from the homicidal bitchin’ that goes down in every kitchen

Take for granted that, when you give a man money and freedom for the first time (post college), he will either (1) live like a child or (2) live worse than a child, acting out all his repressed fantasies. I think about this every time I sit down to the lunch I pack myself at work: two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, one yogurt, one little cup of mixed fruit in gelatin, some crackers, a stick of string cheese and three cookies, with a glass of milk to drink.

And a pretty big salad, but still.

# # #

Twice in the last three days I’ve seen someone reading a Rex Stout novel on the T. Not a vintage one, either – if I had to guess, probably a late 80s, early 90s reprint. What gives? Rex Stout’s a talent, of course, but wherefore the sudden interest? Assigned reading at Harvard? Did someone mention him on NPR?

It could just be my dumb luck. But (as Ian Fleming wrote), once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action. If I see someone thumbing through If Death Ever Slept on the Red Line this week, I’ll know … something.

(I linked to the Geocities page above for novelty)

# # #

This past June, with its twenty-one sunless days, got me back on my Leonard Cohen kick. I think the man’s miscast as a musician – every song of his goes 45 to 120 seconds too long. But Leonard Cohen is, quite possibly, the greatest American North American poet of the twentieth century. At least top three. He, St. Vincent Millay and Hughes can duke it out.

Dispute that all you like. What I will not dispute: a Leonard Cohen cover of Lily Allen’s “The Fear” would be awesome. Not singing, just speaking as a lonely piano tolls in the background.

Leonard Cohen does not make a good workout track for your iPod, of course. But you know what does? The soundtracks to Shadow of the Colossus and God of War II. Edit them down to just the boss battles. Slip your headphones on, start running, and then blink in a schizophrenic daze as the playlist ends and you find yourself two miles farther than your usual run, dripping with sweat and clutching a bloody sword engraved with runes in one hand. The runes will portend.


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!

if every word I said could make you laugh I’d talk forever

So I was sitting in my cubicle today, and I realized, ever since I started watching Mad Men, every single episode has been better than the episode before it. So that means that every single episode that I see, that’s the best episode of Mad Men ever.

What about the last episode? Was the last episode the best episode of Mad Men ever?


Wow, that’s messed up.

(if you don’t get the reference)

# # #

For those strangers on the Internet who obsessively follow my eating habits: I now have a salad with lunch every weekday.

# # #

During one of these weekdays, I ate lunch in the breakroom with my coworkers. A Full House rerun came on the TV and none of us had the wherewithal to change it. This was the Season 2 Episode “I’m There For You, Babe.” It starts with the Tanner family parading into Jesse Katsopolis’ bedroom, carrying presents and cake. “Happy birthday, Jesse!” they yell.

“Wow,” he says, looking at the cake. “Twenty-six years old.”

This hit me in a way that no episode of Full House should have. Uncle Jesse was 26? Cool Uncle Jesse? The guy with the motorcycle and the leather jacket and the rock band and the hair? Uncle Jesse was a year younger than me? Something didn’t seem right.

When I first saw Full House – about two decades ago – I thought of Jesse and Joey as the cool grownups. And then adolescence hit, my interests changed, and I started actually growing up. But I never thought to check my progress against the adult role models of my generation. Clearly an oversight.

So I sat down and made an unflinching comparison of my life, one year ago, against that of a TV sitcom character. How’d I do?

Jesse Katsopolis vs. Professor Coldheart On Their Respective Twenty-Sixth Birthdays

(Jesse Katsopolis: April 14, 1989; Professor Coldheart: April 1, 2007)

Jesse: He and Joey run their own advertising firm, JJ Creative Services, but evidence suggests business is slow.
Professor: Customer service, but hey – steady income.
Advantage: Professor.

Jesse: Becky Donaldson, a/k/a Lori Loughlin, Danny’s co-host on ‘Wake Up San Francisco’
Professor: Christine.
Advantage: Tie.

Hobbies, Extracurriculars
Jesse: Lead vocals and guitar for Jesse and the Rippers, a modestly successful Beach Boys cover band.
Professor: Occasional performer at ImprovBoston; jiu-jitsu instructor; amateur novelist.
Advantage: Tie.

Living Situation
Jesse: Sleeping in the attic of his dead sister’s husband. The show suggests that Jesse got a lot of play (at least in the first season), but I can’t see how this would work. “Hey, why don’t we go back to my place? We’ll have to tiptoe past the nine-year-old’s bedroom, but …”
Professor: Living in a 3BR in Allston, MA.
Advantage: Professor.

Jesse: Dropped out of high school.
Professor: Graduated Boston College with honors.
Advantage: Professor.

Jesse: Phenomenal.
Professor: Good but not great.
Advantage: Jesse.

Jesse: “Have mercy!”
Professor: “That’s not the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard per se, but …”
Advantage: Jesse.

Final Score
Jesse: 2
Professor: 3
Tie: 2
Winner: Professor by a nose!

