Tuesday, July 31, 2007

How walkable is your neighborhood?

Plug in your address here, and find out. The score is based on the proximity of things like supermarkets, restaurants, libraries, and movie theaters. Queensberry Street in the Fenway, where I once had a studio, gets a 91 out of a possible 100. It gets points for being so close to the Ramrod bar, and I concur that 0.12 miles is a breeze when you're running home to escape muggers, trolls, or your own sexual fetishes. But I should point out that the Gold's Gym, 0.28 miles away, is about an hour's walk when Red Sox fans are in town. My new apartment in Malden gets an 85, thanks to being 0.13 miles from a Dunkin' Donuts. (Thank goodness I'm high enough to get away from the smell.) And it's only 0.10 miles from the nearest bookstore: New England Comics. As it happens, the nearest non-used bookstore from the place I'm leaving, in West Somerville (score: 71), is Comicazi. It seems that the Simpsons' Comic Book Guy and his peers are the cockroaches of our post-literate culture, surviving after all the other independent booksellers are replaced by cellphone stores.


Monday, July 30, 2007

Mad Men TV

Last week I added AMC's Mad Men to my summer TV diet (Big Love not being quite enough to fill the hot nights). The story of advertising guys and their wives/lovers, set in 1960, is unfolding with HBO-like slowness, but so far there's enough texture to keep things interesting. One gimmick is that characters are constantly doing things that are taboo today: smoking, drinking at all hours of the day, leering at women in the office, etc. Last week, a youngster was playing with a plastic dry-cleaner's bag (as in, putting it over her head and trying to breathe through it), and her mother simply warned her to hang up the clothes that were in it. Later, two children in a moving car not only went without seat belts, they stood and jumped up and down in the back seat. As my siblings and I always stood in the car, at least until our heads started to dig into the roof, this scene gave me a warm glow of nostalgia. (My gin and tonic also helped.) For a good summary of this new show, go to The House Next Door.


We don't want your color in our neighborhood

The New York Daily News's Michael Daly reports that certain Brooklynites went ballistic last week when it appeared that a brownstone was being painted white:

The photo was sent in response to an urgent posting by Brownstoner.com late Friday morning, a message right out of a Brooklyn yuppie's nightmare.

"We just got a tip that someone just started painting one of the brownstones on Grand Avenue between Gates and Putnam white this morning. ... If any readers are nearby, we'd appreciate a photo asap."

The photo was posted minutes later, and sure enough the portal of the building was being painted white. As in not brown.


It was all a false alarm, as the white paint was only a primer for an acceptably dark color, but the hullabaloo made me wonder what's so bad about a white, or yellow, brownstone. I understand why historic neighborhoods have height restrictions, and why they prevent homeowners from altering windows, roofs, front stairs, etc. in ways that clash with the rest of a block. But paint is a temporary design element (easily reversed by a future owner), and it does nothing to change, say, sight lines or sunlight patterns on a street. I grew up near a Victorian house painted pink that was a scandal in my neighborhood, but I never knew what harm it did; indeed, it seemed to offend all the right people.

Labels: ,

Learn new words from the Boston Globe!

Two vocabulary lessons in today's Boston Globe and Boston.com. First, in the "Secret Spaces" photo essay, a section of the Boston Public Library that is closed to the public is described as "a no man's land for visitors, where the research material and rare and valuable books are kept." At first, I assumed that the Globe staff was under the mistaken belief that "no man's land" could refer to a place where "no man" is allowed, rather than an area where no government or army is in firm control. But it's possible that there's some kind of war going on between different factions among the books, and visitors risk getting beaned by flying volumes. If so, and only if so, the Globe is correct. Today's Globe has a front-page story headlined "Analysts cool on impact of 'super' primary," which begins: "The "Super-Duper Tuesday" series of primaries proposed for Feb. 5 of next year -- once considered likely to decide the two presidential nominees -- now may be little more than a prelude to a final, decisive series of contests largely in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast." Who is making the case that the later primaries are going to have any real significance for the first time in at least 24 years? Well, there's a "GOP consultant" based on Ohio (which has a late primary), a state representative from Pennsylvania (which has a late primary), and the chairman of the Democratic Party in Massachusetts (yes, we have a late primary). These people seem more like spin doctors than "analysts." There is one person quoted (actually, paraphrased) in the last paragraph of the story who doesn't have any self-interest in making the case that later primaries will be important -- a political science professor in New Hampshire. But he doesn't justify the plural "analysts" in the headline. And he doesn't seem "cool" on the Super Primary, essentially saying that it may or may not decide the nomination contests. So the headline is 71 percent accurate; it's only the first two words that aren't supported by the story.

