told you I’ll be here forever

The conjunction of Trinity Church, the Hancock Tower, the new Hancock building and several other massive structures around Copley Square creates a massive wind tunnel between Clarendon and St James Ave. On clear days, it’s bad; on stormy days it’s terrible. Walking from my office toward Fire & Ice for a quick dinner last week, I leaned into a gale. I pointed my umbrella in a dozen different directions, like a malfunctioning radar dish, to avoid the wind.

One strong gust lifted me onto my toes and then relinquished me with a snap. Looking up, I saw that the shaft of my umbrella had broken in two. What I’d thought was a metal rod with a wooden veneer was, in fact, genuine wood, unable to cope with the vortex of downtown Boston. I was holding a curved umbrella handle that ended in splinters, marching down St James with my first initial held proudly over my head. The ribs and fabric of the umbrella cartwheeled past me.

Sprinting back the way I came, I speared the remains of my umbrella with the splintery end, lest it bounce into an intersection and cause an accident. I tried to fold the top half closed, but the shaft had broken off too high. An umbrella works by affixing its ribs to a single ring around the handle; you open or close the umbrella by sliding this ring up or down. But the handle had broken off below where the ring would stay if the umbrella were closed. So I had no choice but to carry the open umbrella and the broken remains of its handle in my hands until I could find a trash can that would take them. Since the wind had not let up, the umbrella portion (which I was grasping by its freezing metal spindles) would fill its sails and jerk around, like a leashed Dalmatian. All this while I’m waving a jagged wooden rod over my head, for balance, and getting drenched.

I had a beer with dinner.


pour salt water on the wounds

Things I learned this past weekend:

New England is Cold In The Winter

I tried going to Razzy’s for Karaoke on Friday night, since some Yelp folks had put out a call. We’d tried going the week before, but had found a half hour line just to get inside – not to sing, just to enter the bar – at 10:30. That’s unreasonably early for a bar that doesn’t charge a cover.

So this week, we tried getting there at 9:15, noting that the back room – with all the karaoke – doesn’t even open until 9:00. Again, a knot of people outside, waiting to get in. So we turned around and headed north to drink at Porter Square.

I wouldn’t call the walk from Porter Square to Razzy’s long by any stretch – it’s a quick ten minutes. But the biting wind that had been at our back on the walk down slapped us in the face on the way up. Tears streamed down our faces; the wind checked our stride. We choked out small talk in bitter gasps.

Windchill was at -12 F after midnight on Friday. Over forty degrees below the point of freezing. When I looked in the bathroom mirror back home, a face raw with windburn stared back at me. I wonder how long I might have lasted before frostburn set in.


I Need To Work On Sincerity

Sunday, after sampling some micro-brews and homemade pizza with jiu-jitsu friends at Keith T’s house, I stopped in at Greg’s in Cambridge for an evening of Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game.

Presuming some familiarity with the TV show: BSG:TBG sets you aboard the Galactica and Colonial One, besieged by Cylons and running low on everything. Your mission is to keep the human fleet alive until you can jump to Kobol. Every turn, new crises pop up that’ll force you to make the better of two awful choices (lose 2 food, or lose 1 population and 1 morale; etc) or deploy more Cylons in space around your ship.

The complication: every player has a chance of being a Cylon. You get a card at the start of play, and another halfway through the game, that determines whether you are a Cylon or not. If you are, your goal is to secretly undermine the group’s efforts to survive crises while keeping your cover. You can reveal yourself as a Cylon at an opportune moment, causing havoc on the ship and unlocking a whole host of new Cylon powers.

In last night’s game, President Tom Zarek (yours truly) released some Cylon mugshots early in the voyage, insinuating that Captain Lee “Apollo” Adama (Greg) was a Cylon. Sadly, while everyone suspected Apollo, Zarek couldn’t muster the support of the rest of the crew, leading to Admiral Saul Tigh (Amy) to declare martial law and seize the presidency. Zarek, realizing the tide was against him, called for a new election and put Sharon “Boomer” Valeri (Joanne) in the President’s chair. Apollo then ordered Zarek’s arrest.

In a desperation move, Zarek gave his evidence to “Chief” Tyrell (Fraley) in the hopes that he could arrest Apollo. But Apollo stalled his trip to the brig long enough to reveal himself as a Cylon, ordering Tigh’s arrest and then vanishing. Boomer outed herself as a Cylon thereafter. Losing the Galactica’s two best pilots proved fatal, as this led to a desperate scramble to defend civilian ships from Cylon Basestar attack. With Kobol merely one jump away, the fleet was wiped out.