Whew. Near thing, that.

I’m all lost in the supermarket

You people show an inordinate interest in the food I eat, so here’s an update:

Salad: I discovered the $3.50 bag of salad at Shaw’s and fell in love. $3.50 gets me at least three meals’ worth of salads, making it cheaper than any salad I could buy at a restaurant. And the bag begins expiring the second I open it, meaning time pressure compels me to eat all of it over the next 3-4 days. Mix it up with a little Thousand Islands Light and you’ve got a complement to any meal. I read that the ideal proportion of plants:everything else on your plate should be 75:25, which I haven’t hit yet. I can usually go about 50:50. Easy stages, Sherif Ali.

Protein Powder: A good commuter’s breakfast. Just mix a scoop full into a tall glass of milk and drink while contemplating your morning. Sometimes I forget to drink it, if I’m hurrying out the door, so I fall on my backup …

Craisins + Cereal: Mix a cup of dry cereal with a double handful of craisins. Low carbs and good for you.

South Beach Meals: Not that I need to lose weight, but the South Beach Diet frozen entrees work great for lunch in the office. They’re low moderate not as high sodium as other frozen meals, and they’ve got plenty of protein. I recommend the single-serving pizza.

Small, Big, Small: I’ve found that eating a small breakfast, a big (but healthy) lunch, and a reasonably sized dinner carries me through the day pretty well. You never want to load up on food right before bed, as it’ll just glom onto your stomach while you’re inactive. Go into lunch a little hungry, and eat a variety of healthy foods to build up a store of energy for the rest of the day.

Right now, I seem to have a pattern that works. Now I just have to stick to it. Once I keep at it for a few months at a time, it’ll become habit. And since there’s no force in the world more powerful than habit, I’ll be in good shape.

pattycake, pattycake, I’m the baker’s man

Answer the questions in this post and I will reward you with spices from Araby, silks from Cathay.

* * *

I did more than just witness a wedding this past Saturday, of course.

I hit up the Union Square Farmer’s Market for old time’s sake, buying fresh basil and haggling over a ciabatta loaf. I hadn’t intended to buy anything else, but when the butcher pointed out that only grass-fed beef went into her hot dogs I instantly bought a pack. At home, I grilled up some chicken and sandwiched it between the toasted ciabatta, along with the basil, some mozzarella and some tomato slices. I think the chicken pushed it over the edge, as the entire concoction kept threatening to disintegrate in my hands. But I still enjoyed it.

The next morning, per Mia’s recommendation, I toasted some ciabatta slices in the oven with mozzarella, basil and diced tomatoes for a homemade pizza. Just as delicious and much less messy.

So I have ciabatta, basil, tomatoes and grass-fed beef hot dogs in my fridge (mozzarella’s gone). And some grapes. What can I do with these ingredients?

* * *

Non-Bostonians, pay attention: the Red Line, one of the main branches of Boston’s subway (the “T”), starts at Park Street near the Boston Common. It goes north into Cambridge, passing through MIT, Harvard and Tufts before ending at the Alewife T stop.

You see a lot of homeless people at the Park Street, Central Square and Harvard T stops, but significantly fewer at Porter or Kendall/MIT and almost none in Davis. Then you see a bunch of panhandlers at Alewife again, which always strikes me odd because you can’t really walk around Alewife. It’s one of those well-paved strip malls, designed to funnel cars into Dunkin Donuts and CVSs. When James Howard Kunstler talks about places not worth caring about, he means Alewife*.

Non-Bostonians: I have brought you up to speed.

Everyone: why do homeless people congregate at those T stops and not others? It costs the same amount of money to reach any of those stops. Harvard and Central get a lot of foot traffic, but Alewife gets almost none – the panhandlers there walk from car to car at the Route 2 interchange. Harvard has lots of students, but so does the Kendall/MIT stop. And if you want to rationalize about soft-hearted liberals at Harvard and their generosity to the homeless, let me stop you now: I have never once seen even the flakiest Cambridge Spartacist drop a dime in a beggar’s cup. Boston may slant left, but it’s the coldest left I’ve ever seen.

I want to know why homeless and transients favor certain neighborhoods over others. This would make an excellent project for a grad student, unless the student discovers that panhandling pays better than grad school and is less demeaning.

* * *

Finally, I’ve seen a couple different car washes offering the following promotion in the last month: Ask How You Can Wash Your Car for $1 A Day. I presume this sign advertises some unlimited wash program – $30 a month, let’s say. I’ve seen this offer at several different chains all across Cambridge, Somerville and Watertown, so more than one franchise pushes it.

However, every time I stop and check the prices a little further, I see that you can get a quality car wash – wax, undercarriage rinse, the works – for about $15. So this $30/month plan only pays off if you wash your car more frequently than once every two weeks – in other words, for neurotics only.

