Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

Here's a rocking version of "Auld Lang Syne" by an Asian Jimi Hendrix cover band. To top it off, they even add "Foxy Lady" to the mix. Pretty great stuff.

Happy New Year everyone.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A return to normal

Christmas is almost over in the Trailing Spouse household. It has been exhausting. Moving to CT from Boston has meant being physically closer to most of our family, which in turn means the holidays can get spread over the course of a week. Fun. 

We're done traveling to Massachusetts, having completed our third trip yesterday. We're almost done giving out gifts, with one more sitting under the tree. We've even gotten through returning and exchanging clothes that were too big to fit in (I honestly think some relatives believe I'm 6'4", 250 and not 5'11" and a buck fifty-five). 

For a few moments, we can stop to take a breath.

I hope to get back into my routine over the next couple days. Until then, hope you've all come out of the holidays in one piece, that no one had their feelings crushed or lashed out at the embarrassing or just plain ignorant relative, and that you got everything you wanted and wished for.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Worst gifts

Today, while driving to day three of Christmas (I got, among other things, an awesome autographed photo of Leslie Neilsen!), conversation turned to the topic of bad presents. 

Worst presents. 

Horrible presents.

The Professor figured the worst gift she ever gave was a set of socks that her father received from her back in the early 1990s. Lame, we thought, but practical.

As for me, I once gave an ex-girlfriend a Faith No More tape, held in the paws of a cuddly teddy bear (this was a LONGGGGG time ago). Now, this wouldn't necessarily be a horrible gift except for the following points:

• Cuddly teddy bears and abrasive music often don't mix.

• I don't think my Ex liked Faith No More. At all.

• This was at the time when most people were already buying CDs.

I can only assume it collected dust for several years, then got sold at a yard sale.

As for the worst gifts ever received, the Professor claimed she couldn't pinpoint one single item. 

I immediately had a response. My worst gift was a t-shirt. A usually innocuous item, this t-shirt was special. A family friend gave it to me when I was about 15-years-old. It was black (a color I rarely wear) and said the following in tight white type across the chest:


It was a gift that even the best actor would have had a hard time pulling off after opening. I looked up at the giver and let out a hollow chuckle.

"Thanks," I said (maybe it came out as "Thanks?").

"I saw it at the store and immediately thought of you," the family friend replied.

My stomach dropped. Not only did I get a horrible gift and was struggling to appear excited about it, but I apparently also came across, at the tender age of 15, as someone who would proudly walk around with a t-shirt proclaiming that I knew, without any outside influence, that I appear to not "give a crap" about anything.

I was hurt by the shirt. Was I that cynical? Was I that obnoxious? Did people see me that way?

It sat in a drawer for a month. I then learned where it came from and returned it. The store worker, gladly, let me exchange it even without a receipt.

Any horrible gifts you'd like you share, dear readers?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Day after Christmas (or, day two of my five day Christmas)

As I type this, the Professor is avidly jamming away at Guitar Hero in our living room. It was one of her gifts from my parents for Christmas. When she opened it, she sounded like one of those crazy grandmothers-to-be that appear on far too many of America's Funniest Home Videos. Instead of a clever card announcing a new baby, however, the Professor had a long box, disguised by my mother, to open. 

She pulled the paper away. Within 3.5 seconds, her age shifted from 30 to 10.

"I know what this is! I know what this is!" she exclaimed. You would have thought it was covered in diamonds.

We've each created our bands in the game. Mine is called "Barkolounge." Hers is "Fishstick." I have some pretty incriminating photos of her jamming in her jammies. If she plays her cards right, they won't be released to her students.

Of course, I'm kidding about the blackmail.

Today is day 2 of Christmas. 2.5, really. Christmas Eve was spent with the Professor's family in Massachusetts. Christmas Day was at our place with my parents and some of the Professor's family. Today we're meeting up with some friends. Tomorrow we do my family's Christmas (a gathering of roughly 50) in Massachusetts. Sunday we recuperate. Then on Monday we head back up north for Christmas with the Professor's parents and brother and our nephew and niece. It will be a whirlwind.

In between it all I'll get to hear Foghat and Poison as the little rocker continues to climb the ranks. Professor by day. Shredder by night.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Joseph Cornell, birthday boy

Today is a busy one. Getting ready for the whirlwind known as Christmas. Lots of cleaning and cooking to be done, so I'll be brief.

Joseph Cornell, one of my favorite artists, would have been 105-years-old today. Criminally under-appreciated during life and after his death, he is best known for his amazing assemblage shadow boxes, some of which can be seen below. 

Cornell was a solitary individual. He spent his entire life living with his mother and brother Robert, who had cerebral palsy, in Flushing, Queens. His time was split between his art and caring for Robert, who died in 1965. Because of this dedication, Cornell did not find himself in many social circles.

He was devoted to Lauren Bacall and other unattainable women, who he would include in multiple pieces to over his life. As he gained fame, he found his comfort zone in speaking with the wives of those interested in his work and neighborhood children. In fact, shortly before he died, Cornell had an exhibition of his work that was designed solely for children, with all of the art displayed at their eye level.

In addition to his shadow boxes, Cornell also completed several avant-garde films.

If you're interested in learning more about Cornell, I highly recommend Diane Waldman's book Joseph Cornell: Master of Dreams. It contains some great reproductions of his work and offers a decent biography of the artist.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Snohawks on the highway

I traveled to Boston yesterday and was reminded why I didn't mind leaving the city. What with the snow everywhere and the tight roads and the lassez-faire attitude most Bostonians have when it comes to shoveling, the place was a streaky, off-white (okay, brown) mess.

What always amazes me in Massachusetts is the amount of cars driving around with what I call a "snohawk," essentially a strip of snow running along their hood, roof, and trunk. It's a trait that I always thought was universal, but I just haven't seen it much here in Connecticut.

Either all of these drivers have tyrannosaurus rex arms and can't reach that far with a brush or they're just really lazy. I passed one snohawker on the highway who had been pulled over by a state trooper. For whatever reason, he actually looked confused as the officer pointed at the 10" of snow that lined his roof, waiting to blind the drivers behind him at 70 miles per hour. He appeared to be whimpering. I, on the hand, smiled and cheered.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Make your Christmas a Slap Chop Christmas!

Several months ago, the Hartford Courant ran some tests on the "miracle" product known to the world as the ShamWow! Unsurprisingly, the cloth was a bit more "sham" than "wow." 

Well, these critiques didn't slow down Vince Offer, the ShamWow! pitchman, from plowing forward. Yes, Vince is back with a new must-have contraption. It is the Slap Chop, and it will change your life.

