don’t throw stones; you don’t know

On Friday I had the neighbors, Ryan and Erin, over for wine and cheese. We sifted through each other’s movie piles to find good films to laugh over. Neither Erin nor Ryan had seen Road House, so we put that in first.

If marginal utility theory means anything, then I should get more value out of most purchases than I spend on them. But sometimes the ratio skyrockets so far out of whack that I give thanks to the healing power of capitalism. My Dickies messenger bag, for example: I spent $50 on it three years ago and it has easily brought a thousand dollars of convenience into my life. Or my copy of Mind Performance Hacks. Or the Bed of Ages: a Simmons model that the company no longer makes, that I dropped just over a grand on (including frame and headboard) five years ago. I spent enough on the Bed that it’s a close thing, but I still come out black.

Road House has vastly exceeded the $8 I paid for it in the Target discount bin. In the two years I’ve owned it, I’ve watched it at least six times. Maybe one of those times I watched it alone. Every other time, I’ve had friends over, cracked some beers and introduced them to Patrick Swayze’s magnum opus.

Why does Road House work on every level? The fight scenes are fun, as I’ve said before. The hayseed, outdated setting allows for some ironic laughs – particularly when the locals gawk over Swayze’s tanned bod. “He looks like he’s from a coast!”, Erin commented.

But what makes Road House so oddly great is that it’s a well-paced film on a picayune subject. You can almost watch the hero’s status rising and falling on screen, as if on a stock ticker. Anyone who wants to write an action movie should own this on DVD and watch it until it breaks. I am not kidding in any way.

Afterward, we watched Demolition Man, which has a similarly tight plot even if the setting makes us snicker. Stallone, Bullock and Snipes each have one setting (smart-aleck, perky and cocky, respectively), and the movie suffers whenever it asks them to deviate. The story shepherds our heroes from setpiece to setpiece, even if we have to swallow some improbable coincidences to get them there. Perhaps that’s one of the benchmarks for a good action movie: how easily we can believe the transition between car chase and shootout.


don’t get me wrong

Games People Play
I hadn’t seen Melissa and John in too long, so they obliged me for a drink at Drink, where Aaron served us a variety of historical cocktails. Mine were all whiskey-based; Melissa and John’s were primarily gin-oriented, if I’m not mistaken. We talked about Chicago and reminisced on the virtues of Boston. We also spent a lot of time talking about WoWcraft (their obsession, not mine) and tabletop gaming ( … okay, that one’s mine).

Despite the lateness of the hour, I stopped off at The Cellar for the vestiges of Sara F’s goodbye party. Only the hardcore drinkers had remained: Lisa C., Meghan O., Robert W., Taylor, Rachel R. And of course, me, who didn’t even have cab fare home.

The conversation turned to the games men and women play when courting each other. “Say you give a guy your number,” Robert posed. “And he doesn’t call you back for six, seven days. Would you still pick up?” Which is a valid question, of course, but exactly the wrong way to phrase it. If you asked a guy, “Say a girl is really hard to pin down and flirts with you but is never available; would you still be interested?”, he’ll answer no. When in fact the accurate answer is yes. Guys respond to that behavior like catnip. We just don’t like to think we do.

I wished Sara F. nothing but success in San Francisco*. She mentioned – completely unprompted – that she reads this weblog. And she makes a living writing blogs! This makes Sara Faith Alterman the Greatest American Hero.

Roll The Dice, Man; Roll The Dice
I had some folks over to roll dice on Labor Day. Auston, David F. and David M., Pete and Christine indulged my first halting steps with 4th edition. Despite nearly killing everyone in the second go-round, everyone had a blast.

Only this morning did I realize I had an entire fridge of Diet Coke left. I bought a twelve-pack of the stuff – typical gaming fuel – but forgot to offer it to anybody. People went in and out of the fridge all day, but were either too health-conscious or too waist-conscious to tap into the soda. And I almost never drink the stuff. Long story short: could anyone use some Diet Coke? I have some.

That evening I went to jiu-jitsu for some actual melee. Despite the soreness of not having really worked out for over a week – and taking several breakfalls from the head sensei – I enjoyed the exercise. One of the reasons I agonized for so long about moving to Chicago was due to feeling in a rut here in Boston. An easy way to change that up is to shake up my schedule, which is hardly fixed. So I’m going to be teaching jiu-jitsu on Sundays and studying on Mondays now. That, plus the move to the downtown office, should spark some interesting developments.

