31 January 2012

Brief Encounter

The train was pretty crowded this morning, and there had been an earlier delay, so when it pulled into North Station the platform was pretty packed. As I squeezed out I had one of those moments where you try to maneuver around someone who moves in the same direction as you, and your brain tries to correct and move you back in the other direction but it's too late and the momentum keeps you moving on your original path.

So there was a little more contact than normal as I worked my way around a guy. As I headed toward the Green Line side of the platform I heard, "Hey...hey!" I started to wonder if he was upset about the contact I'd made (you never know what's going to cause someone to get upset), and the train was already pulling away so I stopped and turned around.

He reached out his hand toward me, but not in a threatening way. I looked down and saw that his white headphones were caught on one of my coat buttons. I looked back up and said, "Aw man, I'm sorry." He unhooked them from me, smiled, and turned back to try to board the train, but given the number of people waiting I doubt he was able to get on that one.

30 January 2012

Outerwear Options

I've talked in the past about how my preferences in outerwear have evolved over the years. If you accept the notion that the range of what I see men wearing on the T on a typical day is a representative sample, then I would say about 80% of it is disagreeable to me for one reason or another. About half of those people are wearing some sort of black North Face jacket, with that big, ugly logo on the right shoulder.

I've also noticed that the latest trend in down-filled outer garments is that the feather-filled chambers have grown much narrower and more numerous, which has resulted in people walking around in what appear to be rows and rows of brightly-colored links of sausage. This is far more hideous to me than an old-school down parka, which merely made people look puffy.

I do see the occasional wool overcoat, but they are quite a bit less common these days, probably because relatively fewer men nowadays are required to go to work every day in full business attire. Far more common are shorter, uglier, ill-fitting wool car coats. And of course there are the diehard sports fanatics who show their support for one of our local teams via a parka or some other sort of logo-emblazoned jacket, and a few construction workers in Carhartt brown.

I don't wear much vintage clothing these days, but I do tend to be somewhat backward-looking in my clothing choices. I prefer natural fibers and coats with distinct collars. Last fall, a very retro button-front corduroy coat made its appearance in the L.L. Bean Signature offerings. It's based on a design from the Bean archives circa 1963, with upper and lower flapped pockets, button tabs on the sides of the waist, and a bright plaid wool lining. It reminded me a little of an old hunting coat of my father's that I wore for a while when I was in junior high.

I felt it was overpriced at $185, but Bean always does a bunch of markdowns right after Christmas, and the coat went down to $129. I applied a couple of the reward coupons I earn from having a Bean Visa card to bring the price down to $109. With the only color choices being brown or black, I chose black; I'll wear brown pants now and then, but for a piece of outerwear I just don't care for it. The inky black fabric is offset by very shiny buttons.

I made the mistake of ordering the coat in large, which fit well in the shoulders and arms, but ended up being too snug across the chest and around my seat. I've gotten used to wearing things slimmer, but the near-universal style blogger advice to "size down" does not always apply, especially for someone of my height and build. I based my size choice on the L.L. Bean Signature shirts I've purchased, but with the coat I needed a bit more room, so I sent it back to exchange for an XL, which didn't cost me anything because returns are free with the Bean Visa. There's only a couple of inches' difference in the fit, but it's just enough for me.

As of today, a month or so later, the coat is still on sale at the same price, and all sizes seem to be available in both colors. If you are interested, I'd suggest holding on a bit longer to see if Bean takes another markdown.

29 January 2012

This Week in Awesome (1/28/12)

Time to start thinking about the Super Bowl menu...

Related: really well-done re-imaginings of NFL team logos. (This Fits)

A crowdsourced approach to concert videos. (UrbanDaddy)

Cultural anthropology of sorts: in the early 1970s the EPA sent photographers out across the country to document how people's lives were being affected by various environmental conditions. This fascinating photo set on Flickr examines a section of East Boston adjacent to Logan Airport in 1973. (Hemmings Auto Blog)

And finally this week, also in a musical vein, Leonard Cohen's new album Old Ideas arrives this week. I have never given his music the attention it deserves, but Twilight Singers frontman Greg Dulli's outstanding cover of Cohen's "Paper Thin Hotel" is a great way to begin to rectify that. A day or so later I came across this video of a 1988 Cohen appearance on Austin City Limits. (Rolling Stone via The Awl (note that this link will autoplay); Dangerous Minds, also via The Awl)

28 January 2012

Retro Video Unit (1/27/12)

Wow, it's already been two weeks since the last one of these? Too quick. I took a day off yesterday and was fairly busy, so I forgot I was supposed to do this...

