I give a little to you, I give a little to him, I give a little to her

I had two encounters with comical anger on Saturday:

Item the First: chauffeuring Liz B. around on Saturday, I thought I’d lucked into a parking lot on the far end of Newbury St near the public gardens. I saw a car pulling out of a spot and swerved across an open lane to take it. I was just wondering how to correct my initial approach when an SUV barreled toward me in reverse, rocking to a halt a few feet away.

My eyes had glossed over the SUV without pause when I first saw it: a double-parked vehicle with its hazards blinking on Newbury St on a Saturday doesn’t merit the evening news. But apparently he’d been waiting for this guy to pull out. Yet here I was, already in the spot.

It had been so long since I’d contested a parking spot with someone that I wasn’t sure of the procedure. Am I in the right here?, I wondered. Should I back out? Is he going to give up?

SUV precipitated the decision for me, not by rolling down his window to scream obscenities but by opening his door. However, he was in such a hurry to get out and confront me that he forgot to remove his seat belt. He wrestled with the strap while standing next to the open driver side door, lips creased in a snarl. I already had one hand on the stick shift (D to R) and the other up in an “easy there, killer” open palm.

Seeing me reverse, the driver gave a curt nod and a “move along” gesture with his hand. I didn’t linger to watch the aftermath.

I don’t know how that would have gone down if he hadn’t become tangled up in his seatbelt on his way out the door. Check that: I know I wouldn’t have started a fistfight on Newbury St over a parking spot. But that moment of pure slapstick defused the tension for me. I recognized the man for what he was – someone very vested in a Lockean notion of property rights re: parking spots; he had mixed his labor (waiting with the hazards on) with the soil (nine feet by four next to a meter) and expected it to yield fruit. My life is richer for avoiding crazies, not confronting them.

(And I shouldn’t call the man “crazy” based on twenty chaotic seconds of interacting with him. He doubtless had a different anecdote to share that evening: “So I’m circling Newbury St for, like, twenty minutes looking for a spot. Then I see a guy pulling out, so I park right in front. But then this prick in an Audi swerves across to try and snatch it from me! I’m sittin’ there, in plain daylight, and he tries to poach that shit. So I get out to give him a piece of my mind, and he backs right the fuck down.”)

I ended up parking two blocks away, just over the Pike. Added maybe five minutes to my walk.

Item the Second: I took Liz to see ImprovBoston’s mainstage show that evening. Afterward we lingered in the bar, chatting with the performers and house staff. I introduced Liz to Narragansett, Boston’s answer to PBR (which I hadn’t thought needed answering, but hey).

A woman in platform heels and a colorful, ill-fitting outfit walked out of the back hallway, probably coming from the Cabaret studio. She stepped outside to light up a smoke. Another woman followed her in short order and conducted a brief, quiet argument with her. This second woman then came back inside, to where Natalie B. was working the bar.

“Do you guys serve alcohol here?”, she asked.

Natalie nodded.

“Lemme get two raspberry Stolis and lime.”

“We don’t actually have hard -” Natalie began explaining.

“Okay, two Coronas.”

“We don’t -”

“Two Heinekens, then.”

Natalie, an adorable ball of energy, smiled and gestured at the fridge behind her. “We’ve only got a few beers stocked here. Harpoon, mostly.”

The woman got a few Harpoons and some bottled water and vanished. Twenty minutes later, the 9:00 show let out. She and a similarly dressed crew emerged, tottering and shrieking, to wait in the lobby for their ride.

“And they don’t even have fuckin’ Heineken,” the original woman was explaining. “They’ve got some bullshit beer. What was it? Fuckin’ O’Doul’s?” She asked this of Ted, possibly the nicest human being on the face of the planet, who was reading a book behind the cash register.

“It’s Harpoon,” he explained.

“Harpoon? Whaddaya, whaddaya.” If I hadn’t suspected they were out-of-towners before, the Brooklyn accent and the ignorance of Harpoon proved it. The Brooklyn ladies waited in their swarm until their stretch Hummer pulled up on Prospect St.

