Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Leaf vacuum no more!

The town of West Hartford, faced with a budget crunch, has finally put its ludicrous leaf vacuuming service out to pasture. According to reports, $383,000 will be saved by forcing residents to be like everyone else and rake their debris into recyclable bags.

I realize the vacuum service is one that helps the elderly in town who may have a hard time raking, but it's really a bloated expense. Neighborhood kids, this is your time to start knocking on doors, rake in hand. Just don't squeeze too much money from them.

To read about more cuts to the budget, click here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Hate comes to Hartford

It was incredibly hot here in the old Nutmeg today, but the sweltering, thick air didn't stop three crazies from Kansas from stumping on Capitol Avenue in Hartford, preaching in response to the state Supreme Court's ruling legalizing same-sex marriage.

Why couldn't we have saved some of our Sea Monkey water for these idiots? Honestly, if you do or do not agree with same-sex marriage, these folks give a new definition to whack job.

From the Hartford Courant:
"We travel out in teams like this at least weekly,'' said Ben Phelps, 33, grandson of Rev. Fred Phelps, pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. He was joined on Capitol Avenue in Hartford by Fred Phelps' daughter, Shirley Phelps-Roper, 51, and her son, Zach, 18.

Church members have criss-crossed the nation picketing military funerals, students performing the musical "Rent" and a high school named for the poet Walt Whitman. The congregation has been branded a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The Hartford protest, which lasted less than 30 minutes, drew about a half-dozen counter-protesters and at least 10 law enforcement officials from several different departments.
A big shout out to the counter-protesters. What a crummy day to be hanging out in the sun.

I don't know. I really don't have time for such nuts. Next thing you know they'll be blaming swine flu deaths in Mexico and the U.S. on "acceptance of homosexuality."

You can read the full article over here

Monday, April 27, 2009

Ah, water!

The boil warning has been lifted. We can all drink our water again. Read more over at the Hartford Courant.

Monday thoughts while trying to avoid swine flu and Sea Monkeys

So, I was boiling my water today to fill my Brita to be able to drink tomorrow while at the same time hoping that the slight cough that I have isn't somehow a strain of "not deadly" swine flu when I began wondering, "What is the most cliched analogy in the English language?"

I took my water off after its one minute boil (per CT MDC rules) and began to wrack my brain. I then stopped, concerned that too much concentration could compromise my internal organs, possibly keeping valuable blood from flowing to regions other than my brain, thus allowing the swine flu an opened door to the destruction of my body. But, before completely shutting down, the first tacky analogy to come to mind was when someone says that something "cuts like a knife" (typically the assailant in this is "love"). That one always bothered me. Stupid Who song.

So, while waiting three hours for my water to cool and after placing a precautionary dust mask over my nose and mouth because of the swine flu, I hopped on the old internet machine and let it do my thinking for me. I found a pretty entertaining website full of bad analogies. It was like finding a shiny toy car under the tree on Christmas morning. See, that was a bad analogy.   

Anyway, if you're interested in reading some bad analogies, click here. Oh, and I'm not going too overboard in my fear of swine flu and Sea Monkeys, am I?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Things sought

When I initially set up this blog, I harnessed it with code from Statcounter so that I could keep track of how many visitors stopped by and read my posts. It's pretty great to be able to see page loads, what's popular, that sort of thing.

And one of the coolest things this application allows for me to do is see how someone came across my blog. Sometimes this is from other blogs. Sometimes people are emailed things I've posted (why, I have no idea). But, more often than not, people stumble across my writing from regular old search engine results. Most of the time these are fairly logical. Searches for "Max Burger," for example, brought people to my little post about the new eatery that went up last week. "Slap Chop" searches brought tons of traffic to my rants about Vince Offer and his products-of-the-week (that is, when he isn't busy biting prostitutes in hotel rooms).

But sometimes people arrive at the blog looking for some strange things. I'm sure visitors are always disappointed when their queries for "castle interiors" bring them to my post on my visit to Gillette Castle. And I'm very sure that whoever did a search for "pussy for sale, hartford" (sorry to be crass, but that's what they searched for) wasn't interested in watching the clip from Tim and Eric Awesome Show! that I posted concerning their bit about painting cats (with the juvenile title "Pussy Doodles"). 

