Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Brothers and Sisters and Banality

I think I agree with the Boston Globe's Matthew Gilbert on the TV series Brothers and Sisters, though I haven't seen it as much as he has. I couldn't get through an entire episode because of the music, which has the same suffocating whimsy of the Desperate Housewives soundtrack. There's something about the music and directing style of most broadcast network serials (add Grey's Anatomy and Dirty Sexy Money to the list) that make them a completely different animal from cable offerings such as Mad Men and The Wire. The only one I can stand now is House, MD, which has its own flaws but has a mercifully unobtrusive score.


When is a good person a Samaritan?

Today's Boston Globe has a short story headlined "Good Samaritan, 30, dies of stab wounds." I was intrigued since, like most people, I often wonder whether I have enough compassion to help out a stranger in need. But the story is weirdly vague about how the people involved -- the "Samaritan" named Scott Gilbeau, the woman in distress who is not identified, and the attacker with the memorable name of Roy B. Bash -- came to know each other.

Gilbeau, Bash, and two women had been at a bar in Vergennes before returning to the Hinesburg trailer where Bash and his girlfriend lived. The couples had retired to separate rooms for the night when Gilbeau heard Bash and his girlfriend fighting, according to the affidavit filed by Vermont State Police Detective Sergeant James Whitcomb.

Gilbeau was undoubtedly heroic, but I thought a Good Samaritan, by definition, was someone who goes out of his way (or misses church, in the original story) to help a stranger. Here the term just seems confusing, and even euphemistic in a way I can't figure out. Why not just say that the two men were friends or neighbors, or some other vague term that doesn't come from a parable specifically about providing aid to someone one has never met before?


The end of gayborhoods?

The New York Times notes the cancellation of the annual Halloween parade in the Castro district of San Francisco as emblematic of the decline of gay neighborhoods across the US. I've already noted that gay bars recently turned up on a list of "endangered businesses." Is this a good thing? Last week I went to a panel discussion organized by The History Project of Boston, and an older lesbian said that she couldn't deny that things were better now for the gay community, but she still missed the "excitement" of the time when socializing with other gays and lesbians had a forbidden air about it. Maybe there's a parallel with Red Sox fans, some of whom now miss being part of a "cursed" community. I certainly don't want to be cursed, but I do kind of miss the days when all gay people seemed to have something in common. Coming-out stories were always a good icebreaker when meeting someone new; these days, when a 20-year-old says that he just figured things out and told everyone in his life, you're back to talking about sports or TV shows, just as if you were at a gathering full of straight people.


Saturday, October 27, 2007

Cool demolition photos from Malden

Gabriel Daniels has photos of the old YMCA building spilling its guts all over Pleasant Street. I walked past there yesterday, and those gray clumps of recycled tires (see fourth photo) made me queasy. I guess they served as insulation, but they look like some creature's stomach lining. So we'll have another gap on Pleasant Street. I may have been premature in thinking that things are going to turn around downtown with the influx of apartment dwellers. Starbucks, where are you?


Sunday, October 21, 2007

MBTA says: You Catholic girls start much too late!

At least that's what Billy Joel was telling me in his rendition of "Only the Good Die Young," which the MBTA was piping into North Station while I was waiting for a train tonight. I was offended more by the banality of the music than by any moral message therein, but I ask Bill Donahue and the Catholic League: Doesn't this make you want to join the fight against the commercialization of public spaces? (But lay off the live subway musicians, please.) More news about T-Radio is at Universal Hub.


Friday, October 19, 2007

Civil disobedience on the Orange Line

For the third weekend since I moved to my new apartment last month, Orange Line service to Malden Center is being suspended for the weekend and replaced by shuttle buses. This is all part of a signal replacement project that is taking an incredible four years to complete (assuming it's on schedule). Here are some nonviolent ways for Orange Line riders to rise up and express their dissatisfaction: 1.) Call restaurants and stores along the Orange Line and tell them you were planning to patronize them this weekend, until you saw the mob scene around the shuttle buses and thought better of it. 2.) Carry huge pillows with you on the shuttle buses in order to subtly demonstrate their inferiority to spacious subway cars. 3.) Invite a suburbanite or visiting out-of-towner to take their virgin excursion on the T this weekend. It will also be his last excursion, and maybe he'll write an angry letter to the Globe about his experience. 4.) Inform local candidates and elected officials that your taxi fares this weekend are coming out of your campaign contribution budget. 5.) Keep asking T personnel, "How's that signal replacement coming along? Exactly how many have you got left to do?"


New slogan for Boston Now?

When I declined Boston Now at the Malden Center T stop this morning, the tall black gentleman handing our the free newspaper boomed at me: "Participate, don't discriminate!" So I guess I'm an apathetic racist. The Metro hawkers should respond by adopting the slogan "Take my rag, don't be a douchebag!"


