Monday, March 28, 2011

Filling in the Blanks

I'm back from Minnesota and - as always happens when I fly - am now sick as a dog.  I'm sure it didn't help that my coworker was hacking up a lung the entire week we were together.  Thanks for nothing. 

My trip home was torturous.  Due to snow/sleet/rain storm in Boston, my flight was delayed for two and a half hours followed by another half hour sitting on the plane while the crew decided whether to wait for permission to leave or let us all off the plane again.  On the bright side it was cramped, uncomfortable and I sat next to a man who insisted on talking to me despite my iPod blasting while I was also reading a book.  This included him pointing out to me an ad for a new Volkswagen van that I could not give a shit nor a fuck about. 

Thankfully I'm home now and recovering from a massive head cold that has left my nose red, raw and painfully clogged.  If I could drill into my sinus cavity to relieve the pressure, I would.  It's the first time I've ever related to the guy from 'Pi'.  How's that for an obscure movie reference?

Let's get caught up with organized sections and everything. 

A Comprehensive and Exhaustive List of Everything I Know About March Madness:



In My Defense:  How many people had both Butler and VCU making the Final Four?  Anyone?  For the first time in over a decade I don't have one Final Four pick correct.  Kansas was my last hope.  Sorry, Jum. 


Films I've Seen And Would Recommend:  'The Fighter' (what the fuck is going on here?  Another great movie based in Massachusetts???!!!), 'Unstoppable', 'Battle Royale' (but only if you don't mind extreme violence) in which case see 'Primal', as well.


Film I Saw But Would Never Recommend:  'Grown Ups', which could be the worst movie I've seen in a very long time.  Is Sandler even trying any more?  Seemed like an excuse to hang out with his buds and get paid.  Good for him, but don't subject the public to the results. 


Reason for Optimism:  Opening day in three days. 


Reason for Pessimism #1:  Rondo still pouting about the Perkins trade and now having a mysterious finger injury.  In the meantime, Oklahoma City has gone 11-2 recently.  Did Danny Ainge gift wrap a title for the Thunder?


Reason for Pessimism #2:  Still no movement on the NFL lockout. 


Fatherly Pride:  My six year old has become obsessed with cars.  For his birthday he asked for one thing and one thing only:  Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit.  Of course he got it and he'll spend as much time as he can trying to win new cars.  Every now and then he'll excitedly bound out of the playroom to proclaim 'I just won the Bugatti police car!' before disappearing again. 

I take him to Barnes and Noble on Sunday where he browses the kid section, finds nothing to his liking before heading to the car section.  There, shining like a beacon calling to him, is a picture book of his favorite car - the Ford Mustang.  He briefly flips through it, sees another book that has the Camaro, Charger and Mustang on it's cover and debates which one to buy.  'This one has the ALL OF THE MUSTANGS but this one has the Camaro and Charger, too, Dad.  If this Mustang book has the GT in it...Oh, there it is.  Ok, I'm getting this one'.

Standing to my left was a man in his 20s, staring - slack jawed - at my son.


The Competitive Juices Flow:  Six year old comes out of the playroom after playing his new video game.  He announces, 'I just won the Lamborghini!'   Ten year old jerks upright from his prone couch position, 'WHAT?!  I haven't even got that, yet', runs to the XBox and spends the next 45 minutes matching his little brother.


Reason Number 343 Never To Trust A Rodent:  It's fucking freezing in Boston today.  Wind chill of about 10 degrees.  That stupid groundhog was wrong again. 


Say What?:  The Celtic dancers (nope, still doesn't sound right) have gone to China to promote the NBA.  Here are some pics to prove that what the dancers are doing has absolutely nothing to do with the NBA.  Now, if they're promoting exotic dancing...


Mathletes:  It appears that even the smarty pants in our society can't agree on how to fix the economy except for one part - reduce defense spending.  It amazes me we're spending billions upon billions with Lybia, Afghanistan and Iraq while internally bickering about collective bargaining agreements and low rent shit like the Head Start program.  Why can't we take this economic crisis as an opportunity to tell the rest of the world 'Hey, we need to get our our shit together.  We're scaling back our world wide wars and focusing on ourselves for a bit'?  Is that unreasonable?


