Saturday, April 30, 2011


I admit, I'm becoming a Francophobe.

James Franco is really starting to get on my nerves.

It has come to my attention that James Franco has been accepted to the University of Houston's creative writing Ph. D program. He was one of 20 accepted from an applicant pool of 400. He's already received an MFA from Columbia, studied English at Yale and UCLA and attended the Rhode Island School of Design.

He just turned 33.

To try to wrap my arms around this, I went to the bookstore last night and found a copy of his short story collection "Palo Alto," published late last year. I wanted to see what the hoopla was about. I took some precautions -- specifically, heading to the bookstore an hour before closing so I wouldn't be tempted to read the whole thing, and going to the back of the bookstore to read, to avoid anything dangerous from happening, like actually buying the book.

I read the three stories that were highlighted on the book's cover jacket, on the assumption that if the publisher elected to tease them, they're probably the best stories in the bunch. Each story was about a high schooler who's somewhat outcasted having to make a difficult decision, and featured a violent climactic scene.

The Los Angeles Times called Franco's collection "the work of an ambitious young man who clearly loves to read, who has a good eye for detail, but who has spent way too much time on style and virtually none on substance." I agree. I would classify all three stories I read as average. Each had its moments, but gets railroaded by one of three things -- too many unnecessary characters/scenes, too much look-at-me writing that doesn't advance the story, or an incomplete story arc. I've been editing the fiction of the Mason's Road literary journal this semester, and while I'm only one of many readers, I have to say I would pass on each of the three stories if they made it to our submissions desk. The stories felt like they suffered from ADD.

And maybe that's why he's getting on my nerves. The stories seem like Franco himself -- hell-bent on trying to do everything. He may have finally overextended himself during this year's Oscars, which he also co-hosted with Anne Hathaway, and was a catastrophic failure as a host.

But for a guy who comes across as publicity-shy, he seems to do a lot of things that generate coverage. Don't get me wrong, he's a free agent and has the right to pursue a Ph. D if he so chooses. But why get a Ph. D in creative writing when you're an Academy Award-nominated actor?Are you gonna teach? I mean, I'm thinking about pursuing a Ph. D in creative writing after I get my MFA, because hell, I don't know if my novel-in-progress will ever get published, and theoretically I could hide out for a few years in this crap economy. But that's the method to my madness. What is his plan? He's not gonna stop being an actor. And by doing this, he's taking away precious Ph. D slots for other folks who actually want jobs in the world of creative writing.

And that's what pisses me off about this. So, sorry, James Franco. You may want to come across as an all-around good guy who's educating himself, but I'm not buying it. But to me, you just come across as fake and pretentious.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Borders Bookcases

A couple of months ago Borders announced it was filing for bankruptcy, and shortly thereafter the chain announced most of the stores would close. The Shrewsbury location, the closest bookstore to me (about equidistant from the Worcester Barnes & Noble), is one of the stores closing. So I went over there last night for a little while, since it'll be one of the last times, if not the last time, I ever visit.

Obviously there are fewer books now and the place looks like a home during a garage sale. And there were signs everywhere -- All Items 60-70% Off! Everything Must Go!

And they mean everything.

Including the bookcases.

Yeah, for a cool $80, I could have a Borders bookcase. I need a bookcase, or maybe two. It dawned on me that I own a lot of books. And my one bookcase if a makeshift deal that's basically some plastic rods that connect like Legos to form something that sort of acts like something that holds together books.

I checked online and comparably sized bookcases seem to run for $100 or more. Two for $160 sounds even better.

Except I have nothing to transport them in. Anyone have a truck or something? 

Thursday, April 28, 2011

I Don't Give a Damn About the Royal Family, Part Two

By all accounts, Prince William and Kate Middleton seem like nice folks.

That said, I don't give a shit about their wedding.

I'm sick and tired of hearing about it (thank God it starts at 4 a.m., so I'll be asleep during it). We seceded from the Brits in 1776 because we got sick of paying taxes for a royal family's largesse without having any say in the matter. Yet, somehow, we're fascinated by this morning's Royal Wedding, or at least the media thinks we're fascinated by it, because Kim Khazei, Bianca de la Garza and Paula Ebben are all in England reporting about it. Correct me if I'm wrong, but Chs. 4, 5 and 7 are all Boston TV stations, right?

I care more about the poor people down South who are being devastated by tornadoes.

I care more about my friend who's getting married this August, and my cousin who's getting married this October.

I wish William and Kate the best. I would want my wedding to go seamlessly and I hope theirs does too. (Then again, if I ever get married, I hope it doesn't attract this much spectacle.)