I don’t have a lengthy explanation for the above; sorry.


and if the law don’t get her then I will

To get a car registered in Massachusetts, you will need to do the following:

  • Acquire auto insurance. This isn’t hard; you can do this online. But I should caution that it’s not quite as easy as buying a book on Amazon. Every insurance company wants to give you a quote if you enter a few vague details. This draws you in, making you a lead. Once you start the application process, giving your driving history and VIN, shit gets real. “Oh, you’re that Professor Coldheart? Yeah; double the quote we just gave you.” Seriously.
  • E-mail the insurance company to get proof of insurance.
  • Presuming you got collision insurance – you’re not dumb, are you? – go get a photo inspection of your car. This isn’t very hard, but it takes some time out of a busy day. You will receive a form that you need to fax to your insurer, which, given the number of people who still use fax machines every day, won’t be a problem at all.
  • Go to the RMV and collect a number.
  • Spend some time browsing in Best Buy and Target next door, waiting for your number to get called.
  • Approach the RMV lady with your title and proof of insurance. What’s this? My insurance doesn’t take effect until tomorrow? Well, then I guess there’s nothing I can do with the rest of my day, is there? Certainly not the nine other errands that hinged on my having proof of registration of the car that I drove here.
  • Stomp into the rain.
  • Sigh, accept the hand that you’ve dealt yourself, and go buy groceries.
  • Take a nap.
  • The next day, go to the RMV first thing. Collect a number.
  • Spend some time browsing in Best Buy and Target.
  • Approach the RMV lady with your title and proof of insurance.
  • Fill out a form to waive any sales tax that you might owe on this car that you bought out of state.
  • Fill out the same details on a second form that you already filled in on a first. Whatever.
  • Get your plates! And your registration!
  • Affix these plates to your car.
  • Get your car inspected for the Massachusetts safety and emissions test.
  • What’s that? My car will fail the test if I don’t replace this one $12 light bulb, out of the eight light bulbs in the rear window? Well, go to town, buddy!
  • Get a parking permit for your apartment complex.
  • Get a parking permit for the town you live in.
  • Go home; park your car.

Dear Mr. President,

Remember when you compared mandatory purchase of health insurance to auto insurance? That’s not helping.

Professor Coldheart.

streets like a jungle, so call the police

Avoiding All Work, ‘Cause There’s None Available
My new office looks down on the ceiling of a nearby parking garage. Every afternoon, between 2:30 and 3:00, a woman drives her SUV up to the top level. She lets out a small dog and then begins idling her vehicle in a slow circle around the roof. The dog follows her.

SUV dogwalker

At first I thought she had a leash trailing out the window behind her. But when I got the attention of everyone in my office for a second opinion, we agreed she was just waving her hand or snapping her fingers. The dog follows unceasingly. She does one lap of the roof, maybe one and a half, and then lets the dog back into her SUV.

I considered the possibility that she’s handicapped.

You Go On Ahead! And Carry Me With You!
I got in an argument on the Boston Livejournal community yesterday about the ethics of requiring credit card machines in Boston cabs. My argument was that there was an ethical question involved; the poster’s, that there wasn’t.

His post, if you don’t want to click through, read as follows:

my cabbie last night was all like, “[the credit card machine]’s not working!” then i pointed out that it’s illegal for to drive a cab with a broken card terminal in boston and that he either take the $8 in cash i had for the $18 fare, or let me pay with my card.

cabbie: you put the tip on the screen
me: yeah, i know how to do it
—seconds later—
cabbie: you didn’t put a tip!
me: yeah, i’m aware. maybe you shouldn’t give your fares a hard time when they try and pay with a card
cabbie: they take 8% when you pay with a card
me: that happens in every industry, it’s called the cost of doing business. deal with it.

I responded:

You’re not doing a lot to diminish my sympathy for the cab driver here. It sounds like he doesn’t particularly want a credit card machine in his car, but was compelled by law to accept one.