Fruit Loop:  According to the smarty pants at the American Chemical Society, we may be using fruit soon to make cars.  Apparently - and I'm taking their word for this - scientists in Brazil have found a way to make lighter weight, yet stronger automotive plastics from fruits like bananas and pineapples.  Two thoughts here:

1:  They have scientists in Brazil??

2:  That bananas are the single largest export (other than spectacular breasts) from Brazil makes this study a bit biased, I think.  I should note that I have no idea if bananas are Brazil's single largest export, but it feels right.   

That's it for today.  Work is calling again.  Not sure how I've been roped into all these projects considering I'm inept and lazy, but it's happening. 

Until next time. 


Today's distraction:  A fun chart of famous rock hair styles.  Roll over the rows to get a better view. 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Simply Madness

Need to get an apology out of the way first.

To everyone in Big's Yahoo bracket, my sincerest apologies.  Since I was headed to Minnesota for work on Wednesday followed by non stop work for 48 hours before I had a break (don't worry, I took time to check scores) I completely forgot to finish filling out my bracket.

Sadly, I didn't even realize it until today (11:41am Central Time) when I thought 'Hey, I should see how I'm doing in that' and found myself sitting in 16th place out of 15 teams (estimate).  When I saw the big red 'Incomplete' notice I thought - and I quote - 'OH FUCK!'.

Yep, managed to get about a third of it done at the airport before my flight started boarding and never gave it a second thought.  Fuck me!

Just keep in mind I would have wound up in at least 10th place had I finished things.

Some other thoughts while in Minny.

-  Every third person I've met here has asked me this:  'So you're from Boston?'  'Yes, I am'.  'You enjoying Kevin Garnett?'  This second question is asked with a bit of anger, like I personally kidnapped him from Minnesota and stuck him on the Celtics.  I, of course, answer 'Oh, more than I ever would have thought!' and if I am in a particularly foul mood I add 'And Big Papi has been fun, too'.

Seems KG has left some scars behind in this area.

-  Our company's downtown office looks over the new Target Field and it is a thing of beauty.  Makes me crave Boston finally retiring Fenway and building us baseball fans a real park to sit in.  The more I see of other parks, the more I hate Fenway.

-  Had a fantastic meal at a place called Lurcat in downtown Minneapolis.  Try the Spicy King Crab Cakes or Sea Bass if you stop by.  Would also recommend the chocolate cream puffs filled with vanilla ice cream.  Out of this world.

-  Check out RedStone in Eden Prairie, as well.  Great atmosphere with a HUGE bar area to hang out in.  Had the cheeseburger sliders with fries and several local beers (Summit??) that were delicious.

-  I introduced the locals here to my 'Beer O'Clock' habit and they were wholeheartedly behind the idea.  Since it was a move weekend (we're physically moving the entire office to new digs) everyone was in jeans, sneakers, sporadically watching the Madness and were more than open sharing beers I stocked the fridge with.  They even went out and got two more cases.

There's my legacy, folks; spreading alcoholism state by state.

-  My theory of the generification of America has been confirmed again.  The Mall of America supposedly is one of the great tourist attractions around here, yet they have the same exact stores we have in our malls back in Massachusetts.  Sears?  check.  Nordstrom?  check.  Macy's?  check.  As I said to Wifey on the phone 'Plop a roller coaster and log ride in the middle of the Square One or Burlington Mall and we'd have a Mall of America, too!'

Driving around you see the same shops squatting in identical strip malls:  There's a Starbucks, there's a Subway, over there is a Home Depot right next to a Target which is down the street from a Walmart which, in turn is down the street from a Walgreens which shares space with a Staples.  I'm becoming more distressed that every city is no longer keeping an identity.  Block the skyline from your line of sight and you would have a hard time telling where you were.

Fuck - enough of that.  It's Madness time.

Enjoy the rest of the weekend.  Go Jayhawks who I would have had as my champ had I finished filling out my stupid bracket.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

God Complex

You may have noticed many people walking around with dirt on their foreheads yesterday.  This is because it was what members of the Cult of Catholicism call 'Ash Wednesday'.  Although why rubbing dirt on your face makes you a good person is something I have never figured out.  I rubbed dirt on my face many times during my childhood and it caused me nothing but grief from my parents. 

What's so special about that dirt?

I arrive home last night and, before my coat is even off, am greeted with both my mother in law and wife chastising me for making turkey sandwiches for the boy's lunches. 