And then there are the celebrities that search for themselves (or have Google robots do the searching for them). When I first posted about Criss Angel's former life as hair metal band frontman, I received quite a few hits from the Las Vegas area, as well as Playboy Enterprises (at the time, Mr. Angel was romantically involved with one of the "Girls Next Door"). When I compared 30 Rock actor (who absolutely is amazing in American Splendor) Judah Friedlander to a perp from the TV show Street Patrol, I got a hit directly from Friedlander's personal website. But the best hit came back in September of last year, when someone from Obama For America visited the blog after doing a Google search for "Cindy McCain Cryptkeeper."   

Friday, April 24, 2009

Biting my tongue

Today the dog and pony show began. Our landlord brought out the first victims to look at our apartment. And, although she thought she told me about this, I was unaware of the festivities until receiving a "reminder" email 40 minutes before the first knock on our door. The Professor had a meeting and got to skip out on the fun, but I didn't have to go into work today, so I was around for the awkward meet and greets, the handshakes, and then the quick slip into the office, hoping no one would ask the fateful question:

Why are you moving?

I had come up with a few answers, none very truthful. "We want to be closer to where my wife works," was a good one, I thought, since it's technically true (we're currently only a few miles from where she teaches, however). "We're looking for a change," was another possible answer. Mysterious yet completely diplomatic. Then, if all else failed, I planned on saying "We certainly aren't moving because our neighbors seem to be drug dealers and we live near a busy corner and our car was broken into or anything."

Thankfully, in round one, I escaped any questioning. This was mainly due to the fact that, once I shook hands, I stared angrily into my computer monitor, where I brought up a live NYSE ticker. Of course, I know nothing about the stock market.

On a completely unrelated note, while sitting at my computer, letting strangers trounce around my apartment, I began thinking about Dr. Fad. I found the theme music for his show online, as well as a clip from an episode. I loved wacky wall walkers. Enjoy!


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Quick dispatch

These came in from a few friends over the past couple days:

• Dunkin' Donuts has tapped Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia as their new pitchman. Apparently they saw something in his Sullivan Tire exploits. You can read all about it (and see the first ad) over here at

• I like 30 Rock. It's a pretty funny show (though this season has been pretty hit-or-miss). But I don't like 30 Rock half as much as this guy:

Maybe it's just me, but I see this guy and I imagine he's kept in some kind of basement dwelling similar to Sloth in The Goonies. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Don't drink the water

Unless you want to become a living Sea Monkey display, you better read below. And we call ourselves a civilized society. From a press release over at Fox 61:
The Metropolitan District Commission says microscopic organisms called "copepods" and "rotifers" have been found in the drinking water distribution system for Reservoir No. 6 in Bloomfield.
While the MDC says these organisms are not harmful to humans, they are telling customers to boil their water for at least a minute before drinking.
This warning affects residents of Bloomfield, Glastonbury, Portland, Windsor, Hartford, East Hartford, West Hartford, South Windsor and parts of East Granby and Windsor Locks. Customers in Rocky Hill, Newington, Farmington/Unionville, and Wethersfield are not affected.

Well, aren't we lucky here in West Hartford? Sorry Rocky Hill, but these corepods are all ours. Jealous? And why bother to tell us they aren't harmful if they're so set on us boiling the buggers to death?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Is this really the best we have to offer?

Hartford Magazine has released the results of their "Best of Hartford 2009" readers' poll, and judging from some of the trophy holders, it seems a few ballot boxes have been stuffed. 

Is On The Border Mexican Grill really the best Mexican food in Hartford County? Does Dunkin' Donuts really serve the best coffee, or the most convenient? And how can the Cheesecake Factory come in second in the category of "Best Dessert"?

I will cop to occasionally partaking in the food at these above-mentioned questionable winners. The truth is, though, I would never pick any of them as the best in their field. As I've learned in my short time here, the Hartford area has some very fine and authentic Mexican restaurants, and some great coffee houses. And, as rich and sweet as the cheesecake at the Cheesecake Factory is, it's a boxed cheesecake that probably gets made at the actual Cheesecake Factory somewhere in the middle of nowhere (of course, I could be wrong. It could be made in-house from specific ingredients that are shipped from the Factory in the middle of nowhere).

