Wednesday, January 27, 2016

History will link me to Beavis

We're all trying to make a difference in the world, and sometimes I wonder what legacy I'll leave. I supposed I've helped shaped a few sixth grade minds, and that could have some a lasting impact. But if we're talking about how I've made my mark in American history, there's my IMDB page, of course, my top achievement to my inclusion in the Wikipedia pages for Beavis, Butt-Head, and Beavis and Butt-Head.

Once upon a time I was 21 and working at The Boston Phoenix fresh of college. It was the alternative paper dissed by Mark Ruffalo in Spotlight, and it's also where I met my awesome wife. My job was to type in concert listings, a task for which I was paid the tidy sum of $6.50/hour -- and I had to compete for a month to land the gig. Anything I wrote for the paper paid extra, so soon I was reviewing the Barney the Dinosaur movie for $60, doing comedy bits for $40 a pop. The holy grail was a real-live article.

I was young and hungry, and when the voice of my generation found itself at a series finale, I saw an opportunity. I pitched an article mourning the loss of Beavis and Butt-Head, and they realized this was the reason they'd hired a 21 year-old. Which meant my first big article included words like "fart," "fart-knocker," "turd-burglar," and "nihilism." Reading it now, I'm struck by how heavily my editor put his fingerprints on it, as well as my gross factual errors (this was pre-Youtube). But because this was years before an endless slew of blogs and webzines would cover every story to death, I was the only game in town. (A recurring theme for me.) And so I'm quoted on the wikipedia page.

From the show's page:
In 1997, Dan Tobin of The Boston Phoenix commented on the series' humor, stating that it transformed "stupidity into a crusade, forcing us to acknowledge how little it really takes to make us laugh."
From Butt-Head:
Dan Tobin of The Boston Phoenix described Butt-head as "ringleader, the devious visionary."
From Beavis:
Dan Tobin of The Boston Phoenix described Beavis as "the sidekick and follower" who developed into "more of a loose cannon".
I know that anyone can edit Wikipedia, but I swear it wasn't me who added these. Still, very neat.

And I can't find it now, but years ago I stumbled across a lawsuit about fire which blamed the show, and lawyers had twisted my descriptions so it sounded like I was criticizing them (when in reality, mine was a love letter). But that seems to have disappeared off the interwebs. Wikipedia, however, lives on. And my connection to the turd-burglars in question is etched in stone... until one of your logs into Wikipedia and deletes it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

This blog is a teaching resource?

In certain teaching circles, this blog is kind of a big deal. To paraphrase what I said last summer:
Teachers in Massachusetts have to become certified in teaching English Language Learners. The state set up a course to cover this, but by all accounts it's a nightmare and a lot of work. So one workaround is to pass a teacher test on Sheltered English Immersion. And if the choice is to give up my Mondays all fall or spend half a summer half-studying in my hammock...
So I took (and passed) the test, but because I thought the provided study materials were WILDLY insufficient, the next day I decided to harness the power of the WORLD WIDE WEB and write a comprehensive blog post about what was on the test and my advice for preparing yourself. I had looked for prep materials, but because I was among the go this route, there was nothing out there. Yes, I was a trail-blazer! And my post became the only game in town. And soon my post went viral, or least teacher-viral.

At Back to School Night, a parent and colleague Arlington told me that in Arlington's test prep course, they had given out my blog post as a resource. I also heard this from a friend in Brookline, so I think it's only fair to assume every town in Massachusetts is using me as a resource. Maybe not, but if I'm to believe the comments thread (49 and counting), it is in fact aiding some people's studying.

So as is becoming a theme here, I have many claims to fame in life. I've told you about Vince Neil and Matt Hasselbeck, now we cover my contribution to the world of teaching. Maybe next time I'll tell you about the Wikipedia page for Beavis.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

That Time I Went to Vince Neil's Birthday Party

Once upon a time, I worked on a television sitcom on the WB network. As I sometimes say: Not only did they cancel the show, the canceled the whole network! One of their hits was The Surreal Life, a reality show that dumped C-list celebs in a house to be weird. To do some cross-promotion, former Mötley Crüe frontman Vince Neil won a guest spot on our show, Greetings from Tucson. After the episode, he invited the whole stage crew to his birthday party.