Granted, you should not come to me for car wash advice – the rust stains on my hood promoted my car from Sturdy Traveler to out-and-out Beater about a year ago. But does this make sense to anyone else? Should you wash your car more than once every two weeks – more often than you fill its gas tank? If not, what gives?

* * *

Spices and silks, people. Tick tock.

* You can reach Government Center, which Kunstler calls out in the linked video, on the Green Line.

now she’s with one of my good time buddies, drinking in some cross town bar

#: Unless something changes, I may end up doing karaoke on three consecutive nights this week. I may have a Problem that needs Care.

#: I’m almost done with Scrabble Scrabulous on Facebook. The idea seemed cool enough – play a low-pressure game of Scrabble Letter Tiles with your friends. Let the computer do the hard work of calculating scores and validating words. What I forgot at the time: I’m bad at Scrabble this game. I’m really not good. Sure, I’ve got a decent vocabulary, years of Internet fora notwithstanding, but I don’t have a good sense of the game’s strategy. I think I lost the thrill when Zabeth got three bingos on me in one game. Damn her.

#: I got a massage on Sunday to loosen up after throwing stuff around for two hours on Saturday. A healthy woman named Tamika bore down on my lats and traps with the full weight of her body, delivered via elbow. Sadly, I didn’t realize that most of the soreness wouldn’t set in until two days after the event, so the massage didn’t help as much. I had a stiff but not painful neck on Monday morning. Verdict: Tamika’s not bad, but she’s not my favorite masseuse at Inman.

#: My cooking experiment continued last night, but with new and exciting developments. For the first time in my culinary history, I deliberately diverged from the cooking instructions on the package! The results: pretty mediocre!

Here’s the scoop: I thawed two chicken breasts and pulled down some lemon pepper seasoning while the frying pan heated up. I was supposed to coat the chicken in a mixture of lemon pepper and flour, but I had none of the latter. I pulled down the rotisserie mix to see if that would work, noting that this bottle advised a mixture of seasonings and olive oil. “Well, if it works for one,” I thought, and kneaded the chicken with olive oil and lemon pepper.

Next, I threw the breasts on the greased up skillet. I’m no Gordon Ramsay, but I very quickly feared that a frying pan’s heat might not be sufficient to cook this chicken all the way through. I double-checked the instructions: thinly-sliced chicken breasts. Ah. So I let the chicken grill for a few minutes longer than recommended, until the insides were warm though still pink, and called it a day.

Despite all this it still tasted all right. Cleanup didn’t take too long, and if I had to hover over the stove for longer than I might normally like, the savory smell of the (top quarter-inch of) chicken paid off.

if I was Santa Claus, I’d bake up a feast

Abstract: I did what strangers on the Internet told me to do and it paid off.

Document: Last week, meandering through the last Star Market in Watertown, I saw whole chicken breasts on sale for a sweet deal. An experimenting mood struck me, so I bought a couple pounds. I also bought some flavorful mixings from the McCormick aisle. I also bought a cutting board (at Target; separate trip entirely).

I didn’t have time for a real home-cooked meal before last night (which is what I’ve been telling you people). So I stuck the chicken breasts in the fridge to defrost on Sunday evening and took them out to cook on Monday. Anyone who’s cooked with me before knows I have a pathological fear of deviating from instructions, so the clear explanations on the back of the McCormick Bag ‘n Season were a soothing relief:

(1) Sprinkle seasoning over chicken. I cut 2 chicken breasts out of the package, coated them generously with the herbs and spices, and rubbed the seasoning in with the back of a spoon.

(2) Put chicken in bag. The seasoning mix came with a tiny plastic bag that unfolded into an arm’s length cooking tent. I carefully placed the chicken in there, poking a few holes to vent steam. Off the bag’s suggestion, I emptied the rest of the mixings into the floor of the bag.

(3)Cook thirty minutes on 350. Easily done. After a few minutes I stuck some biscuits in there too.

Verdict: god damn, this is delicious! It’s just as tender as I like it, it’s got that good McCormick flavor and it was remarkably easy to make. I ate one chicken breast with the aforementioned biscuits and wrapped another one for lunch leftovers.

Any Downside? About forty-five minutes later I heard a clattering sound from the kitchen. My roommate and I arrived at about the same time. My roommate’s cat had darted into one of his usual hiding spots – the chair at the kitchen table. The cutting board had vanished.

“Where is it?” I asked.

“The cat must have knocked it down,” Lauren said.

“Yes, but where is it?” I asked. “He can’t have … disintegrated it.”

I looked under the chairs and behind the trash can. I looked inside his cubbyhole and peeked into the living room. I even opened the cupboards and the dishwasher, on the off chance that one of them had been open far enough for him to knock a large Formica board in there and then accidentally shut it. No dice.

I went back to my room but the mystery continued to plague me. Going back into the kitchen one more time, I got down on my knees and realized that the stove wasn’t quite flush with the floor (space for the pilot light, maybe). Voila.

Other than that, the meal went off without a hitch.