Monday, December 13, 2010

At the bah

While you Northern folk might be cursing your lot in life as it snows and rains and howls at freezing temps, you have one thing on which you can hold:

You don't have to watch the Dolphins.

They really are terrible to watch, but this being the local market, they receive televised priority. This means I need to venture out to this scary place known as "The Outside" where strangers congregate and spread their germs and their tweets if I want to watch the New England Patriots.

So yesterday I ventured over to a Boston-themed Fort Lauderdale seafood place to watch what was supposed to be a dogfight with the Bears. The game was a mismatch. Tom Brady is God. Bill Belichick is Super God. We all know that.

What's more interesting is this little enclave of Bostonians hidden in one of South Florida's lifeless plazas. It's like the Bostontown for South Florida. Burly men decked in tight Brady jerseys. People screaming for "Welkah!" and "BenJahvis!," people you would think came straight out of central casting for a hard-scrabble CBS sitcom set in Dorchestah starring Jimmy O'Doyle and Katelyn McCallister.

Yes, it's like a gift basket of Boston cliches, but it's a slice of home. So when the Patriots aren't on national TV, I go here. And it is here where I realize I need to work on my Boston bona fides.

You'd think I have enough credentials. Sure, I was born in Rhode Island, but to everyone down here Rhode Island and Boston are synonymous. And I do admit to being attracted to Tom Brady in way too many instances for a straight man. He's just that awesome. Like any true Boston fan, I wish Bill Belichick was the Secretary of Defense and I know who Sam Gash is.

But even in this utopia of Southies, I feel out of place.

Perhaps it's my aversion to alcoholic beverage. I just can't put them down like any true Boston man can. I nursed one glass of Guiness like it was a premature baby. And all around me are brash men's men screaming in billowy baritones while I clap like a cheerleader on a Glee.

And my small talk talents are in the Mark Blount range. I happened to sit next to this guy who talked non-stop to me about how sports used to be in the good, old days.

"Remember when pitchers used to throw 506,000 innings a game? And then they killed a moose with a toothpick and pitched another 506,000 the next day? Nowadays, they throw one pitch before they curl up on the mound and suck their thumbs."

"Back in the 60s, there this was one football player named Rock of Gibraltar, and he played every position on the field all at once. That's when men were men, I tell 'ya."

All game .... There was nowhere to go and nothing to do but nod politely. Then he veered into even more interesting territory ... Formula 1 racing history.

Lots of nodding and uh-huhs from me. I thought about taking out my book. (Yes, I brought a book. You never know when you'll need one.)

Then this gentleman, coughing up a storm, veered into movies.

"Everything's a remake these days," was his actual quote. "A few years ago, they remade It's a Wonderful Life. How can you replace Jimmy Stewart?"

"I don't think they ever remade that movie," I say.

"Oh they did. It was terrible."

"I really don't remember that."

A stalemate.

The man did earn some Sears points when John Boehner showed up on the television, and for what must be the 103rd time, he was crying. Boehner just loves to cry. Imagine if a Democrat cried as much as this guy?

Apparently, this guy was thinking the same thing.

"What's he crying about this time? I'll give him something to cry about, that asshole."

That's more like it!

For the most part, I sat in my corner like a good little boy while we cheered for our suddenly dominant patriots. Fun times for all. Meanwhile, the guy next to me ate a lobster, and the lobster's eyes stared me down, pleading for mercy, yet I could do nothing. I could never eat anything with its eyes staring at me.

Another line in my girly-man resume.

While the game got out of hand, the real men started arguing about the Celtics. One big guy in a beard basically said Ray Allen sucks. A younger Boston fan was challenging him on it. I felt like chiming in, but I would probably have come across like Milton in Office Space.

The game ended and we all stayed to watch the Dolphins beat the Training Camp Super Bowl Champion Jets. We took extra glee in New York's loss and then we parted ways. The working class men who chug down beer like I consume coffee milk, unafraid to speak their minds and speak it to anyone within a five-mile radius, slapped backs and said their goodbyes. They have their Ben Coats and Andre Tippett jerseys. They don't know 'r' is a letter in the alphabet, and they don't care.

I had my Northeastern shirt and my book as I slithered out anonymously, because that's how I do.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Clearing the (hot) air

It's well past time to clear out the desk drawer, clean out the cupboard, empty the trash can, etc. etc. etc.

*I took a trip to up to Orlando to visit my half-sister for my Saturday after Thanksgiving Thanskgiving. First of all, I'd like to thank Arcade Fire for making my three-hour trip go by rather smoothly. I'm not good at long car drives. My back gets tight, as does my neck. My leg grows numb and uncomfortable, my throat gets dry, but that band made it all disappear.

*Signs that I'm no longer in librul South Florida. One: Signs off the road promoting Gator Jerky. Tempting, but no. I hear it is high in sodium. Two: Vultures. Real vultures devouring some carcass. Truly spooky. Three: Bumper stickers attacking the socialist dictator that is Barack Obama.

*My sister Karen is big into genealogy. She's tracked my family back to my great-grandparents on my father's side, almost getting to the Civil War era. Unfortunately, those rubes in the Azores and Ireland did not keep great records so that's where the search has stopped.