Labels: ,

Malden, this is your last chance

Driven by optimism or insanity, I just signed a lease on an apartment in downtown Malden, the once-vibrant city of my birth. I almost decided against it last weekend, when the Orange Line (soon to be my lifeline to Boston) was replaced by shuttle buses, and there was another bad omen this morning when the MBTA announced delays on the subway line. (The T site actually noted delays "between Back Bay and Forest Hills," which makes no sense. If there are delays on any part of the line, there are delays on the entire line.) Maybe the hot weather drove me to an apartment with central air-conditioning, or the screaming kids in the swimming pool next to my current home forced me into a high-rise with no backyards for blocks in any direction.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Muppets present "The Picture of Dorian Green"

Old Muppets, including “one of the many puppets that have played Kermit,” have been donated to the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, according to the New York Times’s Brenda Goodman.

“At the moment, they have not been given the entire collection,” Cheryl Henson [daughter of the late Jim Henson] said in an interview on Friday. “We are assuming we are going to give them the best of our collection,” she added, explaining that the archive owned by the family consists of “a couple thousand” items, but that many have become too fragile to exhibit. “Some of our collection has gotten old; even in the last seven years it has deteriorated. It’s not that we’re holding back a large portion of the collection.” Built from foam and fabric, each puppet character had multiple copies because of performance wear and tear. The gift covered puppets that could no longer be used to perform…

This is very disillusioning. I should have known that Kermit was actually a number of interchangeable bodies (like Lassie). Apparently, he keeps his youthful appearance by banishing his aging selves to attics and museums, taking the Dorian Gray method to a whole new level. But it would have been more interesting had we seen Kermit, Fozzie, Miss Piggy, etc. develop bald patches, sagging skin, and discoloration as they got older, just like the rest of us. Why not teach kids about the ravages of life through the sun damage from Ernie and Bert’s trips to the nude beaches of Provincetown, not to mention Oscar the Grouch’s attempts to hide his hair loss with a comb-over? I guess if you want to see deteriorating puppets, you’ll have to rent Meet the Feebles.

Labels: ,

Our wacky, quirky local media

Slate.com’s Jack Shafer calls for a moratorium on the word “loophole,” often used by newspapers as a weaselly way to imply wrongdoing when someone is following the law. I would add “quirk” to the list, at least for the Boston Globe, which seems fond of the word as a way to sex up political stories that don’t involve colorful personalities. Below are a few recent examples. Particularly irritating is the second one, in which the Globe characterizes a routine primary election as a bizarre, archaic ritual. It’s just short of saying, “Oh, our wacky laws! You can’t insult a pigeon on Sundays, and citizens are actually expected to vote twice in the same year just because an inconvenient number of candidates are running for the same office!”
Dual officeholders drawing scrutiny Source: Boston Globe Date: Jul 16, 2007 By: John C. Drake In Massachusetts, known for its healthy appetite for politics, a quirk in the state constitution allows the state's most ambitious politicos to hold more than one elected office. Law quirk requires a costly primary Source: Boston Globe Date: Jul 2, 2007 By: Matt Viser A legal quirk in the way Boston conducts its elections will probably require a citywide preliminary vote in September, forcing the city to spend at least $500,000 to narrow a field of at-large City Council hopefuls by one, from nine candidates to eight. When a penny saved is taxed Source: Boston Globe Date: Jun 14, 2007 ….A key step is to adjust the tax code. One quirk is in the Earned Income Tax Credit, a helpful program that rewards low-income workers. But in the past, some EITC filers couldn't qualify for another program that offers tax incentives to save. Such inconsistencies need to be cleared up.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Smart growth in Malden?

Malden wants to be another Davis Square. I ask whether it's possible in the new issue of CommonWealth magazine.

Labels: ,

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Apartment roulette

Now that my day job is less frenzied (for a month or so), I can return to my real talent: being paralyzed by indecision. I'm spending all my time looking at or obsessing over apartments. Yesterday I was tempted by one in Bay Village, but then I was afraid that I would be haunted by the ghosts of the former regulars at the Napoleon Club, a gay piano bar in the neighborhood -- unkindly referred to as the "wrinkle room" -- that was transformed into expensive condos several years ago. (Specifically, I don't want to be visited by the spirits of the couple from Rhode Island who used to request songs from "Little Shop of Horrors" every Saturday night.) No, I can't be part of a neighborhood that has become such a bore. I actually put down a deposit on a luxury unit several subway stops from downtown Boston, mainly so I can impress friends giving me a ride home (as long as I don't invite them in to see my furniture), but I'm getting cold feet about being so far away from a good place for brunch. (My kitchen ain't going to qualify.) So this weekend I've been looking at places in the South End and in South Boston, all of which have had something for me to complain about. For example, the basement apartment was nice until I looked up at the two tiny windows in the bedroom and noticed that the screens were encrusted with dead insects. And the third-floor unit had plenty of room, but I had a vampire-like aversion to the mirrored doors of the huge bedroom closet. I guess it comes down to a swanky apartment in a dull suburb or a dump in the heart of the city. I apologize to all my housewarming guests in advance for the inconvenient location or the strange smell in the hallway. I just don't know which yet.