A party thrown by someone from Mötley Crüe, one of the all-time hardest partying bands? Okay!

The party was thoroughly unwild, a little awkward, in a nice but unremarkable Hancock Park house. The good part it was jam-packed with C-list celebrities, and the ratio of celeb to civilian was pretty high.

In addition to Vince Neil, there was Gabrielle Carteris, aka Andrea Zuckerman from Beverly Hills, 90210; Jeri, a Survivor villain who was on minute 14:55 of her allotted 15; NBA rebound king/future honorary North Korean Dennis Rodman; a guy who was allegedly dating Priscilla Presley; and my ninth grade hero MC Hammer.  I stood next to Hammer as the cake came out for Vince Neil, and I wished like hell he'd start a conversation with me. I'd been in LA long enough to know it was wise of me not to corner him and breathlessly confess what "Turn This Mutha Out" once meant to me.

Nothing much happened at the party, but I had already had my Vince Neill moment earlier in the week. Jeff Garlin was booked as Vince's manager, but he wasn't able to make it to an early rehearsal, the table read where the cast reads the script at a table for the writers, network, studio, and staff. And because I'm awesome, they asked me to be Jeff Garlin at the table read.

So I ran lines with Vince Neil at the start of the week, and I went to his birthday party at the end of the week, and I'm not sure that he and I actually ever had a conversation. Hollywood!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

My Kinda Sorta Claim To Fame

The early Xmas eve shift featured the families of two high school drama club friends. Jay and Amy were George and Emily in Our Town, and I was Doc Gibbs. By the end of my sophomore year we were pals. And by senior year, with the two of them at college, I became fully radicalized against the "jockocracy," irritated that my small town preferred sports to terrible productions of Thornton Wilder plays. Then again, Walpole had a pretty high octane sports program. My freshman year, the football team made the top ten nationally, and our quarterback Todd Collins would go on to replace Jim Kelly in Buffalo and make $18 million in 12 NFL seasons.

Todd Collins and I kinda sorta had a conversation once. He was a senior who'd finish his year upsetting Brockton for the state championship. I also took the field at Foxboro Stadium that day, except I had a plume in my hat and a clarinet in my hand. I was a fat freshman class secretary with a class rank of five and a wide range of Heathcliff Huxtable sweaters. All Todd Collins and I had in common was that our parents had both chosen to live in roughly the same 21 square mile area. Also two ears, breathing oxygen, metabolizing carbohydrates, and the like.

But we found ourselves walking down the hall in the same direction at the same time, and I knew it was my chance! "Deliworks is coming," he read off a neon lunch ad. He was more talking near me, but I pounced. In my most wry voice, I smirked, "What is Deliworks?"

"It's a sandwich," he said in an Awwwww yeah way. I tried to make a lame joke about it being of a state of mind, but my moment had passed. Whatever, I just wanted to kinda sorta talk to a future NFL quarterback.

It turns out I kinda sorta talked to two. A few years ago, Jay asked Amy what ever happened to her old boyfriend's buddy we hung around with sometimes. "Oh, he's in the Super Bowl." I guess I kinda sorta hung out with Matt Hasselbeck? I have a vague recollection of "Nick's friend," but Nick was a lacrosse player and I was an oboist. When he introduced a muscle-bound friend, I assumed he'd treat me like the football players at my own school, and I kept an oboist's distance. Who knew the guy would go on to have more passing yards than Steve Young?

But Amy knew him. And she knew Todd Collins, because apparently he was sweet on her BFF. And in 2007, in a weird bit of serendipity, Hasselbeck's Seahawks met the Redskins, suddenly helmed by the elevated backup Collins. Which is to say, one time there was an NFL playoff game where both quarterbacks were people Amy used to know. My story is somewhat less amazing: One time there was an NFL playoff game where both quarterbacks were guys I kinda sorta knew in high school. Not an actual legitimate claim to fame, more of a kinda sorta claim to fame. But at this point I'll take it.