My dad's father, Harry Soares/Sears worked in construction in Providence and had two wives (who both died in child birth) before meeting my grandmother, Della Joyce. Having seen photos of my paternal grandmother, I was not surprised to learn she was popular with the men back in the day. She had five kids with Harry, my dad being the last one in 1932. My grandfather died a little more than a year after my dad war born.

Della Joyce died in 1984. I had no idea she was alive when I was born. My parents never talk about her. Apparently, she was a tough, Catholic woman who grew up in foster care, which back then was ten times worse than it is now.

*On the topic of grandparents, I remember my elementary school making us write essays about our grandparents every year. I also recall hating this because I never knew any of my grandparents and had to choose another random relative. So I was born in 1982. In 1984, my dad's mother died at age 83. The next year, my maternal grandfather died suddenly on Christmas Eve. My mom was pregnant at the time and gave birth two days later. In 1987, my mom's mother died on Christmas day, two months after my sister LeeAnne was born.

Obviously, I have little-to-hazy memories of my grandparents. Though some of my first memories is of the chaos surrounding my grandmother's death on Christmas. I may have been at the funeral. Very hazy. Still, years later, I hate my school for that grandparents' essay circus.

*My mother's family has Nova Scotia roots, so I'm a bit Canadian. Explains my adoration for Kiefer Sutherland.

*On Saturday I wanted to watch the entire Oklahoma-Oklahoma State game. I've gotten into college football this year more than in years past. The atmospheres at those games, even on TV, drip with intensity and/or insanity. Unfortunately, my evolution into an 80-year-old man is moving steadily along. I could not stay up past 9 p.m., and it was not the turkey. My work schedule has me going to bed before most grandparents.

*On the 'I'm secretly and 80-year-old man' topic, I'm noticing more muscle aches than ever before. I need to stretch before any sort of physical activity. Before playing basketball now, I feel the urge to put on 1980s shorts while wearing puffy white wrist bands and bad-ass goggles.

*It's one month before Christmas and I have no idea what to ask for. Something with Tom Brady's name on it? A blow-up doll? I need some ideas.

*Here's one. The lone rock radio station is no more. I turned to 93.1 the other day expecting some Nickleback and "52 minutes of rock" that somehow was always - and I mean ALWAYS - at commercial anytime I clicked in, only to find "White Christmas." In its place is a 24-hour Christmas song station. Station manager Jeff Schaible could not be reached for comment.

*Here in diverse, heavily over-populated South Florida, there is not ONE rock radio station on the FM dial. Very sad. I really do need to look into satellite radio.

*Speaking of my Thanksgiving, it was rather pathetic. I worked with one other guy for the most part in an empty, eerie office. If you watched the Pats-Lions game, you saw some of my handiwork. When they told you to vote for the Phil Simms' Iron Man of the game, I was the one who did the poll. Also, when they pointed you to our website to watch the Chris Henry feature (which was legitimately good), I was the one who created the package. I hope you noticed, but you were all probably watching Cranston East once again beat Cranston West. It's like Ohio State-Michigan now, in importance and in competition (or lackthereof).

*Then I went home and ate frozen pizza before taking a jog in a retirement community. A dream Thanksgiving if you ask me.

*Rolling Stone has been sending me their magazine for some reason. I did not subscribe, but I won't complain. They keep sending me warnings. This is your last issue! Then I receive the next one. OK, this is the last issue. Then another one. We really mean it this time! It's quite a game of chicken. Sooner or later, I will lose.

*Quality magazine. Matt Taibi is great. But are they contractually obligated to write glowing features on Robert Plant and Bruce Springsteen every issue? From reading this magazine, one would think these guys come out with an album a month. And Bruce could burp into a microphone and read a script from Outsourced and RS will call it the greatest rumination of American desolation and hopelessness since John Updike put pen to paper.

*Lastly, am I bad person if I look down upon people for the TV they watch? If you prefer Outsourced to 30 Rock, I'm sorry, but I will judge you for it. If you laugh uproariously to Mike & Molly but think Curb Your Enthusiasm sucks, then I will give you the credulous Sears squint of dissatisfaction. We all like a certain trashy TV show or two (I watched the entire first season of Joe Millionaire), but if all you watch is reality crap or staid sitcoms, my tortured, creative side will rain judgement down upon you.

It's a serious character flaw.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Emo warning

If the dating life of Steve Sears was a television show, it would be funnier than Outsourced, canceled faster than Lone Star and match the disappointment level of The Office.

(Seriously, that last episode of the Office was one of the worst they have ever had. I don't think I laughed once. I hate when Jim and Pam are clueless. And I HATE HATE HATE how they always bring Michael out of the Dunder Mifflin office so he can do something excruciatingly stupid in front of a lot of strangers. That whole deal in the bus was predictable and deliriously unfunny. And after an all-time classic that was the Halloween episode, this was just sad.)

Don't fret. I'm not here to rage an emo, Simple Plan diatribe on the tragedies of heterosexual interplay. But I am here to make a Bill Simmons style athletic comparison, which will come at the conclusion.

Let's start with Lady No. 1. Around the beginning of September she contacts me online. We email back and forth for a few days. Then she disappears. This has happened to me a zillion times, so I was completely immune to such abandonment.

A week or so later, she emails back with the ol' 'it's been crazy' excuse. Whatever. She gave me her cell phone number. I sent her a text the next morning. Little did I know what I had just started.