Put Your Picture On A Stamp
Here’s a brief glimpse into how my mind works:

Because I regularly send a modest check to the Institute for Justice** every Christmas, I get on a wide variety of conservative mailing lists. Yesterday’s came from the Law and Economics Center, urging me to write a check to help their efforts at “educating judges in sound economics, science and constitutional principles.”

From the letter:

For a small organization, they’ve attracted a good deal of attention. They’re often criticized in the New York Times. Al Gore attacked them in his latest book. Senators John Kerry and Russ Feingold tried four times to cripple the Law & Economics Center and failed every time. […] The New York Times, Al Gore, John Kerry, Russ Feingold. I suspect you’re thinking that the Law & Economics Center must be doing something right!

I have no love for the Times, but I dislike the presumption that the enemy of my enemy is my frenemy. So into the trash it went. Except for the enclosed Self-Addressed, Stamped Envelope. I feel it’s a shame to waste the stamp. It already has my return address typed on it, so I could just get a blank label and use this for something else. But how often do I mail something? There’s the rent check, of course, but oh fuck what’s today’s date.

And that’s what found me scrambling for my checkbook on a Tuesday evening to mail a rent check eight days late. I would have used the SASE, but I didn’t have any sticky labels.

* Which I knew you couldn’t call “Frisco,” but apparently you can’t call “San Fran” either? “SF” is okay.
** Which has the coolest name of any think tank in DC. I expect to see Batman’s name on the letterhead. I challenge you to find a better one.

a couple of the sounds that I really like

I bought Michelle B. brunch at Johnny D’s, in payment for her reviewing the first draft of my second novel and giving me feedback. She teaches at a public high school similar to the one my novel’s set at and I needed her help on verisimilitude. I captured the attitude of school kids very well, she said, but could probably dial back the swearing.

“Kids are very conscious of where The Line is,” she said, “and will dance all the way up to it without stepping over. Unless they want to get kicked out. So in this section here, where Roland says, ‘Suppose you suck my dick, bitch,’ he might say …”

Next: haircut at Franco’s in Inman Square. I come here often enough to be considered a regular now by the staff. First thing Mike did when he sat me down was ask, “How was the wedding?” So I told him about the Liberty Hotel and officiating a wedding behind Storrow Drive and Clink and all the rest. He did my hair up shorter than usual, at my request. I trust the man implicitly.

Even though the weather was pleasant, I stopped off at Inman Oasis for a soak in the big hot tub, saying hi to Miss Cheryl at the front desk. Then I walked all the way from Inman back to Davis, burning off about a third of my brunch calories.

Serpico invited me out to watch UFC 100 at Sports Despot in Allston. We got there minutes before 10:00 just before the bar hit capacity. I like Sports Despot – crowded, sure, but it’s a well-behaved crowd, and there’s more than enough TVs. We squeezed in behind the Pop-a-Shot game and watched the bloody action on a flatscreen thirty inches from our noses.


  • Akiyama v. Belcher: My favorite fight of the night. Two technically savvy, aggressive fighters trading blows and working angles. Still, this fight belonged to Akiyama – apparently nicknamed “Sexiyama” in his hometown of Osaka, due to his lucrative singing career – from round 1. Superior grappling and more acrobatic striking.

    Match Highlight: Two hundred and fifty men in an Allston bar groaning simultaneously when the clip of Akiyama taking a kick to the groin was replayed.

  • Henderson v. Bisping: I haven’t watched “The Ultimate Fighter” in over a year, so I had no idea of the bad blood between these two. So I leaned back to watch a suitable fight for the first round and a half. Then Henderson knocked Bisping out with a punch that got replayed at least six times. Left knee and low left uppercut to draw his block down, and then a right haymaker that slalomed Bisping’s jaw. Henderson followed Bisping down to the mat, dropping an elbow on his face from his full height. Still not sure the man knows where he is.

    Match Highlight: Rogan asking Henderson afterward: “Did you know Bisping was out when you tagged him that second time?”

  • GSP vs. Thiago Alves: Watching the U.S. Open at work a few months back, one of my colleagues wondered aloud if people watching Roger Federer play realized that they were probably watching the greatest male tennis player of all time – if they were conscious of the man’s place in history. I don’t follow tennis that close, but I feel the same way about Georges St. Pierre. He’s incredibly competent at every aspect of fighting – superior hand strikes, superior kicks, superior grappling, superior submissions, etc. He’s fast and he’s powerful, an optimized fighter.