"Slap your troubles away," he chirps into his county fair-headset as he leans into the camera. "Stop having a boring life!"

Life improvement seem to be high on Offer's list, for he also says that, with the Slap Chop, "you're gonna have an exciting life" and that "life's hard enough as it is. You don't want to cry anymore!"

Wait, is Vince now a therapist, too?

Oddly, Offer seems to be hitting on all cylinders in this short infomercial. Mispronouncing pasta (it's not "freducinni," Vince), promising that the Slap Chop will make America skinny, laying goofy sound effects over the tossing of a competitors product, making testicle jokes; the man is throwing everything he has at the wall with this one.

Here's the abbreviated version of the Slap Chop infomercial:

I wonder if those who are somehow charmed by Offer's technique would still be interested in his products if they knew about his past as the director of the Underground Comedy Movie? Remember those late night informercial ads? You know, the ones that claimed the video to be "guaranteed to offend?" 

Here is an excerpt from the New York Times review of Offer's movie
. . . Vince Offer, who accepts responsibility for this wretched film by arrogating the writer's and director's credits, makes the common mistake of equating the recognition of comic potential for comedy itself. For the successful, talent bridges the gap, but here it is absent.
Ah, Vince, what a strange life you must lead. At least you have your Slap Chop. Just keep slapping those troubles away, right? 

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The shoveler

I didn't have to shovel that much as a child. Mostly walkways and the base of our driveway, but the rest was always taken care of by my uncle's plow or my father's snowblower. It wasn't that I disliked the task, it just never came up very often. This trend continued during my first six years living in Boston. I'd shovel out my car while landlords or college workers took care of driveways and front steps. It wasn't until the Professor and I landed in our last apartment in Boston that I caught the shoveling bug.

The house was across the street from my old boss (how that all came about is a story for another time), a guy I knew to be the neighborhood Mr. Fix-it. However, I didn't realize that the man was also obsessed with snow removal. Honestly, if there was a dusting, he would be outside, in full ski suit, scraping the asphalt clean.

The first time this happened, I stood in my living room and watched. He spent a full Sunday in his driveway, a beer resting in a snowbank, pushing the white back and forth as it continued to fall from overhead. Neighbors would come out here and there and do a quick shovel of their sidewalks. He'd chat them up, then they'd finish and go back inside, leaving him to continue his efforts. It was quite entertaining to observe.

The next storm came within a week or two. This time, I decided to give my boss' method a go. Once there was enough precipitation on the ground to move, I made my way outside, bundled from head to toe. Not surprisingly, he was already out, working away. We talked a bit as we cleared the snow. Before long, we each had a beer cooling in the ice. 

Neighbors began to come outside, folks I hadn't seen since the warmth of summer had vanished in late September twilights. They made paths from their front doors and down the sidewalks. Conversations began, and the work became this strange sort of social event. We all caught up on what had passed through our lives over the few months that we had been apart, not to mention how silly it was for neighbors to not keep in touch.

We all shoveled each other out. We dug out the houses of those we knew were away on vacation or stuck at work. Kids had snowball fights. More beers were passed around.

As the hours passed, I began to realize why my boss was always outside in these storms. It wasn't just the labor. It was the camaraderie that sparked through the neighborhood. It was the frosty cold beer with friends.

I was afraid that this sort of interaction would vanish here in Connecticut. Let's face it, people in this state are far too stuck in their own worlds. 

I was thankfully wrong. Sure, there weren't the conversations and bottles of beer that somehow get lost in the drifts, only to be discovered in the thaw of springtime, but there were plenty of "hello"s and "hell of a storm"s and "be careful"s. When it comes down to it, regardless of profession or tastes or conditions, if one is out shoveling, he or she is the same as everyone else.

It's a start. 

Friday, December 19, 2008

Snow, snow, snow

Just got in from round one of shoveling. West Hartford seems to have about 6 or 7 inches right now. The sky is still dropping, though, so we'll have plenty to pick up tomorrow morning.

Here are a couple pictures for readers from warm climates. See all the fun you're missing?

My next post will be the story of how I have become an obsessive shoveler. Stay tuned . . .

Be careful out there . . .

We're in whiteout conditions here in West Hartford. For those stuck having to drive home, take it slow. I'm about to go find my shovel.

More later. 

Thursday, December 18, 2008

. . . 4 hubcaps, 3 dead birds, 2 ladies shoes, and a patch of black ice for enemies!

I have several routes that I run in West Hartford. Most are pretty boring, at least as far as unusual discoveries are concerned. However, there's one path that I take that provides plenty of odd sights. It revolves around Park Road and includes stretches of Prospect Ave., Kane Street, Oakwood Ave., and the like.

If you're looking for some last minute stocking stuffers, and have been hit by the rough economy and are looking to do Christmas on the cheap, might I suggest the following locations and items:

Kane Street seems to be the place to go if you're looking for frozen dead birds. Seriously, there are quite a few. You don't even have to look. They're right there in the middle of the sidewalk. Big, black birds that are no more. One could easily convince an elderly relative with poor eyesight that such a creature, firmly attached to the floor of a bird cage , is just a quiet, loving pet.

Missing a hubcap? Then head on over to Oakwood and Park, where they have so many, they're throwing them onto the sidewalk! Be careful, though. Some piles seem random, but, if my guess is correct, they are actually elaborate installation art. You may want to ask someone before taking one for your toddler or dog.

Do you have a special lady in your life? Does she have two feet? Is she not a clown? If so, South Highland Street has a pair of average sized ladies shoes, neatly laid on the grass at the curb, waiting for some new paws to keep warm. Hurry over before they're gone!

Last on the list is something for the enemy in your life. Send them on a lovely trip to Flatbush Avenue. It's cheap, it's local, and there's plenty of black ice on the sidewalks to make even the most careful of steppers slip and break a hip! Of course, then you'll have to visit them at the hospital. But, even then, you can steal their mail while they're on the mend! It's a win-win!

No need to thank me, desperate shoppers. I just think that, this time of year, everyone should be helping out his fellow man. 

Your welcome.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Letters to Santa

This week's edition of The West Hartford News features a series of letters to Santa. For those readers from out of town, I thought I'd share a few of my favorites.

First up is Rodrigo, age 9:
This is easily the best line:

What does a mad 9-year-old write to Santa? Are there fat jokes involved? Jabs at elf labor? Maybe a dig or two aimed toward the Mrs.? Do kids use mama jokes?

Sorry Rodrigo, but Santa is ALWAYS watching you. The guys watches you while you sleep, if song lyrics are to be believed, so I'm sure he saw the seriousness tattooed on your furrowed brow as you dropped that "accidental" letter in the postbox. 