I stare blankly at them. 

'It's Ash Wednesday!  We weren't supposed to eat meat!'

See there are other rules that come along with the dirt.  Rules I often forget or, more likely, ignore completely.  Supposedly nobody is supposed to eat meat.  It used to be a fasting day, but when the health consequences of practicing starvation came to light the Catholic powers decided eliminating meat was a stringent enough substitute.  God fearing members can safely gorge themselves on as many Twinkies as they please. 

Although I'm pretty sure gluttony is one of the deadly sins.  Kevin Spacey taught me that. 

Catholics are also supposed to sacrifice something until Easter rolls around.  40 days and nights I believe is the timing of this.  Funny how 40 seems to be the magic number for this religion.  Was it Moses that led his people around the desert for 40 years.  Noah built his ark when it rained for 40 days and 40 nights.  Is there some symbolism for the number 40 I'm unaware of? 

Yeah, probably. 

Usually Catholics will give up cookies or candy bars or (insanely) alcohol during this time.  My son told me he was going to give up the XBox which made me laugh and laugh and laugh.  He was playing the next day and said 'I'll think of something else'. 

I have long taken the view that if there is a God - and I have serious doubts about that - she has a very good sense of humor and will certainly over look us violating one of mankind's stupid, made up, half assed rules. 

Up until junior high my parents would make me go to church with them every Sunday.  It was the type of boredom that can never be fully described.  When I was old enough, I told them that I would go to a later mass and head to the arcades to worship 'Punch Out', air hockey, and 'Galaga' instead. 

Eventually I got caught and when confronted I asked 'Why would God care if I go to a man made building on a day man picked to show appreciation for him.  Can't I just do that any way I want?'

'And going to the arcade is your way of worshipping God?'

'Hey, if God loves us, wouldn't doing what makes us happy make Him happy?'

It didn't work.  I was forced to go to the earlier mass with them for the next three months with my mind wandering and trying not to groan out loud with annoyance.  When the hand held gaming systems first came out I immediately thought of those days in church; tapping my toes, fiddling my fingers, trying everything I could not to fall asleep.  If I had one of those mofos, I would haven't minded half as much. 

Eventually I faded away from the church, briefly returning at the insistence of my wife. 

But it was no use.  I find the rituals ridiculous, the sermons insulting, the preachings to be the exact opposite of what a man like Jesus was supposed to stand for.

Organized religion is supposed to foster peace, love and acceptance.  That's the idea anyway. 

It instead provokes intolerance, abuse and anger. 

I can't claim to know what Jesus would do in any given situation, but I know what he would not do:  He would not attend the very organization that claims to be based on his life. 


Today's distraction:  You are an angry God.  Take it out on the innocent cows and sheep and children. Strike them down with your WRATH!!!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Ringing Endorsements

Some random, useless and irrelevant things I've enjoyed recently. Just be warned that you should always consider the source when someone is recommending you something.


MUSIC

Talons - Hollow Realm: The first great album of 2011 is an all instrumental release from this punk band. I was familiar with their self titled release, but had no idea they had this sort of ambition in them. Complex, hard and, at times, beautifully majestic in it's execution. Their one flaw was their coarse lead singer and they've found a sure way around that problem: don't sing. Brilliant!!

Surfer Blood - Astro Coast: A bizarre, yet addicting, mix of sunny California alternative pop with darkly humorous lyrics. Test drive a few of their tunes now because you'll be hearing a lot of them soon.

....And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of The Dead - Tao of The Dead: I had my doubts after 'Century of Self' nearly put me to sleep, but Trail of the Dead (can they change their name already?) returns in top form with this release. Nice that they (mostly) strip things down and get back to the basics. Still can't help their excessiveness, but it doesn't overwhelm.


TELEVISION

The Chicago Code: I already brushed over this last week, but I've caught up and realized the show is getting better and better. Yes, the lead detective is singularly obsessive and needs to lighten up (more details about how he's balancing the fiancee and ex wife might help), but the story is involving and Delroy Lindo is the most lethally charismatic character to land on television in years. It helps enormously that they film this on location in Chicago and they (so far) have been putting the city to great use.

Mr Sunshine: Not a classic by any means, but Matthew Perry was smart enough not to cast himself as a nice guy here; instead playing a narcissistic manager of a second rate sporting arena. Having Allison Janney on hand as his 'doesn't give a shit' boss and Andrea Anders from 'Better Off Ted' certainly helps. I laugh out loud at least twice an episode.

