Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Driver's Ed Redux

I got the notice in the mail a few weeks back: attend a driving retraining course in the next three months of my license would be suspended.

Until recently, I had gone 12 years without a moving violation. But this year, the law of averages caught up to me. I got dinged for driving with an expired inspection sticker and two speeding tickets. The second speeding ticket was the most frustrating; it was right before my moving hell and a police cruiser nailed me once the speed limit dropped from 35 to 25 mph because I was doing 40. Thus, with three within the span of a year, the state of Massachusetts requires me to attend a driving course. (It used to be five, but apparently Massachusetts has a reputation for not having the most courteous drivers and the state is trying to crack down.)

I had to get up this past Saturday at 7 a.m. to go to a hotel and attend the course. Not fun. There were better uses of my time. That said, some of the questions were amusing.

We each filled out a survey asking how we felt about the following statements:

"Other drivers are opponents who are trying to slow me down."

"I force my way through groups of pedestrians when making a turn at a crosswalk."

"I scare pedestrians by revving up my motor at intersections."

We watched videos of bad drivers bitching each other out. We watched another video of people driving drunk and (presumably) getting into a four- or five-car accident. We were asked "Do you want to keep your driving privileges?"

But the most bizarre part of the day came near the end, after a break, when the guy next to me and the guy behind me almost got into a fistfight and had to be separated. I have no idea what it was about (I was out getting a snack when it happens). Defensive driving, indeed.

I went home that afternoon and drove pretty much the way I normally do. Now life has returned to normal.

Just watch yourself if you're on the road with me. Because you are my opponent, and you're trying to slow me down.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Computer Back

Tuesday afternoon I got the callback from Geek Squad.

"Come on out, your computer's ready."

I didn't realize how naked I feel without a computer. Luckily I have a friend who generously loaned me her computer during times when she didn't need it.

I drove to Best Buy and tested the computer out first. Virus -- gone. Computer -- back to normal. It doesn't appear that I lost anything. The computer runs like new, which is good because it more or less is new.

That's one thing to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Dancing With the Pats

Monday night the Patriots game pre-empted the final night of competition of Dancing With the Stars on Channel 5. The station broke bad the news to everyone so they'd be prepared, but it didn't sit well with everyone. One DWTS (and maybe Kansas City Chiefs?) fan posted on the WCVB website:

"Here's a comment, Channel 5. You suck! Our viewership suited you all season for DWTS, now you replace it with football on the finale! And you have the nerve to say on your ad, "because you deserve it." Deserve what? Staying up all night because Ch. 5 is another good ol boys club. Hope it pours buckets because you deserve it."

But it doesn't end there. 98.5 FM The Sports Hub is the flagship radio station for both the Patriots and Bruins, which created a problem Monday night when the Patriots played Kansas City and the Bruins had a big game with the Montreal Canadiens. Something had to give. And it was the Bruins, who got their game moved to 100.7 WZLX, normally Boston's Classic Rock but also 98.5's sister station and, on his night, the home for hard checks and power plays.

WZLX and 98.5 made the announcement in advance. But this also made a few enemies.

"bruinsfan867, So that just means that 98.5 is not the Bruins home hockey station! The Bruins should have remained on WBZ anyway! Can’t believe the stupis [sic] frauds from foxboro force the Bruins to move. That is BS!"

Oh well. The Patriots always were a bunch of troublemakers. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Cable Outage, Conclusion

While I'm still on my friend's computer...

Saturday, once the cable was fixed without any gunfire, I called Comcast and explained that my cable, phone and internet had gone out twice in the span of seven days.

"So what can you do for me," I asked.

They told me they will give me a $20 credit on my next bill. I also requested my next statement be sent in the mail so that I can keep an eye on this. But I was happy to take a stands and get some results.


My computer has a virus. It's at Geek Squad right now. I'm at my friends' right now, using hers to type this in exchange for a little babysitting of her son, who is sick and home from school.