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Slate.com's maddening brain teaser

Go to Slate's slide show on snapshots and try to see anything other than a car commercial. The cryptic message "Click the link to the lower left to start the slide show" only guarantees that you see the commercial over and over again as you try to figure out which of the many links on the page is the correct one. I still haven't figured it out. UPDATE: Slate has made it clearer where to click in order to get past that commercial. Such is the power of a blog with about 14 regular readers.

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Suburbanism strikes the (reasonably) big city, part two

Wanting a piece of dessert tonight but refusing to cross hateful Route 60, I spent a half hour tonight looking for an open cafe or convenience store in my new neighborhood of downtown Malden. Because it was after 8 p.m., I had no luck until I found a tiny market (a bodegita?) on the ground floor of a nearby apartment building, right next to the entrance to the building's garage. I was the only customer, spending a lot of time agonizing over the large but not very appealing sweets section, until a woman came in and gave a cheery hello to the man behind the counter. "I forgot my pass key to the garage again," she said. "Can I borrow yours?" He wearily handed it over and said, "I'm going to have to start charging you." That seemed to startle her a bit, but she took the key and breezed out of the store. After I made my purchase and left, I passed the garage and spotted her through a window, taking a bunch of bags out of her car -- which, I suppose, she carried with her as she stopped at the convenience store to return the garage key. Lady, I know that convenient stores are more expensive than Costco, but would it have killed you to BUY SOMETHING from the poor guy who's trying to run a business, not serve as your concierge?

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Suburbanism strikes the big city, part one

Some idiot in Brooklyn complained to the city about a 6-year-old's "graffiti." From the New York Daily News:
A 6-year-old Brooklyn girl's family was threatened with a $300 fine after a neighbor complained to the city about the girl's blue chalk drawings. The absurd warning from the city Sanitation Department arrived Oct. 5, a few days after Natalie Shea scribbled a blue flower on her parents' 10th St. stoop in Park Slope.

I understand the "broken windows" theory, but if you're worried that a little girl's drawing of a flower can tip your neighborhood into the slum category, you're probably better off in a gated community.

On an unrelated note, I was intrigued by the last pararaph of the story, which is an altered quote from the little girl's mother:

"I'm a good New Yorker. I like to obey the rules," she said. "If it's really illegal for Natalie to use chalk on her own stoop, if that's really upsetting to Mayor [Bloomberg], I will comply."

Why the brackets around "Bloomberg"? Did she really call him "Mayor Jerkwad" or something? Maybe she thought Rudy Giuliani was still mayor, which makes no sense because Rudy would have made a special trip to Brooklyn to see little Natalie put in handcuffs.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

The T takes the mute out of commuting

The Boston Phoenix's Adam Reilly says that the MBTA doesn't care whether passengers like its plan to pump cheesy music and inane commercials into subway stations, and he's probably right. I guess this means that subway musicians are also doomed. All I can say is: Please come back, boom boxes! Maybe I'll be able to hear myself think if enough different sources of music drown each other out. As for the T passengers who now stick their fingers in their ears every time the brakes on a subway car squeak, I'll be able to watch their heads explode.

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High-rise residents of Malden, unite!

I planned to sit quietly at my first community meeting as a legal resident of Malden, but I did feel compelled to defend the honor of apartment dwellers to what seemed to be a mostly homeowner audience. The “visioning” meeting was part of a process to draft a master plan for revitalizing what is, at least in the downtown area, a pretty dreary city. (See previous posts and my article in CommonWealth magazine) I did feel bad for some of the older residents at the meeting who had the impossible dream of restoring the downtown Malden of three or four decades ago. (“I need something more immediate,” said one such resident when a meeting facilitator asked us what we’d like the city to look like 25 years from now.) Several expressed distaste for the new apartment complexes near the Malden Center MBTA stop, and one complained, “The more apartments there are downtown, the less space there is for new stores.” Since almost half of the storefronts downtown are vacant, I would suggest that the problem is not a lack of space for retail use but a lack of possible customers who live within walking distance of Malden Center. Sadly, the downtown area is never going to attract people from other Malden neighborhoods the way it did when I was a kid; there are now too many big-box stores with huge parking lots just outside the city center. The quickest and surest way to get new shoppers downtown is to offer closet space, central air-conditioning, and nice views; two-for-one coupons aren’t going to do it. When we were asked to decide the most important “key action” concerning residential development to take in the short run, more anti-apartment feelings started to emerge. One resident proposed a moratorium on large-scale residential developments. That was when my hand shot up independently of my brain, and I ended up stammering out a proposal to limit new apartment and condo complexes “to appropriate neighborhoods” as an alternative to banning them altogether. I also blurted out a “Yes!” when the guy sitting next to me (we were a rump caucus of renters) proposed more mixed-use development in the city that would combine residential and retail space. But I ended up joining the bandwagon for a useless resolution to “ensure safe, clean, and secure neighborhoods.” At least it beat out the anti-apartment planks. During another part of the evening, someone proposed that Malden “adopt a simple system for citizens to communicate with the city in a timely matter regarding infrastructure issues, with a required response.” Fortunately, a few of us who had lived in or were familiar with Somerville were able to boil this down to “adopt a 311 system.”

