Sunday, May 31, 2009

So Damn Lucky to Have Been There

Where to start about night two of Dave Matthews Band's two-night homestand at Fenway Park? After all, there's, ahem, so much to say. For one thing, my seat was a vast improvement over the one I had Friday night. There's just no comparison between sitting in the Grandstand (where I was Friday) and sitting on the field (where I was last night). As Dave sings in one of my favorites of his songs, "Everything's different ... just like that." The sound quality on the field is clearer, louder, sharper, crisper, and better — as is the view, of course. Also, the audience is much more engaged with the show. They're also older and less inclined to smoke up (at least that was the case with those around me). And that all added up to a much better experience for me. It was like I had been to two completely different shows.

It wasn't just the seats that made Saturday the better show, however. The flow was better, the musicianship seemed a step above, the weather was perfect, and it all made for a better time. Saturday's concert featured a significantly different set list — aside from the tracks from Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King and the duet with Willie Nelson on "Gravedigger," there were no repeated songs from the night before. That was cool. And actually, he played one more song from GrooGrux than he had on Friday, which I also enjoyed (even though I'm still baffled by why they didn't do "Shake Me Like a Monkey," which seems tailor-made for a live show).

The show started out in what I can only describe as "muscular" style, with "Rapunzel," "Alligator Pie," "Don't Drink the Water," and "Seven" all sounding big and loud and powerful. It was further proof that DMB is no longer just an aimless "jam band" for frat boys. They now play with so much of a rock/funk sound (as opposed to their earlier more folksy/jazz fusion leanings) and with such strength that seeing them live today is a very different experience from five or six years ago, when I was seeing them in concert every summer. Then it just got better from there. As Dave sang in "Dancing Nancies," "I'll sing and dance, and I'll play for you tonight. The thrill of it all." Sho' nuff, he delivered on that. The band was totally into every song, tight as always. Dave was dancing, and it was all great.

Dave mentioned a few times that he was battling a sore throat; I only heard that make a difference in his singing at the end of an otherwise lovely "So Damn Lucky." But I can imagine that's the reason the band took over even more last night than they had on Friday. Impressive new sax player Jeff Coffin (again, wearing a Red Sox shirt), violinist Boyd Tinsley, guitarist Tim Reynolds, and the freakishly happy drummer Carter Beauford were nothing short of a force to be reckoned with during the final third of the show's main set, with "Crush," "#41," "Rhyme and Reason," "Time Bomb," and "Two Step" all giving them a chance to dominate. One mind-blowing song after another. It was jaw-droppingly stunning. I kept saying, "Wow."

And then, as if the show couldn't get any better ... for his encore, Dave pulled out "Dirty Water" (see below for video). He may not have remembered all the words at first, but damn, did that make the crowd go nuts. It was so cool, so good, so much fun. And then it all ended with a boisterous "Stay (Wasting Time)." Suffice it to say, when the show ended, people took that song literally and no one wanted to leave.

Damn ... this was just one incredible show. It's amazing what a day — and a better seat — can do.

Previously: I Love the Way He Moves Me

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Saturday, May 30, 2009

In Craig I Trust

Like Anne Frank, I, too, believe that "Despite everything ... people are really good at heart." So this morning, when I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to log onto and try to buy a better ticket to tonight's Dave Matthews Band concert at Fenway Park than the one I already had (yes, I realize that's a pretty silly thing to do), I knew that my next course of action would be to post that I had an extra ticket for sale on Craigslist. Lo and behold, I got lucky and found a seat right on the field, so I posted my ad on Craigslist, noting that I was only looking for face value so I could get my money back. Within minutes I had a few replies, and over the course of a couple emails, I deduced that the person who had been first to get back to me was for real, so I agreed to meet her at Fenway at noon to make the transaction.

Not surprisingly, there were already folks at Fenway looking to buy/sell tickets, and as soon as one of them realized I was there to sell a ticket, he tried to take it off my hands, and with a small profit for me too. Well, I'm a man of my word, so I said no thanks — I was already meeting someone and had agreed to sell it to her. Then, at 12, I got a text message that my buyer was stuck in traffic and that she would be a little late. No problem, I thought. I'll give her a couple extra minutes to get there.

