31 October 2013


I think these folks misunderstood the basic idea of decorating for Halloween:

30 October 2013


The houses in our area tend to do a nice job of decorating for the holidays, Halloween included. While walking around recently I took a few pictures of some of the more interesting efforts.
This couple appears to be waiting for a bus, but they don't run on their street.
This fellow reclined on his chair, with a spider and a skeleton to keep him company.
And I'm not sure if this poor creature was intended as a Halloween decoration (which represents a rather twisted approach), or if he was punished for some other transgression.

29 October 2013

Random Bits

I suppose these are the sorts of things I would post on twitter, if I was into that...

—I love how NBC's Sunday football-highlights show gives a whole 30 seconds of coverage to the weekend's English Premier League soccer matches.

—We had some trouble with the lock on our front door (the bolt was no longer retracting, so when leaving the house we had to lock the door from the outside with a key), so a locksmith came this morning and replaced that part of the lock mechanism. The charge for about five minutes of work was $180. Clearly this is the line of work I should be in...

—As of today, we still haven't bought any Halloween candy, so I guess we need to get on that. We got many more trick-or-treaters the first couple of years we lived here than more recently, but we still need a bag. Or two.

28 October 2013

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #8

I was looking through the pictures on my phone and came across this one, which I took over a year ago but had forgotten about:
This is from September of last year, not long after I encountered the white Falcon convertible that I used to kick off this feature. I happened to look out the window one day and saw it idling there. It obliged me by staying long enough for me to grab my phone and get this shot. (Sorry for the pole and the moiré effect from taking the pic through the window screen.)

At the time I took the picture I didn't know exactly what the car was, but I had an idea (and figuring it out can be part of the fun). Based on its overall shape I knew it had to be from the early 1950s, but I'm familiar enough with cars from that time period to know that it was neither a General Motors nor a Ford Motor Company product. There were still a number of smaller, independent companies around at the time, but I also knew it wasn't a Nash or a Studebaker.

Eliminating all of those left me leaning toward Chrysler Corporation, and specifically Plymouth. As it turns out, it's a 1950 Plymouth (I was able to make this conclusion from the car's grille, which was specific to that year only). I have no idea where it comes from or what it was doing on my street that day, but it was still fun to see it.

The Heat Is (Back) On

Yes, we got this taken care of Saturday. I didn't mean to let the whole weekend pass without following up. Turned out it wasn't the furnace's pilot, but a burned-out thermal coupling. The "plumber" (HVAC professional?) said he'd give our landlord a lecture about the virtues of regular maintenance, which could have prevented this situation.

27 October 2013

This Week in Awesome (10/26/13)

I admit I skipped this last week; due to a variety of circumstances, I just hadn't gathered enough material.

Fred Armisen introduced his aging punk rocker character Ian Rubbish just a short time before leaving Saturday Night Live, so it's nice to see him getting a second wind in this interview with former Clash members Paul Simonon and Mick Jones. (Funny or Die via Stereogum)

Athletes can seem larger than life to fans; here's a photo series that attempts to humanize them while capturing the essence of what makes them special. (Dappered Weekend Dossier)

Fascinating: a collection of sculptures made from coins. (Colossal)

It's that time of year: pumpkin spice products are everywhere. Here are some you may not be familiar with. (Funny or Die)

And finally this week, something all married folks can relate to. (Laughing Squid)

25 October 2013


So yeah, it got kind of cold around here this week. We haven't taken out our air conditioners yet—to be honest, we kind of forgot about them—so I was reluctant to turn on the heat until we could get them out of the windows this weekend. But this afternoon it was cold enough in the house that I decided to go ahead and crank up the heat anyway.

But the heat didn't come up. We went downstairs and took a look at the furnace, and it seems that the pilot has gone out. There are instructions for how to relight it, but that isn't something either of us is comfortable dealing with, so we have to wait until the landlord can get someone here to take care of it. Meanwhile, there will be extra blankets and comforters on the bed tonight.