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Bay State Puritanism strikes again

After posting yesterday about the extinction of gay bars, I decided to make an effort and go out to a martini place where the bartender once assured me that there's a "gay crowd" on Tuesdays. I was skeptical, since unofficial gay nights are generally on the slowest evening of the week, and they represent wishful thinking on the part of bar owners who hope to attract someone -- anyone -- on a Monday or Tuesday. So after I watched House with my usual mixed feelings of confusion and disbelief (interrupted by an occasional great line by Hugh Laurie), I changed into a non-work shirt (which is a work shirt that hasn't been dry cleaned in a while) and headed out. When I got to the bar at 11:30, there were only two guys there, so I guess it could have been all-gay. Unfortunately, the bartender told me that last call was at 11:15, so I was immediately sent on my way. That's a gay night? I would have been just as happy at a late-night diner, but that would have been an even more fantastic find than a martini bar outside of the Back Bay that stays open past David Letterman's opening monologue.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Gay bars and pay phones on verge of extinction?

So says Entrepreneur.com, which lists 10 types of business that may disappear over the next decade. Here is the verdict on same-sex watering holes:
Gay bars: As The Orlando Sentinel noted in a recent article, around the country gay bars have been going out of business as gay men and women have been gaining greater acceptance in society. What used to be a hangout for people who felt unwelcome elsewhere is becoming less necessary. Odds of survival in 10 years: As with many industries, the very best of them will endure; the rest won't.
Greater acceptance in society as a whole, particularly among younger generations, is indeed one reason for the drying-up of the gay bar scene. (I'm still mourning Dedo here in Boston, but then I'm old enough to remember the Napoleon Club, the 1270, and Buddy's.) Here are the other nine reasons: 2.) The raising of the drinking age to 21 and the prohibition of happy hours in some states (like Massachusetts) has taught young adults to find other ways to entertain themselves at just the time that they're establishing lifelong habits. And $10 martinis don't help. 3.) Neighborhood groups in Boston, New York, and other large cities are increasingly unlikely to tolerate gay bars in their midst, as they fight against anything that might be noisy or bring "outsiders" to the area. This isn't necessarily a form of homophobia, since gay residents are often the loudest opponents to gay bars. 4.) More gays and lesbians are moving out to the suburbs, both because such communities are becoming gay-friendly and because "livable" large cities are becoming so expensive. 5.) Rents and property values in gentrified cities (often gentrified by gay men) are so high that it doesn't make economic sense to open a business tailored to a narrow demographic group. 6.) Manhunt, craigslist, and other forms of online hooking up. 7.) Gay men and lesbians socializing together more than in the past, and the difficulty of figuring out a bar atmosphere that appeals to both groups but somehow doesn't attract a large straight clientele. 8.) Strippers and porn videos are not such a big draw now that bare skin is so accessible through other means. And they turn off a large segment of the gay clientele anyway (some of whom see go-go boys as an occasional treat rather than a weekly attraction). 9.) Musical tastes among gay men are a lot more splintered than during the disco era. Put three random gay men in a gay bar, and two of them (maybe all three) will flee with their fingers in their ears. 10.) Too many gay bars have aggressive patrons, which can turn off guys who just want to meet friends and aren't interested in going home with anyone. Unfortunately, one busy troll (sorry, I can't think of a euphemism) can make his way through an entire bar and ensure that dozens of guys will never come back.

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

My unexpectedly decadent bed

I finally put together my Crate & Barrel Pathway bed, and may the Earth forgive me for all the plastic, cardboard, styrofoam, and wood used to pack what had looked to be a simple metal frame. So far I've made three trips to my building's dumpster, and I haven't got rid of half the debris. The sad thing is that all the material used to ensure that the pieces of steel wouldn't shift one millimeter during shipment probably would have made an adequate bed for a homeless person who now sleeps on a metal grate.