Alright, backtrack here to about a month ago when I had an extra ticket on the day of Bruce Springsteen's second show. On my way into Boston to sell the ticket to someone I had "met" on Craigslist, I got stuck in traffic on 128, the Pike, and Storrow Dr., and ended up losing the sale because the guy ended up buying from someone else when I was late. So now the roles were sort of reversed, and I had a dilemma. Sure, it would have been much easier to sell the ticket to the guy on the street and make a profit in the process, but I decided I would do the right thing and wait for my person to get there. Worse comes to worse, I had a plan B hovering over me, waiting for things to fall through. And even though she, too, would have had this same plan B, it just wouldn't have been cool to make her pay more if she was an actual fan.

As the time ticked away, and I would get texts that my buyer was getting closer, I started to waiver and considered selling the ticket at the higher price and just walking away. So I was relieved when, at 12:45, the woman finally showed up and was a real fan who was appreciative that I had been so patient and waited for her all that time. As promised, I sold the ticket to her at face value and we parted ways. (Alright, fine. She gave me a couple extra bucks for making me wait. But I'd say I'd earned those, wouldn't you?)

Call me a sucker if you will, or call me naive or stupid, but despite all the negative press Craigslist has received in recent months, I continue to believe in it and use it, and do so honestly, with good intentions. You can be skeptical, but I think it's nice to see that there are other people out there who are like me and do the same.

(BTW, those pictures up there? Not me, and not the scalper I was dealing with.)

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I Love the Way He Moves Me

In the summer of 2003, I saw Bruce Springsteen at Fenway Park. The next night, I saw Dave Matthews Band at what was then called the Tweeter Center. Suffice it to say, the DMB show paled in comparison and I decided to take a break from what was, at the time, an annual summer tradition of seeing the band live. Six years later, DMB are back in town to play a two-night stand at Fenway (their last time there was in 2006), and after attending last night's first show, I can say that absence sure did make the heart grow fonder.

DMB's excellent new album, Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King, drops on Tuesday and fortunately, I was able to download a leaked copy earlier this week. Given that the band played nearly half the album during Friday night's show, knowing some of these tunes definitely helps. And they were funky and cool — particularly the show opener "Funny the Way It Is" and "Why I Am." (Curiously, though, the seemingly made-for-a-live-show "Shake Me Like a Monkey" did not make the set list.)

The entire band sounded really tight, with each member getting multiple chances to shine. Boyd Tinsley stole a great rendition of "Ants Marching" right out from under Dave, Tim Reynolds dominated a couple songs, Jeff Coffin established himself as more than a LeRoi Moore replacement on songs like "Jimi Thing," Stefan Lessard played consistently good bass, drummer Carter Beauford kept the beat with a perpetual smile on his face ... they all had bragging rights at some point. Even opening act Willie Nelson came on to join the band for a duet on "Gravedigger."

Other classics like "Pig" and "Grey Street" were mixed into the set list with the new stuff, as was a cover of Talking Heads' "Burning Down the House," and while that created an odd flow to the show — they'd play something everyone knew, then something new, back and forth — it all sounded mostly good. I say mostly, because sitting in the left field grandstand, it was hard to hear much of the music clearly. Between that aural limitation, and the fact that the infield creates more distance between the band and the audience, Fenway really isn't the best venue for a show. At least, not if you're not sitting in the outfield.

Despite that, though, I had a really good time. And when the nearly three-hour-long show ended with a signature cover of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower," it just felt right. Seeing Dave live again was like reconnecting with an old friend, and I look forward to seeing what he has in store tonight for night two. (Yes, I'm going back.)

Update, 5/31/09: Here is my review of night two

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Who's That Girl?

In The Girlfriend Experience, director Steven Soderberg explores the illusion of human connection. The porn star Sasha Grey stars as Christine, a high-priced escort, who is so skilled that she charges $2,000 an hour. Christine treats what she does like a business, staying detached from her clients, obsessing about increasing the SEO of her website, and always looking for ways to expand her livelihood (including seeking the advice of a character named "Sugar," played by an old college chum of mine).