But I don't give a shit about their wedding. It can't be over soon enough for me.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Michael Scott

Tonight will be a bittersweet night. It will be the farewell of Michael Scott on The Office. He's moving to Colorado to help his girlfriend Holly Flax care for her sick parents.

The Office has always been one of my favorite shows, and he's a major reason. Not because I like Michael Scott. He's an idiot. I, personally, would never fworm for a company in which he was my supervisor. He's an inept boss, and everything that somehow goes right in the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin happens in spite of him, not because of him. But it's part of what makes the show funny.

In fact, Michael Scott has influenced my life. A few years ago I was on a dating site, and I was contacted by a young woman who expressed an interest in getting to know me. The opening sentence of her profile said, "I can tell you what I'm NOT looking for: someone who's like Michael Scott." I was like, "Wow. Way to set the bar high." I never contacted her, and shortly thereafter canceled my membership. (She also lived in Maine and longed be a housewife, so I was pretty confident it never would've worked. But still, the opening sentence was a step in the wrong direction.) 

Whether The Office will be able to recover from this I don't know. There are some other great characters (Jim & Pam, Dwight, Erin & Gabe, Kevin, etc.). But Michael Scott was the obnoxious glue that kept everyone together.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Voice

Last night NBC premiered its new series The Voice. Thank God, because NBC has been beating me to death with commercials for it since about January. Anyway, I gave it a shot. I skipped Body of Proof last night to watch it.

It's sort of a twist on the old American Idol gig. Wannabe singers audition. But the four judges -- Adam Levine from Maroon 5, Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green of Gnarls Barkley and FU fame and country star Blake Shelton have their backs turned, so they can't crush on a hot singer and drool and pick someone simply because they're hot, as Randy, Stephen and J-Lo on Idol are wont to do. If they like the singer's voice, they hit a magic button and their chair turns around. If multiple judges turn, they have to compete to have the right to work with that singer. Each judge will work with eight singers over the course of the season.

It's a good show. All four judges have personality and were great. It's also nice to see Christina Aguilera, who's had a rough year -- a divorce, a box office and album bombs in Burlesque and Bionic, flubbing the national anthem at the Super Bowl,  and an arrest for public intoxication -- bounce back. (I'll admit, I've always thought she was hot, so I'm crushing on her.)

I did find the second hour of the two-hour premier to be less interesting. Most of the singers are good, so you don't have the guilty-pleasure trainwrecks that carry Idol for its first few weeks. But it'll be interesting to see how The Voice develops.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Expired Registration, the Sequel

First of all, I think I misspoke yesterday. I was stopped by police for having expired inspection sticker. It was not expired registration.

Anyway, I went over to the mechanic around the corner from me and got my car inspected again. Here is a sample of the results.

Visual Plate Check: Pass
Stop and Tail Lights Check: Pass
Directional Lights Check: Pass
Air Bags Check: Pass
Windshield Check: Pass
Headlamp Check: Pass
Wipers and Cleaner Check: Pass
Exhaust Check: Pass
Rear View Mirror Check: Pass
Tires Check: Pass
Horn Check: Pass
Safety Belts Check: Pass
Bumpers/Fender Check: Pass
Parking Brake Check: Pass
Other: Pass

So my car now has a new inspection sticker. Beautiful. Now I can drive around again without being tailed by police. I have a finely tuned machine. 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Expired Registration

So I had already mentioned that, thanks to SyFy Channel, my Easter was off to a bad start.

Then, I'm on my way to mom's house when I see a police cruiser hanging out alongside Route 9. I continue toward Boston when suddenly I see the cruiser behind me, with lights flashing. Crap. I pull over.

"Do you know why I stopped you," he asks.

In all honesty, I don't. I wing it. "Was I speeding?" I ask.

"No. Your inspection sticker is expired."

I look over to the passenger's side of my windshield. Shit. I can see "2" and "2011" on it. I've lost track of time. It's April now.

Honestly, I'm shocked this hasn't happened sooner. Two weeks ago I learned that they do Saturday night sobriety checks on the Quinsigammond Bridge up the street from me, as I got stuck in one, and the officer apparently never noticed my expired sticker. And I've been tailed by numerous other crusiers in the month-and-a-half since my sticker expired. Maybe the cops aren't as observant as I give them credit for.

I give him my license and registration. He hands me back a $50 ticket.

This opens up a can of worms. This would be a really lame excuse to bag out of Easter dinner with Mom. But I'm in Westboro and still have a long way to get to her place. Theoretically I could spend all afternoon getting stopped in each town on the way to Boston. And if I get the wrong officer, maybe my car will get towed. Can I claim double jeopardy if I get stopped again? It'd be a long walk to Boston, especially with Easter dinner in tow.

Luckily I avoided any other sirens (though I did have two cruisers within striking distance). The rest of Easter went without a hitch.

