Friday, December 31, 2010

Q: Are we not degenerates? A: We are RadioShack.

We had a little Yankee swap at work last week. Weren't allowed to drink because we're now part of this uptight group whose idea of casual dress is a mock turtleneck tucked into high-waisted, pleated chinos, but it was still fun and we got to go home early (or go to a bar, as four of us chose instead). There was a $20 limit so I contributed a DVD of the first season of Extras, which is a pretty solid gift if you ask me. So much so that I nearly opened it myself. Most people brought cool stuff like gift cards and alcohol but you know there were some duds, including what I ended up with: the Desk Pets TrekBot Remote Control Robot. It's this tiny Phantom Menace-like two-wheeled dealy controlled—no shit—by "a unique patent pending five-button USB remote controller and charger." Patent pending? Holy living fuck, you'd better hurry with that.

At first I opened a pretty excellent gift consisting of a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and a bomber of Stone Smoked Porter, which I mistakenly thought I had drunk and written about earlier in the NFL season as part of my increasingly non-beer and non-football related "beer and football" series. Nevertheless, I could not have been happier. Until someone took it from me. So I opened a super-light gift bag that I hoped would be a gift card and it was, one of those American Express thingies. I was still annoyed until I reached the Homer Simpson conclusion that money can be exchanged for goods and services, so I could get my own beer and wine. Solid.

But then my boss—bearer of the coveted number one and therefore the last person to pick—didn't take kindly to my mocking the stupid TrekBot she had opened earlier and decided to swap it for the AmEx card. Ride over.

I was New York pissed and I pouted for awhile until noticing the goddamn thing still had a RADIOSHACK $19.99 sticker on it. (Turns out the person who brought it is this weird systems contractor who recently congratulated a coworker on her wedding before adding "Yeah, I was happily married for twenty years before it fell apart." Thanks?) So I figured I'd try to "return" it and get a store credit and pick out the un-shittiest thing they carry—a real challenge, as you know if you've ever stepped inside the store. I am forever covered with every kind of audio/video cable or component imaginable until the next technology wave introduces something new, and even then it will probably be wireless. Then RadioShack will be in some deep shit. This prescient Onion article from 2007 is spot-on from top to bottom—what a ceaselessly baffling operation.

That evening I resigned myself to a quick visit—I figured if I couldn't swing this deal then I'd bring it to my wife's family's Christmas Eve party and maybe toss it into the Yankee swap frenzy there. Luckily it didn't have to come to that: it was a smooth transaction, and the guy didn't even ask for my zip code or try to sell me batteries. (I grew up in a small town in central Massachusetts and it was a big deal when we got a RadioShack. It was the only place closer than Leominster or Nashua where a twelve-year-old boy could buy Bill Cosby cassettes, and even at that young age I thought it was odd of them to require my zip. Did they think shoppers were traveling from Los Angeles or something?) I'm thankful to the guy for making it easy for me but it was clear he and the other (male, of course; has a woman ever worked here?) employee were born to be RadioShack salesmen and/or pedophiles. Such an unpleasant people, with greasy hair and cheap Casio watches. I couldn't be bothered to put my $16 (thing had gone on sale I guess—shocker!) in store credit to immediate use. I had to leave.

Returning the day after Christmas (during the pre-storm errands I wrote about Wednesday) was a terrific move. The same two masochist bastards were working again, too, and when I saw the rack of iTunes gift cards my decision was made. (I'm not the biggest fan of iTunes because it behaves horribly even on Leopard, but $25 in downloads is $25 in downloads.) Add it to the additional $75 in iTunes cards I received from family and I'm a pretty happy guy who looks forward to spending it all next week, avoiding $1.29 songs like the plague. This delayed reward had a hiccup yesterday when I couldn't wait any longer to purchase "The Garden of Earthly Delights" by the United States of America. Would you care to guess what year it came out? You are correct!