Labels: ,

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Emmy awards: dick vs. poo

Emmy award nominations were announced this morning, and the hottest race is in the "Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics" category, where "Dick in a Box," the Justin Timberlake video from Saturday Night Live, is up against "Everything Comes Down to Poo," from the musical episode of Scrubs. Also nominated is "My Drunken Irish Dad," from Family Guy; "Merry X-Mas," from Mad TV; and the homoerotic "Guy Love," from Scrubs. Such pioneers of television as Rod Serling and Edward R. Morrow would surely be proud that the medium now rivals Broadway in its contribution to the Great American Songbook. As for the other nominations, all you need to know is that Elaine Stritch was nominated for her brief guest appearance as Alec Baldwin's mother on 30 Rock. Stritch is a treasure, and 30 Rock is a fine show, but there was no acting involved here; she's getting a Hooray, You're Still Alive nomination. (Though it's not quite as bad as the Ellen Burstyn fiasco from last year.) Where are the nominations for 30 Rock regular Jack McBrayer and guest Will Arnett? The geriatric (in thought, if not always in body) Emmy voters also continued their unfounded crush on David E. Kelley and all law dramas by giving a Best Drama nomination to Boston Legal. Overlooked in order to squeeze in this tired show: The Wire, Rome, Deadwood, Friday Night Lights, Lost, and The Riches.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

How not to rent an apartment, part CLXXI

Tip to apartment building managers: If you're going to show a "luxury" unit to a prospective tenant and your building's intercom system is broken, don't stop with a handwritten note taped to the front door that says, "Intercom is broken." Add a sentence explaining how a prospective tenant is supposed to get word to you that he is outside. (Fixing the damn intercom is even better!) And when that prospective tenant finally gets into the building by grabbing the door as someone is headed out, don't greet him with "Oh, you must be the BU professor!" -- especially when he isn't a BU professor. Instead, apologize for the broken intercom, or put the prospective tenant's mind at ease by asking, "Just how the heck did you get in here?" Also, don't chat on your cell phone while leading the prospective tenant to the apartment you're showing, as it gives the appearance that you're avoiding questions from the prospective tenant. In particular, don't say into your cell phone, "Yes, I know, I told you I'd be getting to that!" Finally, don't mention the Dunkin' Donuts a few hundred yards away as a major selling point of your building. In the Boston area, that's no more remarkable than saying that you've got indoor plumbing.

Labels: ,

Monday, July 16, 2007

258 ways to attract readers!

It's common wisdom in the magazine industry that numbers ("50 Ways to Attract Your Soul Mate," "The 73 Best Songs About Shoes of All Time") are great for newsstand sales, no matter what they refer to. The only hitch is that you have to actually come up with the 199 Things You Can Do with Kumquats, or whatever you've promised on the cover. Well, Newsday found a way top put a big fat 100 on its cover that has nothing to do with anything in the tabloid: Next week look for an interview with Nobel Prize-winning chemist Roger D. Kornberg. He'll be on the cover holding a can of Colt 45. Thanks to Gothamist for the image.


Friday, July 13, 2007

Anti-gay-bashing group: Our reports are worthless

I don't know how else to interpret today's press release by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. The group reports a drop in violence against gays and lesbians (described as a decrease "over" the previous year's level), then tells us not to believe it:
There were 3,534 reported incidents of domestic violence affecting LGBT individuals in 2006, a decrease of 15% over incidents recorded in the 2005 report. However, this decrease does not necessarily indicate that LGBT domestic violence is declining. Numerous factors influence whether or not a victim of domestic violence will seek help through an organization or a hotline, including visibility of the local organization, fears on the part of the victim of being "outed," and fear of bringing shame to ones family or community. Additionally, individual organizational capacity and ability to participate in this report shift somewhat from year to year which could also account for the numerical difference.
The global-warming denialists could learn a lot from the NCAVP. It's always possible to explain away data, even when it's your own!

