Friday, July 31, 2009

Sonic in Connecticut?

Back in my days of supervising an internship program (oh, those were the days!), I once had a student who, on more than one occasion, railed on and on about how much she missed the food from Sonic Drive-In. She was from Arizona (I think), a land ripe with the frozen treats and fast food meals offered by the chain. And, living in Boston, the closest she was able to get to the goods was via the commercials that ran on cable.

Well, times are changing.

Though Sonic has not officially announced it, they are opening up a shop in Wallingford. According to a report in today's Courant, the company has started looking for managers on sites like CareerBuilder. Of course, I'm pretty sure my old intern is nowhere near New England anymore. But I am. And I sure like hamburgers.

Can't wait.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Continuing the strange trend of animal stories coming out of Connecticut ...

This is odd. So odd that it almost sounds like the start of a really bad joke my father would email me. But, strangely enough, it is true.

From the Hartford Courant:
A 20-year-old driver caused a multi-car crash on Main Street Monday morning when his pet baby snakes escaped from his pants pockets, police said.

Angel Rolon, of New Britain, lost control of his SUV as he and a passenger scrambled to catch the two snakes, which had slithered down near the gas and brake pedals, police said.
Yes, jokes about trouser snakes could be made, but I'm going to refrain. Three cars were involved in the accident. Nobody was seriously injured. And, as far as I can tell, the snakes were all recovered.

If you're interested, the full (rather short) article on the incident can be found here.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Monkeys and alligators and possums, oh my!

In an effort to safely rid Connecticut of unwanted exotic pets (isn't it kind of weird that the state needs to be concerned about people having exotic pets?), the Beardsley Zoo on Saturday held an amnesty day, allowing owners to drop off their animals with no questions asked. This, of course, springs from the chimpanzee attack earlier this year that left one person mauled. There's a nice article about the event over here at the Hartford Courant.

A couple highlights:
Luis Rivera drove down from West Hartford to drop off a 3-foot long alligator he took in a few years ago from "three girls who couldn't take care of it and didn't know what to do."

Rivera, who installs and maintains aquariums for a living, never gave the reptile a name because he always intended to get rid of it, if he could find a safe way to do so. He kept it in a 100-gallon tank, fed it "chicken wings, steak" and other food. He found the right home when he read a news story about the amnesty collection.

That's right, alligators in West Hartford! It's like a bad horror movie waiting to happen. And this wasn't the only alligator story in the article:

The Bernier family from Milford— Kevin, Alison and their 12-year-old son, Mark — dropped off their 2-foot alligator, "Allan," which some evicted tenants left behind four years ago in a third-floor apartment, a surprise to the Berniers.

The creature had doubled in size on its diet — including frozen pet-store-bought mice — and it had sprouted teeth and a nervous attitude and had outgrown its tank.

So the collection day was a godsend, Kevin Bernier said. Allan's departure gives the family sole tenancy of the room used for ironing and a home office.

"Like, I'm sad, but it tried to bite you," Mark said of the alligator, who was considered by neighborhood kids as an awesome pet.
If these aren't enough bizarre pet stories for you, check out the canary fighting ring that was busted up in Shelton. You read that correctly: a canary fighting ring. Not chickens or roosters. Little, tiny songbirds. Fighting to the death.
"Am I being punk'd?" asked neighbor John Coniglio, referring to a television show famous for playing pranks on celebrities. "I mean, this is crazy. I've never heard of a canary ring. I can't picture little canaries with razor blades taped to their feet or anything."