House: I've remained a loyal viewer, but this show has seen better seasons and I was dismayed when the writers romantically involved House and Cuddy. You can imagine my gratefulness that House has remained as crass and complicated as ever. The last two episodes in particular have tapped into the original charm of both the character and the show. House conning his way into a private school in order to help Cuddy's daughter gain acceptance is one of the best episodes of the past three years.

Perfect Couples:  This new sitcom following 'Community' is funnier than it has any right.  Like 'Mr. Sunshine' this isn't terribly original, but it's filled with likable actors portraying characters most of us recognize from our own experiences.  The rich, pushy one trying to get everyone to buy into his 'Man Cave' concept is the highlight so far and has me believing in '40 Hands' as a legitimate party concept. 


BOOKS

The Book Thief - Markus Zusak:  An adopted girl grows up in Nazi Germany and we hear of her progress through Death.  Right.  The Grim Reaper is the narrator, although he/she hates being called that and finds it amusing how we dress up as him/her on occasion.  The story is involving, the writing exhilarating and it's that rare book that I can't wait to get back to. 

The Good Soldiers - David Finkel:  Finkel follows an infantry troop throughout their tour of duty in Iraq.  This all takes place during what the Bush Administration labeled 'The Surge' and it has forever altered how I view this (or any) war.  Finkel doesn't commentate, merely tells the story of soldiers trying to do their best under hostile, hopeless circumstances.  His chapter on the recovery of a soldier so grievously wounded from a bomb blast will haunt me forever.  Every President considering declaring war for any reason should be required to read this book first.  On second thought, it should be required reading for everyone. 

Sadly, I haven't seen any recent movies that I would recommend.  I did watch 'The Spy Next Door' and 'The Karate Kid' (which wasn't terrible) with my boys but it just made me depressed over Jackie Chan's career transformation.

Today's distraction:  Amazing photos from an expedition to the Nyiragongo Crater in Africa. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Tour Guide

Alternate working title: Things to do in Boston after the Ice Age.


The tourist season is coming up for the Boston area. Snow will be gone, streets will be swept, light will last just a tad longer each day and before we know it, we’ll be lunching by the harbor and enjoying beautiful women wearing sun dresses. No stupid, shapeless, heavy, burdensome coats blocking my appreciation of the female form.

Plus a new internet friend is coming to visit and she needs some hangout spots.

First, C, I’m assuming it’s the Boston Marriot Long Wharf at which you’ll be staying. If so, there are a ton of sites to see in the area. And even, better, a majority of these places are within walking distance from your hotel.

Let’s get to it.


Tia’s: This is actually the outdoor bar attached to the Marriot. Not sure when it officially opens, but if you are visiting during nice weather chances are there will be people mingling about. Now, keep in mind I don’t recommend this place for the prices or selection but for the opportunity to witness the elusive douchebag in his native environment. Fake tans, sunglasses at night, Euro-trash wannabes, golf shirts with popped collars; they can all be found here. Feel free to make them feel uncomfortable or ridicule their wardrobe. That’s what I do when I’m there. Does have a nice view of the harbor.


The North End: This is about three to four blocks away from hotel. You can walk through Christopher Columbus park right into another era. This is Boston’s Italian neighborhood with tiny restaurants in every nook and cranny. It’s been yuppified since the Big Dig has been completed, but has kept its charm. Marvel at the extremely narrow streets and wonder how anything moves during winter; visit cafes, pastry shops, and enjoy the old fashioned vibe. I would suggest taking half a day and just wander the streets.

Also, you need to try one of the following: Modern Pastry or Mike’s Pastry. DA will have to help me with which one. I need you to try one of the canolis. This deliciousness was directly responsible for a man losing his high paying job and facing serious jail time when he stole them from my friend.

DA, let us know which shop she should visit. If you’re still reading, that is.


Faneuil Hall: This is the shopping market directly across the street from the hotel. Too much to do here to recommend one spot, but if pushed I would say Durgin Park for their clam chowder or lobster (which they will steam instead of boil if you want). This is nearly a must visit if you enjoy seafood. Plenty of shops to occupy your time in the area, as well and if you hit it right there will be live entertainment (magicians, comedians, dance troupes, etc).