Christine's clients go to her because she'll listen to their problems and won't judge. She's like a therapist, only more fun. Oh, and of course, she's beautiful — in her designer Michael Kors dresses and sunglasses, she looks like a sexier, younger Audrey Hepburn. But for obvious reasons, Christine keeps her clients at a safe emotional distance. They don't know much about her beyond what's on the surface. They don't even know that her real name is Christine — they think it's Chelsea — and that's how she likes it. After all, wouldn't the fact that Christine has a serious boyfriend, for example, spoil some of the mystery? If these clients wanted to know the "real" Christine, they wouldn't be paying her.

Soderbergh's movie takes us in and out of the bedroom, treating us like a fly on the wall so we can just be an observer to it all. There's no actual sex in this film, just a lot of foreplay and some post-coital discussion, but that's alright. What we do get sure is, ahem, titillating. The Girlfriend Experience is a fascinating film, scored minimally but effectively with street musicians, and edited in a non-linear fashion that leaves the audience guessing. While Grey herself isn't really called on to do much heavy lifting here other than looking good, she's certainly effective at portraying a character that is simultaneously engaging and detached. Other characters are played mostly by non-professional actors (for example, the owner of a porn site is played by the film critic Glenn Kenny). These touches help make the shot-on-DV film feel even more natural and real. And because some of the dialogue centers around the 2008 election and the financial bailout, it all feels of-the-moment, if maybe a few months late.

In The Girlfriend Experience, we get to see what happens when Christine falls for the same illusion she's selling, and the cracks in her armor reveal a young, impressionable, and naive girl, who is not the cool, confident woman she appears to be. This is a film where seeing the other side of prostitution isn't seedy or disgusting. It's actually quite attractive, and worth recommending. I'm giving The Girlfriend Experience an A–.

(Oh, and BTW, if you want to see Grey discussing the film during a recent appearance at my alma mater, just click here.)


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Same People, Different Week

I was going to post something here about the people who are always in the Chestnut Hill Finagle a Bagel on Saturdays and Sundays for lunch, and how amusing it is that like clockwork, you can always count on seeing them. Because it's true: There are a handful of people who are always there midday on the weekends. And I might have made fun of these people's quirks or remarked about the endearing qualities of one particular couple, or commented on how these customers know the folks behind the counter so well. And then it occurred to me ... The only reason I know who goes to Finagle at the same time every week is because I go to Finagle at the same time every week. How lame is that? Jeeeez. I've really gotta find a new lunch place.

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I went to the Wrentham Outlets yesterday to do some summer clothes shopping, and while it was a pain in the arse finding a parking spot, it was totally worth it. There were great deals all over, and I gave my credit card a good workout buying new pants, shirts, shoes, and other stuff. But parking was a challenge and it reminded me of two long-held thoughts I've had about parking lots:

1. I'm all for dog-eat-dog competitions in some instances, but come on ... if I've been sitting idly at the end of one aisle waiting for a spot to open up, and then one does and I go to get it, another person shouldn't have the right to come around the corner and steal it from me just because he got there "first." Doesn't patience count for anything in a crowded parking lot? I know not everyone is as patient as I can be (when I want to be), but maybe there should be a first come, first served rule that would mandate everyone wait their turn before they can have a parking spot.

2. One of the never-gets-old amusements of parking lots is people who lose their cars. Sure, it's no fun when you're following them to their spot and then you realize they don't know where it is, but it is funny when you see people walk out to the lot carrying all kinds of bags and then walk up and down various aisles looking for their car with absolutely clueless looks on their faces. Someone should invent a Lojack-like device that works with cell phones or something, that will alert you to where you've parked. You know, like in a "you're getting warmer/colder" kind of way. Until then, I'm always going to laugh at these people.


Oh, To Be David Letterman

As the ZZ Top song goes, "She's got legs ... she knows how to bruise them." (Or something like that.)

Jennifer Garner was on The Late Show recently, and David Letterman got the chance to play doctor for her. Suffice it to say, he made me really jealous. :-) Watch for yourself.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Sweeter on Sweet

It took three or four loops around Harvard Square Thursday night before I finally found a parking spot, and I must not have been paying any attention to where I was driving. I was there to have dinner at Border Cafe with Amy, Amy's mom, and AmyMac, and as good as the margaritas were (especially on such a hot day), you can only imagine how excited I was when AmyMac mentioned that a new cupcake place had opened in the Square. What was funny is that I had driven right by it those four times and didn't even notice. How could I have been so blind?