To which he replied with some variant of, “Whatever; that’s the law, tough shit.” I realized the argument could not even be engaged, much less won, since anyone who thinks “that’s the law, tough shit” is a salient response must have slept through the 20th century. So I made one more cursory response (“convenience is not a sound basis for law”) and gave up.

But shit like this is what annoys me about Boston. The cab driver loses a portion of every credit card transaction to charge fees. He clearly doesn’t want a credit card machine in the car (since he lied about it being broken). But the law compels him to take one. Then, when he tries to hustle a way around it, some asshole gives him a hard time about it and stiffs him on the tip. And more than half of the people he told this story to agreed with him. I’d say at least three-quarters; someone want to count?

I don’t mind Boston’s liberal attitude. Hell, I’m more liberal than I was four years ago, so living in Boston suits me just fine. But that frustrating yet common blend of liberal attitude and consumer entitlement drives me up a wall. Consistency is all I seek. I can respect a guy who reads Worker’s World because he’s been in the IBEW for thirty years, but not if he’s a college student. And Boston is mostly college students.

(And I’m not generalizing that far here. I’ve been a member of the Boston LJ community for years. I know these people; I’ve seen them argue before)

For thinkers who spend so much time railing against “privilege,” Boston progressives loathe to surrender theirs.

Edit: several commenters on my LiveJournal have pointed out that, hey, Boston cab drivers are part of a state-enforced monopoly, so fuck them. And I agree with that: the taxi medallion monopoly in Boston is pretty ridiculous. It costs about $250,000 to legally drive a taxi in Boston. But I don’t buy the notion that accepting government license in one aspect of your life compels you to accept government regulation in every aspect of your life.

walk like a pimp, think like a macintosh

You’re A Very Nosy Fellow, Kitty Cat
These three things are true:

(1) Roman Polanski deserves to go to jail for raping a thirteen-year-old girl – not merely statutory rape, but coerced, drug-induced sex with a thirteen-year-old. The years he spent outside of the United States do not count as “time served” for his crime, since they clearly did not limit his freedom in any meaningful way: he was still able to make an Academy Award-winning film. Whether there was judicial misconduct in the 1977 case is irrelevant. The lightest that Polanski could likely get off with in this case is a new judge at the sentencing hearing – which he’d get anyway, as the original judge has died – so Polanski still ought to appear.

(2) Were one of you guilty of an unspeakable crime – not just accused, but actually guilty – and had the option of fleeing to a country which would not extradite you to the U.S., where you could live and work surrounded by friends, would you be so noble as to say, “No, thanks, I’ll stay here and take my medicine”? Especially if that “medicine” were ten to fifteen years in a California prison? I can’t peer into your souls and say you’re lying if you say, “Sure, I’d go to jail,” but I have my suspicions. That being said, point #1 still stands.

(3) Chinatown and The Pianist are still great movies. Polanski being a rapist doesn’t change that, even if it makes everyone curl their lips back from their teeth, draw in a sharp breath, and nod sadly.

I bring this up only because I used to be ambivalent – that is to say, wrong – on the subject of whether or not Polanski deserved to be brought to justice. The new media attention coming from his extradition illuminated more facts on the case, and those facts changed my mind. But beyond that, Polanski’s extra-legal status had a sort of Schrodinger’s Cat uncertainty to it before this week. You could debate whether or not he should return and face justice, but everyone knew he wouldn’t of his own volition. Now that he’s in U.S. hands once again, the question should be moot.

Like A Bird On The Wireless
In a fit of frustration, I yanked the Internet cable out of my ancient Linksys router on Sunday and plugged it back into my desktop. This router (which was too old for Linksys to provide tech support for in summer 2007) has the habit of freezing once every few months, forcing a hard reset – jiggling a pen in the back of the unit until everything flashed, logging into the router interface to create a new admin password, then to create a new wireless password, then to rename the network to something other than “linksys,” etc.

