Monday, August 31, 2009

Yelpin' It

One thing I have trouble with as a consumer is auto repair. Let's be honest- I know almost nothing about cars, and it's immediately apparent to mechanics that I know almost nothing about cars. Which makes me paranoid that they are going to take advantage of me, because, hey, easy mark and all. For many years, I went to Emerson Auto Service near my old apartment, and they seemed to do a fine job for a decent price. However, when I moved, I decided to try out another garage that was closer to my work- Mike's Auto Repair. I went in there for an oil change, and the mechanic called me up with dire news and a laundry list of repairs that needed to be done- thousands of dollars worth of work (keep in mind that I drive a 14 year old minivan that is probably worth around 2K at best.). He told me that I had a broken axle that needed to be repaired immediately because it was extremely dangerous and I was lucky I hadn't totally given way yet. I agreed to the axle job and tire rotation and was unplesantly surprised when the bill came to $500. I gave him the benefit of the doubt but didn't like the pressured upsell, so when I got my car inspected today I went back to Emerson. Nice and easy, $29, no problems. Since I was in the old neighborhood, I stopped by to visit Ern and Pat and told them The Tale of Two Garages. Turns out Pat had tried Mike's once and the EXACT SAME THING happened to him! He went in there for an inspection and was told that he had a broken axle in need to immediate replacement. Suspicions confirmed, I was miffed! I decided to join Yelp to give Mike's a bad review, and looks like I wasn't the first. I also showed Emerson some love (or at least, strong like). Emerson Auto Service, my minivan will stay loyal to you for the rest of its road-worthy days.

Previously, I hadn't been too sold on Yelp (I've heard some shady claims that they delete negative reviews) but now it's growing on me. Just any of you use Yelp? Any positives or negatives about the site you'd care to share?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Van envy

For the past few years, I've been a secret admirer of a particular vehicle. It's a bright orange old VW van. It has curtains and a sink. I covet it. I don't know who owns it (someone awesome, presumably), but I often see it parked near my work and when I lived in South Boston, I would also see it in that neighborhood. So it's clearly driven by someone who frequents the same areas of the city that I do. A couple of times it's driven past me as I've been out running and I've tried to catch a glimpse of the driver, to no avail. Although I'm curious, I kind of like the fact that the van maintains an air of mystery. Silly as it seems, whenever I see the van I consider it a good omen, a sign that I'm going to have a great day. Today I parked right behind it! Oooh, a lucky day indeed.

Friday, August 28, 2009


Animal links:

Dog Snuggies! (via Chris)

The best interspecies friendship EVER! I don't care if the photo is fake; I love it. (via an anonymous commenter)

Friends in the news:

My former coworker Elena was a model for Boston Magazine's sexy scientist fashion shoot.

Boston Band Crush interviews Chris Mulvey, who will be participating in tomorrow night's One Night Band show at the Middle East. It's an event where local musicians will be teamed up randomly in bands of five and given exactly one day to come up with a set to play that night.

And lastly, the Friday song of the day:
I and Love and You, by the Avett Brothers.

Happy Friday, everyone.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Rest in Peace, Teddy Kennedy

You know, I was going to write a long and thoughtful post about the death of Ted Kennedy, who was one of my favorite politicians and my senator since I turned 18, but I'll leave the extensive coverage to obituary page. I feel fortunate to have a Senator who actually represented me- almost every single time an issue I felt passionately about came to the Senate floor, I would look up the voting records to learn that Ted Kennedy had voted exactly how I would have.

His personal flaws were legion, and many of my older family members never forgave him for Mary Jo Kopechne's death (although I hate how it's often a knee-jerk response in an political discussion....Ted Kennedy supports universal health care...."but but but Chappaquiddick!"). However, in my lifetime I have seen no champion of human rights and liberal causes like Ted Kennedy.
He could have retired and lived a comfortable life decades ago, but instead he dedicated over forty years of his live as a public servant, working to make things better for ordinary Americans and acting as an outspoken advocate for more marginalized groups in our society- poor people, immigrants, gays, etc... This 1990 article from GQ has a nice summary of his legacy:

Even a partial listing of the major bills in whose passage Kennedy has played a part is impressive. Whether you admire them or not, these are the measures that transformed—mostly liberalized—America in our time: the first Immigration Reform Act; the Voting Rights Act and its extensions; the Freedom of Information Act; the Gun Control Act; the Campaign Financing Reform law; the Comprehensive Selective Service Reform Act; the Eighteen-Year-Old Vote law; the Occupational Safety and Health Act; the War on Cancer bills; the recodification of federal criminal laws; the Bilingual Education Act; the Fair Housing Acts; the Age Discrimination Act; the Airline and Trucking Deregulation bills; the Job Training Partnership Act; the South African sanctions; and the Grove City Civil Rights Restoration Act.