Mr. Z.C. Hoss-man was visiting from out of town, so for the first time in a long time, I was going to be busy. So Lady No. 1 embarks on a torrid texting binge. "What's up?" every morning. Asking for status updates every two hours.

I played along as much as I could, considering I still had a flip cell phone and T9 texting. It takes ten minutes to say "hello" on those things. (I've since upgraded.) I told her as much, while also explaining I had a friend in town so it might take me a while to answer back. By 'a while,' I meant several hours. Keep in mind, I've been forced to wait days and weeks for responses. She apologized but didn't stop the mass deluge.

When I did respond, I'd get passive-aggressive answers, like "Nice to hear from you. Been a while."

Anyway, once the visitor left this humble state, Lady No. 1 and I set up a meeting in Boca Raton on a Monday. Time and place were all agreed upon the Saturday before. So I did not message her from that Saturday night through Monday. I drove up to Boca, found the bar and watched Saints-49ers alone while I waited.

Thirty minutes late and still alone, I texted her to see what was up. She answered back, "You didn't message me at all today so I figured you blew me off." I read it, smirked a defeated smirk, and immediately deleted her from my phone.

To recap, I blew her off by not keeping contact over the span of two days and not confirming something we had already confirmed. But she ignored me for seven says and that's OK. I'm a terrible person for not responding to 25 texts within minutes, she can wait a week.

Now on to Lady No. 2, which is a much more recent tale of woe. We started talking in late September. Same song-and-dance for a few days until -- POOF! -- she disappeared. I'm like Harry Houdini in this shit. I'm a paper shredder and they are ENRON financial documents. (Timely reference.)

Right before I'm to leave for my sister's wedding, she emails me. "Sorry it's been a wild week. I wasn't ignoring you ." OK, I'm forgiving (and not exactly full with other options.) So we message intermittently and set up a date for a Sunday, conveniently during the Pats bye week. What happens? She cancels the morning of.

Then I don't hear back from her for more than a week. I wonder what I possibly could have done the entire time. I didn't even get the chance to un-impress her in person. So, a few Saturdays ago I message her out of the blue just wondering what's up and actually get a response. We end up setting up another date, which she cancels again.

By this point, I'm getting the message, but I forge ahead anyway because I'm a putz. We try a third time, she cancels a third time. Then uncancels. We finally get together last Wednesday. It goes pretty well, but as I've learned the past two years, what I think means squat. It always takes me a while to get comfortable with people, so I don't expect some lame Jennifer Lopez movie moment when the leads lock eyes, the camera turns into a cloudy dream and soothing musics soars through the speakers. So yeah, I have a little wall around me when it comes to strangers. That's just how I am and have always been. I pretty much refused to talk at first to the kid who would become one of my best friend in Cranston. My two longtime college roommates can tell you their first impressions of me weren't great.

Having such a problem in the dating world is like a batter going to the majors who can't hit any pitches over 70 miles per hour and can't touch a curveball. Not good. The conversation goes pretty well, but not without some momentary awkward silences. Mind you, I had another date that went for four hours of almost non-stop spirted talk, and she still told me to take a hike a few days later. Anyway, it went pretty good. I waiting two days, called, left a message and hung up the phone knowing the battle was lost.

Again, I read the tea leaves a while back and still went through the motions. You never know, but it's been more than 24 hours without a response. I let her dick me around for four weeks and for what? Some sushi in Boca. The thing is, I always knew it was ending this way. After cancellation No. 2 I should have just scrapped the whole thing. I just KNEW the ending would suck, like any Mets fan feels in April.

If there was a scouting report on me for these first meet-ups, I don't know what it would say. At this point, I can't think about these nights rationally. I do know the first few days after these dates where I spend most of my waking hours thinking how I screwed this or that up are no fun at all. It's like being on Death Row. You know the end is near and you just want it to come already, and in the meantime you have nothing to think about besides your mistakes.

This brings me to my Bill Simmons moment. If I were a terrible Red Sox shortstop, who would I be? Nick A. Green? Nah, he had his moments. Edgar Renteria? He was awful in Boston, but obviously remembers how to play when he's on other teams. Julio Lugo? He was an affront to baseball, but he also has a ring. He'd be like Turtle from Entourage, who gets women only because he knows Vincent Chase.

So the only conclusion ... Cesar Crespo. A second baseman by nature, he played some shortstop in his Red Sox days. He batted a sparkling .165 in 52 games in the early part of 2004. An absolute black hole in the lineup. A testament to futility. (He also got a ring in 2004, but then again, who didn't?)

It's all fitting. Crespo is one of my favorite random Red Sox players of all time, along with Arquimedez Pozo, Reggie Jefferson, Jeff Frye, Tim Naehring and Jim Corsi. Quality company, I would say.

And I would take some serious 'roids if it meant I could hit .165.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Grinch

It should be well known I am a Halloween Grinch. I don't like dressing up. I did it as a kid because that is what society expected of me. And also, I wanted free candy.

Now I am an adult with a salary in the multiples of thousands and can purchase candy of my own volition.

Still, I don't want to deprive the little children out there some candy from a stranger. So it was with great shame that I had to ignore the knocks on my apartment door this Halloween.

Let me explain.

I've purchased candy a couple years here and never got one - not one - trick-or-treater. As a result, my abode was bereft of candy. Of course, precocious little children had to knock on my door this time, all excited to get some treats.