24 October 2013

Something's Missing

The development at the old Filene's site in Downtown Crossing is back underway after a delay of several years. I happened to be downtown today and the facade of the old building is being preserved as part of the new project:
This view is from Summer Street, with Macy's behind me; at the right edge of the frame is Hawley Street, which runs behind the old building (where the employee entrances used to be). Then I walked toward Washington Street (to the left in the above picture) for another shot:
This is looking straight through what used to be the main floor toward Franklin Street, with the old Woolworth building (now home to TJ Maxx, H&M, Martshalls, and a health club) in the background. It will be interesting to see how the remains are integrated into the eventual finished building.

22 October 2013

Grooming Garage: Hair Stuff

Take a look at my cartoon avatar over there: not much hair, right? I'm 50, and the gene for baldness is part of my genetic makeup. That's how it goes. But what hair I do have is stubborn and wavy, and if I don't do anything to it, it just frizzes out in whatever direction it feels like. If I didn't make some sort of effort to try to tame it, I would end up looking like someone you'd want to avoid on the subway.

So for starters, it stays short, and between haircuts I have to tend to it with a trimmer around my ears. For styling product, I have tried dozens of creams and gels in my life. None of them has been perfect; most have either too much hold, or not enough. The "too much" products tend to be too heavy and sticky, and plaster my hair down, making it look even thinner on top of my head.

For a long time I have used a small amount of a leave-in conditioner as a sort of primer or base coat that adds a bit of thickness to my hair, or at least the illusion of it. In some cases it helps other product take to my hair better. The stuff I use comes in a comically oversized 32-ounce container that costs around $7 or $8 at drug stores and Target, and since I use just a small amount each day, the container lasts me a year or so, on average.

I got pretty good results for a while with a gel from Redken's men's line called Grip Tight; they make a stronger-hold version, but I never tried it because I didn't think I needed extra hold. But I prefer creams to gels in general, because they tend to provide a comparable amount of hold while being lighter and less sticky. There was an inexpensive cream product from Garnier that worked pretty well, but as has happened to me before, it was discontinued.

About six months ago I came across something, either in a magazine or online, about a styling cream from a company called Malin + Goetz that makes apothecary products using natural ingredients. I had heard of the company, and had maybe even browsed their website once, and even knew they made hair care products, but somehow hadn't taken the leap to trying it. The easiest way for me to do that was with one of my drugstore.com orders (it's carried on their sibling site, beauty.com, and the two sites share a shopping bag and checkout).

The M+G cream has definitely been one of the best hair styling products I have used. It's light, not sticky, handles easily, and even smells nice (sage). It has given me satisfactory to above average results for my problem hair, so whatever is in it seems to work for me. It's not cheap; none of the M+G stuff is. The 4-ounce tube is $20 and lasted me almost five months, and now that I'm more familiar with how it works, I might be able to stretch that a bit.

In the past I've endeavored to find the least expensive products that worked for me, but after a lot of trial and error I have learned that when you find something that does work, it's worth it to stick with it.

21 October 2013

Car Stuff: A Correction

No one likes to be wrong, but I believe it's important to admit one's mistakes. Back in the summer I posted pictures from a car show I attended. Among them was this one:
At the time I identified this as a 1964 Studebaker Avanti, though I questioned the originality of the wheels. While it is an Avanti, it's not a '64, and if I had been paying just a bit more attention, I would have realized that. The telltale sign that I overlooked is the side marker lights, which I have mentioned before were mandated by the federal government on new cars as of the 1968 model year.

The original Avanti was built for only two model years, 1963 and '64, and Studebaker was gone altogether by 1966. After the company ceased production of the Avanti, a trio of dealers in South Bend, IN (the location of the factory) purchased the rights to the Avanti name, parts, and use of factory space. The car was called the Avanti II and was built in small numbers, essentially by hand, until the early 1980s. (In fact, the car's history continues well beyond that point under different ownership, and with questionable styling changes like rectangular headlights.)

So this is definitely an Avanti II, and the presence of the side marker lights along with the absence of federally-mandated 5 mph bumpers dates this car to a 1968-72 time frame. As to the source of those wheels, which I noted look very much like ones used on Buicks: at this point the builders of the car were using Chevrolet engines, so it's entirely reasonable to extrapolate that they were also purchasing wheels from another GM division.

I realized my mistake in identifying this car after reading this article about the original Avanti on Curbside Classic, which goes deeper into Studebaker's problems and is well worth your time if you are interested.