Far more than either of his brothers, who were lackluster senators, Kennedy, over the past three decades, has been responsible for changes in the complexion of this country and in the lives of its citizens. He has been an ally of blacks, American Indians, the poor, the sick, the aged, the mentally ill, starving refugees worldwide and immigrants. He has been an outspoken liberal, unafraid to take the controversial positions—on issues such as busing, abortion, gun control, the Vietnam War (late but forcefully), the nuclear freeze and capital punishment—that other senators clearly avoided.

Senator Kennedy spent his career standing up for the little guy, and we're a better country because of it.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The comedian, the sex dream, and the coincidence.*

As previously mentioned, while I was in New York for the weekend, two friends and I went to a comedy show featuring two correspondents from The Daily Show. The show was hosted by Adam Lowitt**, a producer on the show, who also did some stand-up of his own and was quite funny. The next day, one of the aforementioned friends texted me to say that she had a dream about the host of the comedy show. A sexy dream.

Cut to this afternoon- I left work early for a doctor's appointment and stopped by the Brookline Booksmith to pick up the book I supposedly read for Book Club, which I was hosting. (let's not discuss the fact that I was buying the book mere hours before the meeting.***) Anyways, so my slacker self just paid for my purchase when I noticed a guy who looked so familiar to me. It took me a few seconds to place him, when suddenly I realized he was the host of the comedy show I had seen in Manhattan on Saturday night. Internally, I debated going up to him and saying hello. Hey, he was funny, and I felt that the coincidence of me seeing him in New York then in Brookline two days later warranted mention. But would that be really creepy? And should I tell him my friend had a sex dream about him? That would probably be creepy. In the end, I went over and said hello and told him that I had just seen him on stage in NYC. He was nice and was with his sister, whom he was visiting. I opted not to tell him about my friend's dream.

* Oooh, a racy title. I like it.
** Hey Adam, in case you Google yourself, welcome to my creepy blog.
*** The book was Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston, whose apartment in Harlem I coincidentally walked by this weekend. The first two chapters were really good, and I tried to make up for the fact that I didn't finish it with this delicious nicoise salad:

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Things I Did This Weekend

- ate sushi

- rode the Lucky Star to NYC (recommended! I usually take the Fung Wah but decided to try another bus, clean, and efficient. Works for me.)

- attended a 1st birthday party in Brooklyn

- visited a friend in Harlem

- went to a stand-up comedy show featuring two guys from the Daily Show (Larry Wilmore and Wyatt Cenac). It was appropriately humorous.

- saw the new Quentin Taratino movie, Inglourious Basterds. Highly recommended! Set in WWII France, the moive has two main plot lines- one features a group of Jewish soldiers (led by a hammy Brad Pitt) terrorizing Nazis. They're good fun and all, but more captivating story centers on a young French woman (played by Mélanie Laurent) who is coerced into showing Nazi propaganda films at the cinema she owns. Overall, Inglourious Basterds was less goofy and less gory than I had expected- the reviews I read made it seem like it was totally over-the-top ridiculousness, which it wasn't at all. (At least not for a Tarantino movie. But Schindler's List it definitely ain't.) Austrian actor Christoph Waltz steals the show as the villian, a cunning and sinister SS henchman. Oh, and a significant portion of the movie was in French or German with subtitles, which I didn't mind but wasn't expecting.

- ate an an Arby's in Connecticut on the way home. Arby's is like the bastard child of a McDonald's and a Subway. Not recommended.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Movie Reviews

I hadn't been to the movies lately (aside from The Hangover, nothing earlier this summer really piqued my interest), but this week I saw two newish releases, both of which I liked a lot.

1. District 9 is a sci-fi movie about aliens, with a twist. Unlike most blockbuster action films, this one's not set in New York City or London, but in Johannesburg, South Africa. The premise is an overt allegory to apartheid: when a large number of insect-like aliens (quickly dubbed "prawns") become stranded in the city, they are sectioned off from the human populace into a large slum-like refugee camp known as District 9. The movie is set up as a faux documentary about a government employee Wikus Van De Merwe, a friendly, bumbling clerk assigned to lead a prawn relocation project. Like most humans, Wilkus has a palatable disdain for the creatures, but he also understands their language and behavior. The day of the operation, something goes awry, and the second half of the movie becomes something of a Kafka-esque character study. Overall, I liked District 9 and found it to be interesting, creative, and entertaining.