I know I left people hanging with my last blog. I'll try to be online for as much as I can while my computer is in the shop. Geek Squad may be a couple days.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Cable Outage, Part One

Friday night, as I was scrambling to finish the revisions on my thesis, my Comcast went out. It's the second time in as many weeks that I've had a cable outage, but that's tomorrow's blog. I needed to get the thesis done and sent out and this was going to create a problem. I went out to Barnes & Noble for the wi-fi and tried to conduct business as usual.

I stayed at B & N until closing time. When I got home there was stll no internet. I called Comcast and bitched. They tried having me do the things I already tried (unplugging and plugging back in the modem) and again it didn't work. They scheduled a technician to come in Saturday afternoon.

The technician never had to show. Around 12:30 Saturday morning I looked out my window and saw a Comcast van pulling into the driveway. I went downstairs and the guy told me he's the emrgency outage guy and pretty much our whole block was out. He fopened up the cable box and began fiddling with it.

This was good -- it seemed like it might lead to the return of phone, cable and Internet. But it dawned me...

...and apparently it dawned on my landlord (who lives downstairs and has FiOS) too. He came outside.

"Excuse me, what are you doing?" my landlord said to the guy.

"The block is out," the guy said. "I'm trying to get the cable fixed."

"And you need to come out here?"


It struck me at that moment, as I watched them go back and forth, that this is Fitchburg. And if a stranger winds up wandering around behind you house, it generally isn't the cable guy. Even though he lives in the same building, I've only had a handful of interactions with him since I moved in about two months ago. Luckily he seems low-key. Given this scenario, some people would emerge from their apartment with a gun.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Sequel

I made some last-minute changes on my thesis and turned them in today. So we're back on the anxiety train.

I'm pretty exhausted. I will probably do a lot of sleeping now. I'm not sure if this is the end or if there will be additional last-minute, 11th-hour revisions. All the heavy lifting is totally worth it, but it also makes me skittish and jumpy and not myself.

I haven't been myself for awhile. Hopefully I'm about to go back to normal soon. I don't want to be this way forever.

Regis Philbin's Last Day

Today was Regis Philbin's last day as host of Regis and Kelly. The audience was a who's-who of New Yorkers. Kelly Ripa got choked up a few times. There were the usual accolades and reminiscings and flashback scenes and dance numbers.

I had heard the name "Regis" for years, but never really knew who he was until the late 90s, when I got swept up in the mania of Who Wants to be a Millionaire and then I learned he also hosted a morning talk show. He's a fascinating phenomenon to me. I admire anyone who can still be a high-energy person at the age of 80. I'm not a morning person, and on most days I don't have the energy to rant and rave like he does until around 11:15.

I wanted to see what he would say at the very end of the show. Not because I was waiting for something profound, but because I heard he bet Katie Couric $10 that he wouldn't cry. And he didn't. His final speech was pretty understated.

Still, it's definitely the end of an era.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cellphone Twins

I got together with a couple of writer friends last night. As we walked into the restaurant, I noticed one of them playing with her phone, and I almost snatched it from her.

Not because I was annoyed at her for paying more attention to the phone than me (let's face it, I can be kinda boring sometimes). Because I thought it was my phone.

It turns out that she and I have the exact same model phone. This is more of a coincidence than you think. I'm one of those types that always has a cell phone that's two or three models below state-of-the-art, one that most people haven't had for years. At the rate I'm going, I'm scheduled to have an iPhone around 2017.

It was pretty hilarious that we had to have our respective phones huddled next to us at the table, so that we wouldn't accidentally take each other's phones home with us.

It's kind of like we're cosmic twins.    

Monday, November 14, 2011

Solid B

I've been reading a novel of late. I won't reveal the name. (If you're a savvy Internet surfer, you'll be able to figure it out.) The novel is a fun read yet at the same time disappointing, like a highly touted baseball team that underachieves and bows out meekly in the MLB Divsion Series (another hint).