Now, I'll admit that quite a few of the award winners are legit. Max Downtown for best overall restaurant, Bricco for best Italian, and Plan B for best burger all come to mind. But magazine awards like these are a great opportunity to shine a light on good, honest, local establishments. It's a real shame when they get hijacked by corporate entities. 

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The town is out and about, as are their dogs

This morning brought the first opportunity to run since my incident with the dog (more specifically, the dog's teeth). For those interested, my hip has a really ugly bruise. The scratch is healing, though with it being on my hip, it is pretty painful (I must say that I'm really glad I was wearing the amount of layers that I was. Otherwise, I probably would have ended up in the ER for a shot and/or stitches. Thank you, overshirt, thermal undershirt, shorts, shorts pocket material, and underwear!). 

But I'm not one to sit around. I needed to get back on the horse. So I suited up and hit the street.

There's an amazing amount of people out and about today. The MS Walk that's happening around town has drawn hundreds of people to the streets. And with those hundreds of people are scores of dogs. My worst nightmare! I've never passed so many dogs on a run in all my life. It was definitely a baptism-by-fire moment. If there was any trepidation I had in running past seemingly friendly dogs, I was quickly forced to man-up.

Thankfully, my days since a time loss incident continues to stand at 2. The weather sure is beautiful out there. We've really been lucky the past couple of days.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Bit by a dog

I was bit by a dog while out for a run this morning. 

The woman walking the dog was both mortified and incredibly defensive in the immediate aftermath.

"Are you okay?" she asked in her first breath as I scanned my body for damage. "You know, this isn't my dog," came in the second.

I checked my hip, the location of the bite. It looked to just be a scratch. My clothes weren't torn. The dog's teeth hadn't actually made it through to the skin. I waved it off.

"This isn't my dog," she reiterated as I said I was fine.

I continued to run. Made it about 2 more miles. Then the pain started. I looked under the rib of my waistband to see that the scratch really wasn't a scratch but more of a long bruise pockmarked with tiny tears. I was bleeding.

I turned around and ran home. The Professor had a priceless look on her face when I told her what happened. 

Honestly, I'm surprised it has taken this long to be bitten by a dog. I've been running for about 5 years. I've passed thousands of dogs.

I mean, I've kicked a squirrel when out running (it ran square in front of my foot, I swear.). What are the odds of that compared to getting bit by a dog?

Well, the Prof just got back with a gigantic band-aid to fix me up. Signing off, beware of a large yellow dog roaming the streets of West Hartford. The woman walking it, from what I gathered, is NOT the owner.  

What a strange week this has been.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tax day gaffe on NPR - does it still make a sound?

I was just listening to Talk of the Nation on NPR while taking a break from packing boxes (a fun way to spend a day off) and there was a pretty funny, if juvenile, gaffe made by a caller. The segment was on anti-tax (and anti-stimulus) tea party protests that are happening across the country both yesterday and today. Needless to say, it wasn't the most exciting of topics. That is, until a certain gentleman from Cedar Rapids, Iowa called into the program. Instead of talking to host Neal Conan about a tea party, the caller kept saying that he had just returned from the "Cedar Rapids tea bagging" protest.

Now, the man may have been telling the truth, but something tells me that he's gotten his terms mixed. Either way, it made me laugh like a thirteen-year-old. 

Poor caller. He had his fifteen seconds and will most likely be made fun of it by friends for some time to come.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Another reason to move . . .

So, the Professor called me at work this evening. Someone had broken into her car while it was parked in our garage (yes, that's right, IN the garage). They made off with an old Kenwood stereo that was on the verge of total failure and a half-empty roadside emergency kit (thankfully, they left the jumper cables). Truth be told, it could have been worse.

Our neighbor saw the whole thing go down and did his best to catch the thief, but came up empty. The Prof filed a report with the police, though I can guarantee we'll never hear anything about the stereo.