2. Julie & Julia is based on the story of a blogger named Julie who decides spend a year cooking every single recipe in Julia Child's first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The movie contains two interwoven stories: Meryl Streep portrays Julia, who while living in France with her diplomat husband, decides to enroll as a chef in the famous Cordon Bleu cooking school and discovers her true calling, cooking and the teaching of cooking. Decades later, Amy Adams plays Julie, a frustrated writer stuck in a cubicle and an apartment she hates in Queens, who takes on the Julia Child cooking project as a way to get herself out of a slump. Meryl Streep is a delight to watch in the film- she absolutely nails Julia's voice and mannerisms, and I must admit I preferred the Julia plot line to the Julie one. Julie could be annoying at times, with all of her self-pity and narcissism (maybe her being a blogger hit a little close to home.... Do I act like that? Wait, don't answer that.) and the chemistry between her and her husband couldn't match that of Julia and Paul Child (played by Stanley Tucci). And the movie was a tad on the long side. That being said, I did really like the movie, and it definitely inspired me to try out some of Julia Child's recipes...if I can find any that don't require a ton of butter.

My Song is Better than Your Song

Lately I've been digging the music of Those Darlins, a Tennessee-based group of three singing and guitar playing gals backed up by a male drummer. Their music has an old-fashioned quality to it that I enjoy, and look how fun and adorable they are!

Wild One- Those Darlins

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Recipe: Zesty Greek Couscous Salad

My sister Kerry gave me a zucchini and a bunch of cherry tomatoes from her garden, so I decided to use them in a recipe for Zesty Greek Couscous Salad that I found on the back of a box of couscous in my pantry. It's a great summer dish- super easy to make, tasty, and served cold. And it would have made for a healthy meal had I not decided to complement it with a hot dog. Hey, don't judge.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Oh, the humanity

Or: Things I Found At My Grandmother's House, Part 3.

My current abode is riddled with strange, old books. Some are pretty cool, like an edition of The Count of Monte Cristo with my grandmother's signature and the year 1937 signed on the inside cover. Some are pretty random, like a coffee table book about disasters:

Page after page of New York Times covers featuring all sorts of catastrophes, beginning with the great Chicago fire of 1871. (Hi,the Irish? Obsessed with death.) It made for some morbid page-turning, until a friend noticed this subheading on an article entitled "Noted Men Lost on the Titanic":

Major Butt on the list? Disasters be damned, that's some funny stuff.

UPDATE: More on Major Butt!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Outback Adventure

So, I haven't quite completed my thesis, or submitted my manuscript for publication, or lined up a job, but thanks to my old roommate, I do have an outback trip planned for October! Kristy, her husband Rodd, and I are going on a weeklong adventure- first to Adelaide, then to Alice Springs (the hotel...OMG feeding wallabies? yes!), and then we're going on a camping tour. I can't wait! I've always wanted to go to the Australian Outback...ever since I ate at that steakhouse place. (Just kidding) I think it caught my fancy years ago because of two books I read:

The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough and A Town Like Alice by Neil Shute, both of which I recommend highly.

And of course, there's this. Oh Elaine Benes, you're my hero.

Friday, August 14, 2009

My song is better than your song

The demise of WBCN this week left me feeling nostalgic for the days when they were a great radio station that played songs like this:

6'1" - Liz Phair

Happy Fajita Friday, everyone! I woke up early to get some steaks marinating using this recipe.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Three items that have nothing to do with each other:

1. Like all good Massachusetts democrats, I'm a big fan of the Kennedy clan and was saddened by the recent death of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the founder of the Special Olympics, which began as a camp Eunice hosted at her own home. Inspired by the tragic treatment of her sister Rosemary (who was born mildly retarded and further incapacitated after a lobotomy...horrific), she strove to improve the lives of the mentally retarded and change the way society treated them at a time when children with intellectual disabilities were commonly kept behind closed doors or whisked away to institutions. The New York Times has a great article about her life and accomplishments. Regardless of your political beliefs, I highly recommend reading the article- she seems like a great lady who dedicaded her life to helping a group of people who needed an advocate.

2. Legendary Boston rock station WBCN has gone off the air. Although I hadn't listened to the station much over the past several years (their quality had definitely gone way downhill a while ago), WBCN was a staple of my teenage years. I listened to Charles Laquidara on the Big Mattress every morning before high school. The big winner here is WFNX, now the only modern rock station left on the dial in Boston. Unfortunately, the big losers are fans of diversity and choice in radio...over the past few years, Boston radio has lost WBOS, Hot 97.7, and now WBCN, the result being more homogenous radio with less local flavor and a lot more of the same Top 40 songs. For the last four days on air, WBCN brought back all of the old DJs and let them play whatever music they wanted and talk about whatever the felt. And do you know what? It made for excellent radio. Too bad they couldn't have kept it up. Somewhere, Peter Wolf is shedding a single tear.