This last minute apology may work on your 9-year-old friends, but Santa's seen his fair amount of, well, BS in his life. He may be a tougher nut to crack. Good luck in your efforts.

Moving on, here's our next letter, one that the staff at the News has done nothing to help:

Oh, dear Kayla, Santa does not look kindly on those who can't spell. Of course, the folks at the News could have at least corrected that before going to press. Something tells me the average reader wouldn't have minded reading "goes," "dress," and "balloons" instead of "gose," "dres," and "buloons." 

Plus, you're all over the place with your list. Who asks for water balloons and two computers in the same sentence? What kid needs two computers? Are you setting up some sort of home office or something? You got to spread out the requests a bit. 

You're young. You'll learn.

Finally, our third letter seems to be written by a young (or old) person named Annika. Make sure to read the sign off:
Did you see that? 
Are there 75-year-olds in town posing as children to get "little ugly doll things" that they can grow? And, if so, what are they planning to do with them once they're full sized?

I'll tell you what they're going to do: Elderly coup d'etat!

Oh, we've been warned. We've been warned.

Lots and lots of trains

I saw this commercial on television last night. This is real. It isn't a joke.

Talk about a well-named product:

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The hottest gift this holiday season, courtesy of The Onion

Aunts And Stepdads Line Up For This Year's Hottest Gift: The Electric Tea Kettle

The mix CD

For the past four or five years, since the wondrous invention of iTunes, I have taken to giving my parents, in addition to their individual Christmas gifts, a mix CD. I usually plug some stuff on it I know they already like, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Springsteen, that sort of thing. But the real purpose of the disk is to expose them to music I'm enjoying. I guess I have some strange hope that they'll fall in love with, say, Okkervil River.

It's a thin line to walk. I mean, I want them to listen to the CD and to like it, obviously, but I also want them to discover something new, something they won't hear on their "light and easy" radio stations. So I try to find stuff that works for them, songs that aren't too abrasive, that aren't too loud. Bouncy works. Peppy works. A slight country twang works. The trouble is figuring out what the limits are. For example, I really love the recent Portishead and Bloc Party albums, but there's absolutely no way I can see my folks giving them a chance. It just isn't their music (I learned this lesson a few years ago. I thought the introduction of the Danger Mouse/Jay-Z Gray Album, which used elements of The Beatles White Albumwould somehow make them look at rap differently. Needless to say, it didn't really work.).

I just have this vision that, one day, my Dad (his name is Jim) will be in his office, humming the tune of M.I.A's "Jimmy," which makes an appearance on this year's CD (I was going to add it to last year's, but, honestly, I thought he'd be too afraid of it). Or, that listening to some Carla Bruni will make my Mom more interested in rediscovering her French, a language she solely spoke until the age of three.

So far, I've had only minor success. My Mom really liked Kings of Convenience, which lead to her getting one of their albums. Outside of that, though, I think I've only gotten an "A" for effort.

But I keep plugging away. One day, another song will work, I can feel it. And then my parents will be the hippest 60-somethings in town.

Here's the line-up I'm playing with for this year:

Gobbledigook - Sigur Ros
Kim & Jessie - M83
Quelqu'un M'a Dit - Carla Bruni
Texas 71 - Magnolia Electric Co.
When Your Mind's Made Up - Glen Hansard
Crying - TV On The Radio
Jimmy - M.I.A.
Belles - The Gutter Twins
Pop Lie - Okkervil River
Room To Rock - Matthew Sweet
Afterglow (Of Your Love) - The Small Faces
Mansion On The Hill - Bruce Springsteen
Just Like A Woman - Bob Dylan
Down The Line - Jose Gonzalez
In Field & Town - Hayden
Made In The Dark - Hot Chip
I Shall Be Released - Wilco w/Fleet Foxes

Monday, December 15, 2008

Doing something good . . .

Does this booklet look familiar? If you live in West Hartford, it should. It is the Human and Leisure Services winter catalog, which, I believe, was dropped into every mailbox in town over the weekend.

Now, before this catalog becomes a close personal friend to your recycling bin, take a moment and glance at pages 61 and 62. Here you'll find the various volunteer opportunities the Department offers, from youth sports to senior visits to the "Celebrate West Hartford" program.

Consider giving back to your community this holiday season. Perhaps make such a promise as a New Year's resolution. It will cost you nothing but time.

For more info on the WH Human & Leisure Services, visit their website here.

Some alternative suggestions . . .

Well, I certainly got an earful (or, should it be eyeful, as the text isn't actually making a sound) from my post yesterday. If there's one thing I've learned in my short time writing this blog, it's that you never know what'll set someone off. And, apparently, the band Los Lonely Boys is a pretty touchy subject amongst quite a few.

Folks, just remember, this blog is the opinion of one person. Most of the posts are meant to be poking fun. Don't take such offense.  

I was only attempting to say that there are FAR too many Christmas albums released each year. Oftentimes, they tend to defeat the true nature of the season. 

Remember the words of the immortal Grinch: Maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store.

So, I've decided to put my money where my mouth is today. Instead of being snarky, I've instead opted to offer up a few of my favorite Christmas albums. 

Then, you Los Lonely Boys fans can continue to tear me a new one.

Bing Crosby - White Christmas - Truly a classic, Mr. Crosby's voice is warm enough to melt the hearts of even the chilliest of cynics. There is really no point for modern performers to bother singing "White Christmas," as they'll never equal the perfection that is Crosby's original (though, his "original," on most pressings, is actually a rerecording done in 1947 which used many of the same elements from his actual original recording from 1942). 

The copy I have of this is released under it's original title, Merry Christmas.

Vince Guaraldi Trio - A Charlie Brown Christmas - Christmas just isn't Christmas without Charles M. Schulz's annual cartoon parable. A beautiful accompaniment to the famous Peanuts imagery, Guaraldi's bouncy jazz score is almost more memorable than the story it supports. And the brilliant instrumental "Christmas Time Is Here" is enough to bring a tear to one's eye.

Low - Christmas - This short EP, released in 1999, shows the group Low at its best. Known for their stripped, slow sound, there is a haunting quality to many of these songs. Yet, "Just Like Christmas," one of the 5 originals on the 8-track disk, is easily one of the peppiest songs the group has ever released.

The genuine thought in the lyrics to "If You Were Born Today" shows that Low isn't here to pad their bankbooks with this release. There is a message here that they're trying to spread. It is smart stuff that's disguised in quiet charm.