Now to go get my car inspected this morning. 

A Bad Way To Start Easter

Here's a bad way to start Easter:

Turn on SyFy Channel at 1 a.m to the rebroadcast of SyFy Original Movie Roadkill. On paper, it sounds good. The cable channel listings description of the film's plot says, "a gigantic predatory bird stalks two siblings and a group of friends in the wilderness." Sounds reasonable.

But it's just bad. With most bad monster movies you can at least laugh your way through them. This is bad and it takes itself a little too seriously, getting all into this bullshit about "it's not just a bird. It's a Roc." And you're just, like, "Whatever. This is stupid."

And if you do, as a bad monster movie, intend to take yourself seriously, you CANNOT include lines like, "dude, we're stuck in a foreign country with a giant bird chasing after us." Because that instantly loses you points on the credibility scale.

But the real death blow was when they figured out that, like every other living creature, the Roc is susceptible to fire, they concoct a scheme where they lure the Roc to a gas station for the climactic showdown, ignite the pump with enough force to blow the Roc to smithereens, only for another one to come swooping down to kill our hero.

SyFy Channel prepared us for this atrocity by airing a whole day of killer-bird-type-things-gone-amok movies, including the greatest movie of all time, "Pterodactyl", starring Coolio and a whole gaggle of killer pterodactyls. Unfortunately, the main event left us wanting more.

Happy Easter.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Bad Sneakers

I've never been the most ahtletic person in the world. The only thing I was ever adept at was jumping, at least for someone who's short-ish like myself. My crowning achievement was in 8th-grade gym class, when, during a basketball game, I won a jump ball over someone a foot taller than me. (Of course, he probably took me for granted and didn't go for full extension, figuring that winning the tip over me was a fait accompli. Still, a foot advantage is a foot advantage.)

Lately I've been going to the gym on a fairly regular basis, working with a personal trainer. She kicks my ass. It's good for me.

But recently I started getting pain in my knees. Squats were uncomfortable. And forget box jumps. It was beginning to get difficult to continue. I was losing the talent for my athletic forte.

So when I got back from the gym one recent morning, frustrated, angry and hurt, I said to myself, is this the beginning of the end? Has old age caught up to me? Are my knees shot? I'm too young for this. This can't be happening to me.

And then I took my shoes off. And it dawned on me. I've had these shoes for two years. The soles are flat as a pancake.

So I went to Bob's with my friend Rebecca and bought new sneakers, and returned to the gym with a sense of purpose. First I tried yoga, which involves a lot of bending of the knees in Warrior II and other poses. There was a little pain in the knees but not as much. I let some more time pass. Then I went back to personal training. Squats were OK -- less and less pain each time. Finally, yesterday morning I faced my nemesis -- box jumps, which put me in agony when I tried them on my last day with my old shoes.

The cycle is complete. My knees withstood 103 box jumps, pain-free. (I did have one twinge of pain, but that was because I almost tripped over the box.)

My knees are back. Of course, now I also have no excuses for skipping the gym. 

Curse You, Microsoft Word!

I tend to work on my novel in segments. It's easier because I'll give chunks to one of my writer's groups or my mentor at my MFA program to critique. Then I paste the segment into the master document.

This week I did that again with a 34-page excerpt, after my mentor attached her comments to it. Prior to that, my master document was 325 pages. Once I added the new segment to the whole, I checked the page length.

It was 377 pages.

I don't know what New Math Microsoft used, but I've never known 325 + 34 to equal 377. I can see 360, because it may overlap into another page. But there's no way this excerpt was 53 pages (my mentor would kill me).

It turns out somehow, in pasting the new segment in, I fucked up the formatting. I don't know exactly what I did. But with one more packet left to complete the novel, I'm trying hard to keep this manuscript under 400 pages. I couldn't seem to fix the formatting. So I copied the entire novel and pasted it into a new document, just to see how that would affect poage length.

This time, when I pasted it, the novel was 345 pages. Obviously that's better. And the formatting in the new document looks normal. But I also don't know how 325 + 34 = 345.

What the fuck, MS Word?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

UMass Minutemen

Yesterday the UMass Minutemen announced that they'll be moving up to Divison I-A football starting in 2012.

UMass is certainly not a football powerhouse, but they've had quite a bit of success in Division I-AA (the football division that actually has a playoff instead of the silly bowl system). The Minutemen won the I-AA Championship in 1998 and played in the championship in 2006 and 1979. Last year they nearly upset Michigan, losing a 42-37 squeaker. Granted, Michigan's not the program it once was, but still any time an I-AA nearly beats a I-A team it's worth noting.