3. Lastly, remember how I attended my college reunion in June? Well, my friends and I are on the postcard advertising next summer's reunion. So look for us in your mailbox, Class of '00. Note the ridiculous poses:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Movie Review: Murderball

Now that I finished Season 5 of The Wire (sigh...I'm sad it's over), I'm now back to chipping away at my extensive Netflix queue. This weekend, I watched Murderball, the 2005 documentary about quadriplegic wheelchair rugby. The film is less about the sport than it is about the players, and these atheletes are indeed compelling subject material. The main character of the film is Mark Zupan, a high school jock who became paralyzed after being thrown from the bed of a pick-up truck driven by his best friend. Zupan instantly breaks down preconceived notions of what handicapped people are like- he has tattoos, a goatee, and a sexy girlfriend. In spite of the wild persona, he's dedicated to his sport and his teammates, who also love the sport for the focus it has given them and the friendships they have forged. Most of the players became paralyzed as a result of some sort of accident that resulted in a broken neck, and it is impossible to imagine what these young men went through, emotionally and physically, as they adjusted to life in a wheelchair. The film does give us a glimpse in the recently injured Keith Cavill- a handsome former BMX biker leaving rehab to come home to an apartment now fitted with ramps and a handicapped bathroom: "this sucks," he comments.

Another storyline follows Zupan's former teammate and current adversary, Joe Soares, an American who became disgruntled when he was cut from the squad and took a job as the head coach of rival Canada. Joe was left paralyzed from a childhood bout of polio but is a force of nature- intensely competitive and self-absorbed, he initially comes off as an asshole, but as the movie progresses, he becomes more sympathetic and almost likeable. Of everyone featured in Murderball, it's the unassuming and friendly Bob Lujano who is the most inspirational character. As a child, he had all four limbs amputated and still manages to excel in the sport, saying that he goes through life using what he has, and patiently answering questions like "how do you eat pizza if you don't have any hands?" from children in post-game meet and greets.

One of the best aspects of the film is that it's not cloying or overly didactic- it lets the players, their situations, and the sport speak for themselves rather than providing a series of Hallmark moments. What their participation on the USA wheelchair rugby squad means to them is apparent. In addition to practicing and competing, the murderball players serve as ambassadors of the sport and of paraplegics in general, interacting with fans and the media, and holding informational sessions and rehabilitation centers. Towards the end of the film, they meet with soldiers who lost limbs in the Iraq war, most of whom are shockingly young.
I don't normally watch documentaries but I really enjoyed Murderball and would highly recommend it. It's a fascinating and uplifting portrayal of a group of people and a sport I really knew nothing about.

The $5 pita that wasn't

A few months ago, a Mediterranean restaurant called South End Pita new opened up near my workplace. It's an ideal spot for lunch, in that it's close to the lab, relatively cheap, and specializes in tasty pitas. A couple of Fridays ago, I went with my coworkers and I had the kafta, a spiced, ground beef mixture. It was really tasty, but a couple of my friends ordered the lamb and recommended that. I saw a sign advertising $5 pitas on Monday, so my friend Julian and I decided that we would return on Monday and try the lamb pita for $5. So Monday arrives, and my labmate Julian and I walk back to the restaurant, which has a sign out front that says "Mondays Any Pita $5." We had called ahead to place our order and I went to the counter to pick it up. Two five dollar pitas and two drinks should have come to about $13, but our total was $18 and change. "What? Aren't pitas $5 on Mondays?" I asked the girl at the register, with a slight edge to my voice. "Oh, not the lamb pita, just the other ones." My eyes flashed and Julian shifted his weight and threw me a glance, nervous that I was about to make a scene. So I begrudgingly paid $7.50 for my $5 pita and left. And do you know what? I wish I had made a scene. I'm still pissed about it. Part of me was like "oh, they're a struggling small business, it's only a $2.50, and this lamb pita is delicious" but a larger part of me is upset on principle. You can't hang a sign outside your establishment that says "Any Pita $5" and then not honor it.

I'll show you, South End Pita! I'll write a scathing blog post about your false advertising practices! So there!

Friday, August 07, 2009

RIP, John Hughes

The writer and producer of the quintessential 80s teen movies, John Hughes, died of a heart attack at age 59. Of all of his movies, Ferris Bueller's Day Off and The Breakfast Club were my two favorites.