Oh, May cannot come fast enough.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Burgers and the use of the word "Max"

We must really like red meat here in West Hartford. What else can explain Max Burger, the town's newest specialty burger joint? Plan B and the Counter, I suppose, just weren't enough to satiate our need to place cow between bread. The Max Group, seeing our desire for beef, had to throw their talents into the ring, as well.

Anyone try Max Burger yet? Any good?

Speaking of burger places, one thing that I came across that made me laugh and scratch my head was this article in the Hartford Advocate, which deals with a minor war that has erupted between Rich Rosenthal, a.k.a. Mr. Max, and Al Gamble, proprietor of Plan B. It seems the two have more in common than serving us mass quantities of ground beef. See, Gamble was planning on opening a restaurant called Max Amigo's. And Rosenthal wasn't very pleased:
"Let me ask you, do you think it's trademark infringement?" Rosenthal asked.

Rosenthal certainly thought it was, so he called Gamble. The conversation did not go particularly well, since Gamble is of the opinion that no one can own a word like "Max," especially in the restaurant business.

"Google it," Gamble told the Advocate. "People use it freely around the country. Even here there's Max Bibo's," said Gamble, referring to another restaurant with "Max" in its name that is unrelated to Rosenthal's group of eateries.
The gentlemen are working on a resolution.

However, owners of Max Mart in New Britain, Max-Tek in Newington, Car Max in Hartford, Max Pizza in Bristol, and all of the other "Max"-named businesses may want to keep their lawyers on speed dial. Rosenthal seems pretty sure he owns the right to your names. Who knows, the Max Group could be looking to open an office supply store.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Movie stuff

Synecdoche, New York, just out on DVD (more or less), may be the most important film dealing with the concept of human mortality the U.S. has produced in a good decade. It's incredibly dense and extremely odd, but absolutely rewarding for viewers that give it a serious chance. Philip Seymour Hoffman really carries the film on his shoulders. And Charlie Kaufman, here directing from his own script, fills every image with so many clues that the film demands multiple viewings. To say more about it would only sound silly. I can't describe it. I can't even express the emotion that this project provides. 

I guess all I can say is that can't recommend it enough.

* * *

Over at The Atlantic, James Parker has a pretty interesting article about the resurgence of the slasher film genre. I really enjoyed the final section, which compares modern movie killers with Grendel and Sir Halewyn the Miserable. You can find the article over here.

* * *

Lastly, did anyone else read about Woody Harrelson mistaking a TMZ photographer for a zombie? Seriously. He claims that he was still in character when he punched the man at an airport. He's in the middle of shooting a zombie movie. 

You can read about it here.

West Hartford News - back on the wagon

This week's West Hartford News was placed directly in the recycling bin when it arrived on Thursday. I wasn't going to look at it. I wasn't going to get frustrated with it. I had read enough of the nonsense. My complaints had grown tired.

Then the masochist in me took over. I pulled the from the bin and gave it a read.

Spolier Alert: There's a new reporter! And they know how to write!

I don't know what happened to our old reporter, but she isn't to be found anywhere in this week's edition. Perhaps her interesting interpretations of the English language were just too much for the folks at the Journal Register. Perhaps she has moved onward and upward. Either way, our little town paper just improved greatly.

Friday, April 10, 2009

A.C. Petersen Farms Ice Cream

I've written about the dining experience at A.C. Petersen's before. Nothing great. Mostly greasy spoon fare with very little to offer the palate.

But I've just discovered their ice cream.

I love the ice cream.

Maple walnut.


It isn't cheap, being made right in town and hand packed into its plain white carton, but it is worth every penny. Rich, creamy, with gigantic chunks of walnut, I've found a new food obsession.

You've found a way to get me to come back through your doors, A.C. You are a tricky one.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

I'm a proud papa

No, the Professor did not have a baby or anything . . .

I'm talking about Circuit, a movie I co-wrote with my old college roommate. There was a special screening of the film last night at our old alma mater, Massachusetts College of Art. It was the first time I saw the project with its sound fully mixed.

I couldn't have been happier.