    I hoped for a knockout or a submission, but even Alves knew after Round 5 that he’d lost – he hoisted St Pierre’s hand and retired to his own corner. Consider that GSP continued to dominate the ground game for the last two and a half rounds, even after pulling his groin, and join in my amazement.

    Match Highlight: The “twenty-one-year old” in the Metallica shirt who booed until his voice cracked every time St Pierre took Alves down. Which was at least three times a round.

  • Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir: I hate Brock Lesnar. That doesn’t make me special, of course; he’s practically built to be hated. The man coasted into UFC from the pro-wrestling circuit, was handed title shots on the strength of his name alone, and has comported himself with bad grace throughout. Tonight’s match was no exception: he refused to touch gloves with Mir in the warmup and downplayed his prior loss to Mir (via submission) in the pre-show interviews.

    And yet I have to acknowledge: Brock is good at what he does. He doesn’t possess a lot of technical artistry, but he has size, aggression and a mastery of his limited range. Lesnar took Mir down, slowly turned his ground pin into solid control, then struck Mir until his head bounced off the fence.

    Match Highlight: The post-match interview with Rogan. “Keep it coming!” Lesnar yelled to the booing fans. “I’m’a go home, drink a Coors Light. A Coors Light,” he repeated, pointing to the prominent Bud Light logo on the canvas, “because Bud ain’t paying me shit. Hell, I might even get on top’a my wife tonight. Sarah? Where are you, honey?” The thought of that psychotic thug even simulating tenderness scares me.

Postscript: my first run-in with a crazy neighbor in thirteen months of living here. Given that I live in a brick walk-up for shut-ins, I’m amazed it took this long. At about 1:30 on Sunday morning, the guy in the apartment next to me (not Ryan; the other side) slammed something into the ground about forty times. He went on a screaming tirade throughout, indistinct over the slamming, that ended in “fucking upstate New York!” All quiet for another half hour, until he began a slurring rant about several people who might not have been present or listening. “And Joey? Fucking Joey? Fuck you, you fucking asshole! And Johnny? That fucking fag!” Etc. By the time I had resolved the debate on whether to call the cops or get dressed and knock on his door myself, he had stopped.

there is a season, turn turn turn

As of this past Sunday, I’ve lived in my current apartment for one year.

Today, you get the grand tour.

The view from the front door. Bed immediately to my right. Walkway defined by position of couch. TV (and flatscreen Mac also used for watching movies) facing the couch. Bathroom in the back.

Detail on the bathroom.

Detail on the kitchenette.

As for the actual living experience: the studio’s warm in the winter and cool in the summer, thanks to built-in A/C and electric baseboard heat. Either the walls have reasonable soundproofing or I’m the loudest person (by far) on my floor. Laundry’s in the basement; parking’s out back. And I live within 3 minutes of one of the hippest neighborhoods to visit in Somerville, and within 6 minutes of the Red Line, which can get me downtown in 20.

So I plan to stay.

everybody knows that you’re in trouble; everybody knows what you’ve been through

“You should join Twitter!”
“I can’t.”
“Why not?”
“If I had another outlet for self-indulgent blurbs, I’d have nothing to write about.”

. . .

Thanks to everyone who came out to Asgard last night for my birthday. I appreciate all your shout-outs and dedications. I reserve a special spotlight for Doug, the only man who can pull of Andrea Bocelli at karaoke; Melissa and Fraley, who came out all that way; and Rachel V., who rocked a vicious rhyme like she never did before. And to choreographer Kate, and MB back from New York, and the drunken panda, and, and … well, you’re all great.

. . .

The water in my Brita tank has started to take on a vaguely sweet aftertaste. Since my initial efforts at diagnosing it have all failed, I’m using PathWise Root Cause Analysis to find an answer.

What is the object affected? Taste of water.
What other, similar, objects could be affected but aren’t? Appearance of water (no weird particles or changes of color); temperature of water.

What exactly is wrong? Very mild aftertaste of something sweet.
What else could be going wrong but is not? Could be a stronger aftertaste. Could be a really foul aftertaste.

Where do you see the problem? In the water that comes out of the Brita pitcher.
Where else could I expect to see this problem occur, but hasn’t? In the milk. In the bread. In the cheese or yogurt.

When did the problem first occur? Couple of weeks ago.
When else could the problem have occurred, but didn’t? Couple of months ago. In the old apartment. Just yesterday for the first time.