Me? I had to sit inside, mute the TV and sit in shame. Also, I had to root for the Pats silently on their final, game-winning drive. It was quite sad. Not cry sad, pathetic sad.

Thankfully, the apartment across the hall helped me out by graciously handing out some goodies.

All the while, the Halloween Grinch sat silent in his little cave.

P.S. Who told you the Giants were going to win the World Series??? I think you know the answer.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Watch it burn

A ten-minute drive, if that. Sixty seconds in line. Two minutes waiting for the print-out. Ten minutes to fulfill my civic duty. Another minute to register my civic duty. A second to put on a sticker.

That was it. Something easy. Something simple. Something barely 50 percent of our country bothers to do - vote.

Florida has early voting for a two-week period and I took advantage of it Friday to vote for Alex Sink, Charlie Crist and some school board people I know nothing about.

I'm no civic servant hero. I don't phone bank. I don't Get Out the Vote partly because of my lack of charm and my fear that some ignorant statement from an uninformed citizen would set me off. And I'm not the busiest person in the world.

Still, it takes 10 minutes. There is no excuse not to vote.

This ain't no haughty public service announcement starring John Legend, Susan Sarandon and other "librulz." It's just a simple fact. We aren't asked to do much as American citizens. Many other countries, like Israel and South Korea, have mandated military service. In the U.S., men register for the selective service, but we are nowhere close to a draft.

Just once every two years we are asked to vote. And unless you are a single parent with five kids and two jobs, you aren't too busy to vote. You have to work all Tuesday? Then vote early. Can't vote early? Then fill in an absentee ballot. Again, not difficult.

Yet less than 50 percent will end up voting in the midterm elections. The stay-at-home people will still complain, as if taking their ball and going home will give our nation better leaders. They must stare at a fire, shrug or cuss, go home and expect it to be over by the next morning.

My age group is the worst of all. Most numbers say a third of us 18-34'ers will vote. No, we're not too busy. We just don't care. We don't feel it will have an effect. The politicians don't care about us.

That's right. They don't. Why should they? Does the CW worry about how to reach grandmothers who love JAG reruns? They will not bother with an age group that doesn't vote. You have to go to them. They will not come to you. This is the same group that had to be dragged kicking and screaming to allow women the right to vote, to abolish slavery, to end Jim Crowe, to pass worker protections and food safety regulations. They are always years behind the populace, and they're just fine with that backward position if they are never called out on it.

The youth came out for Obama, didn't get 100 percent of what they wanted, and are disillusioned. Things were supposed to be fixed in two years. Little do they know that the NAACP and black Americans fought for decades until the first Civil Rights legislation was passed in the 50s. With today's attitude, they would have quit in the 30s and sat home so Strom Thurmond could be voted president.

That's basically what liberals are doing now. We didn't get everything we wanted. Obama has compromised too much. He's been excruciatingly slow on gay rights, closing Guantanamo, ending the wars, bringing down unemployment, etc. Much of this is true.

He's also the most successful progressive president since Lyndon Johnson and has done more for the liberal cause in two years than Bill Clinton was able to do in eight. Health care reform. Wall Street reform. He saved a million jobs by rescuing the American auto industry. He's invested more in green energy than any president ever has. He staved off a depression. He made America likable again to the rest of the world. He instituted the Consumer Protection Agency. He kicked private banks out of the student lending industry and invested millions back into government grants.

There a plenty of things to complain about, but for progressive/liberals/communists/potheads, this president is the best you're gonna get. Want the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Then push him from the left with all you have. He'll be more amenable to your position than a President McCain would, or a President Palin, or a President Romney.

Instead, progressives and liberals are doing what they do best, sniping and giving in. They will take a courageous stand by staying home so Sharron Angle can go to the Senate and John Boehner can be third in line for the presidency. What good does that do for their cause?


So Democrats are prepared to sit outside on the lawns and watch the fire. Almost half of America will let an extreme right wing movement take over D.C. - the same people who burned down everything from 2000-2008 - because these ordinary citizens don't want to take 30 minutes out of their day to vote.

And that's how they expect things to get better.

Since when do fires put themselves out?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Some sporting thoughts

My heart is back to its normal rate and I'm no longer shaking.

Just like the infamous goal-line stand from 2003 against the Colts, the Pats let slip a sizable lead on the road to a rival, only to escape at the last second with a win. Like those old Pats teams, they were extremely opportunistic on defense and rudimentary on offense.

They infuriated. They frustrated. They excited. They gave me a near heart attack.

And they won.

There's a ton to criticize after this one. The offense needs to pick it up in the first half. Matt Light needs to take off his roller blades. The hands team should have been on the field for the onside kick. Brandon Tate needs to make an impact.

We Pats fans have been spoiled the past few years with 38-14 blowouts. We've been used to Brady-to-Moss for 50-yard touchdowns. Now that those days are gone, we hearken back to the Super Bowl years with rose-colored glasses.

Those teams blew leads. They missed tackles. They struggled to get going on offense. We tend to forget this looking back on it. Those teams did make just enough plays to win. It's trite. It's a cliche, but it's true.

This year's edition was alert enough to pounce on the ball after that Chargers receiver just dropped it on the ground thinking the play was over. This edition made a heads-up play picking up the ball after the lateral by Philip Rivers while the Chargers just stood around thinking about what dance they were going to try after their next touchdown.

