off the previous two days.

He said that he had the shirt on his desk, and as soon as I confirmed that I wanted it charged to my J. Crew card he would ship it. I was pretty blown away by this, and I still didn't quite want to believe it until I had the shirt in my hands, but I guess since he works at the main warehouse/distribution center, they can sometimes track down stuff tucked into dimly lit corners.

By the time he received my response it was Monday, so the package came to me at work last Tuesday. He'd sent it overnight, and didn't even charge me for regular shipping. I was hesitant to open it right away, fearing more disappointment, but after a few minutes I sliced through the tape and there it was.

I just realized that after all the fuss, I should have added a picture (hastily taken this morning in the midst of getting ready for work):
[Seems like they should have used white buttons, and the Mrs. agreed with me. I have to think about whether it's worth it to get some white ones and have the tailor change them.]

So, for the second time in a week, J. Crew's customer service came through huge for me, because I bothered to ask about something. Of course the rep mentioned that I should let him know if I needed anything else, but in the interest of restraint, I'm going to refrain from doing so. There are a couple of other items I would like to get hold of, but nothing that I wanted as much as this shirt. I think the difficulty in getting it has made me like it more, and the weather even cooperated by cooling off over the weekend so I could wear it.

08 May 2010

This Week in Awesome (5/8/10)

After a hot and humid start to the week, today it's back to cool and rainy, also known as "the shitty weather we usually get in May." So stay inside, curled up with your warm computer, and check out these goodies:

Back on Monday, The New York Times ran an interesting (for them) article about how China's efforts to rework English-language signage to make the translations somewhat less, um, tortured. But then what would sites like Engrish do?

Another weird/ridiculous commercial for a weird/ridiculous product. This one raises the bar for the whole category, in my opinion. And of course, by "raises" I mean "lowers." (Consumerist)

The Daily Show took time out from its continuing coverage of the world's imminent collapse to focus attention on the illegal immigrant issue, though their choice to do so on May 5th in a Mexican restaurant full of gringo revelers is somewhat questionable. Bonus points, though, for what will undoubtedly become the greatest rendition of "Single Ladies" you have ever heard, or will ever hear.

And finally, tomorrow is Mother's Day, but you already knew that, and didn't need to be reminded. Be nice to your mom: call her, send her flowers, take her out to dinner, etc. And enjoy this clip of moms being moms, i.e. doing things that embarrass their children. (Everything Is Terrible via Videogum)

Okay, now I gotta run to the mall to get my mom a present...

07 May 2010

Soundtrack of the Moment

I don't have anything useful to contribute this Friday afternoon, so I thought I'd just toss out a plug for what I'm listening to: the double-disc live set The Blow-Up by Television.

The recording originates from 1978 shows and was originally released on the cassette-only label ROIR in 1982, so the sound quality isn't exactly pristine, but the rawness only adds to the enjoyment of the performance, making you feel (almost) like you're there.

Television remains a criminally under-appreciated band; the work of guitarists Richard Lloyd and Tom Verlaine on this set is completely jaw-dropping.

06 May 2010

Grooming Garage: The New Blade in Town

I've spent time here talking about shaving products and equipment, offered suggestions and recommendations, and made clear my general disdain for hipster/woodsman beards and Gillette products. So when I learned that Schick had recently introduced a new razor, the Hydro, I figured I needed to give it a try.

Unfortunately, nobody sends me stuff like this to try (though I would certainly be amenable to such an arrangement, if anybody who's reading wants to send me something), so I bought one. I needed to pad my order to get free shipping when I ordered the Mad Men DVD set from Amazon anyway.

The Hydro comes in three- and five-blade versions, but you already know that I think using anything with more than three blades is pointless, so I got the three-blade version. Besides, it costs less, and looks better (chrome and blue plastic, while the five-blade is a really ugly combination of blue metal and white plastic).

The Hydro's big gimmick feature is a reservoir of water-activated lubricating gel above the blades. Instead of just a strip of stuff on the blade head that wears away after a couple of shaves, the Hydro has a larger quantity of stuff inside the blade head, with a strip of holes across the front to dispense it. Also, the blades have these guard things mounted just behind the edges that are supposed to help smooth your skin for the blades. Okay, sure.

But you want to know how it shaves, right? Okay. I used it for the first time yesterday, and I was mostly very impressed. It was a very smooth shave, and I felt like I was shaving faster even though I'm pretty sure it took the same amount of time it always does. I didn't experience any nicks or irritation, and the head rinsed out very easily.

My one real quibble is that the head is hinged at the bottom, like the Gillette Mach 3 and Fusion, and as I've mentioned before, I feel like I have less control with this sort of arrangement, but that could just be me. Also, the head is large compared to my other Schick razor (blame the gel reservoir), which makes the detail work trickier.