* * *

New year's resolution: blog again. And my college column ran on Wednesdays, so think of this as Surgical Strikes meets Misadventures in Dentistry (that is a super Dan-Tobin-inside-joke). One post a week, updated Wednesdays. How long shall I stick by this? Even money to 1, 3, or forever.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Grape Leaf Wrap



My wife has a long history of leaving me by myself. Once upon a time, I'd make nachos. Last weekend, I bought pizza. Last night, I cooked butternut squash -- I'm doing better. So that means today I made my go-to sandwich, which is simple and healthy and super-delicious.

Mix it up however. Try a schmear of mustard or pesto, swap the veggies, use cabbage or kale instead of lettuce. I like it best with grape leaves, but I'll use leftover chicken, steak or fish. I like the junky Mission tortillas, cheap peppers, expensive olives.




The Grape Leaf Wrap
  • Tortilla
  • Mayonnaise
  • Sriracha
  • Lettuce or Greens
  • Carrots, cut into sticks
  • Kalamata Olives
  • Banana Peppers

You would also benefit from having:

  • Grape leaves or leftover meat
  • Avocado, sliced
  • Blue cheese, crumbled

Ahem:

  1. Schmear a big tortilla with sriracha and mayo.
  2. Leave room at one or both ends to close it up. Make a bed of greens, arrange the grape leaves, surround with carrots, top with avocado, dot with peppers, olives, and blues cheese, cover with greens.
  3. Roll into a wrap, wildly overstuffing to create something you're afraid to put down. I do it open like a gyro unless I'm packing it to go, in which case I go smaller and close the wrap.
Enjoy!


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Stuff I Liked in 2014

I'm a sucker for year-end best lists, but I'm not knowledgable enough to give a definitive rundown of the best music, movies, TV, whatever. But here's some stuff I loved from 2014:
  • Review, Comedy Central – Andrew Daly reviews life experiences people write in to ask about, and the show within a show is often hilarious. Someone suggests addiction and he becomes a cocaine addict, then he takes his babysitter to her prom and the cocaine reappears. The brilliant episode entitled "Pancakes, Divorce, Pancakes" left me gasping for air, as did his journey into space. Be sure to Youtube the Australian original, which is also fantastic.
  • Bass Drum of Death, Rip This – I caught these guys at the Middle East two days before this album dropped and they put on one of the best live shows I can remember. Possibly my favorite working band, all their albums are worth checking out.
  • Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars – I'm a sixth grade English teacher, so I read a lot of YA. Two great books that became faithful, excellent movies. Oddly both star Shaleine Woodley with Ansel Elgort as brother in one, lover in the other. As I often say, even if you saw the movies, you'll still enjoy the books!
  • Dum Dum Girls, Too True – I've finally made my peace with the Dum Dum Girlss. For years, I could not forgive them from cleaning up the wild, raw sound that made I Will Be an all-time favorite. By album three, they're like the new Simpsons -- nowhere near as good as the old stuff, but it's still pretty good on its own.
  • Edge of Tomorrow – We popped it in to laugh at the new Tom Cruise movie, but it turned out to be a clever and hilarious action movie with real heart.
  • Barack Obama – I got behind him early in 2008 and I've never looked back, never had a moment of buyer's remorse, have defended him at every turn. And despite a bad election, he had a good year, especially at the end. Dude's gotten done just about all he could in a murderous political climate where the goal is to thwart anything he proposes, even when he proposes Republicans' own ideas. Year ends with immigration reform, restores relations with Cuba, and an economic boom. Four more years!
  • Miso – I combine it with rice vinegar and olive oil to make my go-to salad dressing. Without a lot of work, it makes for amazing ramen. Cheap, healthy, great food find.
Happy new year!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

That time my hat blew under a subway car

I'm the Secretary of Education!
I'm a very important man!
It was the night I was coming back from purchasing elements of my Halloween costume. I had left the store thinking goth Willy Wonka, but on Halloween I just dressed funny and told people I was the secretary of education. "The real secretary of education doesn't dress like this," I'd admit to perplexed sixth graders. "His tie is much bigger." It was a good costume.