But the problem is as much with the iMac as with the router. I would use Firefox to log on to the router and (say) change its name. I would click “OK” to confirm my changes. Airport would then flip out, since it could no longer find the router it was just on (“Where’s ‘Linksys’? What’s this thing called ‘Professor Coldheart’s Apartment’? I don’t understand!”), and give me a “Page Not Found” in Firefox. So then I’d have to open up Airport, find what I’d just renamed the router to, click on that, make sure it took, and then reload the router log-on.

Then I’d change the wireless password. Repeat the above.

All of the above is understandable: using the wireless Internet to change my wireless router settings should be fraught with peril. But when the router itself is so old that it tends to freeze if you give it too much to do at once, the process becomes too frustrating to bear. So no more wireless at the Fortress of Solitude, until I get a slightly newer router.

In Soviet Russia, Car Drives You
I sifted through my car’s glove compartment night before last to find some paperwork that might suggest what my mileage was a year ago (car insurance thing). In this search, I pulled out vehicle inspection reports, oil change receipts and maintenance documentation going back three years and more. I also pulled out a registration sticker.

Huh, I thought. How long have I been driving with an expired registration sticker? Answer: one month. This puts me in mind of another Tale from the Brain Trust:

Fraley, Hawver and I sat in the living room one evening, lamenting our inability to manage even the simplest financial details of our lives.

“You know,” Hawver declared, “maybe the welfare state is the way to go.”

“Have the government make every decision for us!” Fraley chimed in. “Because clearly we can’t manage.”

” ‘What would you like to spend your monthly $20 allowance on, Citizen Fraley?’ ”

” ‘Pudding!’ ”

” ‘Now, now. You really ought to have a more diverse diet than …’ ”

” ‘All on pudding! All on pudding!‘ ”

Of course, all three of us got our acts together and are now upstanding members of our respective urban communities.

april, come she will

I forgot my camera battery when going to Mia and Bob’s wedding in Dublin, NH this Saturday. So now I have to weblog about it to remember it at all. It’s not my fault.

  • Rachel V. and Steve were kind enough to give me a ride up. We listened to Steve’s XM radio and Rachel’s extra-danceable iPod playlist.

    “Was nu-metal a reaction to the … flamboyance of hair bands?” Rachel asked at one point.
    “I thought nu-metal was a reaction to grunge,” I chimed in from the back seat.
    “And grunge to hair bands,” Steve finished.
    “Only one way to settle this,” I concluded, digging out my cell phone to call Fred Durst. Still hasn’t got back to me.

  • “Who are you texting?” Rachel asked Kevin Q. We stood in the shade around the rustic firepit in Mia’s mother’s backyard.
    “I’m not texting anyone,” he said, not looking up.
    “Then what are–”
    “I’m live-tweeting the wedding.”

  • Later, someone waved a copy of the program at Kevin, with its admonition to silence cell phones during the ceremony. To drive the point home, Serpico texted “turn off your phone” just before the ceremony started. Kevin got it and fumed.

  • The ceremony, though outdoors, was shaded by the towering trees and aerated by ambient wind. Mia’s uncle, a pastor, conducted the ceremony, giving plenty of advice and insight to the young couple. We sat patiently until told to stand again. I suppose it says something of the secularity of the audience that nobody knew what to do when prompted to “share a sign of peace.” It fell to the lapsed Catholics (like me) to turn and start shaking hands.

  • No communion wafers, though. Hell, that’s another, what, fifteen minutes? Twenty?

  • Chatting with my favorite EMT, Lynne W., I learned that tall, skinny people are more prone to suffer collapsed lungs. “I wonder if that has any connection to the stabbing pains I feel once every ten months or so when I draw a deep breath,” I speculated.

    “Could be.”

    “Eh, my cross to bear.”

    “Oh, life’s so hard for you tall and slender people.”

    “Exactly; I – hey!”