The audience, a packed house, was wonderful. They laughed when they were supposed to laugh. They asked the right questions at the Q&A afterwards. Several even got the puzzle that we laced throughout the movie. I was floored. I thought it was harder to solve! 

Oh, I'm pretty excited. Now we need to start getting screenings at festivals. Anyone looking for a feature-length drama/comedy/sci-fi film dealing with storytelling techniques and the five human senses?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The day after opening day

Ah, baseball is back. And for regular fans, nothing could be better than hearing the crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd. 

But things aren't so pleasant when you're a manager of a fantasy baseball team.

We're one day into the season and fantasy baseball managers are beginning to freak out. Quite a few "sure things" were pretty bad yesterday. CC Sabathia surrendered 6 earned runs in 4 1/3 innings. Mark Teixeira went o for 4 at the plate. Cliff Lee (last year's AL Cy Young winner) left his outing for the Indians with a crushing 12.60 ERA. Arizona's Brandon Webb got beat down by the Colorado Rockies.

Quick, where's the panic button!

I've been there.

I used to run a squad called the "7 Colby 9" (I used to live at 7 Colby and, well, you've got 9 players on a team). I was roped into a fantasy league by an old co-worker.

It was hell.

Fantasy baseball is a 24/7 operation. You've got afternoon games, evening games, late night west coast games. Guys are always getting injured. Pitchers always need to be activated and deactivated. Trades are always going down left and right.

And the "sure things" always seem to backfire.

I'll be honest, I never had a good team. Sure, I had some great players, but I never seemed to last through the entire season. I was a cellar dweller and often fought for next-to-last place.

But it was addictive. Baseball became a second job. I'd be holed up with my computer late into the night, watching live updates on Yahoo Gamechannel, calculating how many hits I'd need to raise my batting average enough to take that week's point.

My relationship with the Professor, needless to say, suffered.

After two seasons, I got out. I couldn't put myself through the six months of torture again.

But it's like being a recovering addict. Every year, when spring training starts, I get the itch. I follow former players from the 7 Colby 9 during the season and keep track of their stats.

My name is Ben, and I am a former fantasy baseball manager.


Monday, April 6, 2009

Wake up call

Woke up this morning. Rolled out of bed. The Professor and I complained/laughed about our neighbors (There was a teenage girl screaming about her boyfriend last night. Honestly, every time I think I know who lives in that house I hear another screaming voice.). Then I turned on my computer and checked Facebook.

Status update from the Professor's uncle who lives in Italy: Woke up to an earthquake last night but we're okay.

Status update from his partner: awakened by the earthquake but all is well.


The 6.3 magnitude quake struck about 30 miles (if I remember correctly) from their village, centering on the town L'Aquila. Just go look at images at CNN or the BBC. The destruction is pretty heartbreaking. So much history has been turned to rubble.

But, thankfully, Steve and Larry are okay.

It made me feel sheepish for complaining about my neighbors waking me in the middle of the night. Having my 800-year-old village shaken by the Earth would be a far scarier way to have a horrible night's sleep.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

A letter to the neighbors

I'm toying with the idea of leaving the following letter on our next door neighbor's porch when we move:

Dear former neighbor,

Congratulations, you've won! You probably didn't even realize you were involved in any sort of contest. I'll give you a minute to let the moment set in. I realize this honor must come as a bit of a shock. 

Okay . . . ready to continue?

The truth is, former neighbor, you have driven me and my wife from the neighborhood. And it only took eight months!

How did you achieve such a feat so quickly? Well, it's a combination of quite a few things. First, the rapping at 4 a.m. was a bit of a frustration. Then there's the constant entourage of cars that go up and down your driveway at all hours (you'd think you were dealing drugs over there or something. Hey, wait a minute . . .). And, to be frank, it's a little scary to hear your custody battles that occur three to four nights a week.

I know, you like your repetitive music. Hey, I can't blame someone for loving horribly repetitive music. Did I mention how repetitive your music is?

And where else would one naturally make a cell phone call at two a.m. than their driveway, am I right?

I guess what I'm driving at, former neighbor, is that your habits are annoying. I really thought that time I called the police on you that things would settle down. 