While you’re there, check out our atrocity of a city hall across the street and realize that back in the Seventies that was considered cool and cutting edge. Yeah, welcome to Boston.


Newbury Street: You’ll have to cab it here, but take half a day and just wander. There are specialty shops galore as well as the standard fare. Can be on the expensive side, but chances are you’ll find an item somewhere you’ll find nowhere else. Check out the original Newbury Comics if you see it. My little slice of music heaven.


New England Aquarium: You would have to walk approximately 200 feet to reach the front entrance. It’s a bunch of fish, but still an option.


Lunch Cruise: In the same area as the Aquarium. Buy a ticket for a cruise out to the Harbor Islands. There is also (or was last time I was there) and option to jump on a boat for an hour long lunch cruise. Basically goes out, putters around the harbor then back again. Only do this if the weather is spectacular.


Boston Common/Public Gardens: If you visit Newbury Street, may as well take a stroll through this park, especially if you hit Boston in the spring when everything is in bloom. If you’re feeling adventurous, you could walk through the Commons, hit Downtown Crossing (a seedier shopping mecca than Newbury Street) and walk back to the hotel. A bit of a haul, but a gorgeous haul depending on the time of year.



PUB SECTION/THE REAL BOSTON

Kitty O’Shea’s: One of my favorite pubs in Boston. It’s right on State Street (near Faneuil Hall and about two blocks from your hotel). This is a quaint, smallish Irish pub complete with one of the coolest wooden bars in the city. It helps that most of the bartenders and serving staff are from Ireland and have those adorable accents. In fact, let me know when you’re going here and I’ll meet you for a few beers. They have live Irish music every Sunday night, too.


The Black Rose: Right around the corner from Kitty’s and directly across the street from McFadden’s (see below). This tends to be the younger, binge drinking crowd, but can be a ton of fun if you’re in the mood for that type of thing.


McFadden’s: I tend to shy away from this place just due to the sheer volume of people that cram themselves in here. Still, huge bar, good selection of beer and friendly enough.


The Times: Frankly, this isn’t as great as it used to be, but they now have an outdoor seating area you can enjoy if the weather is nice. Go for the nachos – which weren’t on the menu last time I was there but you can still order. Just try not to use the restrooms. This is strictly a ‘one and done’ type of place.


Sullivan’s Tap: This is a pub right near the Boston Garden that must be seen to be believed. The bar runs an entire city block, but the actual place is so narrow you can barely walk from one end to the other. One of the remaining landmark places in the area and was around before the Celtics won their first championship. If this is too crowded you can hit…


Boston Beer Works next door. This place has two floors, pool tables for rent and a large selection of their home made brews. I’ve never had a bad time in this place. There is also Hurricane O’Reilly’s a few doors down, but there really isn’t anything special about that place. Standard food and drink, but pleasant enough atmosphere if everywhere else isn’t to your liking.

I was going to recommend Canal Street Tavern, but the last three times I’ve been there they’ve run out of the beer I was drinking. And it was three different beers. They’re officially off my list of go to places. Three strikes and you’re out.


JJ Foley’s: This is my home away from home. Dark, kind of dingy and grubby, great selection of beer and fantastic buffalo tenders. Again, if you’re going here let me know and I’ll meet you. I hearby challenge you to a game of Golden Tee!

Speaking of Golden Tee, a buddy of mine told me the BeanTown Pub now has a large screen (like a full wall) Golden Tee game. I have yet to check it out myself, but that is another option. They also have coin operated pool tables in the back and it’s always a good time.


That’s all I can think of for the moment. There are also the stand by ‘tourist’ things to do: The Duck Boat Tours (which you can book right outside your hotel), the Swan Boats (if they’re open by the time you visit), the Freedom Trail, State House and I’m sure you’ll find some gems in the North End you’ll love. You can also check out the Sail Loft nearby.

I would avoid Bell in Hand unless you enjoy young, rowdy crowds and beer being spilled on you. There is also the Theater District, but that hasn’t held much appeal for me over the years.

Hope this helps and you enjoy your visit.


Today’s distraction: More good news for the Boston waterfront. At least five new restaurants are opening soon. Can’t have enough good food. Having grown up with the old, ugly, green highway running above the city, I am floored by how beautiful the city has become. Keep it coming, Boston!