Well anyway, this was no "new" cupcake place. It was a new, second location for Sweet, the Back Bay store that didn't really blow me away when I tried it last year. And I have to say, I don't know if it was the company I was with or the cake itself, but I certainly enjoyed my Sweet Cake with chocolate buttercream frosting more last night than the one I had exactly one year ago today. There was a very strong vanilla flavor, the icing was, well, sweet, and while the cupcake was small, it was definitely an ideal size given how full I was from dinner.

What I also missed while driving around: Tory Row had opened in the space formerly occupied by the Greenhouse. Next time I'm driving around Harvard Square looking for parking, I'm going to have to be better about looking around and seeing where I am. I can only imagine what other tasty treats I may have missed.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Back in the Swing of Things

Last week some coworkers grabbed me on their way out the door and invited me to join them at a local driving range. Now it's a weekly thing, and I'm happy to say that my golf clubs are officially out of storage. Part of the appeal of buying my condo was its proximity to a public golf course, but I've lived here for more than a year and I've never taken advantage of it. Now I don't feel as bad about that because I work a short distance from another course and I'm taking good advantage of that one. Sure, I've still got a long way to go till I'm as good as Tiger Woods — or, for that matter, as good as the guys from work who are giving a few of us "lessons" — but so far, it's been like riding a bicycle: I may not have played for more than two years, but picking up my swing hasn't been that hard. And as the weather gets warmer, it's just nice to be outside doing some physical activity. So it's all good, and I'm going to keep on swinging away. Fore!

Feeling Glee-ful

Did you watch the pilot episode of Glee on Tuesday night? No? Well do not wait another minute: Sit at your computer and watch it right now, right here. It's funny, the music's great, and I really liked it. There's an instant-classic peppy cover of Amy Winehouse's "Rehab" at the 28:30 mark that's worth watching. And let me just say that Lea Michele, the adorable actress who plays Rachel Berry, sure can sing (fast-forward to the 40-minute mark for proof of that). Alright, stop reading, click "play," and enjoy!

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

No Boundaries for Kris Allen Now

I predicted it yesterday and I said it as far back as the semifinals in February, and now it's come true: Kris Allen is the new American Idol! Woo hoo! What an upset! What a great surprise! This is awesome. Kris has been a consistently good singer all season — maybe not the best ever, but he's got a great sound that I like — and I'm very happy he won. Hell, even that lame winner's song, "No Boundaries," sounded good tonight. Wow ... this is really cool. Maybe now Adam Lambert will go back to obscurity, taking that screechy/yelling voice and his memories of being totally overrated with him, and we can all get on with our lives again ... till next season, at least.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I Predict an Upset

All season long, people have been genuflecting to Adam Lambert like he's the second coming or something. Most talented American Idol contestant ever? Puh-leeze. Have they totally forgotten about Carrie Underwood? Adam can't hold a candle to her — or to Kelly Clarkson. Hell, I haven't seen an Idol contestant this overrated since, well, ever. So now that the season finale is finally here, and Adam is going mano a mano with Kris Allen, I think it's time to put an end to all that hoo-hah.

You may recall that back in February, after only two weeks of semifinals, I predicted that Kris would win it all. Today, I'm standing by that prediction. Just wait for it. Tomorrow night, after all the random and unnecessary musical numbers are over and Ryan Seacrest finally gets around to announcing the winner, there will be an upset, and naive little girls will be crying all over the country (again). Tonight, all the people who voted for Danny Gokey are going to shift to Kris, and all the people like me, who agree that Adam sucks and have had it with his overly dramatic, screeching/yelling singing style, will finally pick up their phones to vote against him. I'll be voting for the first time all season, as much to support Kris as to prevent Adam from winning.

Really, I don't care that much — it's been a pretty lame season of Idol overall. Heck, it's like season six all over again. And I mean, Kris isn't really someone I'd support in a better season. But IMHO, he's the best one they've had on this year and he's had my support almost from the beginning. And, alright fine, I'd just love to see Adam lose. So who's with me? Vote for Kris!

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Party Girl

Dear Uncle Martin,

I know you can't understand anything I say, so I thought I would write you a letter.