So a happy, healthy new year goes out to our sweaty friends at the Shack. We are all better people in comparison, so long as they stick around.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Beer and football — week sixteen

The game: Patriots at Bills
The beer: Shipyard Blue Fin Stout
The result: Win, 34–3
The commentary: Once again I rocked a Starbucks iced chai as a warm-up, obtained during a pre-storm errand scramble. And then the Blue Fin Stout. Mmm… as tasty and comfortable as December football against a Thurman Thomas-less Bills team. This and my homemade Chex Mix (homemade because I add unsalted peanuts to a bag of original-flavor Chex Mix, which for some reason does not already contain peanuts) eventually treated me just fine as it grew more and more beautiful outside. Nothing much stands out from the game except for future All-Pro Tight End/Goofball Rob Gronkowski having his way with all defenders and Ryan Fitzpatrick proving once and for all that he is not the bearded droid Buffalo fans are looking for. And honestly, watching an opposing team march up the field on its opening drive and then be forced to settle for three points is almost reassuring at this point—why teams continue to not go for it on fourth and goal when Brady's about to get the ball is beyond me.

Though the victory (and the earned bye week and home-field advantage) made it pleasant enough to deal with being trapped at home, I was still trapped at home. This was some real snow: between Sunday and Monday I shoveled for about three hours—curse my corner lot!—and that doesn't include the driveway, which we have plowed. But it wasn't so bad because the original Sonik Truth helped me catch up on PFW in Progress podcasts (that's Patriots Football Weekly.) I was a study in primary colors—red hoodie and blue hat with proud yellow stripe—and if the wind- and snow-driven whiteout thought I would surrender like some Bears cornerback then it was mistaken. (Meanwhile, two assholes up the street still haven't cleared their front walks.)

The storm (technically not a blizzard, according to the smug forecasters on the news who couldn't help but celebrate rare accuracy) officially canceled work on Monday, thus saving me a vacation day (A. and I had already taken Monday and Tuesday off). I spent that day alternately shoveling, watching Caddyshack: The Inside Story and stealing my wife's Snuggie. It was as stress-riddled as the AFC East contest the previous afternoon—even having to occasionally clean up after uncooperative drifting snow couldn't get me down.

Earlier in the weekend, Christmas and Christmas Eve were all kittens and pancakes if you ignore the two hundred fifty miles worth of driving, and that wasn't so bad either with Sonik Truth II providing the greatest Christmas playlist of all time. Belatedly, here are a handful of seasonal recommendations for readers (!) to track down in the next eleven months:

1. Nat King Cole – The Christmas Song
The original trio-only 1946 recording with no overdubbed strings. Taken from The Complete Capitol Recordings of the Nat King Cole Trio.

2. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – Big Yule Log Boogie
The early part (0:22 to 0:47) served as the outgoing message on my answering machine each December from 1996 to 1999. Twenty-five seconds is a long time. Currently found on the two-disc reissue of Extra Width.

3. Virus – Xmas Submarine (Es Kommt ein Schiff Geladen)
From a wonderful 1971 compilation called Heavy Christmas. I just discovered it this month.

4. Johnny Cash – The Ballad of the Harp Weaver
"Just. My. Size." Deeply, sincerely moving. From The Christmas Spirit.

5. Drifters – The Bells of St. Mary's
My favorite Christmas song. No collection is complete without the Drifters doing this and "White Christmas." Both are available as a "digital 45" on iTunes and Amazon. Hmm, that sounds familiar!

In closing I'd like to pay respects to Captain Beefheart. The man's music isn't everyone's cup of tea but our world is a better place if only for this exchange from Trout Mask Replica: "The name of the composition is 'Neon Meate Dream of an Octafish.' [Chuckles, strikes match.] No, it's 'Hair Pie.'" Once I track down and read the contextual 33⅓ volume I'll be ready to write about an album that once scared the hell out of me.

Up next: Tom Brady plays three quarters of a meaningless football game against the lousy Miami Dolphins because that's what he gets paid to do. Happy new year!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Beer and football — week fifteen

The game: Packers at Patriots
The beer: Shipyard Prelude Special Ale
The result: Win, 31–27; Fabio, 5–4–0
The commentary: I went to bed at 1:30 for the dorkiest reason possible: the Survivor finale. It was sort of a complicated television night, the plan was to watch Survivor live (pretty much) while recording the game. (I couldn't record both because we had free premium channels for three months—synching up nicely with twelve weeks of Dexter, and not by accident—and the DVR was too close to full thanks to a handful of the-blank-blanker movies (The Hurt Locker, The Kite Runner, The Sext Bronzer). So along with the stress that comes with Survivor (surprisingly high) I had to prepare myself for the DVR FULL—PLEASE DELETE PROGRAMS TO CONTINUE RECORDING message. I'm glad it never happened because I still don't know what I would have done.