The clerk had laughed when he gave my tophat its own bag, and I had to admit I found it excellent. At the station, I put my backpack and two costume bags on the ground, and I waited for the train. When it arrived, the wind blew my hat bag several feet away. I ran after it, but it kept blowing farther down the platform. I was just a guy chasing his hat. But all the oncoming train could see was a guy running toward the tracks as a train was pulling into the station. So he honked at me. I stopped. And I watched as my hat blew onto the tracks and got run over by the Red Line train.

There goes $12, I thought. I figured I'd buy a replacement hat locally tomorrow. Frustrating, but not debilitating. When the train left, I went to survey the damage. And the hat was fine! I had also purchased a cane, so I laid on the ground and used it to tap the hat into the bag, then catch a handle and lift it up. The hat was fine! I gave a thumbs up to the guy who'd watched the whole thing unfold, then clipped the hat bag onto my backpack and got back to doing a crossword puzzle on my phone.

It's not easy being the secretary of education.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Going off(ish) the grid

I used to get lost a lot, but now the magical iPhone in my pocket always knows where to send me. The magical iPhone in my pocket can tell me the weather, and give me messages from the wife and friends, it can show me movies and let me play games and give me news. I know the answer to any question, because once I take the magical iPhone out of my pocket, I have the entire internet at my whim. And if you believe I yam who I yam in part due to the magical iPhone in my pocket, doesn't that sort of make me a cyborg?

Tomorrow I'm planning to ditch the magical iPhone. We're headed to Maine to a semi-remote island, around five hours from home, and I'm going to attempt to go off(ish) the grid. The island has 332 residents and no restaurants, one store, one "tea room." I'm leaving my computer at home, and while I'm keeping the phone for emergencies (and, okay, weather), I'm moving email and Instagram and Facebook and games to the purgatory of the back pages, by Fandango and Flappy Bird. I'm going as off the grid as I reasonably can, spending a week reading physical paper books, writing with a pen and notebook. I'm going... analog. Hope it's a nice week for you until I return. Cheers.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Two days in the biking life

Once again, I determined a location made no sense to get to by any means other than bicycle. Last time that resulted in two dozen 15-minute rides, this time it was four hour-long adventures. Gorgeous days both times, with long stretches on a bike path along the Charles River. But halfway through trip number four, I was gassed. I knew an hour and a half in one sitting was okay but two hours was too much, and it turns out three hours in two days is okay,  four is too beaucoup. It's good to know the current limits of my constitution, I suppose.

As a biker, I'm exceptionally slow. I have a mountain bike with fat tires that make me feel invincible against dirt or grass or gravel or curbs, which come up more than I would have thought. But I have to work extra hard to pedal them on city streets. Also, I'm just a slow guy. So I get passed a lot, although I did pass someone else recently. But it hardly counts because she was a Hubway rider without a helmet.

In my pantheon of annoying bikers, the Hubway Rider Without Helmet is my least favorite. I'm generally in favor of the bike-sharing program, but I can't comprehend riding through Boston proper without a helmet. City biking, while not exactly extreme, does put you alongside monsters that could mangle you good. I find it unforgivably irresponsible to bike without a helmet, and I imagine the helmetless Hubway people grabbing their bikes thinking, "I had a bike when I was a kid, how hard could it be?"

Your hair is not that delicate, or wonderful. Just wear a helmet.

(Photo stolen from my Instagram)

Friday, August 8, 2014

The boomin' iced coffee setup

My summertime iced coffee setup is pretty sweet. Any time we have leftover coffee in the carafe after brewing for the morning, I add it to a pitcher in the fridge. Sometimes I'll brew a batch up just to add to our Strategic Iced Coffee Reserves. I know some people monkey with proportions on iced coffee to offset the watering down from ice cubes. But these people have clearly not used some of this excess to make coffee ice cubes. When they melt they inject more coffee, so the resulting beverage is just like my hot setup, just all Eskimo'd.