The raid christened 19 jailbirds along with $8,000 cash.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Adventures in poor punctuation: MiniBlast Lagoon

The Professor and I recently visited the miniature golf course at Adventures at MiniBlast Lagoon in Cromwell (for an excellent review, visit the Putting Penguin's site over here). The course was really quite fun, but a typo on our scoring card left me a bit deflated:

Not only was I unable to find the Tom Cruise/Bryan Brown cinematic classic while strolling the grounds, but I got pegged by a TON of golf balls from the driving range! Kokomo, indeed.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Battle of the crunchy burgers

Imagine, if you will, a boxing ring. Two fighters stand in opposite corners: one a tried-and-true favorite, a crowd pleaser with a long history, and the other a young whipper snapper straight from the hands of fame and fortune. Each cover similar terrain. Each come served on a white plate with a pickle.

Of course, the fighters I'm referring to here are cheeseburgers. Cheeseburgers with the ability to lace up boxing gloves and duke it out.

But these are not ordinary cheeseburgers I'm rattling on about (and giving arms and hands and egos and anger to). These two burgers have what very few cheeseburgers out in the land of all things patty-related offer: CRUNCH.

The first is the classic cheeseburger available at Shady Glen in Manchester. Constructed on a grill-top, it has 4 slices of orangy-yellow cheese spread both on the burger and the grill-top itself, resulting in a strangely crispy and crunchy Cheez-it flavored cheese shell. Here's a shoddy picture taken with a cell phone:

Yes, there is a burger in there. I promise.

The second pugilist, the young one, comes from the mind of ubiquitous television personality Bobby Flay, he of the battles with housewives and the various well-received restaurants and the calling of himself "Bobby" at the age of 44. Yes, Mr. Flay is now in the hamburger business (to be fair, he has been in the hamburger business for the past year) in the form of Bobby's Burger Palace, which recently opened shop at Mohegan Sun (just walk past the slot machines and old people chain smoking ... you can't miss it).

Anyway, one of the draws of the BBP is the Crunchburger, a double American cheese and potato chip feast, as seen here in a photo taken by a highly paid commercial photographer:

Let's ring this bell! Everyone keep it clean. I don't want a bloodbath!

Round one: The restaurant

First off, Shady Glen is a rather fun place to visit, from the old-school service counters to the labyrinthian nature of the table placement to the uniforms worn by the employees. Add in the little touches, like the doilies for under one's glass to the tiny cups of water given to each customer, and you can't go wrong popping in for a bite.

Bobby's Burger Palace, on the other hand, already has one strike against it because it's sitting in the middle of a casino. That being said, it has a cool, metropolitan vibe to it, with v-shaped community tables and funky light fixtures. Essentially the complete opposite of Shady Glen, BBP can almost make you forget you're in a void of desperation ... until the person next to you starts counting their chips or complaining about a pit boss.

Winner of round one: Shady Glen

Round two: Burger

The hamburger patty from Shady Glen is essentially a patty you've eaten about a million times: gray, circular, nondescript. There's nothing much to it, and the bun it sits on is pretty plain and simple. What makes the burger uniquely tasty is the crunchy cheese.

The BBP Crunchburger, though slightly smaller than I expected, came perfectly cooked to order: medium with lots of pink. The cheese on top was oozy, the bun flecked with sesame seeds. And the potato chips were surprisingly crunchy. However, they didn't add all that much for flavor outside of a saltiness. The condiment options, ranging from the typical to chipotle ketchup, added extra kick.

Winner of round two: Though close, the victory goes to the BBP Crunchburger

Round three: Extras

Shady Glen offers some pretty amazing ice cream flavors. The prices are also incredibly reasonable. The Professor and I had dinner for under $15. And, as mentioned earlier, the location (at least at the original Shady Glen - I haven't been to the other shop), is really a treat to visit.

There's also a really bizarre mural along one wall that I think I could look at all night:

Who are these elfin people and how are they able to carry ice cream cones in a picnic basket without any of them melting?

Over at Bobby's Burger Palace they serve some mean milkshakes (with real whipped cream). The fries are excellent, as well. Being as they're inside a casino, the prices for everything could have been much higher than they were, with burgers hovering around $7.50 and sides like fries ranging in between $2.50 and $3.00. Of course, while you're eating you're reminded that you're padding the wallet of this face:

Frankly, I think I'd rather stare at the picnicking elves.