I ended up drinking the Prelude during the show. I don't know if I've just had too much beer lately (gallons and gallons in the past two weeks) but I didn't think too much of it. I wish I knew more about beer to be able to express certain flavors that don't do it for me, all I know is it was similar to the Thanksgiving beer that was also just alright… maybe it's a wheat thing. I'm excited for next week's stout though, also from Shipyard—I picked it up during our trip north after having dinner at Federal Jack's, a sort of brewpub that serves some delicious haddock tacos but is otherwise exceptionally unromantic. (Later that night, however, we were the only people in the theater to see the 9:30 showing of the new Harry Potter movie. We didn't make out like teenagers learning about their bodies but it was fun to be able to talk out loud to each other as if we were watching at home.) I had a couple of Blue Fin Stouts with dinner and bought one of those and the Prelude to help finish out the regular season. (A stop at the market in Ogunquit center produced last week's Rogue and one more that I'm very excited about saving for the closing Dolphins game.)

So Survivor first: I couldn't be happier with the result. Fabio might be a knucklehead (particularly for letting the "Fabio" nickname stick and not punching whomever gave it to him) but he seems like a good guy and he closed out as well as anyone in the history of the show. I'm also certain he was stoned out of his mind during the reunion special. Chase is a buffoon… how he calls recurring paranoia a "strategy" is beyond me. And I knew Sash wouldn't get a single vote but it was nice of him to dress like an English banker for the night. Watching him overcome the urge to emotionally wound everyone on the jury was almost as fun as Dan's "do I have to wear these cowboy boots now or can I give them to my manservant for Christmas?" expression.

And what a great job by my man Jeff Probst, as always. (Remember when notable fucktard Bryant Gumbel used to host these reunions?) Switching to "On second thought, fuck you and forget I asked" mode after Shannon didn't take him up on his offer to redeem himself for the "Are you gay?" exchange was amazing. Survivor would be a good show without Jeff but I'm not sure it would have the top-priority spot in our series settings the way it does now. I can even overlook his minutiae-driven narration during challenges—he is perfect for this show. (I'm disappointed that "drop your buffs" hasn't entered common lexicon. Same thing with "dance for your life" from So You Think You Can Dance. "The client just called to tell us they're slashing their advertising budget. So drop your buffs, everyone—we have to redo the entire campaign. And you there… Johnson? You'd better dance for your life if you want to keep the account.")

Hey, there was a football game too! Let me tell you about football: the average game lasts one hour on the game clock, airs for three hours when factoring in timeouts and other breaks and contains about twenty minutes of actual football. I know because the skip-ahead on our remote is set to thirty seconds, so I was skipping immediately from play to play (except when the Pats went no-huddle in the fourth). This is no way to watch a game unless you just want to go to bed—before I knew it there were only five minutes left in the game and the Pats were barely hanging onto a four-point lead. Instant quickening of the pulse, to the point where I started taking deep breaths and forcing myself to settle down. If this team loses the Super Bowl because Mike Carey's crew is too chickenshit to call an in-the-grasp sack then I will surely die.

What is it with sparkling-new quarterbacks and massive white running backs against this defense? They turn into Joe Montana and Jim Brown—bring on another shot at Joeflacco and Ray Rice. (I hope I don't regret that come January.) The defense reverted to a week-seven sieve-like state and still won, just like they've been doing all along. The Packers should have been up by so much more at the half but they weren't, just like opposing teams have been doing all along. I'm a little worried but not too much, since you can correct things like foolish penalties and (via benching) Brandon Meriweather's extended exercises in mental retardation. It does help when underrated guard Dan Connolly makes the best special-teams play since week four (thanks Dan, if not for you I might have gotten no sleep at all). At this point it's comforting to know they'll probably be able to tighten things up and rest key players while enjoying an extra week of preparation for their round-two opponent. And also to know that it often snows in January.