Going back to about the same time as the XTC song from back in December, The Boomtown Rats came out of London by way of Dublin with a sound that, initially at least, owed as much to Bruce Springsteen as to punk. Most people are familiar with them (if at all) from lead singer Bob Geldof's work organizing the Live Aid concerts in 1985, or the 1979 single "I Don't Like Mondays." That song is what led me to them originally, but it's far from my favorite of their songs.

That would probably be "Rat Trap," from their second album A Tonic for the Troops. It's like a mini rock opera all in one song. There is supposedly an official music video, but since it was released in 1978 I can't find it, so we'll go with this "live" clip from (if the YouTube info is to be believed) the UK music show Top of the Pops.

26 January 2012

Briefly Noted

Just after my previously described encounter, I passed the Così sandwich shop on Milk Street and was greeted by outside speakers playing "This House Is Not For Sale" by Ryan Adams. Who knew anyone at Cosi had such good taste in music? For that matter, who knew Così was even open for dinner? When I worked upstairs in that building several years ago, they closed at 3 pm.

Overheard: Personality Conflict Edition

Guy standing in an alley off Milk Street, talking on his phone: "Nah, I can't work with George. That's what happened at Quizno's."

25 January 2012


I'd planned to quickly post this morning about how the three meetings I had to attend yesterday got in the way of blogging. Then I got to work and found that we were having serious internet issues—no email, no web access, no file server.

That lasted until early this afternoon, which meant I was unable to get any work done for the first half of my day, and I've spent most of the second half making up for that. And much of that work was postponed from yesterday... see where I'm going with this?

At this moment, I'm not entirely sure what day it is. Hopefully I'll be getting back to something resembling a regular schedule soon enough.

23 January 2012


Residing on my list of perpetual annoyances is people who don't pay attention to what's happening around them, resulting in the inconveniencing of other people (mostly me, but sometimes others). As I was leaving work today, there was a guy standing at the top of the stairway down to the first floor and the exit. He was in the process of putting on a trench coat, and he was standing in such a way that he was blocking the stairs.

My approach was from behind him on his left side, so he didn't see me. I stopped and waited for him to finish. He shrugged the coat on, and back off again, and back on and back off again. I think the collar was getting caught on his clothing underneath, or something, but after ten seconds I decided I didn't want to wait any longer. I said "excuse me" and went on past him. But he didn't need to be standing in that spot in the first place; just to the right there is an area with armchairs that is not directly in the path of anyone who might be leaving the building.

Yes, sure, people sometimes get distracted, but frankly, most of the time it's because they just can't be bothered to pay attention in the first place. I am always very conscious of my surroundings, and of whether or not I might be blocking someone's way. If you ride public transit, you kind of need to be, but it also connects to my visual limitations and the fact that heightened attention helps me compensate for things I might not be able to see as soon as another person might.

22 January 2012

This Week in Awesome (1/21/12)

Those around me know that I had predicted this would be a relatively mild winter, and I'd say that having the first real snow fall three weeks into January fulfills my prediction. Now, it was pretty cold (around 20 degrees) when I went out to shovel yesterday, but the snow was the light and fluffy kind, and we got only about three inches, so I kind of enjoyed it. And we're supposed to approach 50 degrees tomorrow and Tuesday, so it's all going to melt anyway.

Meanwhile, back on the internet, it was a bit of a pop-culture fest this week:

—a classic movie recreated using action figures (Pop Culture Brain via Videogum)

—classic album covers recreated in LEGO (High Snobriety via Esquire Style Blog)

—these dogs want to bark you a familiar tune (YouTube via Jalopnik)

Elsewhere, those of you who are compulsively minded (like me) will appreciate the organizing principle behind this tumblr (Cult of Mac)

And finally this week, Stephen Colbert's satire machine has shifted into high gear for primary season. If you haven't been following along, he formed a SuperPAC and has been using the funds to create a hilarious series of mock campaign ads. You can find all of them here.