18 October 2013

Retro Video Unit (10/18/13)

As I was looking for video clips to add to my article about music on TV in the years before MTV (part 1 and part 2), I found a bunch of interesting stuff. Saturday Night Live does not allow clips to be posted to YouTube, but back in the spring of 1980 ABC launched its own late-night sketch comedy show with musical guests. It was called Fridays and it ran for only a couple of years, but some of the music performances are available online.

The Clash made their American television debut on Fridays on April 25, 1980. They performed four songs, all from their double album London Calling, which was released in the US in January of '80. The first two songs were "London Calling" and "Train in Vain."

Later in the show the band returned for two more songs, "The Guns of Brixton" and Clampdown."

I think it's really cool to be able to see these performances from this stage of the band's career, as London Calling is regarded by many (myself included) as their masterpiece.

(Look for more clips from Fridays in the weeks ahead...)

17 October 2013


As someone who owns a lot of clothing and likes to shop, I have on occasion purchased something without being sure exactly when or how I would wear it. People who give advice on this sort of thing generally say that this is not a good approach. I know this, but there are times when you have to ignore what others might say and go with your gut.
This is a cashmere tie. I never went looking for one, nor did I ever think I needed one. I found it at the original downtown Filene's Basement. I can't remember exactly when I got it, but given that the downtown store closed in 2007, it had to be at least a couple of years before that, so let's say it was 2004 or '05. It caught my eye because I liked the dark charcoal color. I've always liked wool ties, and I had a couple of them in high school, where we had a dress code. Then I felt it, and knew it was special.
At the time I had never seen a cashmere tie. I was also not in the habit of buying high-end designer clothing items, but not knowing what you might come across was one of the joys of shopping at the old Basement. If you went looking for something like this today at, say, Neiman Marcus or Saks, what you'd find would be in the range of $200. When I found this, I think it had a suggested retail of $150, while the Basement price was $25, so of course I bought it.
This shot gives a closer look at the weave and the salt-and-pepper effect. I found it before the recent vogue for narrower ties, but because it's from a fashion designer's line it was slightly narrower than average. At 3.25" it's about as narrow a tie as I like to wear, but I feel its width is just right for the fabric and styling—it makes sense that this would be a bit narrower than a dressier silk tie.

I probably wouldn't wear this with a suit, but it would be perfect with a tweed jacket and a chambray shirt.

16 October 2013


On the same day I took the pay-phone picture a couple of weeks ago, I also took this shot on the platform at Wellington:
I waited for the precise moment when the train had stopped, but the doors had not yet opened. And it turned out pretty well, I think.

15 October 2013

Public Works

Back in the spring the a contractor for the city spent several weeks digging up our street and some of the surrounding ones for sewer work. Now a new contractor is working on lining the water main that runs under the street. In order to do this, temporary water lines were set up about a month ago; they run above ground across driveways and sidewalks, going just under the surface where they cross side streets.

Yesterday I got up around 7 to take the dog out. I came back and returned to bed, and as I was drifting back to sleep a racket started up, coming through the closed bedroom windows. I soon figured out that an asphalt saw and a jackhammer were being applied to the pavement in front of our house. It was probably close to an hour before things settled down enough that I could fall asleep again.

What I can't figure out is why this work was being done on a holiday. There doesn't seem to be any urgency around the project in general; once the temporary water lines were set up and the houses were connected to them, nothing happened for a couple of weeks, then I started noticing workmen around the neighborhood, but whatever they were doing, it seemed like they were doing it in a rather leisurely way.

I expected the noise to return today, but I didn't hear anything and didn't get awakened; when I got up the workmen were digging, but they were set up several houses away. so, on it goes.

14 October 2013

Car Stuff: Missed Opportunities

Now that I'm on the lookout for cars to take pictures of, it's particularly frustrating when I see one but can't get a decent picture of it because it's too far away or moves away too quickly. There are also cars that I saw around my area before I started taking pictures and haven't encountered again in a while. Being unable to get good pictures from more than one angle is frustrating too.

One afternoon a couple of months ago, I was coming back from a walk with the dog and waiting to cross out street when a really nice red late-1960s Cadillac convertible came gliding by. I didn't have my phone on me, but even if I did I wouldn't have been able to get it out and take a picture in time. Likewise, someone around my area has a late-1980s Cadillac sedan in an unusual triple-pale yellow combination. I saw it a year or so ago at the gas station with one of its doors open so I could see the interior, and then I saw it once again after that, in traffic, but going in the opposite direction.