Winner round three: Shady Glen

So, victory goes to Shady Glen. They make a decent burger, but the cheese is really where it's at. Bobby's Burger Place probably does offer the better food, but there's something about the feeling of sitting in the sixty-year-old Shady Glen that makes up for some of its shortcomings.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Scary gumball machine

This gumball machine was spotted at the Manchester movie theater:

It kind of speaks for itself, though I can't help but wonder what happened to that creepy child's eyebrows? Was that part of his gang initiation?

I can't stare at it for very long. The kid's eyes follow you across the room.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Oh, the places you'll go ... maybe.

If you're like me, you like to spend your weekends inside gigantic convention halls and exposition centers, learning about things you may never need and meeting celebrities you have never heard of. Who needs daylight, am I right? And Connecticut is right there with you, supplying these events like they're going out of style (heck, we like these things so much the Hartford Expo is only 2 miles from the Hartford Convention Center).

Here are a few of my favorite upcoming events:

Did you watch The Wrestler and think, "You know, I think I need a firsthand look at that lifestyle?" Then keep August 2nd open, because that's when the Pro Wrestling Icons convention hits the Courtyard Marriott in Cromwell. See Terry Funk! See The Giant Silva! See .... this guy:

I guess he's supposed to be an umpire? Wait, I get it, he's from New York!

Anyway, don't take my word for it. Here's their commercial:

Oh, it's going to be quite the event. Lots of greased men, lots of stringy, sweaty hair, lots of women in tight tops and too much make-up. Hey, according to the website, King Kong Bundy is going to be there. That's all the advertising I need. I'm sold. Who do I give my $99 to? (Yes, the "superticket" to the expo, which allows one autograph and one photo-op with each special guest, costs $99. Make sure you bring your own camera. They don't supply the photos, only the opportunities. And don't haggle. Some of these guys probably need the money.) Just promise to not beat me up. I'm fragile.

Wrestling not your thing? Then you're probably a woman. And, since you're also most likely a total stereotype of what women have been trying to break free from for the past, oh, forever, then maybe the 7th Annual Connecticut Women's Expo (sponsored by Comcast) is more your speed. According to their advertisements, they have everything the typical woman wants in an expo: psychic readings, FREE samples (yes, FREE with capital letters), shopping, fashion shows, beauty makeovers, seminars on things like diets (I've been there, sister), and ... and this is big ... SOAP STARS! Yes, that's right, on September 12th (and 13th), you can get your psychic-loving, vendor-pawing mitts on none other than Lucas from Days of Our Lives!

I know if I were to meet him I'd ask him why he's always such a snake! "You don't need to be a drunk, Lucas!" I'd yell. "All of your relationships turn to mush because of you!" I ... I've said too much.

To be fair, a portion of the proceeds from the 7th Annual Connecticut Women's Expo (sponsored by Comcast) go to the Susan G. Komen fund. So, while you sit in on that sex therapy seminar, you'll know that at least part of your $10 admission is going to a good cause. Of course, you probably will have already known that, thanks to the free psychic reading.

Now, I know what some of you are saying: "Ben, I'm neither a wrestling fan OR a stereotype of the female species. I'm fun and have a family. Is there anything on the horizon for me, or should I just pack my things and move?" All I can say in response is, "Put that Samsonite back in the basement and cancel the U-Haul, my friend!"

My final awesome upcoming expo is just for you!

No, it isn't a scuba expo (but, man, that'd be cool. I imagine there'd be some neat harpoon guns at such an event). It's the Lego Kidsfest, and it's happening November 20-22. Dude, there's going to be so much stuff! Legos! And more Legos! I bet there's going to be BIG, BIG things made out of Legos! Maybe a life-size M. Jodi Rell! Or a big ol' Mark Twain mustache! That'd take quite a few gray blocks.