20 January 2012

The Source

A couple of months ago, I compiled a list of penny loafers at various price points. At the time, I mentioned that I didn't know where the Brooks Brothers loafers were made. I happened to be in the store recently, and got a good look at the shoes. They're made in El Salvador. Know who else has penny loafers manufactured in El Salvador? Bass. Coincidence? Probably not.

If you think about it, it makes sense. Brooks Brothers contracts with companies like Alden and Crockett & Jones to make higher-end shoes for them. Brooks wants to offer a traditionally-styled penny loafer at a more reasonable price, but doesn't want to just carry Bass Weejuns because those sell for only around $100 and are available in lots of other places. So Brooks goes to Bass and says hey, can you run up some private-label loafers for us?

There are a couple of minor differences for the almost $100 extra you'd pay for the BB loafers. The leather soles are much darker than the natural tan ones on Weejuns (not that this matters since the color gets scuffed off the soles as soon as you wear them outdoors). The leather used for the uppers seems a bit nicer, with a more natural-looking semi-matte finish instead of the glossy, plasticky look of a typical modern Weejun.

Otherwise, they're pretty much the same shoes. The insides have the same amount of padding, which is to say hardly any (no one buys penny loafers expecting them to be comfort shoes). I don't see a justification for spending almost twice as much, unless you could get them during one of Brooks Brothers' sales.

Season Premiere Alert

Oh, by the way: Mad Men. March 25th. TWO HOUR EPISODE.

18 January 2012

Sports Talk

On my way home from work yesterday, the guy sitting next to me said, "Excuse me, are you a Giants fan?" He was an older gentleman wearing a Celtics jacket.

Trying to determine whether he was a typical T weirdo or a somewhat more normal person, I raised an eyebrow and said, with as little affect as I could, "No." He answered that since he could see that I was reading the sports section of the New York Times, he thought I might be a Giants fan. I told him that the Times has excellent sports coverage, including a reporter who specifically covers the Patriots. I showed him her byline on the story I was reading.

It turned out that he was a native of Indianapolis who had moved to the Boston area almost a quarter-century ago, and over time had become a Boston sports fan. As such, his friends back in Indianapolis had been harassing him via text message regarding the Pats' postseason success. (But hey, they're Colts fans, so they don't have anything better to do at this point, right?)

We proceeded to have a very pleasant conversation about the Patriots, the Ravens, the upcoming game, last weekend's games, his family, his semi-retired state, and several other random topics. I was glad he had made the effort to speak to me, and I hope I see him again (which I may, since we both were heading to Wellington to board buses).

17 January 2012

The Pendulum

That stuff I was saying a couple of weeks ago about my work? Yeah, maybe not so much.

16 January 2012

Last Week in Awesome

Not sure how I forgot to do this... the weekend ate my brain, I guess.

Did you know you can still find classic men's colognes like Brut in drugstores? I'm not sure how they smell, but if you are dissuaded by the overly perfumey nature of many of today's purportedly men's fragrances, this intrepid gent sampled six drugstore scents. (The Art of Manliness via Kempt)

The font Comic Sans has taken its share of ridicule. This project reimagines well-known logos and other typography using CS. (Esquire Style Blog)

In a similar vein, these movies are imagined in different eras with actors and directors of those times. (Behance via The Daily What)

And finally this week, many of you have probably already seen this, but it's so good it's worth posting here too: Tebowie. (Late Night With Jimmy Fallon; Hulu via Videogum)

13 January 2012

Retro Video Unit (1/13/12)

I decided to toss out another one of these today, to get back on my original schedule.

The Church, one of my longtime favorite bands, made a bunch of videos to accompany tracks from their early albums, and they were all complied on a collection called Goldfish: Jokes, Magic, and Souvenirs. I had a copy of it, but it was on VHS, which may explain why I can't find the videos for early songs like "The Unguarded Moment" anywhere on YouTube.

But I did find this one. It's a typically weird video by the standards of the era, but it's quite a decent song: "Almost With You" by The Church.