Up next: The pesky Buffalo Bills host the Pats in a welcome early-afternoon contest. A win here means the good guys clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. A Jets loss to the lowly Bears means the same thing but I want my boys to earn that fucker. Cheers!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Justified carpooling with satanic results

I have yet another work party tonight. I will not get drunk this time, and am even considering the wine route because I'm probably still pissing out beer from several recent mammoth sessions. This party is company-wide and is being held up the street at the Children's Museum, relatively close to my wife's office. So we decided to drive in this morning and park in that area in order to make it easier for me to get home afterward—the party gets out around 8:30 and driving should get me home quite a bit earlier than the 9:30 train would. Plus I'll be forced to be careful with the booze and instead overindulge in free food.

I felt a little bad about driving (and paying for parking, which is quite difficult for me to do) but the pain was eased in Revere when we switched the radio to WMBR just as they'd started a three-song Black Sabbath block. We were treated to "Into the Void," "Planet Caravan" and "The Wizard" by the time we reached the tunnel—far out! (I'm the same guy who nearly lost his shit at another work function—my, but we do drink—because someone played "War Pigs," "Paranoid," "Iron Man" and "Fairies Wear Boots" on the jukebox. And A. is the same girl who dressed up as "Fairies Wear Boots" two Halloweens ago. We are the cutest thing.) I will be in an excellent mood tonight, sipping white wine and stuffing my mouth with mashed potatoes and shrimp. And then maybe I'll get mugged on the way to the car, and as I lie on the cold ground I'll think of the part toward the end of "Into the Void" where the soloing guitar track rejoins the main riff. I will realize that life has meaning. Everything is alright. Then I will drive through the gate because I won't be able to pay the fare.

Beer and football — week fourteen

The game: Patriots at Bears
The beer: Rogue Dead Guy Ale
The result: Win, 36–3
The commentary: A. and I went up to Maine over the weekend and I came home with a bunch of beer. One of them was the Dead Guy Ale, something I can find anywhere but that I couldn't resist because the Bears were about to get creamed. (Too bad Sam Adams Cream Stout doesn't come in bomber form—that would have been a better metaphor.) Now Urlacher—who did absolutely nothing in this game—is willing to admit that the Pats are the best team in the AFC. How mighty fucking gracious of his humiliating-first-round-elimination-at-best ass.

I was pretty all set by the time Hoyer was on the field. I drank the Dead Guy really, really quickly—I'm not sure if I loved it or if was just "drinkable," the same way I'll fly through a terrible book (like David Baldacci's The Winner, perhaps the worst thing I've ever read) and take my time with a book I'm enjoying (currently, Jon Krakauer's excellent Under the Banner of Heaven is taking me far too long). After that I moved onto my bonus Mayflower Thanksgiving Ale, the one I forgot to give my brother-in-law a couple of weeks ago (it tasted as OK as it did when I re-watched the Lions game). Then I topped that off with a bottle of Winter Warmer. I guess I'm a productive drunk though because I ended up doing a shitload of laundry that night—I even remember how Dexter ended.

The game was another fun one to watch—it's good to be a Pats fan these days—though I'll admit to wondering if a field goal might have been enough to win after each team went three-and-out on its first possession. I loved the 2007 imperiousness of Brady heaving it up to end the first half with six points, mixed with the pragmatic 2004 result of Deion Branch being on the receiving end of said touchdown. Randy Moss (poor bastard) was the man when he was here but this offense is now both exciting and efficient—for crying out loud, Brady's last interception was a hail-mary pass eight weeks ago! What a time to be alive.

Winnable remaining games against three wavering opponents mean anything other than home-field advantage throughout the playoffs will be a disappointment. On that topic, the local postgame show on WBZ—hosted by historical Patriots ass-kissers Steve Burton, Dan Roche, Steve DeOssie and Scott "Exactly What the Hell Is Going on with My Eye Anyway" Zolak—presented the online poll question "Will anything less than a Super Bowl win be a failure for the Pats?" Almost sixty percent answered "No." What in the worldwide fuck?