Several NFL players have hailed from UMass, including quarterback Greg Landry (the last Detroit Lions QB to go to the Pro Bowl, which tells you how bad the Lions have been since he played in the 1970s), running back Marcel Shipp and current New York Jets lineman Vladimir Ducasse.

The Minutemen will be playing their home games at Gilette Stadium in 2012. Not sure whether they will expand McGuirk Stadium, where they currently play, which only seats 17,500 and would need an upgrade to be I-A-ready.

UMass will be the third I-A program in New England -- after Boston College and Connecticut -- and will play both those teams in the next couple of years. UConn has only been I-A for about a decade and they're already playing BCS games, though they're getting their ass kicked in them. So it should be an interesting experiment. Best of luck to the Minutemen.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Body of Proof

As part of the onslaught of midseason replacements, ABC has unveiled Body of Proof on Tuesday nights.

Dana Delany stars as Dr. Megan Hunt, whose career as a neurosurgeon is ruined by a car accident. Her personal life is also in tatters -- she's divorced and her ex has custody of their daughter, who i now estranged from her. Hunt switches careers and becomes a break-all-the-rules medical examiner who cracks cold cases.

Though the series takes place in Philadelphia, it's filmed in Rhode Island. (Hell, why stop there. Why not have the series take place in Providence while you're at it?)

It's very formulaic. Dr. Hunt skirts best practices and police procedures, and does things that in the real world would get her fired but in world of TV work just as she planned. If Dr. Gregory House were an ME instead of a doctor and had nice legs, he'd be Dr. Megan Hunt. That said, Delany does her usual good acting job as a sarcastic, funny-but-with-a-serious-side anti-hero. Plus, she's fun to look at (I can't believe she's 55). The show also features a supporting cast that includes Windell Middlebrooks, better known as the Miller High Life Delivery Guy.

So I wouldn't call it appointment television. But if you're looking for some good mindless entertainment on a Tuesday night, you could do worse.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Patriots' Day

For us Massachusetts residents (and Maine, which was once part of Massachusetts), the third Monday in April is a holiday -- Patriots' Day, which celebrates the anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the first military engagements of the Revolutionary War. 

It's a fun day. The Boston Marathon is held on Patriots' Day. Yesterday I watched Channel 4's coverage of the marathon and got to witness a world record marathon time (though apparently it won't officially be classified as a world record). Also, the women's race was decided by mere seconds, as Desiree Davila narrowly missed the chance to become the first American woman to win since 1985.

Over at Fenway, the Red Sox played the Toronto Blue Jays, winning their third straight after a miserable start. Local whipping boy Daisuke Matsuzaka, normally known for nibbling the plate, walking batters like it's going out of style and three-inning-in-three-hour starts, pitched seven innings of one hit ball and was out of the game by the time most marathoners got to Kenmore Square. Remember that South Park episode where there was a Cartman clone who had a goatee and acted the exact opposite of Cartman? That was Evil Parallel Universe Dice-K on the mound today.

And finally, the Bruins got back into their playoff series against Montreal, winning 4-2.

Patriots' Day was one of the critical moments in the birth of our great nation. And yesterday, it was good day all around.


My place is a typical bachelor pad -- i.e., not the cleanest place in the world. Not that there are any health code violations. But there are papers and books and novel excerpts scattered about. Which is fine. I live alone so I only have to answer to myself. And as one of my friends once pointed out, it's not messy. It's artsy. 

But yesterday I new I was going to have company, so I started cleaning. I got some serious work done on the kitchen and bathroom and half of the living room. The other half and my bedroom could still use a little work. But it's a start.

And now I can walk around without stepping on something.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Time/Life Presents

After Saturday Night Live, Channel 7 always plays an informercial from Time-Life whatever -- you know, the folks who do those music CD collections. Lately they've been pushing their "Singers & Songwriters" collection (which, judging from the song list, seems like it's just a bunch of '70s hits, as if nobody from the '60s or '80s or '90s sang or wrote songs). For just five easy payments of $29.99, this collection can be yours.

I find the infomercials fascinating, which demonstrates that I need more hobbies. But it is prretty amusing. The infomercials always have the same format. They grab a former hit band that isn't doing much these days and probably needs the money (for the "Singers & Songwriters Collection it's America) and wheel them out of the nursing home to plug the collection. This also means we have to put up with them trying to sing and play guitar again. Trust me, you don't want to hear America try to play "A Horse with No Name" now.

Then they take some unknown model-actress and pair her up witn the band, where she can talk about how she grew up with America/the band of the week and was "always a big fan." This week that role is played by someone named Suzanne Sena. I've never heard of Suzanne Sena, but according to according to her Wikipedia page she was a candidate to replace Kathie Lee Gifford when she left Regis & Kathy. But she lost out to  Kelly Ripa. Tough break. From Regis to informercials -- that's a pretty big downward spiral. Suzanne Sena also fulfills the disclaimer requirement of the progran, telling us that if we're not completely satsifed, Time/Life will refund out money in full.