Here's a sweet story from a blogger who had John Hughes as a pen pal for several years of her childhood.

My song is better than your song

I don't exactly why, but certain singers or groups always make me think of summer- Tom Petty, Sublime, Bruce Springsteen, for example.

So on a beautiful August Friday, and sticking with this week's Americana theme, today's song is from Springsteen's Seeger Sessions album:

Old Dan Tucker, by Bruce Springsteen


Thursday, August 06, 2009

Concert Review: The Big Surprise Tour

Last night, I went to the House of Blues to check out The Big Surprise Tour, a bluegrass-themed show (Well, not technically bluegrass- folk/Americana/alt-county would be a more accurate categorization) with four acts: Justin Townes Earle, The Felice Brothers, the Dave Rawlings Machine featuring Gillian Welch, and Old Crow Medicine Show. Each act played their own set and were eventually joined on stage by the rest of the performers, so a lot of the show was essentially Gillian Welch and Thirteen Dudes. I hadn't been to the House of Blues before, and basically, it's a roomier verison of Avalon. I was kind of surprised that they tour down the Avalon and Axis and spent a year to build something that looks... just live Avalon.

The show opened up with Justin Townes Earle (the son of Steve Earle), who played a fun, high energy, old-timey set. His act had a timeless quality- the tall, lanky Earle, dressed in a suit and performing traditional Americana music would seem just at home on a Kentucky stage in the 1950s as he was in Boston in 2009. He clearly relishes being on stage, in a good way- he chats with the crowd and brings other musicians into the fold with ease.

The Felice Brothers came on next, and although I like some of their songs, they didn't meld well into the lineup- their music was by far the most indie of the night, and the slower songs zapped the energy from the crowd. It didn't help that there was a long break after their set. They did have an cool accordian player and an entertaingly spazzy violist/washboardist.

Next up was Dave Rawlings with Gillian Welch, and they were great! The king and queen of the modern alt-country scene, Rawlings totally rips on guitar and his voice blends perfectly with Gillian's. I had never seen either one live before and was very impressed. They played a relatively short set, but did come back on stage at the end.

Old Crow Medicine Show were last to perform, although all of their members had appeared with the previous acts. Led by fiddler and vocalist Keith Sector (in absurdly tight jeans), they played a set filled with their trademark old-time string band music. And oh yes, the crowd went nuts for their final song, Wagon Wheel. I'll never get tired of that song. At the end of the night, all of the musicians returned to the stage for the encore, which included Gillian finally getting in the spotlight with "Look at Miss Ohio" and an fantastic group cover of ACDC's "It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock N Roll)." (YouTubed here) Overall, it was a great night of indie folk music and a chance to see a multitude of talented performers.

Update: here's an nifty article from the Wall Street Journal about the tour. (thanks, Dan!)

and lastly, the Boston Globe's review of the show.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009


For history buffs... John Quincy Adams, the sixth U.S. President, kept a journal in which he jotted down daily updates of only a line or two in legnth. The Massachusetts Historical Society is now publishing the entries from his diplomatic trip to Russia on a Twitter feed. Cute idea. Read the story and sign up to follow JQAdams_MHS on Twitter here.

And here's a fun video of the song Lisztomania by the band Phoenix set to a montage of 80s movies. Aw yeah, Duckie! (via DBC)

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

I'm down with OPP*

Say hello to Toby, my parents' new puppy. He's a black lab mix.

*Other People's Pets. I like animals but am really not up to the repsonsibility of having my own pet. But man, puppies are pretty hard to resist.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Book Review: Valley of the Dolls

Blogger book club with Andy, Sarah, Caity, and Amanda is still going strong...this month we chose a perfect summer read, Valley of the Dolls, by Jacqueline Susann. One glimpse at the cover pretty much tells you all you need to know about the book- written in 1966, the novel tells the story of three young women who move to New York City with big hopes for fame, fortune, and love. The classy Anne is a secretary turned model, Jennifer is a sexy, platinum blonde film star, and young Neely is the true talent of the three- a performer with a amazing voice and a tendency to self-destruct. The "dolls" referred to in the title are the prescription pills the women all turn to at different points in their lives. The three main characters were reportedly based on Grace Kelly, Marilyn Monroe, and Judy Garland. The book was an enormous commercial success, but the movie version starring Patty Duke as Neely and Sharon Tate (who was later murdered by the Charles Manson family) was panned by critics. We watched it last night and it was campy good fun. If you're looking for a entertaining book to read I highly recommend Valley of the Dolls- it's full of the timeless drama of success and failures in life and love.