Seriously, though, I need to borrow my nephew come November. My inner child really, really wants to be in a giant room full of Legos. And my nephew'd probably have fun, too.

So, there you have it, something for everyone: the angry guy, the June Cleaver, and the children (young and old). Now if only they somehow combined all three of these ... I can see it now: Lego wrestlers giving women advice on nutrition, while soap opera stars battle it out in the square circle. Good times ... good times ...

Monday, July 13, 2009

The strangest chalk outline ...

From this week's Ocean State Job Lot flyer (I admit, the OSJL, Job Lot, or Ocean State - the nickname changes depending on my mood - is a guilty pleasure. They've got some good deals. Seriously.). Is the average consumer so dumb that we really need the dashed outline?

"It was the weirdest thing, Sarge. When we found the body, which, as you can see, is now represented by these dashes, it had this wire contraption inside of it."

"Son, that's a genuine 'Beer Can' Chicken Roaster! Our suspect must buy his goods at the Job Lot! He may be a murderer, but he knows where to find sweet deals!"

Sunday, July 12, 2009

What's in a name?

Since becoming a member of the Nutmeg state, I've always wondered how Connecticut earned its unusual nickname. Well, thanks to a back issue of the fun publication Hog River Journal, my questions have been answered. Many of you lifers probably know this tale, but for those who don't, read on:
During the years surrounding 1800, Connecticut sea captains actively traded Wethersfield onions—used largely to feed Caribbean slaves—for much-sought-after nutmeg, a spice grown only on the West Indian island of Granada and in the Mollucas islands of Indonesia. Also during this time, young Connecticut men ventured in ever-increasing numbers to the American South and Midwest to peddle the clocks, buttons, needles, and other sundries being produced by a host of small, new Connecticut manufactories.

These Yankee peddlers loved having the hard-shelled nutmegs—durable, light, and profitable—among their goods. They were highly desired and always easy to sell. So easy that, so the story goes, some of the craftier—and less ethical—of these Connecticut lads took to mixing wooden nutmegs in with the real ones, simultaneously increasing both their profits and their “nutmeg” supply. They, of course, counted on the fact that the purchaser wouldn’t discover the difference until the trader himself was back in the Land of Steady Habits (or was that the Provision State?). As a result of these and similar trickster-like practices, Connecticut Yankees’ reputation for clever-but-not-fully-principled trading spread widely and quickly, and the homeland of these likeable but shrewd hucksters became known as “The Nutmeg State.”
Just as their forefathers had done when they adopted as their own the song “Yankee Doodle”—a tune originally intended to ridicule Yankees for being crude rustics—Connecticans took to “Nutmeg State” the way “snake oil” took to “salesman.” At an early and quite formal dinner gathering of the Connecticut Historical Society, one of the dignitaries—following a numerous and extended series of toasts preceding his own—offered this salute to the assembled guests, “To the Nutmeg State,” he said, lifting his glass yet again. “ Where shall we find a grater?”
Yes, it's true. The nickname comes from bad businessmen. From deceit. And from people too daft to know that they were being mocked. Ah, New England. You've got to love it.

You can read the full article over here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Made in the dark

The Nutmeg has been waterlogged. Hard rains, lightning storms, hail, and even a tornado in Wethersfield (and yet the DMV still stands ...) have hit lately. It has gotten to the point where, sadly, power outages have become common. The Professor and I were in the dark along with 30,000 others just yesterday (thus my excuse for not writing until now).

So, with this strange turn of weather pounding us here in Connecticut, I've begun to think about activities to do when the electricity inevitably cuts out during the next deluge.

My best idea, as I'm sure you've already guessed, is becoming an expert shadow puppeteer. I've got the tools: hands and a flashlight. And it seems like a pretty open market. I can't tell you of many local expert shadow puppeteers. You know, maybe I'll start some new trend. I've even got a book called "Shadow Art," where everything from geese to sea anemones (I'm not kidding, this book is almost 300 pages long) is displayed in all its black and white glory.