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Friday, October 05, 2007

Offensively inoffensive TV

This sort of thing really makes me wary of watching anything on the major TV networks. From the AP:
A scene in TV's Desperate Housewives that used Philippine medical education for a punchline prompted angry calls from viewers, an online petition demanding an apology and criticism from Philippine officials. In the season premiere that aired Sunday on ABC, Teri Hatcher's character, Susan, goes in for a medical checkup and is shocked when the doctor suggests she may be going through menopause. ... "OK, before we go any further, can I check these diplomas? Just to make sure they aren't, like, from some med school in the Philippines?" Susan fires back. Viewers called the network to complain but the number of callers wasn't available, an ABC spokesman said Wednesday. As of Wednesday evening, more than 30,000 names were attached to an online petition seeking a network apology. ... ABC said it was considering editing the episode.
If an ill-informed and self-absorbed fictional character isn't allowed to say anything ill-informed and self-absorbed, I don't know why I would waste my time watching the TV show she's on. The chilling effect of ABC's "maybe we'll edit this out" statement scares me away from a series like Dirty Sexy Money, which is ostensibly about badly behaving people with money. I'm afraid it even makes me reluctant to watch Friday Night Lights, given how many story possibilities must be off limits on NBC. (There is, for example, the rule against TV characters choosing to have abortions.) Thank God for even below-par HBO shows.


Competing with myself in the blogosphere

The work-related blog that I'm helping to produce, Beyond Red & Blue, is now up and running. There's lots of stuff about politics, demographics, and just about anything that can be depicted through a map. Not so much with the TV or gay stuff.


Earl goes gay, The Office goes 10 minutes too long

I hope the writers of The Office are reading the message board for their show at Television Without Pity. This is a near-great show, but Michael's extreme stupidity has ruined a lot of episodes. I actually didn't mind the car-in-the-lake scene as much as the scene where he tries to take back "the turtles." But there seems to be a consensus emerging among fans: Michael is funny when he's overbearing, insensitive, and immature. He's not funny when he doesn't have the sense of a five-year-old. But I had a good TV night because My Name Is Earl had the most charming depiction of prison sex since Kiss of the Spider Woman. As someone already pointed out on the TWoP message board, Will and Grace was NEVER this gay.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The price of self-abuse

Today I was given a diagnosis of that thing on my face. It's an "angry zit," probably caused by my overenthusiastic application of anti-acne cream. Let that be a lesson to those of you going overboard with the antibacterial soap. The zit is supposed to go away if I leave it alone, and that strategy seems to have worked with the awful grinding noise the toilet in my new apartment was making every time I flushed, so I'm going to try it. That concludes the obligatory personal health-n-hygiene portion of this blog. Be thankful I was able to make my quota without any mention of my digestive system.


Monday, October 01, 2007

Skin deep

I have something on my left cheek. I think it's from stress, but it's stressing me out more than anything else that's been stressing me out lately, so I guess it will never go away. It's either: 1.) Adult acne. 2.) Cancer. 3.) A little bit of sunburn. (My skin ruptures when I look at a postcard from Provincetown.) 4.) A sexy-looking mole, which mistakenly landed on my face instead of Toby Maguire's. 5.) A welt, possibly from sleepwalking to an S&M party in the neighborhood. I tried various remedies over the weekend, which probably all cancelled each other out. The only thing left is to offer the Internet Gods the sacrifice of online humiliation. Look for me on YouTube soon.

Curb Your Gluttony

Curb Your Enthusiasm seems to be winding down the same way that Seinfeld did: with more emphasis on slapstick and more situations that seem to take place in a little town like Mayberry rather than a big city like New York or Los Angeles. In most recent episodes, Larry David runs into the same two or three people every time he leaves the house. But there was a good scene last week in an ice-cream shop, where a woman ahead of him in line leisurely sampled every damn flavor in the store before finally buying a vanilla cone. This was funny, but I wasn't really sure that this kind of entitled behavior was any more common these days. The next day, I found out. I was at a tacqueria for lunch, and the guy ahead of me ordered a small drink. This particular eatery has several types of fruit drinks and iced teas in addition to the standard sodas at the self-serve counter. So this guy samples every one of them, putting his cup under each spigot for a few seconds, then taking a few sips before dumping the rest of the liquid out. Of course, when he finally filled his cup, it was with Diet Coke.


Pottery Barn is a crockery tease

One of the first pieces of mail I got at my new apartment was a catalog from Pottery Barn, along with a letter that started, "Welcome to the neighborhood!" Wow! Had I failed to notice that one of their stores was in Malden? Or had they just opened that very day? Had my mere presence finally caused the city to reach a tipping point into gentrification? Did I smell burritos? No. Upon further investigation, I discovered that the nearest Pottery Barn is at least two cities away! So what gives them the right to "welcome" me to Malden? Family Dollar and Kappy's Liquors, not Pottery Barn, are paying property taxes to keep my streets clean and to keep police sirens blaring outside my window all night. So save your welcomes for Brookline and Newton, Pottery Barn. Your furniture is too silly for me anyway.

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