I’d have been more upset about not being believed when I accused Greg of being a Cylon (I’d looked at his card! the President can do that!), but I was having too much fun playing up Tom Zarek’s smarm. Still, important lessons for future confrontations: make sincere eye contact and let your accusation stand for itself. And don’t let the Cylon put you in the brig.

battlestar galactica board game

into the arms of america

You know you’ve been working too hard when you get more excited about the errands you’ll run on your day off than the parties you’ll attend. Which is how Friday started: running to the bank for quarters, starting a load of laundry, picking up fifty dollars in dry cleaning (one suit, three pants, two button shirts, three polo shirts), swapping a load of laundry, going to the library, whoops!, strike that, library’s closed on the 3rd of July, mailed a package at the post office, got my laundry. Made a very light lunch.

Then I went to Joanna’s annual Independence Day barbecue – a day early, but we all had the day off, or took it – just ahead of some rain clouds. They followed me all the way to Porter Square, no matter how fast I walked. I came in on a foursquare game that was just wrapping up and Joanna’s roommate Matt stringing an impromptu tarp over the grill, lashed between the fire escape and one of the fences. Some of us hung out inside and drank, listening to Serpico talk about parties in Jersey, until the rain let up. I had a few hot dogs, Katie S’s brother (never did catch his first name) confused me with Robert Parish (“CHIEEEF” he yelled, once or twice), Sylvia stole my camera and we ran out of peanut butter cups but hey, it’s okay with me.

Ended up at 90s Night, as always. I picked Meghan O’ up from the bar at ImprovBoston, having a beer and chatting up the night staff. The Harold show let out a little after 10:30, so I said hi to cast and audience. As such, we got to Allston later than I might have liked and ended up waiting in line. DJ Phatmike couldn’t do anything for us – the cops were out in force for the long weekend, and headcount was tight – but the queue moved at a reasonable clip. I met Flannery’s mythical husband Nate and her friend Martha, and I didn’t miss “Flagpole Sitta,” and I never have a bad time there anyway.

And that’s just Friday. Did I mention the weather was gorgeous?

it longs to kill you; are you willing to die

Allergies have struck back with a vengeance in the last forty-eight hours. Itchy eyes, congested nose, gravelly thick voice. Things got so bad this morning that I took one of my jealously hoarded pseudoephedrine.

I have given up trying to predict allergy reactions based on the weather. Two Saturdays ago, the weather was sunny, 80 degrees and breezy; I felt fine. This week it’s been rainy and in the 50s and I’ve been miserable.

So forget the weather report. Forget the pollen count. A decade in Boston has taught me plenty. If I can make it through Memorial Day, I’ll be fine.

iceland part two

General impressions of Reykjavik:

  • More Like NIceland: Everyone I met in Reykjavik was cordial. Not quite friendly and outgoing, the way you’d get in the American South, but civil and helpful. Mix a laidback eagerness to please with the inherent stoicism that comes from any cold-weather climate, and you get an Icelander. I stumbled stepping off a curb and a complete stranger asked, “You okay?” The cute blonde at the coffee shop rattled off a list of suggestions when I asked for a good place to go dancing. One in three cars I saw on the street had all its doors unlocked. And everyone speaks English.

    At least once a day.  Every day.  Just like this.

    At least once a day. Every day. Just like this.

  • Weather: Every day, you’d get 45 to 90 minutes worth of blizzard. Then the sun would come out. Then it would rain – sometimes light spitting, sometimes a steady downpour. Then overcast. Then sun. Then, perhaps, more snow. You get odd little patterns like these when you live between the North Atlantic and the world’s quota of glaciers.

  • Food. Pricey. Everything on Iceland other than fish, lamb, hot water and light beer needs to be imported. Since I didn’t fly three thousand miles to experience Reykjavik’s notion of a cheeseburger, I ate seafood for most meals. Lunch on Saturday was fish and chips, and the fish had that sinus-filling freshness that suggested they’d been in the sea the other day. Saturday dinner: plokkfiskur at a restaurant called Boston – a fish “stew” that’s served like a plate of mashed potatoes.

    I asked the waitress at Cafe Paris what the fish of the day was for lunch on Sunday. She looked up for a moment, searching for words in her head. “Hot dog,” she replied, in the heaviest accent I heard that weekend.

    “No, sorry – the fish of the day.”

    She nodded, turning to double-check on the chalkboard at the front of the restaurant. I followed her gaze. “Had-dock” was, indeed, the fish of the day.

    Iceland just can't get enough of these above-average hot dogs.