Oh, crap, now America's breaking into an impromptu rendering of "Sister Golden Hair." This is difficult to listen to.

The one thing I've noticed recently is that they've stopped the interviews with "satisfied listeners," which is probably a good business move. But for someone like me, who thrives on comic relief, it's terrible. These folks would always look like buffoons. I mean, I really don't care that Kevin and Brenda Jones, who are sporting the same haircut they wore when they graduated from Watertown High School in 1975, "would spend hundreds of dollars if they tried to find all these sings in stories.

So, if you're having trouble sleepuing late some Saturday night, flip in Channel 7. It's good mindless entertainment. Plus, Time/Life is giving us the definitive collection, complete with liner notes. Don't wait. Call now.

Masshole Parking Lot Driver

Last night I met with one of my writer's groups, which meets in Harvard Square. It's a nice opportuunity for me to leave Worcester and get a little culture, of which I have almost none.

As is my custom, I pulled into the Alewife parking lot to take the Red Line into the square. The lot was jammed last night. As I trolled for a parking lot along the main row a car pulled out from a side alley, nearly hitting me, headed toward the ticket booths, from where I just came.

That's kinda rude, I thought, but whatever. We're not known in Massachusetts for our driving etiquette.

The lanes in the Alewife lot are not very wide. Things become complicated because, thanks to the angle he took to pull out in front of me, neither of us can drive any further. I can't continue toward the more sparsely parked area of the lot because I'll hit him, and he can't head toward the ticket booth because he'll hit me.

We sit.

We stare at each other.

Neither of us moves.

Finally, I've had enough. I could easily back up and just let him pass. But I can't. This asshole cut me off because he's in a hurry or something and now he wants me to move. Not gonna happen.

I roll down my window.

He rolls his down.

"Hey, moron, how about if you back up, so that we can both get by," I shout at him. "Use some simple common sense. This isn't rocket science, pal."

He looked stunned. He backs up. I roll up my window. I can see him barking something at me as he drives by, which I didn't pay attention to because I was too busy giving him the finger.

Life goes on.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


I saw all the Facebook posts today about the end of AMC. At first I was like, "What the fuck? Who's gonna air Mad Men now?"

Then I surfed the 'Net and realized the AMC in question is All My Children, which, along with One Life to Live, will be going to that daytime scheduling slot in the sky next year, as ABC cancels two of its iconic soap operas to make room for two new talk shows. One is The Chew, which I guess i like The View for food. The other, with the working title of The Revolution, will be a show about health and lifestyle transformations.

Other than my vague recollection of Susan Lucci being nominated 57 years in a row for a Daytime Emmy, I have zero interest in soap operas. My grandmother was obsessed with them, though, as if they were not fiction but reality TV before its time, and I remember as a kid having to sit through them surfing summer vacation because she was enthralled by the storylines.

So you can imagine how this is going over in Soap Opera Nation.

In fact, a cursory check of shows some rather hilarious reactions to this news. In fact, the unanimous reaction of more than 100 posts is that ABC officially sucks. Which is to be expected. I mean, I also have my mindless, guilty pleasures (i.e.., The Bachelor). I may disagree with these folks, but everyone's entitled to their opinions.

Soap operas, however, are the pinnacle of intellectual television. I mean, I'm surprised PBS doesn't air them. So I'm just gonna step aside and let these junkies speak for themselves...

"There are plenty of programs that can be cut, such as the stupid "Bachelor and Bachelorette" and then there's "Wipeout". Even "DWTS" that I use to love,,, where are the stars?"

"I think I will quit watching daytime TV altogether. I am 63 years old and have been watching soaps since I was little and watched them with my Mother."

"I'm so dam mad I can't even type correctly."



"The only thing ABC should be cancelling is (programming director) Brian Frons"

"after jan 2012 i will NOT allow anyone in my home to watch ABC i will figure out how to block you from my TV."

"The View is horrible! I don't know any women that watch it at all. All the women do is complain and argue and try to push their opinions down our throats. We don't need any more shows like this!"

"Get ready to see your profits plummet, you'll be in the red before 2012 is over if you keep up with this stupid decisions. Sponsors will be pulling their ads before you know it."

And so it goes.

Violent Torpedo of Truth

Now obviously we're only hearing one side of this, and from someone who's a little erratic at best. So who knows if it's true.

But if really it is true, that there's an 85 percent chance Charlie Sheen is coming back to "Two And A Half Men," then has this all just been a giant publicity stunt?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Giving a reading for my novel in progress is always stressful.