When your offense is gaining 30 yards in a half like the Pats, these are the types of plays (and breaks) you need.

And for the Chargers, who talk trash like they are the Miami Hurricanes of the 80s but play like the 'Cane from today, this loss must eat at them. They're a flashy, talented team. They're also sloppy and play terrible situational football. Frankly, they play like your average Cranston West dropout. The Pats of this season play like Cranston East honor roll students (for the most part. The 15-yard cushions on 3rd and longs are driving me crazy.)


Oh no! The Rangers and Giants are in the World Series. How boring! The ratings will be terrible! Baseball is dead!

Hog wash. Even speaking as a Red Sox fan, not every World Series needs Boston, New York or Philly to be interesting. Many always complain that its the same teams in contention every year in baseball. Now we have a team that's never been to the Fall Classic in the Rangers and a team that has the second longest championship drought. (You know who's No. 1 there.)

And who cares about the ratings, besides Fox TV executives? Sure, they're not doing jumping jacks. It's not Yankees-Phillies, but I don't remember last year's breaking records. People will watch a competitive World Series, no matter who's in it. Angels-Giants was great. Marlins-Indians was an all-time classic. Non-Northeastern teams can play great series as well. And there are plenty of interesting players involved in this one.

Cliff Lee vs. Tim Lincecum in Game 1. Josh Hamilton, who put a David Ortiz-like fear of God in the Yankees. Nelson Cruz, who hit the home run that ended New York's season. Elvis Andrus, who ran the Yankees crazy and was ten times better than Derek Jeter. Neftali Feliz, an electrifying rookie closer. Buster Posey, one of the best young catchers to come along in a while. Matt Cain, a criminally underrated pitcher. Brian Wilson and his fake beard. The ballpark formally known as Pac-Bell, for my money the best field in the country not located on Yawkey Way.

So if fans don't watch this series, they can never complain again about East Coast bias or Yankee over-saturation. The storylines, players, angles and hungry fans are there for the taking. Take a week off from Dancing with Bed Bugs and Iron Urologist and watch this series.


As for my pick? The Rangers have the better lineup. They have more power and better base-runners. They play superior defense and they have the best postseason pitcher going right now in Cliff Lee.

So of course I'm picking the Giants.

I'm going against my brain here, but this San Francisco club has all the ... intangibles. I can't believe I'm saying this. I swear Joe Morgan hasn't overtaken my blog. But they've proven they can win one-run games. They don't rely on any one player, mostly because they don't have one who is good enough to rely on. They've been in playoff mode since early September.

And their pitching has been phenomenal. Lincecum, Cain and Sanchez are better than Lee, Wilson and Lewis all together. And the Giants bullpen might be even better than the starting staff. Old friend Javy Lopez, who loved to come in against a lefty while playing for the Red Sox, only to promptly issue a four-pitch walk, has been dominant. Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt, Guillermo Mota, former Boston great Ramon Ramirez and, of course, heart attack closer Brian Wilson comprise the best bullpen of any playoff team has this October.

A good bullpen is essential in this era of six-inning starts and La Russa-style specialization. The Giants are well equipped with versatile arms. The Rangers will not abuse this pitching staff like they did the Yankees.

And Bruce Bochy just played around with good ol' boy Charlie Manuel in the NLCS. Then again, Manuel is a terrible tactician. He went to the Jimy Williams/Grady Little school of southern drawl, go-with-the-gut managing. Ron Washington is a fine skipper, but Bochy is better. And he has the Dave Doyle charm going for him, which means only good things can happen.

With home field and the gods of baseball on their side, the Giants take a seven-game classic to win their first title in the beautiful City by the Bay.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

This century's OK Computer

There's a CD that is getting the Hot Fuss treatment, which means I've been playing it non-stop for weeks. This new album is the closest thing to "OK Computer" I've heard.

Can you guess what disc I'm talking about?

I think that hint gives it away. It's Arcade Fire's "The Suburbs." The Montreal band, consisting of nearly 321 members, has produced a masterpiece, plain and simple. This album is the best one I've heard since I was recuperating from surgery and listening to the Killers' debut effort way back in 2004.
Highly produced, extremely atmospheric and loaded with ambition, this collection of 16 tracks wades through a familiar topic -- American suburbia with all its traps, false hopes, distant memories and trashed dreams. While this motif could be boring in a less-talented band's hand, this band hits the sweet spot. Win Butler's lyrics turn the simple streets of Houston into a Blade Runner-esque dystopia, and he does it with a sincere passion.

Since I'm far from a musician, I can't act like an expert on the sound, but I find it fascinating. Every song fits in with the others to serve the album's larger theme, ala Radiohead's "OK Computer." No one song really sticks out head and shoulders above the rest, but no song is wasted. Every guitar rift, drum beat, string instrument, every backup vocal is handled with care. Let's start at the beginning ...

1. The Suburbs (7/10) -- A jaunty opener, this song sets the stage for the motifs that will pop up through through the album -- suburban war and decay, boredom and moving on from one's roots. Like most Arcade Fire songs, several instruments and melodies conflate here, but the accompanying piano rift and the high-pitched chorus burst through most prominently.