John Denver & The Muppets - A Christmas Together - Anything Muppet related tends to get a free pass from me, but this album is genuinely good. The soundtrack to a 1979 Christmas special, A Christmas Together blends the silliness of the Jim Henson creations with the tender voice of Denver. The duets are often quite a bit of fun, but it's the quieter moments that make this album special. It says quite a bit when a character like Rowlf can make you hold your loved ones a little bit closer when listening to his duet with Denver on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

Christmas with the Chipmunks - Though not quite as charming as an adult, this is still a Christmas must-have. Truly an example of Christmas cash-in, it still makes my eyes light up and my mouth smile whenever I hear it. This is an album that reawakens the child within and reminds that child that there's a lot of fun out in the world. Though, as an adult, Dave really comes across as a psycho show dad, doesn't he?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The most unnecessary new holiday albums

Every year, record companies and music artists alike join forces to produce an avalanche of holiday albums. And, every year, enough copies seem to sell to keep the onslaught alive and well the following Christmas season.

In 2008, over 30 major recording artists released Christmas albums.

Here, in my opinion, are the most unnecessary:

1. Elliott Yamin - My Kind of Holiday - The former American Idol contestant is releasing his second Christmas album, following 2007's Sounds of the Season. Here's the catch: Yamin only has ONE other album. So, thus far, his holiday records outnumber any actual recordings he's ever done.

Los Lonely Boys - Christmas Spirit - I suppose the gents in Los Lonely Boys, having failed to remotely crack the Billboard charts in quite some time, decided a Christmas album might be their ticket back into the spotlight. But, if a stale music act releases a CD and there's no one around to care, does it still make a sound?

Update: I've been informed by many of the rabid LLB fans out there that the band actually does quite a bit of charity work. I can only hope that some of the money generated by this album's sale goes toward these causes that they support. If so, then they get a pass. A suspicious pass, but a pass, nonetheless. 

The Archies Christmas Album - Really? Do we even need to debate the need for this?

Elvis Presley - Christmas Duets - This album is actually a huge hit right now, currently sitting at #14 on Amazon's music bestseller list.

The man has been dead for 31 years people! Is listening to his old recordings being mauled into "duets" by the likes of Gretchen Wilson and Carrie Underwood really going to help bring Christmas cheer? Why not buy one of the King's actual holiday albums? You know, the one's he made while he was alive and capable of thought? The ones that he had at least some control over?

Oh, the list goes on and on. Harry Connick Jr. is releasing his third Christmas CD this year, as is Tony Bennett. Amy Grant has what appears to be her 4000th collection of Christmas songs on the shelves just in time for stocking stuffers to gobble it up. Enya has her first Christmas CD out.

When does it end?

Honestly, the reason these artists, and in some cases I use that word loosely, release these albums year after year is because we, the public, buy them by the truckload. Are there good intentions? Perhaps here and there. But, the question remains, how much is too much? Should every musician get one free pass to try their hand at a holiday classic? Should there be some sort of regulation enforced to prevent the destruction of carols by one-hit-wonders? Will any of these albums matter thirty years from now, or will Bing Crosby still warm our hearts with "White Christmas?" Will future generations instead substitute his tones with Elliott Yamin's new "Let's Be Naughty (And Save Santa the Trip)?"

Only time will tell.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The horrors of the holidays

I was scanning around YouTube today and decided to do a search of folks singing Christmas songs. Naturally, I was looking for horrible, horrible examples to share with all of you.

Here are my findings:

According to YouTuber Dabugi, this was his "pathetic attempt at a last minute Christmas greeting. I turned the radio on and started singing the first song that came on. It wasn't until 'Chestnuts' that I even knew what song it was." 

I must say, my favorite elements to the video are: 1. This man's dedication to finishing the song, 2. The annoyed cat that wanders through about 1/3 of the way in, and 3. The awesome "intense eyes" the guy uses throughout the performance.

Okay, so what's really weird with this one is that the performer seems to be nude. Why? We'll never know. And maybe that's a good thing.

A great component of this performance is the fact that the singer is too scared to show her face, choosing instead to hide behind a roll of wrapping paper. What's even better are the dead eyes she has while obviously speed reading the lyrics to the "12 Days of Christmas."

The jacket. The reverb in his voice. The swaying. What can I say? Brilliant.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Beware of my undead army of gingerbread men!

This is what happens when it rains on a December day and I have too much time on my hands . . . Gingerbread Zombies!

To be fair, many normal gingerthings were also made, but I couldn't resist Photoshopping a little portrait of my minions. 

Congratulations North Dakota, you corrupt son of a bitch!

USA Today, well, today, released an article about state corruption in the wake of the recent Illinois scandal involving Governor Blagojevich's attempt to sell President-elect Obama's vacant Senate seat (times are tough, right? I mean, who wants a hungry Blagojevich child coughing at their doorstep this Christmas because they don't have enough millions for food?). 

Turns out, North Dakota is the most corrupt state in the nation, with an average of 8.3 public corruption convictions for every 100,000 residents between the years 1998 and 2007. My fair state of Connecticut, milquetoast as it is, had a piddly 3.2 convictions per 100,000 in the same time period. Always the bridesmaid . . .

Extra, extra, read all about it over here.  

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The joy of quilting

The Professor and I are trying to keep our Christmas gift-giving in check, both because of my job status and because, well, the stress of giant presents just isn't what the holidays are about. Not that we've ever been the "over-the-top" kind of holiday fools, but we've been known to go a little nutty hunting down items for family and friends. 

So, with the Professor's wonderful skills as a seamstress and my ample free time, we decided this year we'd try to make a fair amount of our gifts. 

The Professor has been knitting items for grandparents and friends. She's sewn together bags and headbands. 

And I, well . . .

I have begun to quilt.

That is a sentence I never would have imagined I'd utter.

Yes, for our parents, we opted to make matching quilted wall hangings of this Christmas tree pattern that the Professor found online somewhere. I, admittedly, cannot work a sewing machine all that well, so I have been in charge of cutting out pieces of fabric. I made sure to do most of this while football was on television, if only to ensure my manhood (though, if you ask me, cutting out fabric while watching burley men in tight outfits jump on top of each other could go either way. Not to mention the high heels I was wearing at the time . . .).

Anyway, I cut out pieces and the Professor sewed them together. I then took the sewn pieces and ironed their seams flat so that they could be connected to more pieces. We actually were a great team, almost a machine, in fact. I'd press pieces, deliver them to the sewing room, pick up the next round, and so on.

Unfortunately, the one bump we came across was learning that, after I cut everything out, I must have been shaving the pattern of a few shapes ever so slightly while going through the fabric (I was wondering about all those thin whiskers of paper!). But, the Professor, crafty as she is, was able to improvise a bit, cutting everything down to be uniform.

As everything came together, I admit that I felt pretty proud for helping make these little things.