I still need to see how long the blades last, which will take a couple of weeks, but I do feel the Hydro is an advance in comfort (for me, at least). But I'll probably use up my stash of Xtreme 3 blades before I switch permanently.

05 May 2010

Wild Kingdom

The other day, we were waiting at a stoplight. It was warm that day, so the car windows were open. A little bird, no more than three inches tall, landed on the edge of the window opening on my side of the car, next to the mirror, and just stood there. After a few moments it tried to take off again, but didn't succeed and landed again.

It seemed like it was stuck, or unable to get enough velocity from its takeoff. (Maybe it was too breezy? I don't know that much about birds.) This pattern repeated ten or twelve times, with both of us staring at it the whole time.

The bird didn't appear to be injured or impaired. Eventually it managed to fly backward without also going upward, which seemed to give it enough momentum for a getaway, but it landed on the pavement right next to the car. Fortunately it hopped over to the curb before another vehicle came along in that lane.

04 May 2010

What's the Total, Please?

When you buy something at a store, does the cashier say the total amount of the purchase out loud to you? Do you think s/he should? At the risk of sounding like Andy Rooney, allow me to gripe for a moment.

I've always thought of this as Basic Cashier Protocol, so basic that it shouldn't even have to be covered in the training class, and during the many years when I worked behind a register, I always made sure to speak the amount to customers. But as our society gets lazier and stupider, apparently retail workers now feel that it's too strenuous to work those vocal cords for a few syllables.

Today I decided to go to the Stop & Shop near my office to get a banana and a yogurt for breakfast. I ended up getting a couple of other items, and while I sometimes make a rough tally of the total in my head, today I was thinking about something else while I was in the store and so didn't do the math.

The cashier scanned my items, and then (this is my favorite part of these asinine situations) stood there staring at me, waiting for me to hand over cash or make a move for the card reader. When this happens, I just stare back, waiting. If more than a few seconds go by, I then ask, "What's the total, please?" She finally looked over her shoulder at the screen and told me the amount. Hope that wasn't too much trouble for her.

I don't think it's unreasonable to expect that part of a cashier's job should be to look you in the eye and say "four dollars and forty cents" or whatever the amount happens to be in an audible voice. Hell, the self-checkout tells me the total out loud, but I'd actually prefer an interaction with a person. In my case, I can't see the readout on the screen from where I'm standing on the other side of the counter, which is the reason I want the cashier to tell me the amount.

I'm sure there are plenty of other shoppers--the elderly, others with visual impairments--who have difficulty seeing the numbers on those screens from several feet away, but that should be irrelevant. It should automatically be part of the process, because, well, act like you give a fuck. Really, it's no more complicated than that. Working retail sucks and we all know it, especially those of us who have had to do it. But regardless of what your job is, do it with dignity and in the process you dignify the job and yourself. Act like a witless slug, and that's what I'll think you are.

03 May 2010

Expense Report #4

So, April is over. How did I do? Last week I gave in and bought two things (perhaps as a reaction to going a whole week without buying anything discretionary): the DVD set of season three of Mad Men, which was $18 at Amazon, and a madras short-sleeve shirt from eBay, which was $13 plus shipping.

Going back through my eBay records, this is the first item I've bought there in over a month, and that was an auxiliary hard drive for the TiVo to replace the one that got fried back in March. Prior to that I had bought a couple of inexpensive clothing items in March, one expensive one in February that didn't quite work out (which I'll be discussing at more length soon), and a watch in January. So I was already making an effort to scale back, but I still needed to be more... emphatic about it. For May, I need to stick to not buying stuff as much as possible, and start selling some stuff too.

Oh, I did go to the Top Shelf Flea yesterday. I met Giuseppe and talked with him for a bit, and he is every bit as colorful and cordial as I expected, just a swell guy. I bought a vintage J. Press tie from him for $5.

01 May 2010

This Week in Awesome (5/1/10)

Oops, sorry. I was busy boiling water (because the water system that serves eastern Massachusetts suffered a catastrophic rupture this morning, lucky us). Anyway...

Is the Lost iPhone Prototype Saga over yet? I'm not sure, but this handy flowchart sums it all up nicely. (FastCompany)

By now most people are familiar with that the decade-old Saturday Night Live sketch "Behind the Music: Blue Oyster Cult," or at least the famous "I need more cowbell" epithet that came out of it. (If you've never seen it, go here.) Now you can add more cowbell to a song of your choosing. Isn't life great? (Videogum)

This host of the morning show Good Day New York got a little too explicit when trying to think of another term for soy milk. (Huffington Post via Vulture blog)

You've seen Lady Gaga's video for "Telephone," right? (If not, go here.) So check out this version done by troops in Afghanistan. (YouTube via Reddit)