Sugar dissolves best in hot liquids, which is why my engineer father used to add it before the cream could cool it down. (He now takes it black.) Dunkin Donuts used to dissolve their iced coffee sugar in a bit hot coffee, or maybe they still do -- I now take "liquid sugar" in my DD iced coffee, which is just sugar syrup. But sugar syrup involved boiling and cooling water, so I use a trick I got from a bartending book: put confectioner's sugar and water into a jelly jar and shake the crap out of it.

The recipe: scoop powdered sugar into a spill-proof Contigo mug, add a shot of cold coffee, seal, and shake like a martini. Add coffee, cream, and coffee ice cubes. The Contigo keeps the ice unmelted for hours, enjoy the new summertime staple.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Checking in on old friends: Digital Underground, Sex Packets


Most people's knowledge of Digital Underground begins and ends with the Humpty Dance, but I became obsessed. Sex Packets was the ultimate bait and switch -- I bought the tape expecting an album of Humpty-Hump's adventures, but he was only a minor figure in the DU pantheon. The main character was actually Shock G, or Humpty without the fake nose. His partner was Money B, but they soon expanded to Wu-Tang levels; Tupac's first record appearance is on Digital Underground's second album.

The lyrics were fine, but I got into the production. They were sampling P-Funk in a way that leaned toward the Bomb Squad, and I became obsessed with figuring out who makes the music part of the hip hop song. The DJ? The producer? Who made the bass line in "The Humpty Dance"? What else has he done that I can listen to? I chased down everything -- numerous cassingles, follow-up EPs and albums, even the Money B side project Raw Fusion. Aside from one transcendent "Doowutchalike" remix, I was out of luck. I listened to The Body-Hat Syndrome once, but by the time I graduated high school, I had moved on.

During today's epic weed-fest, I popped in Sex Packets, but it wasn't quite as much fun as revisiting Appetite for Destruction or The Low End Theory, as I did recently. It turns out to be more of An Album I Used to Love than An Album I Still Love. Still, always nice to check in on MC Blowfish and a character the liner notes identifies as Shmoovy Shmoov. Samoans do the Humpty-Hump, and so should you.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Living in the cloud

My phone died recently, but aside from the cost of replacement, it was not painful because so little of my info is stored on the actual device. I live in the cloud, so I'm a lot less vulnerable to hardware failures. All my recent files, plus a lot of my archives, are on Google Drive. My to-do list is on Workflowy. My music is on Rhapsody (except for the stuff that isn't). My photos are on iCloud, and I'm planning to double up on Dropbox. A couple years ago, my work computer crashed and I just grabbed a random laptop and barely skipped a beat.

The cloud is idiot-proof, which is great for me since I'm an idiot. Now I can drop my phone in the toilet without incident! No more forgetting to email documents to myself, or losing flash drives. I still prefer Powerpoint to Google Presentation, but if I forget to close the file at home, it's not updated at school. But Google Drive saves with every keystroke. That's exactly the kind of idiot-proofing I need.

Plus, it's called The Cloud. I love clouds!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

I might need to delete 2048 from my phone

The concept of 2048 is simple: combine 2's to make 4's, 4's to make 8's, bigger and bigger until you reach the 2048 tile or run out of space. It's two game-noises are deeply satisfying, and no matter how bad you are, games last a while. I quickly became obsessed. Eventually I googled strategies and found one I liked (biggest numbers on top, preferably in a corner) and I realized 2's aren't an annoyance, they're the raw materials -- every 2048 is made of a thousand 2s. I achieved the 2048 tile and put the game away.

A week later, I opened it back up, but it felt stupid playing a game I'd already beaten. But the game also featured challenges, which ask you to reach certain tiles within a set number of turns. I did 38 challenges, then discovered the regular game could still be fun post-2048. I could try to beat my high score, and shoot for 4096 tile. I've since reached 2048 six more times, including twice yesterday.