I am Ben, and I have quilted. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The up of the down

I have written recently about the advantages of being unemployed, but, the truth is, waiting for a job to arrive is pretty much a bummer. I can't tell you how many times I've "almost" gotten something since arriving in West Hartford. I've applied for jobs one week too late. I've spent entire days at companies, meeting staffs and owners, only to find that, after an unexpected downturn in the stock market, their "six month plan" had been dramatically and suddenly revised. I've had long phone interviews that have ended with "well, we aren't looking for anyone right now, but . . ." I've had more job searches cancelled due to budget cuts than one can feel is normal. I've been to certain companies three, four times, only to learn that, at the last minute, someone else with perfect qualifications had applied and edged me out.

It really isn't fun.

But, if my work life has been a continuous series of blunders, it has at least allowed me to really contribute to the completion of Circuit, a movie I co-wrote and helped edit while still living in Boston. Yesterday, I drove up to Arlington, MA, to take in the "almost final" cut of the project and to provide suggestions for tightening up the stories. I met up with the film's sound designer Adam and my friend Andrew, the film's director, and sat back to watch what they had been working on.

I was really amazed. In every regard, Circuit had been improved from my last experience with it. The project had become a real movie, not just an idea that Andrew and I had five years ago while doing a writing exercise. The guys had taken a decent cut submitted by myself prior to leaving Massachusetts and whittled it into something strangely satisfying. As an audience member, I felt like a ghost, floating through each story. Performances had been shaped. Special effects had been improved and included. Original music pulsated through scenes, supporting the emotions of the actors on screen.

It was impressive, though there were a few minor kinks. So, we got to work. We spent the day adding and removing scenes, flip-flopping order, and trimming seconds here and there. Having spent the last five months away from the footage helped give me a fresh perspective and let me see the problem areas with a new mental picture.

By the time I drove away and hopped onto Route 2, we had found the solutions. I left Andrew and Adam to fine tune everything as they moved towards the finish line.

The first film festival submission deadlines for Circuit are rapidly approaching. I'm excited for the project to break away from its sheltered existence, to become a member of the world. Who knows, maybe it'll even get into a few big festivals. Until then, I'm just happy to have the time right now to help see it off of its journey. 

And for that, unemployment has been great.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

West Hartford Restaurant Round-Up: Local Favorites

Been a bit since my last mouth-watering, taste bud-snapping, heart-racing list of local eatery reviews, so I figured I should get another one started. This time, we're focusing on local favorites, places recommended by new acquaintances in the area.

I'm going to keep it simple this time, so no floating Vin Diesel heads for scores. Instead, we're going to go Great, Good, and Meh.


Grants Restaurant and Bar - 977 Farmington Avenue, West Hartford - Grant's has been on my list of "places to try" since first moving to West Hartford. However, it being a tad pricey, the Professor and I decided to postpone our visit until Restaurant Week. Needless to say, it was well worth the wait. Dishes were all served very elegantly. Entrees were superb. Scallops were seared to perfection, plump and juicy. Short ribs were moist and tender, with just enough sweetness. Sides all complimented their entrees and were attended to with obvious care. 

Starter salads were well portioned and not overly-dressed. Desserts, apple crisp and peanut butter pie, pleased the taste buds and incorporated local fruit.

The only drawback to Grant's is, sadly, the decor. Faux-Roman columns sit in the middle of the dining area, creating an artificial space that just feels a little odd. It certainly wasn't what I expected, and didn't convey the warmth that the cuisine encouraged.


The Corner Pug - 1046 New Britain Avenue, West Hartford - This has been the one place I've been urged to visit more than any other. So, it must hold a near and dear place in many local hearts. And, it must also mean it has great food, right?

Well, mostly. I've actually been here a couple of times now and have had two wildly different dining experiences. The first did not leave me impressed and a bit disappointed. The second not only made up for those disappointments, but made me wonder if I had somehow stumbled into a different restaurant on my first visit.

When dining at the Pug, it seems that the lounge room is the place to sit. Cozy, intimate, and covered with framed photos of tiny dogs, one instantly feels comfortable in this area. It's fun, it's hip, and it provides great people-watching and plate-surveying. Comparatively, the dining room section is far more lifeless and really feels like a different establishment. The energy doesn't trickle into this room, and that lack really affects the dining experience.

Food-wise, the burgers at the Pug are absolutely amazing. Cooked to order, where pink actually IS pink, one can't go wrong with any of these choices. Add in the fact that any burger can also be made with chicken, and the average carnivore is set for a very long time. These may have been the best burgers I've had since moving to West Hartford, and that says a lot, since we have both Plan B and The Counter in town. Outside of burgers, starters like the Kettle Chips and Beer Batter Onion Rings are golden goodness. However, when I ordered the meatloaf as my entree during my first visit, I was left wondering why it was considered one of the house specialties.

Park Lane Pizza - 337 Park Road, West Hartford - I've been to Barb's. I've been to Lena's. Both, in their own way, make a decent slice of pizza. But, when it comes to old-school, Greek-style pies, I can't say enough about Park Lane Pizza. One look at the place tells you what to expect: traditional, straight-up, without too many bells and whistles. It isn't Italian, thin crust pizza. It isn't gourmet pizza. And, it isn't trying to be. 

Add in the fact that the place makes some tasty grinders AND has working tableside jukeboxes, and you have a nostalgic winner.


Tapas Mediterranean Cafe - Multiple Locations: West Hartford, Bloomfield, Hartford - I visited the Bloomfield location of Tapas and was underwhelmed by the food I was served. To begin, I didn't realize Tapas' definition of what a "tapas" was until I was presented a menu. I was expecting some sort of Spanish tapas, which, to me, has always meant small portions of various meats, seafood, and cheeses. But, at Tapas, the plates in question are essentially pizzas. It's as if they have taken the "origin story" of the dish (bread used to cover wine glasses) far too seriously and turned it into generic food. Though many of the options seemed appetizing (I ended up with the Basque: sausage, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, mushooms, and ricotta), when they end up baked onto a pita, they lose most of their appeal. Sorry, but these tapas aren't tapas.

Decor at the Bloomfield location was very nice, however. And, our waitress that evening was dutiful and attentive. Too bad the food wasn't what I had expected. I have not been back for a second go-around to Tapas, but, from what I hear, the Greek dishes are supposed to be good. 

Friday, December 5, 2008

Gimme something to write on . . .

My buddy Mark turned me onto the following video. Several months ago (probably this past spring), someone out there in the big wide world of ours posted online the David Lee Roth vocal master track from the Van Halen hit "Runnin' With The Devil." If you haven't heard this, you must seek it out. It is quite hilarious.