There are others, but you get the idea. I'm still hoping that I will encounter some or all of them again at more opportune moments.

This Week in Awesome (10/12/13)

Busy busy busy... no really, we were busier than usual this weekend. And to be honest, I don't have the typical allotment, but what I do have is pretty good so I'm just going to go ahead and post it anyway...

Did you watch the annual "Treehouse of Horror" episode of The Simpsons last week? (They show it early because the show gets preempted for several weeks in October for the baseball playoffs.) The opening credit sequence was "reimagined" by movie director Guillermo del Toro, and incorporated all sorts of references to horror movies.

There's a lot to absorb in there, so a couple of subsequent articles break everything down: this one by annotating the video, and this one with stills and text, which may be easier than hitting the pause button over and over. (Entertainment Weekly; /film; Screen Crush)

And also in TV land, the people who make the FX animated comedy Archer did a little gag promo for the show's upcoming fifth season. If you watch the show you'll understand exactly why this is what it is. (FX via Vulture)

12 October 2013

Retro Video Unit Bonus (10/11/13)

I was going to hold onto this until next week, but it's just too good. Yesterday I was sifting through videos on YouTube, looking for clips to accompany an article for The Longfellow Bridge, and found this. I used it in the article, and I'm posting it here as well.

When I look for videos for this feature, I tend to focus on the years around the beginning of MTV because I have an especially strong bond with the music of that period. But sometimes I tend to forget that I am in fact a child of the 1970s (yes, born in the '60s but in terms of cultural awareness) and remain connected to the cultural signifiers of that era, for better and worse.

Fleetwood Mac was one of the biggest bands of the '70s; they sold millions and millions of albums, and their music was all over the radio. Even without ever owning any of their music, I've absorbed much of it. This song, "Rhiannon," was one of several hit singles from their 1975 self-titled album.

I've always liked this song, but I've never seen or heard a version like this one. Like the best bands do when performing their material live, Fleetwood Mac takes this quiet, moody song and rips it open into something quite different.

(This performance is from a 1970s late-night TV show called The Midnight Special that featured bands performing live.)

10 October 2013

Collared and Cuffed

We attended an event over the weekend for which we needed to dress up, and as I was planning what to wear I got to thinking about how my taste in dress shirts has changed. I used to choose dress shirts with a traditional point collar, as I am still a believer in the "rule" that one should not wear a button-down collar shirt with a suit (I'm totally okay with it when wearing a sportcoat and trousers).

I used to dislike spread-collar dress shirts, though at this point I can't remember why. I started noticing pictures of men dressed up—in catalogs, in magazines, at red-carpet events—and I realized that a spread collar shirt is an excellent way to elevate one's outfit just a bit more. It's classic and classy, and you don't have to worry about using a certain kind of tie knot; as long as your knot is well-formed, it will look just fine with a spread collar. (I don't really care for the cutaway collar, though; it's just a bit too dandyish for me, and it does require a Windsor or other chunky knot to look right.)

I also came to realize that a dress shirt doesn't need a pocket. I am someone who prefers my casual shirts to have a pocket, because I end up using it frequently, but if you're already wearing a suit then you have at least two or three inside jacket pockets available to you, so the dress shirt pocket is superfluous, and a dress shirt just looks cleaner and sharper without it.

Regarding one's cuffs, a lot of more style-conscious men now prefer their dress shirts with french cuffs, which is perfectly fine, but I find this is often just an excuse to wear whimsical cuff links. I am guilty of this (I own cuff links made from old typewriter keys), but I also have a pair that came with a shirt that are just pairs of buttons with about half an inch of thread between them (the thread is wound around itself a number of times to make it stiffer and easier to handle), and I have come to appreciate the quiet dignity (and low cost) of plain silk knots.

However, I've found that there are occasions when I feel that cuff links are a bit too dressy, and I prefer the look of a two-button cuff. I don't mean the kind that allows for a narrower or thicker wrist, but two buttons side by side with two buttonholes. It's more distinctive because it's less commonly seen, and even if no one else notices, I still know it's there.