2. Ready to Start (9/10) -- The most radio-friendly tune with a tremendous intro featuring a steady drum beats and distorted guitar. "If the businessmen drink my blood / like the kids in art school said they would." That should give you an idea what Butler is going for with this one as he attempts to escape his suburban home with his music. I think he succeeded. Even though it's a single, the song isn't simply verse-chorus-verse like most rock songs you hear over the airwaves, which is why this album just gets better the more you listen to it. The songs veer into unpredictable paths.

3. Modern Man (7/10) -- A clean, guitar driven song that features Butler pondering the emptiness of being a ... modern man. Self-explanatory. Not the best, but solid.

4. Rococo (9/10) -- Now this is classic Arcade Fire. No other band I've heard sounds quiet like this -- a haunting orchestra with a sly, creeps-under-your-skin melody. "They seem wild but they are so tame / They're moving towards you with their colors all the same," Butler warns of today's poseur, conformist teenagers. The song's title refers to an art form from 18th century Europe. This is an ambitious group and they won't be singing about pot or girls. Great, great song.

5. Empty Room (8/10) -- Regine Chassagne, Win Butler's wife, makes her first appearance as lead singer in this orchestral/punk romp with great work by the band's violinists. "When I'm by myself / I can be myself" she yelps. One of the album's shorter tunes, it injects some life after the dreary Rococo.

6. City With No Children (9/10) -- Empty Room segues into this catchy, radio-enticing songs with the album's most memorable guitar rift. Butler brings up his hometown of Houston directly as he dreams of driving back home in an underground highway and listening to the engine failing. The guy writes great lyrics. Reminds me of when I go back home to Cranston and look at the empty streets of my old neighborhood, streets that used to teem with children playing kickball or manhunt. And then I cleanse my dentures.
7. Half Light I (7/10) -- Chassagne and Butler team up on the vocals in this captivating song that pours out the melancholy and revels in mystery. It's not a song you will hear as a single, but it's a song that keeps you listening for the chance you might discover something new even on the tenth listen.

8. Half Light II (No Celebration) (8/10) -- I know I've used the word "haunting" before, but it's what I think of most. Like OK Computer, this album never lets up. While not as downright depressing, its melancholy is thick and unforgettable. Butler sings of the markets crashing and going back home to a town he doesn't know anymore, backed up by a wall-of-sound effect where all of Arcade Fire's instruments mesh into a techno rhythm. "Though we knew this day would come / Still it took us by surprise / In the town where I was born / I now see through a dead man's eyes." Katy Perry this is not.

9. Suburban War (10/10) -- Where Butler sounds a bit excited by going back home in "The Suburbs," he also laments in this coupling of a song that refers to some of the same exact lyrics of earlier tunes. A wavy guitar drags down the mood even as the keyboards try to lift it up. "All my old friends, they don't know me know." Simply fascinating and enticing, I just can't help but throw myself into this song every time. It's a Pink Floyd experience.

10. Month of May (8/10) -- The pace picks up with this Ramones tribute. When they want to, Arcade Fire can produce a toe-tapping rocker like the best of them. Butler refers to his stoic teenage fans with their arms crossed tight in a pain too much for someone so young.

11. Wasted Hours (6/10) -- Not one of my favorites, but a good song on any normal album. This is as acoustic as these ambitious arena rockers get.
12. Deep Blue (7/10) -- Butler remembers his first forays into the music world in this dirge mid-tempo offering where he urges suburbanites to put down the laptops and cell phones and find the wild in the night. Sometimes I forget this song is here, but I'm always pleasantly surprised.

13. We Used to Wait (10/10) -- Enigmatic lyrically, but a home run musically. This is my favorite song on the album, just a hair above "Suburban War." The piano bass line is the kicker. I love it. The chorus is a gem as well. Over five minutes long, this song weaves it way from the opening piano to an anthemic chorus made for sing-alongs at concerts. This goes up there with "Wake Up" and "Keep the Car Running" among Arcade Fire's best.

14. Sprawl I (Flatland) (6/10) -- Haunting, there's that word again. Butler recounts driving in his old neighborhood, looking for his former house and the places in which he used to play and feeling out of place, like he's traversing through a dead town. I can certainly relate to that. While the music itself isn't memorable, the lyrics are.

15. Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) (9/10) -- This sounds more like Blondie than Arcade Fire, but I really like it. Backed by a synthesizer, the charming Chassagne sings of being ostracized in a sprawling suburb of conformity. "Dead shopping mall rise like mountains beyond mountains." This is a unique offering in their catalogue and a nice change-of-pace. It's also the catchiest song on the entire album.

16. The Suburbs (continued) (5/10) -- Bands always do this, ending albums with a whimper instead of bang. They finish with some 10 minute meandering mess or a tiny one-minute throw-away. Why not end with something great? Anyway, Arcade Fire reprises the opening song. It's not really a stand-along song, so I guess it's unfair to say it's the worst. Basically, the true ending to this collection is Sprawl II and this is just a coda.

Whew. That took a while, but I had to do it. This album has been on an endless loops in my car for nearly two weeks. I can't stop listening to it. "The Suburbs" is that damn good. Listen to it. Now!

Monday, October 4, 2010

A weekend at Sears

Usually when the Sears clan gets together, it's because someone has died. This past weekend, we reconvened for the wedding of my sister Lauren.