Well, it appears this mysterious music trickster, or someone else with time and access to 28-year-old masters, has done it again. Here is David's vocal track for "Hot For Teacher." Though not as initially satisfying as "Runnin'," it's worth a listen just to hear the "Oh My God" line at about the 3:20 point.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Cell phone blues

I enjoy poking fun at my newly (4 months and counting, baby!) adopted home of Connecticut. I mean, this is of an odd little stamp of land, what with the lack of radio stations, the strange goings-ons when it comes to local town politics, the absence of a good local record shop, the sidewalks (both vanishing and hole-filled), local newspapers, Joe Visconti, leaf vacuuming (?), rapping 4 a.m. teenagers, and, well, plenty of other things. 

But there is one thing that Connecticut is actually doing that I wholeheartedly endorse.

It's a small sign. Nothing flashy. Just black letters on silver backing, perched along state highways, greeting drivers as they cross onto nutmeg land. 

Here's a picture (thanks, Mr. Google and your awesome friend, Mr. Street View!): 

"Driver use of Handheld Telephones Prohibited." PROHIBITED!

I must have looked like the Cheshire Cat when I first noticed that sign, driving the U-Haul from Massachusetts the day that I moved.

You see, I am not a cell phone guy. I love technology, but I've never gotten into the cell phone world. Don't get me wrong, I understand the need for cells, and I can't fault anyone who has and cherishes one, but I just don't want one of my own. There's something about always being available and obligated to answer calls that really doesn't do much for me. And, I don't buy the "That's why you can turn it off" speech that I always get when I state my case, because everybody knows that when you get dumped to voicemail or someone doesn't answer, they suddenly get a little lower on the "favorites list." 

And, nothing riles my feathers more than CDDs: Cell Drunk Drivers. They're all over the road. Slow. Fast. Sharp turning. Wide turning. Not turning!

Thankfully, Connecticut decided to do something about it.

Currently, there are only 5 states in the US that prohibit handheld cell use while driving. With the restriction in place as law, officers can pull individuals over and fine them for talking on a handheld cell phone. There does not have to be any additional violation taking place. So, theoretically, you could be pulling out of your driveway while on your cell and get nabbed. 


Of course, exceptions can be made. You could be in an emergency situation, for example. Maybe you're pregnant and going into labor. Or, you're in an auto accident. Or, you're a firefighter. Or, you're a West Hartford resident.

Wait, what?

Yes, it seems that West Hartford can get away with everything. Though the cell law has been in effect for over 2 years in Connecticut, it hasn't seemed to stick in the ol' WH. I cannot count the amount of times I've seen absent-minded drivers with their mobile brain cancer machines strapped to their faces while out on the street. On Boulevard. On New Britain Ave. On South Main. On Albany. On Asylum. They're everywhere. It's especially scary when I'm out running, without a 2000 pound steel box to protect me from their gabby blind-spots.

I have to assume that SOMEONE is getting stopped in town for these violations. I'm sure the WHPD takes handheld cell phone use seriously. Because, when it comes down to it, an inattentive driver is probably more dangerous than a driver without a seat belt, right? Why, then, does everybody seem to cruise through town talking away? Are they not scared of the fines? Do they just not care? Or, is there a "chosen one" attitude that makes the crusty elite, in their Jags and BMWs, just not think that they're doing anything illegal?

I congratulate Connecticut for putting the wheels in motion. However, maybe the time has come for every CT cellaholic to pause for a moment. Think about WHAT is so important when one feels the need to have a phone against their ear as they attempt to parallel park in Blue Back Square (for the 4th time). Do you think the conversation could wait? Unless you're talking someone through surgery, or off a ledge, the answer is probably "yes." 

Better yet, if you really want to talk, buy a bluetooth! You drive a BMW, for God's sake! 

Oh, and don't worry about that bumper you just hit. It'll buff out. 

I think.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Thoughts on the Grinch

I must say, I thought the airing of How the Grinch Stole Christmas! on Monday night was appropriate. The moral of the story, that Christmas is not necessarily about objects and things, seemed well suited for the weary eyes of "Cyber Monday" shoppers and "Black Friday" holdovers. But I couldn't help but feel a bit conflicted in the fact that ABC continues to air the cartoon with additional commercial breaks, not only editing out portions of the story, but, effectively, using the idea that the season is NOT about presents and gifts to sell viewers MORE commercials pushing presents and gifts. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. This is how we live, isn't it?

Getting back to the cartoon, one thing that I particularly love in each viewing is the fact that, regardless of the re-masterings and HD transfers it receives, the supervisors involved still leave all of the mistakes in the animation. In an age when the Lucas' of the world completely change films to reflect modern technology, often leaving their films looking less and less human-made, such absence of interference is breathtaking. The most obvious of these "mistakes" is early in the story, when the hatted Whos carry the roast beast to the dinner table. As they walk, the smallest Who's hat blinks from white to blue. A little blip, but one I look forward to seeing every year. I remember noticing it as a child and loving the human error, and today that love remains, the fact that, even in a 40-year-old classic, there is no perfection.

Taking in the program as an adult, I have grown fascinated with the character of Max, the brown dog companion of the Grinch. What keeps the little animal so happy? The Grinch obviously treats him like dirt, yet he continues to pant and wag his tail. Is he, underneath his fur and big brown eyes, Seuss' example of an eternal optimist? Or, thinking darker, is Max some sort of "I keep coming back for more" spousal abuse victim? I'm sure an argument could be made for either case. Perhaps he always knew that happiness would come to the Grinch. That the act of helping steal Christmas would finally bring joy to his life. Conversely, maybe he has grown so accustomed to abuse that he has found happiness in the small moments when he gets to be more than a whipping post. Too afraid to leave in the middle of the night, and happy to just breathe another day.

He is a most interesting and complex character. Why does he stay with the Grinch when he could run off to the Whos during the night?

At the same time, how did these two come together in the first place? Was the Grinch once a nicer figure? Did he take in this pup out of compassion originally, or was it solely for a henchman/punching bag position? And, if the Grinch did initially act out of compassion, when and why did he turn so foul?

So many questions, so few answers. And yet, these questions are what help elevate How the Grinch Stole Christmas! to the mantle on which it continues to stand. The program has an eternally current message, wonderful moments, and characters that evolve with the viewer. It encourages repeat viewings, with each peeling back a new layer of the onion. A different piece of the puzzle is obtained, a puzzle that is solely ours.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Digging the deep

I can speak again. That is a very good thing. What's even better is that my voice is still extremely deep. I gotta say, I'm totally digging it. I'm honestly going to miss the velvet tones my voice box has been fluttering once this cold leaves my body and my voice rises in pitch.