I was wrong. You sure are set in your ways.

So, you've won. We're gone. Headed for a much quieter stretch of land. I'd tell you where it is, but I fear you'd somehow find a way to move in nearby.

As I bid you farewell, let me close with this:

Okay, I've got nothing. I really can't stand you.


Your former neighbor. 

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The impossible contest

From the Connecticut Best Business Guide, one of about a hundred coupon books we receive in the mail each month:

A simple word puzzle, right? Note the date in the top right corner:

Okay, all seems legit. But what's with the fine print at the bottom of the rules?

"All entries must be received no later than Dec. 15, 2008"? Hmmm. Good thing I have that time machine for just this purpose.

Friday, April 3, 2009


Had a bit of an internet scare a little while ago while the thunder rumbled here in West Hartford. Everything stopped working. Not a good sign. Turns out the wireless hub needed a time out. Sometimes we all need a little time out to cool off and get our act straight, I suppose. I guess technology isn't any different.

It's funny how much of a crippling scare the idea of no internet can be. I can't imagine a day without email. So much of my lifelines are electronic. And since moving, IMs and Facebook conversations are some of the only ways I communicate with several friends. I talk to the writing group I belong to through my computer. I submit stories and articles without ever speaking to editors face to face (I still have not formally met the editor I occasionally write for in Boston).

And a simple rumble of thunder can snap that all like a twig.

But all is safe. For now.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Book sale

Are your eyes tired from reading everything on a computer screen? Is your Kindle on the fritz? Then head on over to the Friends of the West Hartford Library Book Sale. It's tonight from 6 - 8 p.m. at 11 Wampanoag Drive. According to ads, there will be books, DVDs, CDs and cassettes (good luck getting rid of those) up for grabs. And it's early, so you'll have plenty of time to get home for important television programs or, if you have a social life, drinks at your favorite watering hole.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

On April Fools

I saw a news article today about President Obama giving an iPod to Queen Elizabeth. I laughed. Then I realized it was a real story and not an April Fools' Day joke.

A similar thing happened this morning when I read an article concerning John McCain's sudden interest in seeking a pardon for former heavyweight champ Jack Johnson. I didn't laugh at the cause. The fact that Johnson had been racially attacked back in 1913 because of an interracial relationship is just another horrible tale our country has in its history. Rather, I assumed this was a joke because, well, John McCain doesn't seem much like the supporter of such a cause. Remember, this is the same man who opposed MLK day in 1983 (he later reversed his stance - wasn't going over well with voters, I suspect).

And there was also this quote from McCain: "I think the last person I have to convince probably is President Obama."

Don't worry, Mr. McCain, I doubt he'll need much convincing.

I guess my point here is that, on days when we're looking for the punch line, it's sometimes difficult to determine what's legitimate news and what isn't. And this leads one to question what makes some news legitimate to begin with? Do we need a report on Obama/Queen gifts? Do stories like this, which were once known as "fluff," now qualify as ACTUAL news?

I can't wait for tomorrow. At least when I laugh at some of the ridiculous items I see in print, I'll know I'm just being cynical.

Gov. Rell to assign task force investigating vanishing sidewalks

I know I said my last post on West Hartford's vanishing sidewalk phenomenon was to be my last (for a while), but this stunning development has caused me to write one more piece.

I received an email from none other than M. Jodi Rell, Governor of our fair state. It appears she's pretty concerned about our sidewalk situation:
Dear Ben, Let me begin by saying I'm a big fan of what you do. I check your blog at least twice a day. And, in reading your postings, I have grown quite concerned about West Hartford's "vanishing sidewalk" phenomenon. That's why I'm launching a task force to investigate these bizarre oddities. I plan on finding, come hell or high water, why these sidewalks abruptly stop and what we can do to prevent future sidewalks from meeting the same fate.
She went on to praise me a bit more and to badmouth a few of the commenters that have left mean feedback over the past few months.

I must say, I was pretty shocked by the email. Who knew the Governor cared to spend taxpayer dollars on something so important to so few?

She plans on making sure the program has it's first report on her desk by April 1, 2010.