And I'm starting to wonder if I need to issue an edict similar to my years-ago Bejeweled ban. That was on my Palm Pilot, and my screen had squares etched into it by my stylus endlessly linking jewels. I got clean, but fell back off the wagon after downloading Bejeweled for iPhone. I had to go cold turkey to break that addiction, but I'm a recovering gamer and risks remain. It seems i'm in a relapse now with 2048. When I saw numbers combining when I tried to sleep, I took a break. But maybe, just to be safe,I should bury the app a few screens back, between American Airlines and Voice Memos, just to get to be in charge again.

Friday, August 1, 2014

My benevolent dictatorship

I briefly toyed with pursuing an International Relations major in college, so that was kind of my crew. I now have friends at the FBI, SEC, and with the Foreign Service. Souvenirs were purchased for me during a two-year stay in Uzbekistan. One IR friend once postulated that the best system of government is a benevolent dictatorship. You're the dictator, with absolute power, but you legitimately love your people and only want what's best for them.  In that regard, teaching is a benevolent dictatorship. I try my hardest to help them to grow as readers, writers, and human beings, but when Mr. Tobin is talking, you are not. We don't get much in the teaching game, but we do get the opportunity to rule unequivocally for a couple hours a day. Also summers off.

Party like it's 2005

Once upon a time, back when our emails were still at yahoo, there was a blog called Surgical Strikes. The term refers to a super-precise military operation, but I used it to describe my laser-focused stops for olive oil, milk. And that was the blog mantra: get in, get out, quick surgical strikes. Not sure about mantras for this current effort, but the name feels like a comfy blanket. So viva la 2.0, let's party like it's 2005.

I don't think people read blogs any more, but I have more to say than fits on Facebook, Twitter gets lost instantly into the ether, Tumblr is for kids. I want a place where I can write whatever I feel like, just 'cause. I know that's out of style, but I don't care. Blogging is fun. If that makes me a throwback, well, I've been called worse.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Surgery is for the dogs

Took the dog in for a surgical consult this morning, and all good news. The tumor's benign, so until it affects him for reals, play it like Paul and let it be. He wanted to show me pictures of his own dog's tumor, which was remarkably similar. That guy has about 40 little tumors, all over his body; the vet described him as "a really lumpy dog." The doppleganger tumor is growing slowly, so he's planning to cut it out in the fall.

A surgeon operating on someone he or she knows is the ultimate act of getting personal. That's really getting under the hood, seeing literally what's in you. I wonder what's going on in that head of yours, let's take a look. Let's see what makes you tick, then clamp its brachiocephalic artery. Can I really ever know my wife if I don't remove her appendix?

(A surgical strike about actual surgery: 10 points.)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

I can't get started

Once I'm in motion on my bike, I'm semi-skilled, able to insert myself in tight traffic lanes, creeping along in super slo-mo. But it's the starting and stopping I can't fully do, especially on uneven ground. I fell in front of my house to cap my first ride, then today fell in the middle of the street at a red light. A jogger and old lady both asked if I was okay, and I fell into my standard, "Yeah, just a little stupid." Skinned my knee, injured my pride, hopefully gave my bike a cool-looking war wound.

The indignity continued. I was talked into flip-flops by an experienced biker, but shoes that come off that easily don't combine well with me on a bike. I had to jog back to retrieve a shoe for the second time in two days, once in the middle of somewhat dangerous intersection. Back to Pumas for me.

Live from the Apple Store!

Those Apple geniuses are most ingenious. Today I walked in with a busted iPhone, and I'm walk out with a brand new one! All it cost me was about as much as I paid for it originally. Oops! But, it didn't merely clear up the busted main logic board that meant the phone would only display the Apple logo and some scary 1980s-looking code. It also cleared up: the loose front glass, the scratches on the camera lens, the wonky input that meant I had to jiggle the connector to get it to charge, and tons of scratches, dust, and a tiny hole in the display. So it was a pricey repair, but it got me a brand new magical iPhone, which means it's harder to complain about. Now I think it's time to call it a day on my 61% charged phone and let it continue restoring once I get home.