Thank you so much for coming down to New York this weekend for my first birthday party. I know it was really crazy with all those kids (and their parents, and our family, and my mommy and daddy's friends) in my house, but I had a great time and I hope you did too. The cake (from Costco) was yummy, but I think my favorite part of the party was singing and dancing and shaking the bells along with Zev, and his songs about bath time and farm animals. Then again, as much as I liked the music and having all my friends here, I enjoyed all the "bah bah bahs" (i.e.: balloons) most of all.

The food was so good, wasn't it? I loved the kids-only macaroni and cheese — it's my favorite. Thank you so much for going with my daddy to Stew Leonard's at 7:45 a.m. to pick it up. Daddy said he bought you some cider donuts there. Did you really need them? Uncle Martin, I think you need to watch what you eat. Please tell me you didn't eat more of them on your drive back to Boston.

Also, you sure did take a lot of pictures of me with my mommy and daddy's camera; I know they appreciated that. I hope that when you give me a cousin (whenever you get around to making that happen), they will gladly return the favor. Oh, and of course, I have to thank you for the chair you gave me. It's so comfy. I love to sit in it and read all my magazines and books, or watch TV with my mommy and daddy. After everybody left yesterday and the house quieted down, I sat in the chair almost all afternoon. I probably should have taken a nap, but this was much more fun.

Alright, that's all for now, Uncle Martin. I hope you come down to play with me again soon. Maybe I'll be walking by the time you see me next. As you saw, I'm getting closer to standing on my own. Bye!



Friday, May 15, 2009

Springtime for Martin

Generally, I have a bias against seeing Broadway shows not on Broadway. They just never quite feel real to me, especially if I've seen the original cast and I've listened to the soundtrack more times than I can remember. So I was nervous about how much I'd enjoy Spring Awakening when I went to see it Thursday night at the Colonial Theater here in Boston. After all, when I saw the show in New York a year and a half ago, I was blown away by how much I liked it, and I've just about worn out my copy of the original cast recording.

Well, the good news is that this touring production is, in fact, quite good. The voices of this cast are not as strong as those of the original cast (which included, among other folks, the beautiful Lea Michele, soon to be seen in the FOX TV show, Glee), but the actors certainly give impressive performances — especially the lead trio of Blake Bashoff, Kyle Riabko, and Christy Altomare, who play Moritz, Melchior, and Wendla, respectively. And all the same choreography and music that I enjoyed in New York has arrived intact. Highlights include "The Dark I Know Well," "Don't Do Sadness," "The Mirror-Blue Night," and of course, "Totally Fucked," the high point of this production — in enthusiasm, anyway.

If you don't know Spring Awakening, it's a musicalized version of the controversial 1891 play by Frank Wedekind about sexual repression and rebellion in Germany. This adaptation, with contemporary music by Duncan Sheik, includes heavy themes of rape, abuse, homosexuality, suicide, and abortion, and it's definitely not your parents' type of show. Based on the half-empty theater tonight, it's safe to assume plenty of tickets are still available for the Boston leg of the tour (here through May 24). Good ones too — we bought mezzanine tickets but were moved down to the orchestra, row J. It's not the original cast on Broadway, but I still recommend seeing this production.


Monday, May 11, 2009

He's Given It All He's Got, Captain

Like Casino Royale did to James Bond, the new Star Trek movie reboots the franchise, doing away with the history that so many fans have grown up knowing and living by, and making the story accessible to folks like me who aren't even fans of the genre to begin with. My Star Trek knowledge is limited, but I know I should be embarrassed to admit that the only film of the first 10 that I saw was number four, The Voyage Home (aka: the one with the whales). I love the classic SNL skit where William Shatner tells the fans to get a life. Point is, the fact that I really liked this film only goes to show what a great job director J.J. Abrams has done.

How do we know this is a J.J. Abrams movie? Well, if you're like me and a fan of the TV show Lost, you'll recognize certain trademarks immediately: daddy issues, a story line involving a ripple in the space-time continuum, and a cameo by BFF Greg Grunberg. Oh, and also? The movie looks and feels damned cool. From the gleaming white deck of the Enterprise to the adrenaline-fueled pacing, this is a movie that's definitely been directed by someone with a brain. And screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman have done Abrams a solid by writing a script that neither panders to fans or ignores them, and makes those of us who know little about the character histories feel included. It's a great idea to have all the action take place in an alternate universe where nothing from the original series or movies has even happened yet. It's a device that gives these guys total creative license to make everything up as they go along.