For starters, it's a long drive to Fairfield County, Connecticut, where the readings are held because that's where the Fairfield U. MFA program is based. I'm bucking the trend of people who are driving less because of high gas prices. And the weather sucked yesterday. And I usually don't know how to get to the place, since my knowledge of the back roads of southwestern Connecticut is limited, so I have to make sure I have good directions handy.

Then, I actually have to read. I'm always nervous going up to the podium. This particular excerpt was pretty fast-paced so I read it fast, just to see how that would sound. I think, at times, I went a little too fast. Then I get nervous aftwerwards, for reasons that are beyond my comprehension. Seems that should be the time to kick back.

But I guess that's what these readings are for, trying out different things, throwing spaghetti against the wall. Hopefully, people understood me.

And the best part is to reconnect with people. Since I'm in a low-residency MFA program, for the most part I only see my classmates twice a year for the residencies. Plus, now that I'm nearing the end of the program, who knows how much longer I'll see any of these folks?

That, in an of itself, makes the reading worthwhile. Every opportunity is worth taking advantage of.

Monday, April 11, 2011

April 12, 1861

On April 12, 1861 – 150 years ago today – Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina, marking the beginning of the Civil War.

Suffice it to say, the North and South have always had a complicated relationship. We banded together in 1776 to fight an oppressive regime that infringed on our civil liberties and taxed us without representation. But throughout the history of the United States, there’s always been a cultural divide between us.

Still is, really. There’s a casualness down South that doesn’t exist up here. Whenever I’m down South, strangers come up to me and strike up conversation. This is something with which I’m very uncomfortable. Up here, in the North, I only make conversation with people I don’t know when it’s absolutely necessary (like, with the cashier at CVS).

This makes total sense to me. It’s part of the stoicism and self-sufficiency that makes us New Englanders. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong. But it’s who we are. I’m skeptical of strangers who start up conversations with me, because it generally means one of two things – they either want to sell me something or are using the conversation as a ruse to gain my confidence so they can drag me behind an alley and slice me to pieces. When in the South and faced with strangers talking to me I do my best to be social and engage the conversation, because it’s what’s expected down there and I don’t want to come across as an a-hole. It definitely takes me out of my comfort zone and I’m not great at it. But I do my best to adjust.

And periodically, I’ll encounter someone from the South who makes waves by coming up North and calling us “Yankees” in a sneering, derisive tone. And then, after they’ve been shunned and are wondering why everybody thinks they’re a dickhead, I have to explain to them that, while adopting a combative, taunting tone in the South may be considered good-natured ribbing, even to those you don’t know well, when you’re in the North and you say these things to people who are barely acquaintances, those people will take you at face value and consider you an asshole. It, too, may be part of who they are, and I try to factor in that someone may be from a different culture. But it’s always a best practice that when you’re in Rome (or Connecticut), it’s probably in your best interest to do as the Romans (or Nutmeggers) do.

So, it’s all about adjustments.

The one thing I can’t adjust for though, is the conversation I have from time to time with some Southerners. The conversation is about the Civil War and it goes something like this – they get pissed and tell me, “The Civil War wasn’t about slavery. It was about states’ rights.”

Because I just don’t buy that.

First of all, let me say that I have no issue with secession. If Texas or Vermont or Wyoming or some combination of states says, “This whole United States thing isn’t working out for us. We want out,” then I would say, “Hey, I’m sorry it didn’t work out for you. I wish you the best in your new endeavor.”

But there are reasons to secede. Some are noble and some are not. When Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the Confederate States of America, said in 1861:  

Then it makes it hard for me to buy that this war was about states’ rights.

Also, it doesn’t require a close scrutiny of the Confederate State of America’s constitution to notice that the Confederate and United States constitutions were almost identical. There are some minor changes – for one, the Confederate constitution allowed for a presidential line-item veto, something that virtually every state now has, and something that would probably help prevent a lot of the budget squabbles the President and Congress are currently embroiled.

And that’s crap. Slavery goes against everything human rights stand for. If Stephens said, “Our new Government is founded upon the line-item veto,” then I’d be like, “Hey, the guy makes an interesting point.” But he mentions nothing of line-item vetoes in his famed Cornerstone Speech. And that’s why I have to call shenanigans any time I hear the “states’ rights” defense.

I just find it peculiar that so many seem hell-bent on defending the Civil War as a “war for states’ rights,” rather than calling a spade a spade. I mean, thankfully in this day and age anyone who actually believes in slavery is so far on the fringe that they’re treated as a lunatic anyway. Why not just say, “Yeah, our representatives 150 years ago, they kind of dropped the ball on that debate.” They’re all dead. So it’s not like you’re defending your father or uncle or anything. Why fight it?