I arrived in Rhode Island on Thursday to find the good ol' gloomy weather I knew from my formative years. I always enjoy the ride home from the airport, where I get to soak in the sights of my home state. The Dunkin' Donuts stores on every street corner. The new CVS or Wallgreens that pop up like insects in summer. The sheer lack of fancy sports cars I've grown used to cussing under my breath in Florida.

And of course my reunion with the queen of the Sears family, Jelly herself.

I attended my brother-in-law's bachelor party at Dave's Bar & Grill Thursday night. The music was terrible. Every successive song hurt more than the previous one. There was lots of pool. A typical Rhode Island run in with the mother of fellow Thunderbolt and Husky I knew. In the end, it made the bachelor party of one Jeff A.J. Burnett Schaible look like a scene from the Hangover.

On Friday came the wedding rehearsal. This is where I reunited with the priest officiating my sister's wedding -- Father Joe Upton. Seeing Joe, who used to clown around a ton in high school, decked out in priestly attire and coolly running the rehearsal was something to see. And more proof of how old I am getting.

From there we went to the rehearsal dinner at Pinielli's off Route 2. I ordered the seafood risotto instead of the chicken parm because I'm a risk taker and an adventurous eater. The best part of the night came when the waiters served the plates of chicken parm -- the biggest pieces of chicken I've ever seen.

At first, I mistook them for super chickens, the one Peter Griffin has battled a few times. Take your large dinner plate and imagine a piece of breaded chicken stretching from one end to the other. It was gigantic. If only Jeff Schaible could have seen it. He would have taken it home and framed it.

The day of the actual wedding saw picture perfect weather after non-stop clouds. We in the groom's party did what men usually do one wedding days -- wait. An SUV limo escorted us to the family parish just five minutes from my parents' house and dropped us off in order to pick up the girls. We waited in the church for over an hour.

It did amuse me that before the mass as the church was holding a pet blessing. Parishioners stood in a circle on the church lawn with their oblivious dogs and cats as the priest read prayers. I found it hilarious. I'm sure the dogs are thinking 'What is life?' and 'Is there a God?'

The traditional Catholic ceremony was very nice. Father Upton runs a tight ship in what was his first wedding as a priest. From the church we rode the limo all the way down to Narragansett for the reception at The Towers, a medieval-looking place right off the beach. It's a popular venue and now I see why.

My two sisters gave the maid of honor toast, but erred when calling Lauren the favorite. I'm the favorite. And if I'm not the favorite, then it's Jelly. The best man speech was heart-felt, given by the groom's brother. Of course it wasn't good as mine, but that's a lofty standard.

Now, a wedding reception is always a dicey minefield for singles. Young and old, there were lots of intersexual mingling and forlorn faces on the lonely throughout the night. It was heart-wrenching to see my aunt's face during the anniversary dance. She was having trouble keeping it together because she had lost her husband a couple years ago.

My sisters were urging me to talk to my sister's former boss, an attractive woman who was certainly enjoying herself on the dance floor. First of all, I hate dancing. Hate it. It's just uncomfortable to me. Now, if the wedding party broke into a game of pick-up basketball or 24 trivia, I'd be in my element. And it's weird to have my sisters and mom urging me on like that.

Anyway, by the time I worked up the courage, my cousin Matt stepped in. He was all over her, dancing with a drink in his hand, going all Jersey Shore on her. And when I say all over her, I mean it. He was in her ear for the rest of the night.

I finally found a chance to display the Sears charm toward the end of the reception where we went through the usual pleasantries. It's tough to hold a conversation over blasting music. I don't know how people do it. And in the confusion and hustle and bustle at the end, she went off to her hotel and that was that.

Either way, I was heading back to Florida the next day so it felt useless to meet new people. When would I be seeing this girl again anyway? I felt the same way with the groom's family. Nothing against them, but I float in like a guest star in Friends during sweeps, coming to town during Christmas and sundry other occasions. So the impetus to get to know people wasn't there.

And I'm not know for being a chatty gadfly, am I?

I flew out the next day. Months before I started my new 5 a.m. shift, I scheduled this flight a tad late in the evening. A three hour trip turned into eight, a magic trick airlines perform with great skill. A layover in Philly was delayed an hour, the flight was so bumpy there was screaming on the plane, and a middle-aged mother had to ask me if I was alright as I gripped the armrests with my face an ashen white.

It also took me a half-hour to exit the economy parking lot at the airport and I got home at 12:30. I ended up sleeping just three hours before I had to roll into work. Thanks to a medium iced coffee I made it.

But who cares about my travails. My sister is on her honeymoon. Congrats, Lauren and Derek! Welcome to the family, brother-in-law!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

My search for steroids

Four o'clock in the morning is a desolate time of darkness and disrepute.

The streets are empty. The world is still in slumber. And I would be joining the world if it weren't for the pesky fact I need a job to pay for all my addictions.

Sometimes I'm so damn tired it hurts. I'll be sitting at my desk banging my head against any hard surface I'll find. I'll slap myself awake, rub my eyes like I'm scrubbing a bathtub. This isn't every morning, but it happens enough.

The cure for this? Well, caffeine, right? It's the steroids, the performance enhancing drug for the working stiff. If caffeine disappeared, our whole society would collapse. Besides soda, I don't tend to drink caffeine-enriched beverages. And drinking soda that early is not an option for me. Another complication: I just don't like coffee.