Reporting live from the Apple Store on sunny Boylston Street, this is your intrepid reporter. Word to the bird.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Well, I just got in from Provincetown and boy are my legs tired

We like to explore cities on foot. London, Paris, Havana, San Francisco, Montreal -- we've walked ourselves to exhaustion around the world. Yesterday we hoofed it for nearly two hours in Provincetown, hauling from the Harbor Hotel outside town, to the furthest West End, a few blocks shy of the Red Inn. Then today we biked to Herring Cove Beach, took a 20-min walk through the dunes to get there. And we took the ferry, so we had to ride back into town, then home from Boston. Another 90 min of biking, much to the chagrin of my already barking legs.

Great few days in P-Town, returning bronzed and in need of P90X.

Monday, July 28, 2014

My Before Sunrise moment

After my deep exploration on cleaning out Video Paradise, Jay and I tried to figure out which summer it was, and I offered up a college-summer memory.

I had just rented a movie and ran into a girl from high school who I'd heard might be receptive to my charms. She was heading to France the next day, and as we chatted, I wondered if I was about to have a Before Sunrise moment, the two of us staying up late, chatting, smooching, and falling a little bit in love.

"What movie did you rent?" she asked. 

It was Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. I can't remember if I've seen her since. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A huge sigh of relief

I found something I wrote in 1998:
I just hope that even when I am an adult, I still find poop jokes funny.
PHEW!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Video Paradise

Summers in late high school-early college, we grubbed away at minimum-wage jobs, me at McDonald’s and Record Town, Jay at D’Angelo’s and Sharon Cinemas. But our lifestyle required cash -- Floyd tickets were like, 50 tacos. So Jay did random jobs. Sometimes they were solo, like when he spent a day at the mall dressed as the Quit Smoking! guy. Sometimes he needed help, which is where I come in.

One horrible day, we helped clean out Video Paradise in Walpole. It had once stood as a VHS palace, the first local video store in an era when a tape with a movie on it was revolutionary. As a kid, I’d study the typewritten catalog, fantasizing about the movies that one day, God willing, I would watch. So many Police Academys. Yoda! To my pre-teen joy, they even listed their XXX titles, like one called Alice in Wonderland Rated R. Rentals were just a dollar. Video Paradise’s name was no hyperbole.

But that was a better time, a simpler time, when Betamax cartridges roamed the land. Eventually, Video Paradise was Blockbustered out of business, and Jay and I were called in to bury the remains. Sorting through tapes would have been fasincating (Jay once told me about a buddy cop flick starring Jay Leno and Mr. Miyagi) but those were likely sold off to cover Mr. Paradise’s rent. We headed to the basement.

The task that faced us was daunting. In addition to moving out the expected boxes and furniture, we had to tackle two items that clearly predated Video Paradise’s lease: a large wooden bureau and a gigantic, unmoveable iron press. We started schlepping boxes upstairs, trudging back down. Up and down, up and down. This was the era before I did breakfast, so after a few trips, I got woozy. And instead of taking five, I decided to power through. More boxes. More woozy. I stopped. I bent over. I threw up. Or I would have thrown up if I there was anything in my stomach. So, I dry heaved outside Video Paradise. An excellent start. I had some water. We went back to work.

We were supposed to destroy the cabinet before bringing it up. This had actually been a selling point of the job: getting to smash the crap out of furniture. My dad had loaned me a sledge hammer, and Jay grabbed it. I had assumed swinging a sledge hammer would be like swinging a baseball bat, but the sledge is wildly heavy. It takes huge effort and major strength, plus a good amount of balance. Not to mention that early-century wooden cabinets are fairly solidly built. So it only took Jay a few whacks to throw out his back. We were quite a pair.