12 January 2012

Wet and Windy

I'm always (still?) a bit surprised when I see people struggling and flailing with umbrellas on really windy days like today. Believe me, I hate getting rained on, but an umbrella is essentially useless when the wind is blowing at 30 miles an hour. I brought mine with me today in case the wind subsides later, but I didn't open it on the way to the bus stop. I managed by covering my head with a wool hat, which is naturally water repellent.

I have a bus-stop acquaintance who has one of those clear plastic bubble-style umbrellas, and those are probably the best approach on a day like today. Because of their deeper bowl shape, they are less likely to get inverted by the wind.

But sometimes a jacket with a hood is the better option. I remember reading the blog of a Bostonian who was transplanted to Seattle, where they have a certain familiarity with rain. She reported that Seattleites have a dim view of those who choose to carry umbrellas, and you basically have to go with hooded Gore-Tex if you want to fit in.

11 January 2012

Too Tight

You'd think I would know better by now... I picked up a pair of vintage American-made Levi's on eBay, but never bothered to confirm the measurements. Of course they were too small. Just because the tag says "size xx" doesn't mean the garment is actually that size. Things shrink. Luckily, this seller accepts returns, so they are going back.

10 January 2012

Watch This

DVR alert for this weekend: Arcade Fire will be making their second appearance on PBS's Austin City Limits. In the Boston area the show airs on channel 44; the first broadcast is Saturday night/Sunday morning at midnight. There's also another showing 24 hours later on the same channel. Their first performance on the show, a few years back, was excellent. I imagine this time they'll be playing mainly songs from The Suburbs, which should also be great.

There are a few other airings during the week, but only on the 'GBH Kids channel; if you have cable or satellite service you'll have to check to see if you get that channel (being kidless, I have no idea). The WGBH schedule main page is here. If you live elsewhere, check the website for your local PBS station, or the main PBS site. And if all else fails, after the show airs you'll be able to watch it online here.

To get you in the mood, here are two preview videos: first, a look backstage set to "We Used To Wait":

And the song "Ready To Start":

09 January 2012

Annals of the Gross and Exceedingly Embarrassing

After reading this lovely entry earlier today on Universal Hub (warning: don't click if you are eating or are generally sensitive to gross stuff), it reminded me (what does that say about me, btw?) of one of the most embarrassing things that's ever happened to me.

(Come to think of it, the above warning more or less applies to the following as well...)

Way back more than 20 years ago, I lived in Jamaica Plain for a year. One day I was heading home on the 39 bus. It was winter, and I had a cold. I was sitting near the back, in one of the seats that faces sideways. The bus was fairly crowded, so there were people sitting in all the seats directly across from me.

A cough sneaked up on me, and before I could get my hand up to cover my mouth, I accidentally expectorated onto the shoe of the person sitting across from me. The trajectory was perfect; I could not have accomplished such a feat of bodily rebellion if I was trying, but of course these sorts of things tend to happen beyond our control.

Naturally I was mortified, and apologized profusely, but the guy just glared at me, unwilling to accept the idea that this had happened by accident. And also naturally, everyone else sitting or standing nearby witnessed it. Even though it was a few stops before my stop, I got off the bus immediately out of colossal embarrassment. I briefly considered packing up and moving out of the area that very weekend, in order to avoid the possibility of encountering any of those people on a 39 bus again, but I didn't have anywhere else to go at the time, and ended up staying another seven or eight months.

07 January 2012

This Week in Awesome (1/7/12)

I skipped TWiA last weekend, because it was a holiday and there wasn't much going on the web anyway. But it's back, with numerous diversions for you...

There's more than one way to wash a car. This one may not give the optimum result, but it's certainly the most efficient. (YouTube via Autoblog)

Weekend craft/DIY project: make your own Whitey Bulger paper dolls. (South End Textiles via Universal Hub)

Here's a look back on some of the major events of 2012. Just go look at it, and it will make sense. (The Morning News via The Hairpin)

This has already been posted in a few places, but for those of you who haven't seen it yet: Hoarder Barbie. (Flickr via The Hairpin)

And finally this week, my interest in city life, infrastructure, and transit comes together very nicely in the work of Shawn Dufour, who photographs things like abandoned subway tunnels. Check out his work here, and an article about him here. (BostonInnovation via Universal Hub)

06 January 2012

Retro Video Unit (1/6/12)

(I missed a week of this feature due to the holidays; I'll probably do one next Friday to make up for it.)