    Iceland just can't get enough of these above-average hot dogs.

  • Actual Hot Dog: Apparently, hot dogs (or pylsur) are a big deal in Iceland. I saw the longest line that I saw for any establishment – including the nightclubs I visited on Saturday – outside a one-man hot dog stand on the Reykjavik harbor. In the snow. The hot dogs taste pretty good, but the toppings make the difference. Icelanders order their pylsi with a creamy remoulade. You wouldn’t think a hot dog lacked for something sweet but it really ties the package together.

  • Beer: If you want to drink the local brew, know these three brands: Viking (like Budweiser, but with flavor instead of water); Gull (a bit hoppy for my taste but still solid) and Thule (which I didn’t try). These are all golden-colored lagers with hearty taste. You can also find Guinness on tap nearly everywhere.

    Apotek before things heated up.

    Apotek before things heated up.

    Clubs: As with other cities in Europe, the nightclub scene in Reykjavik doesn’t really start until midnight, and doesn’t really start until 2:00 AM or so. I ended up killing a lot of hours in coffeeshops until the night scene picked up. Though you have your choice of fine dancing establishments, I bounced between Cafe Paris and Apotek from midnight onward.

    In Apotek, a stringy-haired elf of a man snatched a scarf off a girl and taunted her with it as she tried to grab it back. She called the bouncer, who remonstrated with the guy until finally tossing him out. The miscreant dragged his weight, clinging to a railing in the end to keep from being thrown outside.

    This didn’t kill my mood, though. I danced until 4:00 AM, hopping on a bench with a bunch of strangers to lord my gangly might over the crowd. This being Europe, I recognized almost none of the songs. That never hurt me, though.

what’s this in my drink?

I worked from home on Monday with Internet Inc’s permission. This was about as fun an exercise as struggling with access to a remote intranet, on a Mac, using an earlier generation of Office, can be1. But I didn’t leave the apartment for an entire day – which is a fun exercise but, when you live in a one-room studio, a little tiring.

# # #

My work schedule has prevented me from getting to the library as often as I’d like, so I’ve broken one of the core rules of my 50 books a year plan: I’m re-reading a book. It’s a book I read within the last two years, even: Tim Powers’ Declare. In my defense, Declare is a dense enough book that it’s not as if I know exactly what’s coming on a second read-through. And I’ve been busy. And who asked you, anyway? Huh?

# # #

I’ve got another post up on Overthinking It today: Can You Hear Me Running: Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis in the Music Videos of Mike + the Mechanics. I put far, far too much effort into turning two unrelated music videos – “Silent Running” and “All I Need is a Miracle” – into one story.

It’s not the best thing they have on the site currently, but it’s some good Overthink.

1 I know I technically didn’t need any of those commas.

’cause I’ve got one hand in my pocket

After my haircut on Saturday, I got a hot chocolate with Dr. Grace at the Starbucks on Boylston St downtown1. We pounced on a table near the window and people watched. “It’s such a gorgeous day out,” she observed.

“It’s supposed to snow on Sunday,” I told her.

“I heard that, but it’s turning to rain later.”

“And it’s going to snow all day Monday into Tuesday, too.”

“See,” she said, half-frowning. “This is why we only hang out once every three months.”

“Not because we’re busy?”


# # #

I took my broken iPod to the Apple Store on Boylston St while I was there. The Genius behind the counter regretfully told me that they couldn’t do much with the 4th generation models. “If you trade it in to be recycled,” he offered, “we’ll give you 10% off a new one.”

That’s a pretty exceptional deal, considering the 4th gen is good for nothing but scrap. I may take them up on it if eBay can’t beat that price2.

Browsing through the store on Saturday morning, I remained pretty convinced that the Classic would be the one for me. 120 GB of capacity would keep me in music for years to come. Then my iBook spazzed out on Sunday – freezing up, the display dissolving in a slow rainbow of colors. Considering this iBook is over 5 years old at this point, and that it was one of the models prone to logic board failure, I feel it’s served a good term.

But now I need a portable web browser in addition to a portable music player. I could buy a Classic for $224 (after the recycling discount) and get a cheap laptop in a few months, hoping that nothing happens to my desktop Mac in the interim3. Or I could shell out $269 for a 16GB iPod Touch that’ll also check e-mail, function as a GPS and browse the web. I have just shy of 16GB worth of songs currently, but I don’t need to take all of them with me.

1 Because there’s only the one on Boylston St.
2 From a reliable dealer; I’m not paying $200 for a box full of marbles.
3 Which isn’t at all likely, except that I’ve just commented on it.