The only problem I've run into thus far is my realization of how completely inept my fingers are when it comes to bizarre contortions. I've got the bird down. Dog is easy. But, my God, have you tried to make a silhouette tiger? You've got to get a hood for your arms! And don't even get into making a mouse. Miniature wire whiskers between your fingers. Before you know it, you end up with a trunk full of props like that weirdo Carrot Top.

Some of these puppets are so difficult that the author of the book, Sophie Collins, provides a chapter on finger and hand exercises to prevent cramps. Maybe I need to play more computer games or take up the piano or something. Get my fingers stretched out.

On second thought, maybe I'll just read a book the next time the power blanks out. Shadow puppets are too much work. Besides, if I'm going to die in a horrible lightning accident, I'd rather not go out making a horsey with my hands. I'll die with a book in my hands. Something manly. Hemingway or some Ian Fleming.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Learning (the hard way) what Ikea instructions are trying to tell me

Ikea. Inexpensive items, a little elbow grease, and voila: a full home on a budget. The Professor and I have frequented the Swedish box store giant off and on for years. I have assembled a dining room table, three cabinets, one chair, a long CD tower, and one end table. And I have never once gotten injured in the process of said constructions.

So when it came to mounting a magnetic knife strip, I had little worries. There wasn't much to it: a magnetic strip, a mounting bracket, and two washers.

Then I looked briefly at the instructions, specifically step number two:

 "What is the person in the right image doing wrong?" I wondered. Is lightning striking them? Are they sliding their fingers to the left and right and causing some sort of magnetic friction? It reminded me of old issues of Highlights. What's different in one picture from the other?

I dropped the instructions and began to look at the pieces. The washers went behind the bracket. The bracket gets screwed into the wall. Then the magnetic front gets dropped onto the bracket. I placed the washers on the counter and held the long strips. I brought them close together. Again I wondered: "What's the problem with picture number two?"

If you guessed that the person on the right, Mr. No No we'll call him, has his fingers stuck between the two pieces of metal, one of which contains a long string of powerful magnets, you'd be right. If you also guessed that I was doing the exact same thing as Mr. No No when holding the two pieces precariously close together while standing in my kitchen, you'd also be correct and I would like to have you sitting next to me the next time I do something quite as stupid as what I'm about to confess.

I brought the pieces together. I never once thought about the magnetic pull between the two. Then it happened. It snapped shut like a lobster claw. The Professor, casually observing to this point, looked at me as if I was joking, as if I was possibly pretending to crush my finger between two pieces of metal. Then she saw that the entire magnetic knife holder was dangling from the pinched pad of my fingertip. I danced around the room like a fool or a Woody Allen character being portrayed by Woody Allen. "Helphelphelphelphelp!" I said, knowing fully well there was nothing she could do to help. The Professor flailed her arms. 

I don't know what was worse: the shock or the pain. Either way, I had to do something. Logic would have had me grab a butter knife to pry the pieces apart from each other. But logic doesn't work when a metal knife rack is hanging from a quarter inch of skin. The only thing I could think to do was grab the holder with my free hand and yank out my finger. So that's what I did. It hurt. The pad instantly puffed to twice its normal size and a nice bite of skin was removed. I will spare you with photos. But I laughed. I laughed at the pain and the ridiculousness and the sight I imagined any passing neighbor saw for that brief, ten second burst of panic.

Thankfully, ice brought the swelling down.

Afterward, I looked at the instructions once more. The obtuse imagery made perfect sense. Mr. No No on the right was clearly doing something wrong. Perhaps that is why they also include this image in their instructions:

Maybe if I had called Ikea with my direct line, like Mr. Question does in the image, I could have asked what was Mr. No No doing wrong. Instead, I had to learn the hard way.