Thus, I'm very torn about it. If someone were to ask me, "Phil, should I read it?" I'd probably say yes, because it's good enough. I'd give it a solid B (again, though, when you're expecting an A+, a B sort of loses its luster). I've definitely read a lot worse. I've definitely read a lot worse recently. But I also don't want to lead someone astray.

As a hopeful novelist, the thing about reading a novel like this is that it dawns on me that a novel doesn't have to perfect to get published.

Not sure if that's good or bad.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Triple Murder

Crazy shit happens when my cable and internet goes out.

On Friday, I hung out with a friend and her two kids and briefly returned home around 4 p.m. to discover that my cable, internet and phone were all out. A call to Comcast didn't solve the problem, and thus I waited it out for a day. Two Comcast technicians arrived around 5 p.m. Saturday and fixed the problem.

I checked out the Internet to see what I missed in the 25 hours I was offline, and the first thing I stumbled upon was this. It's a story about a triple murder next door to the home where my grandparents lived when they were alive (they passed away in 2005 and 2008), and where my cousin lives now. I exchanged a series of text messages with her (I don't really like to text but it seemed less intrusive at this particular time) and she's shaken but safe.

Even though I only lived there for a total of a year -- maybe a year-and-a-half -- much earlier in life, because of Thanksgivings and Christmases and family gatherings I very much grew up next door to the crime scene. I knew the family only casually but you can imagine how chilling it is to know that someone I waved and said hi to dozens of times has suffered this fate.

This is going to be one of those nights where you think about the important things in life, and not do a lot of sleeping.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Joe Paterno

I always hated Penn State football growing up, but it was that benign hatred because they were a natural rival of BC and Syracuse and schools for which I had a rooting interest.

There's more of a reason to hate the Nittany Lions now. Allegations of sexual abuse and cover ups will sour you on a program. Head coach Joe Paterno was just fired (which is good, because letting him play out the final few games of his contract would've been a copout). School president Graham Spanier was also fired. Penn State students and fans are being meatheads, chanting outside his house in a sick display of hero worshop and rioting around campus. A few years ago, when the Penn State football program was down on its luck, they were probably the same people screaming for his head, complaining that he was an 80something geezer whom the game has passed by.

It appear that Paterno didn't break any laws. But he certainly didn't go the extra mile to make sure this got reported to police, and that's sad. The center of the controversy, his ex-defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law but even if he is ultimately exonerated, if there was an appearance of sexual abuse you'd think Paterno would want to make sure it isn't swept under the rug.

Paterno and Sandusky went to battle together for decades. With someone like that, it's easy to do the bare minimum required of you, even if it means allowing someone to destroy another person's life.

So a couple of days ago I was talking to one of my best friends about the scandal. And the difficult question came up. And so I said it. "If I caught you sexually abusing someone, no question about it. I would call the police. You've been my friend for life. But I would be disgusted by what you did and wouldn't want you to get away with it."

And he said the same thing about me. My friend and I may be lifelong friends. But we also both want to be able to sleep at night.

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

When I was a kid, Thanksgiving Day was the official kickoff of holiday season. This meant that would be the day that the Christmas and holiday commercial would begin airing on TV, and radio stations would weave holiday tunes into their playlists.

Times have changed. Retailers slowly pushed and pushed past the traditional Thanksgiving start for their commercials. Now you start seeing Christmas ads around Halloween. (It could be worse. One year, when I was in high school, I remember a Christmas commercial running on Columbus Day.)

For years I really hated that. I was like, one holiday at a time, people! Poor Thanksgiving got shafted. And no, I don't want to think about holiday gifts with 60 more shopping days 'til Christmas, thank you very much.

I've had a change of heart. I still think that Columbus Day is too early. But I like the commercials starting at Halloween now. I bring this up today because I got a couple of comments on my new Facebook profile picture (scene from A Charlie Brown Christmas), critical of my choice to give in to the Christmas cyborgs.