Casting-wise, Abrams got lucky to have found Chris Pine (Kirk) and Zachary Quinto (Spock). Pine plays Kirk as a confident jerk, and with his close-cropped hair, he looks like he's Matt Damon's younger brother. Quinto is equally impressive; I'd never have suspected he'd have so much screen presence, but then again, I don't watch Heroes either. The other cast members are fun, especially Simon Pegg, who brings the comic relief as Scotty. Now that the crew is a team, it'll be great to see how they all interact in future films.

And on that note, I suppose there's no greater compliment to pay a film than to say you wish it was longer. Star Trek builds and builds in excitement, and when the lights went up, I was ready to blast off and go on another adventure right away. There's nothing I'd have cut out of this movie. It's just a solid piece of entertainment from start to finish. Abrams has clearly improved as a director since Mission Impossible III and Cloverfield, and this non-geek is excited to see where the crew of the Enterprise will boldly go next. I'm giving Star Trek an A–.


Saturday, May 09, 2009

One More Thing Off My List

Today was one of those days where I was playing tourist in my own city. Nina and I met up for lunch (at Vlora in Copley Square) and then just decided to walk. Our first destination? The Swan Boats in the Public Gardens. I'd made this loop before, but Nina had not, and I was happy to indulge her in this activity. The quiet, peaceful loop around the Gardens was actually kinda nice, and the sun peaking through the clouds made it even better.

We continued on through the Common and Nina asked if I had ever had the Boston Cream Pie at the Omni Parker House. I had not, and neither had she. So we decided we couldn't really be proper Bostonians until we could say we had tried the pie, and we headed over to the hotel. I wish I could say I was impressed and that the pie lived up the the hype. It did not. The round, individual-sized cake was just not very moist and it didn't have nearly enough cream in it. Yes, there were also crushed nuts all along the outside of the cake, and I don't like nuts, but I got over that. So, a disappointment. On the other hand, the Parker House rolls, which I had also never had there before, were yummy, and they made the experience worth it.

We finished off our snack and continued on to a primo touristy destination, Faneuil Hall, where we walked around, saw some street performers, and even did a little shopping. But that was enough, so after that we called it a day.

Now I have another activity I can cross off my to-do list. After more than 12 years of living in Boston (16 if you include college), I can say I've had the trademark foods at the Omni Parker House.

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And the Hits Just Keep on Coming

I'm always excited whenever something I've posted here touches a chord and gets picked up and linked to elsewhere. But man oh man, the response to my post yesterday about eating at Old Country Buffet has been unbelievable! In just one day, that one post has recorded more than 1,200 hits. That's more than the number of hits my posts about Johnny Cupcakes and I Am Legend have received. (Until now, those two had been the most-read posts on this site.) Who knew so many people were equally curious about this place?

Thanks for the increased traffic goes to longtime supporters and, in addition to Wicked Local's Watertown blog, all of whom have directed people my way. And of course, thanks to all the people who have clicked and read and laughed at and commented on my post. Nothing I've posted here has ever had this much response. I'm amazed, amused, impressed ... and hoping you all will come back again to read what else I post here.

Update, 5/11/09, 12:00 p.m.: Well, the link was live until noon today and people were clicking on it the entire time. Between Friday at 1 p.m. and today, that one post had just under 2,400 hits. Good stuff.

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Friday, May 08, 2009

Curiosity Killed My Appetite

There are certain things you should do at least once in your life. For example, I've seen the Grateful Dead live in concert, I've taken a trapeze lesson, I've hiked Tuckerman Ravine, and I've gone skydiving. I'm not sure that eating at Old Country Buffet (in the Watertown Mall) is in the same league as those, but now that I've done it, I can safely say that I will not be doing it again.

Yes, last night I went with one of my coworkers to the OCB after weeks and weeks of discussion. It started casually one day when we both mentioned that we had never been but had always been curious about trying it. The mass-produced food, the clientele, the unhealthiness of eating from a sort-of communal trough — how could we have resisted for so long? After that, no amount of convincing could talk us out of it — and plenty of people tried. We even downloaded the nutritional content and that didn't sway us. Nor did the fact that there was free Chinese food at the office before we left. We were determined to go, and we did.