When you think about it, it's only natural to want this kind of rich voice. Right now, I could be one hell of a voiceover artist. Or, a really sexy soul singer. The second coming of Barry White of Isaac Hayes (minus the Scientology)?

At the very least, I could become the next Chocolate Rain, right?

As I bask in my fleeting, sweet baritone, I salute some of the best deep-voiced humans to walk (and talk) this wet, dirty thing we call Earth.

Here are my top 5 deep-voiced wonders, in random order:

1. Don LaFontaine: The late, great ubiquitous movie trailer voice artist. In a world without Mr. LaFontaine, who will handle the duties of saying, "In a world . . ." at the beginning of every trailer?

2. Tom Waits - The coolest singer/songwriter in the world, hands down. And his lyrics cut straight to the bone. Here's Mr. Waits performing his amazing "Day After Tomorrow." If this song doesn't bring out an emotion from deep within your soul, dear reader, you are a robot. Perhaps you're Vicki from Small Wonder. Check to see if you have a control panel on your back and an annoying little brother that says "Whoppers!" all the time.

3. James Earl Jones - The man was Darth Vader, Mufasa, and the voice of CNN. Plus, he played the pivotal role of "Royal Flush XP Toilet" in a 2004 episode of According to Jim! What can't this man do? One thing's for sure, he knows his alphabet.

4. Bowzer from Sha Na Na - This is strictly a childhood love. As a kid, I couldn't get enough of the Sha Na Na variety show. I'd get up on the living room coffee table during the closing credits and jump to the floor when the band jumped off stage. Classic. Sadly, Bowzer now sells Time Life "Oldies But Goodies" music compilations via 3 a.m. infomercials. But, man, what a bass.

5. Rowlf - Okay, not a human, technically (though he had some human in him, if you know what I mean). But, he's a dog that can play piano! How can you not respect that? Plus, he can play WELL! Here he is away from his 88, reading his poem titled "Silence:"

Monday, December 1, 2008

The deep voiced man, lost in Target

Since the busy travel of Thanksgiving Thursday, I really haven't tread very far outside of my apartment. Part of this has been intentional (read: avoiding Black Friday madness, feeling like total garbage from getting sick), but, for the most part, I just haven't had to go anywhere. I went for a run on Friday morning and dropped off a rent check on Saturday, but that's about all. 

I decided I needed to get outside today. The sky had cleared. The sun had begun to poke through the clouds. The temperature had risen to a balmy 54 degrees. I had no excuse to stay indoors.

Oh, but my cold had more or less vanquished my voice. And, what little I had left sounded alternately like Mark Lanegan and James Earl Jones. Cool to mumble song lyrics and Star Wars quotes to, but not good for much else.

Because of this, I couldn't go anywhere which involved speaking. So, no restaurants for lunch with chatty waitresses, no library interaction, no shopping. 

We had a lemon of a humidifier to return to Target. I thought about it. If I went, I'd have to interact with humans, but most likely not speak. Really, it would be simple enough. All I'd need to do was hand it to customer service, get my receipt, and be on my way. 

So I got into the car and headed out. 

Now, it should be noted that I do not understand Target. Literally. The concept of the store baffles me. I can enter a Target and walk around the store a good two or three times before coming across what I'm looking for. This has always happened to me. I am, for lack of a better term, a Target Reject. To me, "Target" is the absolute last name I would give such an establishment. "Elusive Objects Building" would be more apt.

Regardless, the humidifier had to be returned, so I pulled into the massive parking lot and made my way inside. The line at customer service was short and, before long, I found myself handing over the bum unit to the attendant. I smiled, hoping I wouldn't have to say anything. The man, however, just stared at me. I had to talk. So I tried to explain, in a deep, broken baritone, that the chunk of plastic was useless.

"This- humidif- jus- didn- do- anythi-," I managed, the counter vibrating from the pitch escaping my voice box. I think the customer service rep thought I was putting him on a bit, as if the unit was so bad that my insides dried and I lost my voice. I didn't feel like explaining to him my run-in with germy two-year-olds on Thursday. He asked if I wanted to return the funds on my credit card. I shook my head "no."

"My- wife- card-."

I pointed to the store credit cards in front of the register. I felt like Lassie, trying to draw the humans to Timmy trapped in the well.

"You want a store credit?" he asked.

I nodded happily. 

He processed the unit, scanned a card, and handed it over. I smiled and mouthed "thank you."

At that moment, I should have just walked back to the car. But, against better judgement, I decided to look for another humidifier instead. The hunt began.

I am your typical male. I do not ask for assistance or directions. This is not because I think I know everything, but rather because I feel bad interrupting someone to ask for help. Silly, I know, but true.

So, I started lap one. I made my way past electronics, toys, camping, and into the small appliances. To little surprise, the humidifiers were not there. That would have been far too easy. I pressed onward, past holiday decorations, groceries, and school supplies. I dodged Rascal riding grandmas, children, and stressed mothers. I ended up at the pharmacy, then the registers, my starting point.

My strategy had to change. As I began lap two, I decided the best option would be to walk down each aisle. That way, nothing could escape my glance. And, sure enough, I found the humidifiers. They were in a makeshift "heater/humidifier" section in the automotive department (of course!). Sadly, there wasn't much for options. I ended up taking the one that looked the coolest.

I did not say anything to the clerk that rang me up at the registers. I brought the new humidifier to the car and drove home. Now, I only hope the thing works. Though, if it doesn't, I at least have an idea as to where to look for a replacement.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The perils of snotty children

I knew what I was getting into. Once I saw my niece put her fingers in her nose, then grab my leg as I sat with my nephew, I knew it was all over.

Roughly 72 hours later, my head is sore, my throat raw.

The little bugger got me sick. 

To be fair, she's only 2.

This, sadly, is the fate of many childless adults who visited family for the Thanksgiving holiday. Our immune systems just couldn't handle the tiny germs floating off the little children that ran around our legs and jumped on our laps while we ate our apple pie. We are all waking today, or traveling, or working, with dry lips, tight muscles, and throbbing noggins.

The little glazed donut monsters. Snot dripping. Hands clinging. We were no match for their powers.

And, I have to keep convincing myself that these attacks were not intentional. I have to keep telling myself that the little mercenaries were not sent over by their parents, eager to free themselves for a few moments, to remember what life before children was like, if only for a fleeting moment. I have to hope that these ambushes were not pointed at the empty handed.  

Though, coughing and drinking my tea under a quilt, my mind may not be clear enough to make a sound judgement. I am pumping my body with Zinc and Vitamin C. Perhaps they will curb my suspicions.