It's possible to find all these attributes on one shirt, but it takes some sleuthing. The best source I have found for reasonably priced shirts with all these style options is Charles Tyrwhitt (and they are almost always running some sort of sale or promotion). But when I go bargain-hunting for dress shirts in Marshalls, I know that I'll probably have to compromise on at least one of these details.

Ralph Lauren shirts tend to be widely available at discounted prices, and I like them quite a bit, but I have yet to find one with a two-button cuff. A while back I found a USA-made shirt by Ike Behar for $20, but it had a pocket; I bought it anyway. A striped shirt by Tommy Hilfiger was exactly like one I was looking to replace, but it had a point collar. Again, for only $20 it didn't matter so much. Now I just need places to wear them...

08 October 2013

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #7

Not all old cars are interesting, and not all interesting cars are old. I spotted this in Medford Square a couple of months ago:
It's a Dodge Stealth, a car produced by Chrysler affiliate Mitsubishi during the 1990s. I don't know a lot about these cars, but after some quick digging on Wikipedia and Google images, I'm pretty confident that this is from 1990-93.

The Stealth was also sold as the Mitsubishi 3000GT, but unlike the earlier Mitsubishi Starion, an identical version of which was also sold as a Chrysler, the Stealth and 3000GT were the same car underneath but wore different designs. The biggest difference was at the rear: the 3000GT's rear glass wrapped down to the sides (though it looked like a single piece, it wasn't) and the Stealth had an unusual rear spoiler that was set at the base of its rear window rather than at the rear edge of the car.
Though this car is between 20 and 25 years old, its styling looks very dated compared to today's cars. It's much busier overall, with lots of flares and scoops and doodads, but that was the general vein of Japanese car styling then, a holdover from the 1980s. It's also significantly heavier and less powerful than a current sporty coupe like the Subaru BRZ (hi, PB).

The main reason I noticed this car is because we happened to park right behind it. It's not a car I thought of as particularly attractive when it was new, but it's running and getting someone around.

07 October 2013

Last Week in Awesome (10/5/13)

The weekend just kind of got away from me, as sometimes happens...

Sci-fi nerds will love this giant spaceship chart. (BuzzFeed)

A couple of months back I linked to an article about the top five TV shows ever. Now that Breaking Bad is finished, the author has reassessed his rankings. Spoilers, obviously. (The Hollywood Reporter)

Here's a pretty neat collection of infographics about internet usage. (BuzzFeed)

And finally last week, another New York time-lapse, but this one is arguably much more impressive when you read about the details of its creation. (PetaPixel via Laughing Squid)

04 October 2013

Retro Video Unit (10/4/13)

Oh yeah, we're digging deep today. As I have expressed before, the late 1970s was an incredibly fertile period for music, but a lot of the performers and songs from the period have slipped into obscurity. Thanks to YouTube a lot of this music is still accessible and available.

Flash and the Pan (a deliberate play on "flash in the pan") was an Australian group active during this period who had a run of catchy, well-produced songs. This one, "Media Man," is likely the first song of theirs that I encountered while watching a syndicated late-night music video show called Rock World.

I've always liked this song, but I think the video is particularly impressive given the technical constraints of the time period. Today a high-school student could probably throw together something as good as this in a couple of hours, but back then it would have taken some skill and creativity. And today's media men and women are no less plastic than their 1980 counterparts.

Still Thinking About Boots

Can you stand a few more words about shoes? Because I have them. Words. And shoes, duh.

I've been lamenting this week's return to summer-like weather because, well, mainly because I don't like warm weather, but also because it's prime boot-wearing time. It is October, after all. The window of opportunity for wearing boots that don't protect feet from cold and/or snow, and are worn primarily because they look good, has gotten narrower as we've become accustomed to our changing climate and weather patterns. It's possible I might end up being able to get back some of this time during December (and perhaps even later, like two winters ago), but there's no way to know that now.

A long time ago I wore Justin roper boots, and I've also tried classic harness boots with oil-impregnated, matte-finish leather, but I've found that the shaft height (around 10 inches, sometimes a little higher) of these styles to be uncomfortable; the tops of the boots end up rubbing against my calves. I tried higher socks, but they wouldn't stay up and they caused their own comfort issues.