When in the process flow does the problem occur? After the water’s been sitting in the fridge for at least a few hours. (I discovered this on Tuesday, having poured myself the dregs of a pitcher and getting that sweetish smack of the lips. Then I poured myself a second glass, having just refilled the pitcher, and tasted nothing)
When else in the process flow could the problem occur, but hasn’t? As soon as the water filters. Before the water filters (i.e., could be originating at the tap).

In what pattern does the event occur? Every instance, given enough time.
How else could the problem repeat itself, but hasn’t? Every second or third or nth instance.

How big is the problem? Mild but not ruinous aftertaste.
How big could the problem be? Bad taste that ruins the water-drinking experience.

Based on the above, I’m going to test one theory, by filling the pitcher with water and leaving it on the counter rather than refrigerating it. I’ll keep you posted, as I’m sure the suspense is killing you

Edit: I never spelled out the next step, confusing some of you, so let me continue. What I do now is test several theories and see whether they satisfy the Is/Is-Not conditions listed above.

  • “You need to change the filter.” This doesn’t satisfy the “when” condition – the fact that a pitcher sitting in the fridge for hours gets funky, but a freshly-filtered pitcher does not.
  • “There’s something in the fridge emitting odor.” This one gets a little shaken by the “where” condition – it’s odd that only the water would be affected by whatever the thing is. But right now it’s a strong possibility.

  • “The tap water itself is funky.” This is a heavy runner-up. Any changes to the consistency of the tap water would be beyond my control. It seems odd that I wouldn’t have noticed any other symptoms (see first question – “what other, similar objects”), but it’s eminently possible.

Science – it’s a method!

everybody hates a tourist

Busy morning; no time.

I re-watched the Sci-Fi channel’s Dune miniseries this past week, having forgotten how good it all is. The whole miniseries has a very theatrical feel to it: lighting changes in mid-scene, lush backdrops instead of real environments, very standard camera shots. Baron Harkonnen even ends every scene he’s in with a Shakespearean couplet. In fact, I’d be hard pressed to say what the upcoming Peter Berg adaptation will bring to the table, except a better budget and, probably, worse actors.

I love the new apartment dearly, for everyone who asks. It feels like a perpetual beach vacation. The apartment has roughly the quality of one of those pre-fab beach condos. The weather’s been warm enough to keep the windows open and walk barefoot on the carpet. Davis Square feels like a landlocked Ocean City, MD – chintzy craft stores, a variety of restaurants and pubs, everything within walking distance, etc. Plus, the sheer joy of living by myself has made the last month – it’s only been a month! – feel like a vacation.

The other day I discovered a few ants in the apartment. Not a lot, only six or seven maybe. They clustered around a scrap of food that had slipped off the table from the night before. I wiped it up with one of those Chlorox disinfecting wipes (to kill the ants and the smell all at once). I suppose I should be concerned but I can’t quite manage. If ants have to exist anywhere in my apartment, I would rather find them somewhere they should be (on the floor near food) then somewhere they shouldn’t (in the cupboards, in my pillowcase, pouring out of the shower, etc).

Packed weekend; updates later.

back of my neck gettin’ dirty and gritty

I take for granted that I will never have everything I need out of the apartment – or even packed – by the day of the move. Years of experience taught me this. So I had relatively little stress on Saturday morning when I realized that I had yet to pack:

  • An entire bookshelf’s contents;
  • An entire media center worth of electronics;
  • The entire top shelf of my closet;
  • Any kitchen utensils
I stuffed things into boxes until Rachel, Lisa, Jason and Kate showed up. Through a mix of delegation and brute force, we muscled the UHaul van full to bursting and rolled over to Davis Square just as the sun reached its peak. I’d thought ahead, of course, and had a fridge full of water in the new place.

Once all the boxes and furniture migrated up three flights of stairs, the five of us settled in to unpack in air-conditioned comfort. The five of us quickly assembled the queen-sized bed frame, stocked the bookshelves and unpacked the kitchen mess. “You are going to get so much ass here,” Lisa observed with child-like wonder. I can’t verify that prediction in the first 48 hours of residency, but I think the place has potential.

I treated the four of them to Redbones barbecue right down the block. A conversation about music soon led to a poll about the most recognized guitar riff, then to the most recognized bass riff, then the sexiest guitar riff. Despite some pretty intense debate, we all agreed that the Dead are terrible.

I spent the rest of the weekend in air-conditioned comfort, except when I didn’t.