I don’t mean today’s blog to be inflammatory (though clearly, in many ways it is). I just feel like the insistence of putting a different spin on the Civil War leads to more problems. All it does is perpetuate more bad blood, which sets us all back.

In many ways, back to April 12, 1861.

Fast Lane 3: Electric Boogaloo

Back in December I finally left the Dark Ages and got a Fast Lane transponder. It was a relief. Faster trips through the Pike tolls, no more digging up spare change underneath the passenger's seat, etc.

Last weekend, I went through and the lane told me I had a low balance. This was alarming. I thought I set up my FastLane account so that it would automatically replenish itself. This has me wondering about my checking account, which would be a much greater cause for concern if it were low. Fortunately, it wasn't.

So yesterday I had reason to be on the Mass Pike again. My fingers were crossed as I went through the FastLane booth, hoping that it would not give me the low balance light, or worse, the red light, and that I would not emerge being followed by state police cruisers with spike strips, trying to stop me from evading the tolls.

I approached with trepidation.

Luckily, I got the green light. "Thank you."

I stress way too much about some things.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Ferocious Planet

Things I learned from early this morning from watching the SyFy Original Movie Ferocious Planet:

* Whenever a scientist briefs her colleagues on "the significant scientific discovery ever," it's the kiss of death.

* Stay in the spaceship. You don't know what's out there. But here's the thing: keep the spaceship door shut, too.

* Don't steal the eggs of a ferocious monster with sharp teeth and whomping big pincers. But if you do, and the monster catches you red-handed, whatever you do, DON'T drop the egg and let is smash all over the ground.

* Don't ever say, "That thing almost caught me back there." Becauss it's probably still right behind you.


* If you you just led the thing over a cliff, particularly when it's about an hour and 50 minutes into the movie, make sure you actually see if fall and smash its head open and die from massive head wounds. Otherwise, how do you know it's dead? There's still 10 minutes left...


Friday, April 8, 2011

Deli Douchebag

On my way home from the gym yesterday morning, I stopped at the Stop & Shop deli to pick up some turkey. The woman behind the counter said "I'll be right with you, I just have to take something out of the over."

As she does this, another guy walked up to the deli.

Deli woman returns and starts to take my order, at which time the guy said,

"Excuse me, I'm next."


Deli woman turns to him and said, "No, sir, he's next," pointing at me.

"Ma'am, I have a deli number," and to prove this, he pulled it out, as if that would to overrule the fact that I had already been there for five minutes.

"No, sir, this gentleman is next," Deli woman said, pointing at me.

He said, "Man, what do you have these number for if--"

At this point I decided to shout my order for a half-pound of roast turkey, drowning him out. I smiled at him as I took my turkey and left, enjoying the moment.

It's dog eat dog at the deli counter, especially when all the douchebags show up.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Abusive Or Spammy, The Sequel

Yesterday, I wrote a nice little blog about a reading for myself and some of my fellow MFA colleagues next week. I thought it wasn't a big deal.

Facebook did. They flagged it as abusive or spammy. They wouldn't let me post it the way I normally did and I had to cut and paste it as a link.

This has happened to me before. In January, Facebook blogged another lighthearted blog as abusive or spammy because they, or their computers, have no sense of humor.

Not really sure why I got flagged this time around. Maybe because I cut and pasted one sentence from the Fairfield Web site, because that was easier than typing 11 people's names by hand. Whatever.

Hopefully Facebook will let this blog go. But I doubt it. The last time this happened, I got flagged three days in a row.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Inspired Voices Reading

From the Shameless Plug Dept:

Next Tuesday night (April 12), come to the Pequot Library in Southport and support local writers in Fairfield’s MFA program.

I'll be reading from my novel-in-progress. Also, some of the fellow MFA colleagues -- Christine Shaffer, Steve Otfinoski, Sarah Balsley, Chris Madden, Colin Halloran, Jody Foote, Jamie Chesbro, Jonathan Greenfield, Matthew Winkler, Taryn Williams, Pat O’Connor and Dave DeFusco -- will read from their original work.

Maybe I'll see you there (assuming I can find the place).

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Murphy's Law -- Gym-Style

Whenever I'm at the gym, this inevitably happens:

I'll put my gym bag in a locker that is five lockers away from any other occupied locker, and when I come back, someone else has put their stuff the locker next to mine and is chirping away with a buddy of theirs, which is awkward because I have to excuse myself so I can wedge my way back into my locker. It's like my locker is a magnet for everyone else who walks into the gym after me.

(Why, people? What's up with the bro-mance at the gym? I go to the gym to work out, not to socialize. Why do you torture me?)