So I've settled on 6" lace-up boots, and a zipper boot that's about 7" high. I have a couple of different kinds in different colors. Three years ago I bought a pair of Wolverine 1000 Mile boots in a color they call "rust." I chose it because it was more distinctive than the black or brown they were also offered in at the time. Some time later they added "tan," which in reality looks too orange and is not something I'd wear.

I've wished since then that they would offer some sort of a burgundy, especially since the leather for the boots comes from Horween, a Chicago tannery that's been around for over a century. Horween offers shell cordovan leather (from horses) in a deep burgundy they call "color 8," and I know this color is available in some of their other leathers. The competition (Red Wing) also offers their boots in "black cherry."

Sure enough, the 1000 Mile boot is now available in "cordovan no. 8," but these boots retail for $350 a pair. You can spend quite a bit less than that, and still get a quality boot that's made in the USA. Maybe seven or eight years back, L.L. Bean revived an engineer boot they had offered back in the 1930s for their Katahdin Iron Works collection. They are made for Bean by Chippewa, a company that doesn't get as much attention as Red Wing or Wolverine but has an equally legitimate bootmaking heritage. (Actually, J. Crew has been offering a few Chippewa styles for a couple of years now.)

This fall Bean added a plain-toe version of the Iron Works boot in a deep burgundy. They cost $210, which is a chunk more than the $150 they ran when Bean first reintroduced them, but still only about 60% of what you'd pay for either the Red Wing or Wolverine equivalent. And the Bean/Chippewa boot can claim to be more usable as a work boot as well. I tried on the original version some years back in a Bean store, and I found that they run small; I have another pair of Chippewas for winter wear and those run small as well.

By the way, for any of my family members who might be reading this: a Bean gift card would be a welcome Christmas or birthday gift, so I could put it toward a pair of these.

03 October 2013

Farewell, Pay Phones

I've been trying to be more aware of potential photo opportunities as I go about my mundane business. It has led to some interesting shots, like the one last week of the panda thief.

Yesterday I was passing through Wellington station again when I noticed this tableau:
The shot didn't come out quite as well as I hoped (I should have taken it on an angle to avoid the outside glare), but I only had a few moments before the train arrived, and there are still some MBTA employees who have not gotten the memo that it's legal and okay to take photos on T property, so I didn't feel like risking the wrath of anyone seeing me trying to take a bunch of shots.

I don't remember ever seeing pay phones inside the station, but I could be wrong about that. It looked as though they were on their way to the pay-phone graveyard and had been set in this spot while awaiting pickup. The cones and caution tape just add to the overall effect.

01 October 2013

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #6

Once I started taking pictures of older cars that I spotted around the area, I started noticing more of them. Sometimes they lurk in driveways, while others are parked on the street.

Today's subject is a car that we passed several times while driving; when it registered in my mind what it was, I asked the Mrs. to stop the next time we drove past it so I could take some pictures. I was very excited to see one still on the road, and not just being saved for car shows and cruise nights.
It's a 1968 Dodge Dart two-door hardtop. Its basic design was introduced for the '67 model year and remained in production for a decade, with minor changes to the front and rear ends every couple of years. The Dart and its corporate cousin the Plymouth Valiant were very popular cars when they were new, because they were well-built, dependable, and economical to own and operate. (There's a reason so many law enforcement organizations preferred Dodge and Plymouth police cars for decades.)
I know this car is driven regularly because I've seen it parked in various spots around this general area, including sometimes in a nearby driveway. This certainly would have been basic transportation when new; it's a Dart 270, the middle trim level of three available that year. I can recall that the parking lot of my elementary school always had several Darts and Valiants in it, cars that belonged to both teachers and staff.
By the way, you can identify the year of Darts like this fairly easily due to the small round side reflector lights. '68 was the first year they were required by the federal government, and the round ones were used on many Dodge and Plymouth models for that year only; for '69 they were replaced with larger rectangular lights.
This car also has a trailer hitch, which may seem a little unusual, but it could be used to pull a small boat or trailer of some kind, especially if it has the small V-8 that was such a workhorse engine in so many Chrysler products of the period (our green station wagon from a few weeks back had the same engine).
This car has obviously seen better days, but it's still on the road after 45 years. I've always liked these cars, especially the Dart GT convertible from this year, but any model from any of the 10 years of this design would be a fun car to have.