Until then, I wait and hope that, when I close my eyes for rest, I am not haunted with the face of a 2-year-old cold carrier, eyes set on another victim.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A sinister watch

I am a bit of a James Bond buff. So, seeing that Swatch has released a series of 007 "Villain" watches certainly makes me happy. No word on whether the pieces rattle on about their evil schemes before telling you the time, however. And, I do not think any contain lasers.

Pictured to the left is the Emilio Largo Thunderball watch.

The Swatch website also has a quiz which will tell you what Bond villain you most resemble. I, apparently, am 76% similar to Bond's most recent nemesis, Dominic Greene from Quantum of Solace.

Check out the collection here at the Swatch website. While you're there, view video clips from each Bond adventure and download Duran Duran's theme to A View To A Kill (what, no Live and Let Die?).

Friday, November 28, 2008

Hope that the $300 laptop was worth it

Ah, Black Friday. The wonderful deals. The early morning rush.

The horrible violence.

Yes, this is America, where pregnant women get tossed, ankles get twisted, store workers are trampled to death and ignored by hundreds of dollar-sign-blinded citizens, and individuals are shot to death inside a toy store, all for the sake of an early bird special.

Very, very sad.

Articles on the events, via the Hartford Courant and CNN.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving break

Tomorrow marks yet another Thanksgiving. And, yes, my loyal Canadian and Grenadine readers, I do realize that your Thanksgiving has already come and gone last month (did you know that Thanksgiving was celebrated in Grenada? That sounds like a great movie title: Thanksgiving in Grenada.). 

Being a New Englander, and a Massachusetts resident for nearly all of my life, Thanksgiving is a "big deal" holiday. It certainly seems to have a strange stranglehold on my family. Maybe it's because the Pilgrims started it all almost 400 years ago. Maybe it's because we're uptight New Englanders. Either way, Thanksgiving is often an over-the-top ordeal.

To alleviate some of the holiday stress, I have provided the following relief kit below:

1. The late, great Mitch Hedberg, talking turkey

2. Actual instructions from WikiHow for creating your own "hand turkey" drawing (for those with sadly sheltered childhoods)

3. A hard-hitting Stove Top commercial from 30 years ago

4. Potato Art

From the Prince Edward Island Potato Museum.

"Potato Sculpture Federation Sq. Melbourne" by John Mutsaers

"Mashed Potato Goldfish" by Monique Daley

5. Advice on how to talk to boring relatives at dinner

6. A man obsessed with turkey

7. The fine art of turkey hunting, courtesy of Stella (kinda NSFW. Well, really NSFW.)

8. And, finally, for those of you considering that 4 a.m. trip to Best Buy on Friday morning, a word of warning (in the form of a video clip):

Enjoy the break, everyone. And, if some of you out there are going to be stuck working at 4 a.m. on Friday, I feel for you. Just remember, duck and cover.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Old house go boom, then gives present

The apartment in which the Professor and I live is in an old house, built around 1920. And, with such age often comes various odd issues. Needless to say, we've become well versed in quirky 90-year-old plumbing, especially as our old apartment in Boston was from the same era.

Over the weekend, our tub decided to stop draining altogether. This did not come as a shock, as, when we first moved in, there were no hair traps of any kind covering the drain. The long clumps of hair that we pulled out that first day were enough to churn most stomachs.

Anyway, our tub wasn't draining, only dredging up muck from the pipes below. See, here's a picture:

Now, the Professor is definitely a do-it-yourself type. I, on the other hand, make an valiant attempt, then remember I don't own the place and call a landlord. So, the Prof headed out to Home Depot and came home with a thing called a Zip-it. Basically a 2' long piece of plastic with thorns, it, needless to say, was pretty worthless. Our problem was much further down than a Zip-it could handle.

Our landlord came by to check things out. He puttered for a few minutes. Plunged. Looked at the pipes in the basement. Plunged again. 

No luck.

It was something we'd need a plumber to fix.

Long story short, the plumber came yesterday and did his thing. Pipes were cleared. Tub drained. But, the kicker of the whole thing was what we found in the ceiling of the basement while getting at pipes. Here, check it out:

Why a toothbrush was up there, nestled between the plaster ceiling and the pipes, I have no idea. But, that's the magic of old houses. Issues arise and, while fixing them, discoveries are made. Who knows what is hidden in the walls around me as I type this? Memories, treasures, secrets? It's anyone's guess.

A reply from Temptations

About a week ago, I wrote about noticing that my cat's bag of Temptations treats contained an ingredient called "natural free range chicken flavor." And, I wondered, what is this "flavor" made of? I'd understand actual free range chicken in the product, but was this "flavor," as it was called, just some concoction made by a scientist in a lab?

Having much too much time on my hands, I ended up emailing Mars, Inc., the parent company, to get to the bottom of the mystery. In my email, I inquired:
I recently noticed, on the packaging, the printed claim of "natural free range chicken flavor" contained within the product. I am curious as to what constitutes this "flavor?" The ingredient list did not provide a breakdown or definition. Thank you, and I look forward to your reply.
Days passed with no response. Then, last night, I received the following email:
Thank you for contacting us. We appreciate your interest in our WHISKAS® TEMPTATIONS® Treats for Cats.

The Free Range Chicken flavor is made with chickens that are allowed to eat free range. Which means they eat grass, bugs, worms and natural things instead of only allowed to eat chicken feed.

Your confidence in our products and continued goodwill are very important to us.
I don't know where the "confidence" line came from, since I was writing to them with nothing but skepticism. But, grammatical error aside, the folks at Mars at least gave me an answer. A somewhat cryptic answer, since it still doesn't explain why this ingredient is called a "flavor" rather than just "chicken," but an answer, nonetheless. It also doesn't actually say what the ingredients are in this "flavor," but I guess it's all I can expect from a giant behemoth of a company.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Criss Angel '80s hair band video

Criss Angel, magician, "mindfreak" and apparent Hugh Hefner-castoff knight-in-shining-Long-Island-charm, is often an unintentionally hilarious magician. He's really kind of a goof, from his super serious tricks to his cheesy jewelry and his oddly obsessive fans. Really, how can you take this face seriously?

Anyway, Mr. Angel, it seems, was once part of a hair metal band. Well, more like a hair metal/magic band. With Criss being a Long Island boy, I suppose this shouldn't be much of a shock. And, as with many bands, the boys in the group adopted a simple name, the "must've-taken-three-seconds-to-decide" moniker Angel.

In the video below for the single "Don't You Want My Love," watch as Criss channels Jon Bon Jovi, David Lee Roth, Steven Tyler, Paul Stanley, Michael Jackson, and others as he warbles his way though tricks and licks.