Even as a teenager, it was quite obvious to me why Blondie included "Heart Of Glass" on their 1978 album Parallel Lines: to get radio airplay at the height of disco mania. As original written, the song was very different, a slow, country-tinged lope; had it been released that way, it's entirely possible Blondie would have flopped and never been heard from again.

But after I got the album, I was really quite happy to find that the rest of the album was quite different from the hit single. Having been exposed to performers like Elvis Costello and Talking Heads on Saturday Night Live, I was ready to move beyond my personal disco phase, and Blondie was pointing the way.

Even how they dressed (on the album cover and some of their TV appearances) would come to influence me, because in another year or so I would be a senior in high school, and for some never-explained reason, seniors (who attended classes on a separate campus) were allowed to wear sneakers with our jackets and ties.

Here's the first track on Parallel Lines, "Hanging On The Telephone."

05 January 2012

Flash-Sale Fatigue

A couple of years back, web sites selling high-end merchandise at deeply discounted prices for short periods of time, like Gilt and Rue La La, were the hot retailing trend. Everyone wanted a piece of the action. Amazon started MyHabit, Nordstrom bought HauteLook, and now even Bluefly is jumping in with Belle + Clive (which is kind of interesting because you could argue that all the other sites are a modified version of what Bluefly had already been doing for over a decade).

But as these sites have proliferated, they are all competing for more or less the same merchandise, meaning the selection gets poorer, and in order to continue having fresh product to offer, some sites have resorted to the outlet-mall tactic of having merchandise made specifically for them. Overall, the chance of finding a prestige-brand item at a steep discount is much lower than it used to be, along with the perceived thrill of shopping at these sites.

My own tastes don't run to designer apparel and shoes anyway, and I've found that, especially in the last year, there is very little in the daily emails in which I'm interested. I've stopped opening most of the emails, or I'll do so only to scan the full list of what a site is offering on a given day. Rarely do I click through to browse anything. Some sites' emails, like those from Beyond The Rack, just get deleted each day, which makes me think I should probably just disconnect from that site altogether.

It's disappointing. I had hoped that sites such as these would take over the role once played by discount stores like the now-departed Filene's Basement. But it doesn't seem to be turning out that way. However, New York's famed Century 21 has started its own version of flash sales, and some of their offerings have been at least marginally interesting. And now and then I see postings on men's style blogs of people finding merchandise from Brunello Cucinelli and Ralph Lauren Purple Label in their local Marshalls, so maybe there's hope after all.

04 January 2012

Wood Flakes

I have a peacoat I got about a year ago. Whenever I wear it, I find little bits of what seem like wood shavings on it, along with other assorted lint and fuzz. (I should have known better than to choose black, because the wool attracts everything and the black shows everything.)

Recently, I was putting on the coat and mentioned the wood bits to the Mrs. She figured out that they are coming from the closet rod: when the hangers get slid back and forth, they are causing tiny bits of wood to get rubbed off the rod, and they fall down onto the coat.

I may have to see if I can find one of those plastic shield things you put over the shoulders of a garment on a hanger. And also, this reinforces my feeling that I should have gotten the peacoat in gray.

02 January 2012

Looking Ahead

The tree is being undecked (slowly), the last of the egg nog has been consumed for another year (I realize that I could stockpile it in the freezer, but that just seems sort of desperate, and I prefer the idea of a treat that's only available for a small portion of the year), and it's back to work tomorrow (boo, hiss). The winter break always slides by so quickly, I feel like I barely get the chance to do anything more than sleep late.

It was quite a year for us, with the Mrs. embarking on her great grad school adventure. She finished her first semester with a 3.4 GPA, which is pretty damn good, considering there were times she thought she wasn't going to be able to finish the required work, and I thought she was going to lose her mind in the process. One semester down, three to go.

I have the gift of full employment in a pleasant and collegial work environment. I sometimes listen to other people talk about problem coworkers and other workplace issues, and I remind myself how lucky I am. There are indications that this may be a somewhat challenging year for us as a company, but to be honest I welcome it, because it will bring out the best in us.

And this? Yes, this diversion will continue, hopefully better than before, or at least as good.