  • I got to chat at length with the significant others of my friends: Rachel’s Steve; Michelle McN’s Ben; Kevin’s Shawn. They have an identity outside of their predicate attachment to an existing friend, I discovered. For instance, Ben took up snowboarding after skiing screwed up his knees. He, Haley and I chatted about it in the smoker’s circle near the parked cars. I wasn’t smoking; I just wanted to hang with the cool kids. Like Ben.

    Also, Steve quit smoking, drinking and caffeine a year ago, all on the same day. Neither Vickie nor I could believe it. “I don’t even drink or use caffeine that much, and I don’t smoke,” I told him. “But if a doctor told me those two were killing me, I’d ask, ‘How long do I have?’ ”

  • Rode back with a full car – the Serpico/Keoughs and the Smithneys, me snug in the backseat with Claire and Kim*. We reminisced about childhood indulgences: our favorite books that we devoured a stack at a time, our favorite cartoons, our favorite food. Everyone conceded that everyone at the wedding was cool and that we all need to hang out with them more. Which I plan on.

* All ri-ight.

I can’t drive fifty-five

I put a high premium on convenience.

I value my time very highly. While I don’t mind taking the bus – it gives me time to read, or watch videos on the iPod – I’d prefer to drive if it’ll save me some trouble. In Boston – or Cambridge, where I live – this convenience comes very dear.

A little over a week ago, I dropped my car off at VIP Auto after the plunking sound coming from the wheel well had turned into a legitimate scraping. I mentioned the CV joint as I dropped it off, hoping I had nothing more to worry about. The call came: the right front spring and strut had come off entirely, and the left ones were rusting. Final bill: over one grand.

I paid. One thousand dollars (plus) stacks high, but I had the cash on hand. And in the grand scheme of things, it’s not that expensive of a repair. Provided I only have to make it once.

In the summer of 2008, I replaced my radiator, for about $700. Now, at the end of May, I’ve paid over $1000 for the front springs and struts. I rapidly approach the number at which Zipcar would make more financial sense than keeping my current beater.

(Actually, I’ve technically passed that number. But I’m not immune to the sunk cost fallacy, so I’ll hold onto the car I just sunk a grand into. For now. But the next time I get a repair bill totaling $300 or more and the car can still roll, I’m rolling it out of the mechanic and into my parking lot, where it’ll stay until I get Zipcar lined up)

the way you treat me is a shame; why do you hurt me so bad?

I considered taking the car on a road trip to Baltimore this coming weekend. I ended up buying train tickets instead, but I had the car in mind for a while. So I started considering what sort of maintenance the 1996 Camry would need for a 1,200 mile round-trip. Probably need the CV joint looked at. Fuel filter, too – oh, and see if that recurring shuddering is the EGR valve.

And when’s the last time I got my oil changed?

Craning my neck forward, I took a look at the sticker in the top left of the windshield. Apparently, I was due for an oil change in October.

I had a surging moment of adrenalized panic, as if my car had been fueled by ignorance for the last six months and knowing the date would set the engine on fire. Then I double-checked the sticker.

The nice folks at Valvoline had recommended I come in for an oil change in October – at 145,000 miles. My car just hit 144,000 this winter.

I did some simple math. Mechanics and dealerships insist that you change your oil every three months or 3,000 miles (even though the actual requirement’s closer to 6 months and 5,000, respectively). This would mean I last got my oil changed in July 2008. If I’d only put another 2,000 miles on in that time, I probably wouldn’t hit 145K until July 2009 – three months from now.

Holy hell. When did I start driving fewer than three thousand miles in a year?

Moving to Davis has offset so much of my transportation costs. I take the subway and shuttle 3 days a week and I rarely drive on the weekends. My closest friends all live near the Red Line, or at least within walking distance. I could make do without a car if I absolutely had to.

Of course, I should still get the oil changed anyway – nine months is a bit too long to go without oil changes if you use your car with any regularity. But it’s good to get that last bit of proof that I’m a city boy at heart. I couldn’t get away with driving fewer than three thousand miles in a year outside of a city, unless perhaps I lived on a farm.