After a rest and a few sips of coffee and a lot less moving than the new Video Paradise owners thought they were paying for, they directed our attention to the white whale: the iron press. It was massive, nearly a yard wide, with a huge wheel on top. I have no idea what it might have been used to press. Dozens of apples?  Folks who were unkind and did not rewind? It was a behemoth, and my mind flashed to Jay, dead, crushed beneath hundreds of pounds of iron, me dry heaving nearby in grief. We got to work.

I’m not sure where he came from, but our pseudo-savior was a compact and muscled middle-aged man with a patchy beard and blonde pompadour. In my memory, he never even took the cigarette out of his mouth as he took the other end of the press. Jay and I put our whole drama-club-conditioned bodies into it, dying as we each struggled with a corner. Meanwhile, the heroic fireplug lifted his half with one hand, anchor tattoo on his forearm rippling, forehead barely breaking a sweat, cigarette bouncing as he growled at us to grow a pair. 

I have no memory of reaching the top, so I wonder if they decided to dismiss us knuckleheads halfway -- me half-barfing, Jay breaking his back, neither qualified to call ourselves movers. I took my money and headed home, rested for an hour or two, then headed to the mall for a shift at my real job, the overpriced record store. At break-time, I fused my two summer jobs and blew my entire Video Paradise payment on Aerosmith’s Pandora’s Box. Listening to it became an ever-more taste of Paradise.

SEI MTEL awesomeness

Teachers in Massachusetts have to become certified in teaching English Language Learners (ELLs, students whose native language is not English). The state set up a course (RETELL) to cover this, but by all accounts it's a nightmare and a lot of work. So one workaround is to pass a teacher test on Sheltered English Immersion (SEI). And if the choice is to give up my Mondays all fall or spend half a summer half-studying in my hammock... well, yesterday, I took the SEI MTEL exam, and it stunk. The post from here is really only of interest to teachers contemplating taking it themselves, so read on at your own risk of mortal boredom.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

I am now dangerous on two wheels

Took my inaugural real bike ride, testing out my summer commute, and it's all good news. I'm going to UMass-Boston, so I clocked some time on the picturesque Harbor Walk. Way too much time, in fact -- Google Maps' bicycle directions are in beta, so they predicted 22 minutes and it took me 52 to get there, 16 to get back. But I was rarely terrified on the roadways, so it seems I'm well on my way to becoming a two-wheeled menace. Now decompressing in the hammock, which is my real summer destination of choice.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Getting things done

Set myself a task list for today: Target, Home Depot, go across the river and pick up a bicycle, see a man about a horse, fill the propane tank. Did all that AND got an oil change AND had Indian buffet. And I saw the lights of the Goodyear blimp. And yes, that sentence is a gratuitous Ice Cube reference. And yes, that sentence is for the people who didn't realize it was a reference. This sentence, though -- this sentence is for you. I hope you like it.

My bicycle! The summer program I'm doing is in a spot where it makes most sense to bike. By T, 15-min walk, 5 min train, 10-min walk -- stupid. On foot, a 45-min walk -- possible, but too much. So I've committed to biking. I rode my new toy around the block and while I knew the basics of how to work the thing, I have a long way to go to be be a legitimate biker. Also, I fell off once. Which means it can only get better from here.

I heart Frankie Landau-Banks

I read an interview with John Green in which he twice praised The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. A sixth grader returned it from the netherworld of her bedroom, so I decided to use it to kick off my summer reading. Hilarious and clever, one of the more appealing teenage girl voices I've seen, I recommend it enthusiastically -- for smart middle school girls and up.

Huge stack of books from which to choose my next read. I need to work up to Donna Tartt (it's like 800 pages), so since it's the very beginning of my summer, I want to stick with known winners. The "books I know I should read" can come later in the summer. Think I'll jump into Gregor the Overlander.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Tonight, on "Weeds"

I can appreciate that weeds have evolved so that the outermost leaf allows itself to be pulled off easily. It's like a hydra: kill one head, two more grow back. Pulling off the top is like treating the symptom -- the Sudafed of wedding. I always feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment after weeding, followed by a sinking dread when they've grown back 2-3 days later.