Labels: ,

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Two deaths, two milestones

Earlier this week, Charles Lane died at the age 0f 102. I think it's safe to assume that he was the last living actor who had been playing crotchety old men since before I was born. And today Boston University icon Mr. Butch was killed in a motor-scooter accident. The Kenmore Square of my youth is officially gone.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A cure worse than the disease

Hurrah, it's National Cheer Up the Lonely Day. Deanna Dhalsad writes, "Take your lunch break to make a list of everyone you can send a card to, and after work, head to the greeting card store and buy stacks of them. Sure, jotting a little note, signing, addressing and putting postage on them is more 'work' to do after dinner, but you'll feel so wonderful knowing you made someone's day!" So now I'm going to feel bad if I don't get greeting cards in the middle of July. The Peanuts comic strip always had Charlie Brown sighing and looking into his empty mailbox on Valentine's Day. Coming in the middle of his baseball team's always winless season, National Cheer Up the Lonely Day would make him stick his head in the oven. This is the worst idea since National Pity Fuck Day.


But ya are, Blanche, ya are a supporting character!

A few years ago I saw Bea Arthur’s one-woman show (in Nyack, NY, just 15 miles up the road from Tuckahoe), and she had a throwaway line about having a better time on the set of Maude than on the set of The Golden Girls. I surmised that she and Betty White didn’t get along, since she had already worked with Rue McClanahan on Maude. But after reading William Henderson and Mark Peikert’s interview with McClanahan in the July 11 In Newsweekly (doesn’t seem to be online anymore), I stand corrected. Here’s what “Blanche” had to say about “Dorothy”: "What I hear from the public is that [Blanche or Sophia] are their two favorites. The rare person prefers Rose. And even rarer, Dorothy! I don’t know anyone who would pick Dorothy! … Of course, Bea always thought she was the star of the show. Not a big enough star, because she wanted to be Maude again and have other people supporting her rather than be one of the group. She never did feel comfortable as one of the group." The Golden Girls has never been one of my favorite sitcoms, but it’s a pleasurable enough half-hour largely because of Arthur. Hers is the only character that isn’t reducible to a cliché — as opposed to Blanche’s Southern belle, Rose’s Midwestern twit, and Sophia’s feisty old lady — and all the other characters are defined largely by Dorothy’s reactions to their absurdities. There was a reason why she was always seated at the center of the kitchen table, with Blanche and Rose on either side to feed Dorothy inspiration for her looks of exasperation and incredulity. And it was no surprise that when Arthur left the show, the other three actresses failed in their attempt to carry on (in a spin-off called The Golden Palace). Sorry, Rue, but I guess you’re not the first Blanche to delude yourself.


Splendor in the reeds

I know it sounds too cute to say that the only time I’ve ever been in the Fens, the busiest gay cruising area in Boston without soap dispensers, was to see some theater. It’s less believable than reading Playboy for the articles (actually, I did that as a kid). Nevertheless, I made my virgin visit to the Fens last year to see “A Street Theater Named Desire,” performed by the members of the Theater Offensive. The production is not really out of place here, though the actors seemed to show more skin — and less age — than the average audience member. Each show (there are several spread out over a few early-morning hours) runs about 15 minutes and includes vignettes about safer sex. In one that I saw last summer, a guy asked a stranger for sex and got the response, “Are you sure? Are you positive?” It is startling to see both obviously gay and “straight-acting” men of all ages emerge from the towering weeds when TO actors take their places in a clearing and loudly announce that a show is about to begin — which they do by loudly simulating sexual passion. It’s kind of like little boys running out of suburban houses when they here an ice-cream struck on their street. (Maybe the “Send in the Clowns” ice-cream truck would do well with a theater concession here.) “A Street Theater Named Desire” takes place on weekends during the summer, and the TO site often has free bottled water, bug spray, and Dunkin’ Donuts snacks, as well as condoms and safer-sex literature. Though the peak audience seems to come after the bars close, there are plenty of men here well before 2 a.m., thanks to guys too young to legally drink and men too frugal to buy more than a beer or two in one evening. (I guess there will never be enough business to open a replacement for Dedo in Boston.) The TO crew sets up in a large area accessible via paths that snake through well-tended — even Felix Ungeresque — community gardens and then through the light-pole-sized wild reeds. But just follow the foot traffic from Boylston Street and you’ll find it.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Sticky rice, sticky wicket

Today's Boston Globe has an editorial following up on this story from a few weeks ago (by Frank Phillips) on the problems of translating candidate names into Chinese characters on multilingual ballots:
Mitt Romney could be read as Sticky or Uncooked Rice, Fred Thompson as Virtue Soup, and Tom Menino? Rainbow farmer -- or worse. That's one translation of their names into Chinese, according to Secretary of State William F. Galvin, and if the US Justice Department's voting rights division has its way, that is how they could appear on many Boston ballots in 2008.
The Globe does not mention that "sticky rice" has a specific meaning in the bedroom as well as the kitchen. From Urban Dictionary: "a homosexual Asian male who is sexually attracted exclusively to other homosexual Asian males." I think Romney would rather be called a rainbow farmer, though that term also has Judy Garland connotations.