I'm a free person with free will, and seeing a Christmas commercial on Nov. 10 doesn't bind me to buy anything. My family grew up solidly working class anyway, and we don't go crazy with gifts. It really is the most wonderful time of the year. Two months of holiday buildup is great ambiance, and allows us to put life in perspective, rather than fight over silly stuff that isn't worth fighting over. I do agree that the radio stations that go 24/7 with the holiday music are a little much, but I can always change the station.

So I'm not going to complain when Target starts putting a Santa Claus hat on Bullseye the Dog. I'm going to enjoy the 16.67 percent of the year when we celebrate holiday cheer. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Election Day

I just moved to Fitchburg a month and a half ago. One of the first things I did when I moved to town was register to vote, because, like other Massachusetts municipalities that don't use the town meeting form of government, yesterday was Election Day in Fitchburg.

I almost forgot to vote, not remembering it was Election Day until I woke up yesterday morning. There was a contested mayoral race in town. I knew precious little about the candidates, the issues. But I can literally see my ward's polling station from my apartment. I would've felt like a total chump if 'd skipped out.

So I went online to the sites of both mayoral candidates, to see what they stood for and their positions on the issues. In my mind, one candidate clearly stood out as the better choice. I did the same for the city council and school board positions (there weren't many up for grabs). And then I walked about 200 feet to the polls and voted.

Too often we're fixated on the "big" races (president, governor, senator) and we forget what Tip O'Neill once said, that all politics are local. I feel more informed today as a result of my participation in democracy. I feel like a citizen.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


I'm trying to catch up on life now that the thesis  is out of my hands. This includes blogging.

It's weird how writing can be a barrier to writing. I had to put the blog down (or at least slow down the pace) for awhile so that I could polish the thesis as best I could in the time I had. I started blogging every third of fourth day instead of every day.

And I felt bad. I felt like I let people down when they would ask, "Hey, you all right. You haven't blogged anything lately." I feel like I let myself down. Blogging is a great exercise in freewriting. It's great when someone says, "I loved your blog," or even, "I hated your blog."

Anyway, it'll be a process to transition back into normal mode again. It begins today.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Thesis: The End

After a long, two-plus year road, filled with many twists and turns, I completed my MFA thesis -- i.e., the novel -- over the weekend.

My mentor asked me how it feels. Honestly, I don't feel much different that I did Friday morning. I think the MFA culture drills into our heads that it's supposed to feel like angels will appear overhead as a choir begins to chant.

In reality, though, it feels like another step in the process. The real stressful part of the thesis semester was looking at chapters I wrote a long time ago and haven't touched since and saying to myself,  "Wow, this is bad. I'm embarrassed to have written this." It's an imperfect work. It's still far from agent-ready. But it's closer to being agent-ready than it was and that's the important part, that there's progress toward the ultimate goal of getting it published.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Popular Demand

I'm scheduled to graduate and get my MFA in January, at the upcoming residency. More and more people are requesting that I "stay in the program" after graduation.

One person yesterday suggested that I continue to TA (I'm going to be a teaching assistant for a workshop at residency) for subsequent residencies, and that if I didn't agree to it, that this person would go to the proper authorities and make sure that I am forced to stay on. Others, in recent weeks, have suggested that I purposely flunk my thesis semester so I can come back, or that I just take an extra semester just for kicks. This popular demand seems to have taken on a life of its own.

I'm slightly humbled and very curious and amazed at how many people have suggested something along these lines in the past couple of weeks alone.

FUMFA, you've created a monster. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Sometimes I believe in omens. I had a really good birthday. We got 11 inches of snow. Which doesn't sound like a fun birthday, but it encouraged me to not overdo it and spend more time working on my thesis. The snow was telling me, "You don't wanna go outside. You wanna sit in front of your computer and write." It was a special storm for a special day.

The extra writing has come at the expense of my blog. This will not last much longer. I miss my blog and will get back to daily updates soon. I was getting some folks asking about me lately, so I thought maybe it'd be a good idea to come up for air.

Talk soon.