It's sort of a scary thing knowing the nutritional content of the food you're about to get before you eat it, but we looked at the meal this way: It only cost us $11.69 each, and we knew this would probably be the only time we ate there, so why not try as much as we could? After all, I had already put on some looser-fitting pants as a precaution. I won't say who specifically ate what, but here's a sampling of what was on our plates: mac and cheese, a taco, fried shrimp, rolls, steak, barbecue pork, beans, carrots, roasted chicken, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, nachos and cheese, popcorn chicken, and spaghetti. There was even a "mystery meat" at one point (although, that may have been eggplant). Suffice it to say, all the major food groups were represented. For dessert we had chocolate cream pie, cookie pie, Jello, cheesecake, apple crisp, fudge, chocolate bread pudding, chocolate cake, and a rice krispy treat. If you're really interested in the calorie or fat count, you can click on this link and add it all up, but I'm sick just thinking about how much we ate — aren't you?

Admittedly, the food was not as bad as we anticipated it would be — though some items were definitely better than others, and it should be noted that our expectations were pretty low (it's not like we expected a Las Vegas–style buffet or anything). And we wished there had been a greater selection of food (What? No corn dogs? No salisbury steak? No grilled cheese sandwiches? And most egregiously, no chocolate pudding with that gross "skin" on it? What a bummer). We also probably could have eaten more than we did, but as Ros said at one point, "I decided not to repeat anything because I figured it would just repeat itself on its own later." That just about says it all right there.

So yeah. Cross this one off the list. No need to do that again.

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Monday, May 04, 2009

Happy Birthday, Abby!

Today is Abby's birthday and I've learned in the past week that my niece and I don't share something very important in common: a love of cake. On multiple occasions, Abby has not shown much interest in eating it. How sad! But no matter. Abby has enough sweetness in her as it is. And I'm sure that today, on the first anniversary of the day Abby was born, she'll find plenty of other ways to celebrate.

What a great year it's been since Abby was born, and how quickly it's flown. I can say with full confidence that my life is a better place with Abby in it; of all the great things that have happened to me in the past 12 months, her birth tops the list.

So, as she turns one today, Abby may not like cake as much as her uncle does, but her uncle sure likes her, and he'll have two pieces of cake — one for him and one for her — to celebrate. Happy birthday, Abby!

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Sunday, May 03, 2009

Man vs Wild

Part of the fun of superhero origin stories is watching how an ordinary person is changed when they're given a super power. Think Peter Parker after he's bitten by the radioactive spider. Or Bruce Banner, after he's exposed to all those gamma rays. So it's sort of a bummer when, early on in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, we see that Wolverine has had claws all his life (though they're bone, not adamantium ones), not to mention an ability to heal quickly and not age (how else to explain his ability to fight in the Civil War, World Wars I and II, and the Vietnam War). Then again, Wolverine is a mutant, and he was born a mutant. Thus, this movie is not so much an origin story as it is the story of how Wolverine became a super mutant. Hmmmm ... Perhaps the film should have been called X-Men Beginnings instead of X-Men Origins — or perhaps I shouldn't take it quite so literally.

Title aside, Wolverine is pretty good, not great — it's more X-Men: The Last Stand than the other two films in that series (i.e., it's more an action film than anything of any higher meaning). Hugh Jackman, back again in the role that made him a star, still emits cool and the film does include some decent action scenes. On the other hand, the script isn't really top-notch, and sometimes it veers into forced, lame comedy (like in the scene just after Wolverine's injection where he has a mishap in he bathroom thanks to his new blades). It's good to see that director Gavin Hood (who directed the truly awful Rendition) isn't a total hack, but I wish he had allowed the actors to have a little more fun (for example, it's nice to see Liev Schreiber playing a bad guy, but he doesn't look like he's enjoying himself very much).

Wolverine is definitely not essential viewing — especially if you saw X2: X-Men United, which also included Wolverine's origin story. But it's not the kind of movie you'll regret paying eight or nine bucks for, either. It's only May. Better films are still to come. For now, this one only gets a B– from me.