Labels: ,

Monday, July 09, 2007

I can so quit you, Denis Leary!

Not much on TV this summer except Big Love and Flight of the Conchords, so I’ll refer you to Edward Copeland’s fun essay on why he quit watching Rescue Me and various other shows over the years. We seem to have similar taste, except that I followed Six Feet Under all the way to the end, and I couldn’t even get past the first five or six episodes of 24, thanks to my loathing for the perils of daughter Kim. I dropped Rescue Me last year, soon after the controversy over Denis Leary’s character raping his ex-wife (without that much resistance from her). I could accept that scene, and I could accept the idea that the firefighters on this show are screwed-up guys who are drawn to emotionally unstable women. But I couldn’t get over the predictability of the misogyny on Rescue Me. Why get actresses like Susan Sarandon and Marisa Tomei to guest star if you’re just going to put them in a never-ending parade of crazed nymphomaniacs? In all fairness, I should point out that the male guest stars on Rescue Me are just as horrible as the women, except that they don’t lust after Leary. (The chief’s brother-in-law, for example, should have had a Snidely Whiplash mustache.) But this doesn’t help the show’s predictability problem. Like Copeland, I quit The West Wing when I realized that almost all the dialogue could be assigned at random to any character, and no one would notice the difference. The point of no return for me was episode 49, when Rob Lowe’s character made an impassioned argument for abolishing the penny and Bradley Whitford’s character made fun of him for caring so much about something so trivial. By the next day, I forgot which character said what, since everyone on this show alternated between obsessing over minor things and making fun of another character for obsessing over minor things. NYPD Blue ended for me when Sipowicz’s wife was killed by a stray bullet, apparently just because the actress who played her decided to leave the show. (Just recast her!) I sprang Oz loose after Schillinger had Beecher’s son murdered and I realized the show was just a live-action version of Itchy and Scratchy. And Law and Order was dismissed when Angie Harmon became the pin-up assistant DA. My divorces from sit-coms have been more amicable, though. When they get too repetitive (Cheers, Everybody Loves Raymond), I just watch them less often. Things that make me laugh are too rare and valuable to just throw away.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Summer Affect Disorder

I'm past the worst of it at my day job, so blogging will resume. (Among other things, I need to update my links to favorite blogs, prompted by my friend Alan Ilagan's generous mentioning of Escar-go-go in his contribution to the Thinking Blogger awards. In turn, I recommend Alan's site for, among other things, some beautiful summer photography.) The truth is, I'm also dealing with Seasonal Affect Disorder, which hits me in the summer. What's my problem with everyone else's favorite time of year? 1. I'm a lifelong nerd, and when I was a kid I hated having two months off from school. At about the Fourth of July, the novelty of waking up late would wear off, and I'd fantasize about the upcoming school year, with all its possibilities of new friends, new subjects to learn, new clothes, etc. I'd forget about all the embarrassing aspects of school (gym class!) until September. 2. I can get sunburned just by standing too close to the oranges in the supermarket. So I spend summer afternoons indoors -- or, if I must go outside for something, trying to walk under trees and awnings. I can't believe I haven't yet been arrested as a terrorist, given my habit of running from shadow to shadow every time I go out for lunch. 3. Reruns on TV or, worse, new reality series. And the movies don't offer any relief, since summer is for mindless blockbusters. 4. Boston is infested with tourists who think it's fun to lose their balance on the subway and to stop short on narrow sidewalks when people behind them are trying to dash from awning to awning. I work near Faneuil Hall, so I encounter them all the time, and they never seem to believe me when I tell them that the Freedom Trail is actually the way to the Red Light District. Today, I had to walk in the street to get around a family of six fascinated -- and paralyzed -- by the youngest daughter's re-enactment of how she stubbed her toe the day before. 5. The worst thing about summer: Not enough pockets! When it's too warm to wear a jacket, I have nowhere to put loose change (it all goes into tip jars), my cell phone, my camera, my five or six pens, or all the slips of paper I need to remind me of my cell-phone number, what I need to pick up at the drugstore, and the stuff I want to write about on my blog. If only I looked better in cargo pants, I'd be caught up on all my blogging, personal errands, and self-improvement regimen by now...