Belichick had his first good draft in six years, and because rookies are finally succeeding we're supposed to ignore the standard of excellence he and Brady have put in place and just accept anything worse than first? I root for a team that is nothing at all like, say, the Jaguars, whose fans will be pleased as punch just to make the playoffs even as they get shot like a cannonball out of the first round. The Patriots have established a winning tradition and I want a Super Bowl championship every goddamn year and get bummed out for days whenever all goes wrong. But a bunch of regional morons probably think it was a neat idea to hang a "16–0" banner in Gillette Stadium (recognizing a regular-season achievement—isn't that was we used to give Peyton shit about?) after an unsuccessful finish. You're fuckin-A right I was part of the shrewd forty percent who answered YES to that poll.

Lastly, I follow a lot of football blogs and I don't understand what this Football Outsiders headline means: "Is Will Muschamp Another Ron Zook or Another Bo Pelini?" To paraphrase Lisa Simpson, I know some of those words but that sentence makes no sense.

Up next: A Green Bay team that once scared the hell out of me comes limping into Foxborough. Injuries suck, as proven by the fact that a healthy, horrible Bears team might win the division over the decimated, super-talented Packers—too bad. Cheers!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Bruins fans are the worst

I'm riding the train home after a night of drinking (hooray for Whale's Tale!) at a work holiday party, and the rowdiest bunch of hockey fans in the history of poor taste is sitting five rows in front of me. I'm considering reminding them that their sorry excuse for a hockey team hasn't won the Stanley Cup since 1972 and hasn't accomplished anything of significance since I think 1990 (I'm a long-time—if lapsed—follower of the Canadiens, thanks to Patrick Roy). Said superfans are chanting some bullshit that I can't make out over the greatest Christmas playlist of all time on my iPod and I am thoroughly perplexed by the confidence they have in their team—most likely the unreasonable last-minute shot of Dewar's before leaving isn't helping. Now James Brown is telling me that Christmas is love and I'm inclined to be swept away by that for the remainder of the ride. I haven't even reached Lynn yet. I wonder if anyone drank as much as I did.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Beer and football — week thirteen

The game: Jets at Patriots
The beer: Heavy Seas Mutiny Fleet Smoke on the Water Smoked Porter
The result: Win, 45–3
The commentary: There may have been a "godless chill of New England" in the air (New York Post columnists are so colorful!) but the hometown team was torching everything in sight. A new king reigns over the AFC East and it's the same as the old one, despite what some loudmouth Jets might have had you believe. I actually enjoy Rex Ryan—he's really funny and honest in a way that frightens beat writers. Boston sports-talk shitheads get all bent out of shape over supposed "disrespect" and now they'll blather for a week about how we shut them up good. Get over your cross-eyed, Bledsoe-backup ass. Ryan is good for football because he should want to fucking win games, and he says so—would you rather he got all starry-eyed trying to scheme against Tully Banta-Cain? (All the same, I'm glad Bill Belichick is our coach.)

Regarding the game, there's really not much to say that wasn't clear from watching—it's unbelievable how the Pats had their way with everything. I liked going into halftime with a twenty-one point lead but I'd seen teams come back too often against this defense so I wasn't at all comfortable. But when Sanchez threw a perfect pass to Brando Spikes I knew it was all over but the shouting—I just didn't yet know that it was truly, terrifically over.

I'll admit I didn't finish the entire Heavy Seas bomber. I was pretty all set following a marathon session of Murphy's Stout and Rapscallion Lager at O'Neill's Pub in Salem the day before, so much so that I fell asleep halfway through Dexter that night. And I was in pretty bad shape for most of yesterday until I had the bright idea to eat a sleeve of saltines in the middle of the afternoon, followed by leftover Thai food, a frozen burrito (baked instead of microwaved; it might take an hour but I'm no savage) and a huge glass of milk for dinner. Only in the second half was I able to to finally pop it open—don't worry, I corked it and will finish tonight. It's a really nice beer and luckily not too "smoked" (like other smoked ones I've had) because it might have made me barf all over myself. Like the Jets. Why do we drink? Because the Jets still suck. That's why.

Up next: It's a rematch of Super Bowl XX in Chicago. I've had no fear of the Bears ever since Brady juked an overrated Brian Urlacher out of his cleats a few years ago—throw in Jay Cutler and I expect a blowout that directly leads to the Bears missing the playoffs. Cheers!