Yesterday may have been the worst instance of this ever. I come back to the locker room and there are two guys, probably in their 50s, shooting the breeze right in front of my locker. I excuse myself so I can get my towel. Then I jump in the shower. It wasn't a long, relax-and-get-all-philosophical-about-life shower, but it also wasn't a hop-in-get-wet-and-hop-back-out shower either. It was definitely 5 or 6 minutes long.

I come back to my stall and the two guys are still there. I excuse myself again to get my clothes, and the first guy looks at me as if I'm inconveniencing him.

But the worst part about it, is what they're talking about, an excerpt of which appears here...

"Well, this gym [I forget the name, but it was somewhere in way upstate New Hampshire, like we're talking near Mount Washington] charges a lot of money, because they're the only gym in 30 miles. It's a total ripoff."

Seriously? Like, you thinking of joining? It's about 2 1/2-3 hours from Worcester to Mount Washington.

If you have to have this conversation, can you fucking move away from my locker so I can get dressed?

Going International

In a fit of boredom yesterday, I began looking at my blog statistics and discovered the number of hits I've received by country per lifetime.

And it goes like this...

United States      6,849
Canada              108
Russia                38
Hungary             27
United Kingdom 24
Singapore           21
Netherlands        15
India                   14
Slovenia              13
Vietnam              10

Interesting. It makes sense that the majority of them are from the United States. I'm not sure I know anybody who currently lives in Canada or the United Kingdom, though I know people who have lived there at one point or another . I know a couple of people who are from Russia originally but they live in the United States now. I also know someone who lives in India.

The rest of the list (Hungary, Singapore, Netherlands, Slovenia and Vietnam) is a mystery to me. I guess it's a good sign that I'm going international.

Here are some other countries where I'd like to get people to read my blog.

Costa Rica
San Marino
New Zealand

So if you know anybody who lives in any of these places, put in a good word for me :)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

NCAA Finals

This is tough.

Normally in the college basketball tournament, I root for any of the following teams...

1) Syracuse (my undergrad alma mater. Now that I'm getting my masters, if Fairfield ever makes the tourney they'll join the list.)
2) Any teams from New England -- usually UConn is a solid bet to make the dance. Sometimes BC and Providence make it, and there's usually one or two Cinderella teams (this year it was BU, in the past it's been Holy Cross, Vermont, Northeastern and URI)
3) Any other Cinderella teams

Often, by the time we get to the Finals, I have no real rooting interest. Tonight, however, it's UConn (a New England team) vs. Butler (a Cinderella team).

This is a real problem.

It's a tough call who to root for. Often the finals will be two teams I hate (i.e. Duke vs. Indiana). Which, in a way, is less stressful -- you know one team you hate has to lose,so you're kind of happy no matter who wins. When it's two teams you like, it's tough to root against either.

I think I'll probably start by rooting for UConn, and then, after one team opens up a lead, root for the team that's trailing, and then if they take the lead, root for the team that falls behind.

It's going to be a stressful night. Somebody I'm partial to has to win.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


There are good reasons not to eat a lot of cake. It's, like, 96% sugar. It makes me hyper. But yesterday, at my cousin Dan and his fiance Samantha's engagement party/shower/big hoo-ha, I learned another reason not to eat too much cake.

 I was snarfing down some yellow cake when everybody gathered in the dining room and popped champagne and poured it into glasses. Someone hands one to me, and I'm sitting in my chair, trying to wolf down my cake so I can get to the champagne.

Moments after I put the last, giant bite of cake into my mouth, someone yells out...

"Phil! Toast!"

Toast? How did I get roped into saying the toast? I've never made a toast in my life. Nobody talked to me about this beforehand.

As I wonder about the criteria that went into selecting me as the toastmaster (oldest of the cousins, only person at the party who's an MFA candidate, didn't say "Not It" in time), I try hard to digest my last bite of cake while simultaneously thinking of something intelligent to say that won't embarrass Dan, Samantha or myself.

Seconds tick away.

Finally, I feel like I can say something without choking, and I blurt out...

"To a happy and prosperous marriage."

I cringe. I feel like the term "prosperous" is better saved for the celebration of a corporate acquisition or new job.

But I look up. Applause. I've done it. I've made a successful toast. At least I think -- nobody pulled me aside and said, "What the fuck was that?"

Talk about baptism by fire. Anyway, now I know, it never hurts to eat a little less cake.

Long Day

Long day. Too much drama. And it's only 2:30.

Luckily I made some smart decisions and feel better now.

I shut off the TV (I mean, the MTV Jersey Shore Reunion show was fun and all, but it's also a little redundant after awhile).

I just talked with a friend and cleared the air.

I opened the windows and let some fresh air in.

And now I'm going to step away from the computer.