So where do I get my steroids?

My first experiment was Red Bull. It doesn't taste great, but I can deal with it. It worked those first few days, but then my body began to reject that stuff like Dikembe Mutombo. More than a few times a feeling of pretty intense chest-tightness attacks bombarded me hours after imbibing the liquid crack. I felt like my heart was about to shoot out of my chest. It was scary.

So I stopped my Red Bull affair.

For the next two weeks or so I just willed myself awake when those moments of tempting slumber beckoned me. My world famous Sears will, just the power of my mind. That's all I had.

Then ol' pal Z.C. Hossem came to town. While he has many talents, the one thing he strikes out on is recommending drinks for me. From the pure piss that was Speckled Hen to the rum-and-coke and the Bloddy Mary, he's been like that buddy in the romantic comedy who gives terrible girl advice to the moping male hero and laughs at the disaster sure to come.

He vowed to take me to Starbucks and introduce me to a coffee that could add some zip in the mornings. He ordered a venti hazelnut something and added a bunch of other stuff to it. It wasn't too bad, to tell you the truth.

My quest for caffeine was over.

Then after I dropped him off at the airport that day, I had another ... incident while driving back home. The closest thing I could describe it as is a panic attack, which I've had. Chest tightness, my heart acting wild and a kind of caged energy that turned my limbs tingly and a little numb. If not for the traffic on US-1 I would have had to pull over. It lasted almost a half-hour and lingered the rest of the night.

Thankfully, Zach's attempt on my life failed.

This was the final straw. I had to see the doctor about this. I figured it had something to do with what I was drinking, but I needed to be sure.

My hypothesis was correct. The doctors ran tests, even an EKG, and everything was normal. It was the caffeine. Had to be. The day I went to the doctor, I tried a small Dunkin' Donuts iced coffee and I was shaking like a kid on a sugar high.

"You need to drink decaf," the doctor told me.

Yes, I guess I do.

What she didn't tell me but what I know to be the truth now?

"You should've stayed with coffee milk."

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Visitor

With not much to do, former NBA superstar Vlad Radmonovic decided to give me a visit in my Southern Florida habitat.

I will recount our adventures in cleverly titled sections because I know that's how Americans like to read when they decide to read at all.

The Part Where I Forget How to Drive

One of my best qualities is my perfect driving record. Have I been spotless? No. Ask Jeff Schaible about my thrilling U-turn of death. But I have no tickets at all and I can usually work myself around an area in which I've spent nearly four years.

But anytime former Lakers lazy man Radmonovic comes to town, I turn into an 80-year-old Alzheimers patients hunched over the wheel swerving into Farmer's Markets.

First, I get lost driving back to my apartment from the airport. A drive I've done dozens of times with no problem and suddenly we're on our way to Naples.

And I couldn't find an Outback Steakhouse. That took us an hour. I couldn't find a Boston bar where we could watch the Patriots game. We even missed the first touchdown of the season.

I also got sidetracked again while driving to Hollywood, having to circle around the airport to get back to I-95.

All this is made worse because you could drop Radmonovic in Siberia and he'd find the closest Siberian Shawarma within 20 minutes with only a dogsled and a map of Mordor.


Where No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

After the 1-15 Patriots cheated their way past the Bengals, Vlad and I took to the sandy courts nestled next to beautiful Fort Lauderdale beach. Of course I lost, but it was 12-10. Respectable. After a soul-searching swim in the warmest beach water I have encountered, we were headed home when I found part of a man's wallet in the parking lot.

I had his social security card, voter registration form and the works. Did I sell it on the black market? Did I steal his life savings? No. I called him and told the man I'd wait for him at the beach and hand him his wallet back.

While we waited, I got a parking ticket. Now, while we were paying at the beginning, a man came up to us and handed us his slip, which had few more hours on it. Great! So I displayed the slip but in my haste it flipped upside down, leaving only an old one face up for the parking inspectors.

Another mindless Sears moment for me. But since I still had the good parking slip, I vowed to fight the good fight the next morning and get the ticket rescinded. Finally, a Sears victory against the Man! Instead of being the lovable lout of loserdom, the sweet nectar of victory was close at hand.

So I waltz into the bureaucratic crypt the next day confident of victory.

"Can I see your Fort Lauderdale resident card?"

Wah wah wahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

I glanced at the ticket and lo and behold, "Fort Lauderdale resident" glowed up at me. They get discounted parking rates, the rest of us don't. Bye, bye, 25 bucks.

To recap, one man's nice gesture prevented us from just paying for the slip ourselves. And my decision to stop, pick up the wallet and wait meant my car sat in the parking lot 20 minutes late. So two acts of kindness = $25 parking ticket.

And you wonder why I'm a misanthrope.

No Life at Sun Life

I still remember my first trip to Fenway Park in 1995 in a game against the Brewers. The gigantic Green Monster. The smell of the impeccably green grass. The Citgo Sign. The wide, finely raked infield. The stuff that gets Bob Costas in the mood.

So with that in mind, I hoped to give the hulking bear that is Vlad Radmonovic a similar experience at beautiful Sun Life Stadium for an NL East slobberknocker between the Marlins and the Phillies.

It was an eye-opener, all right. Vlad could not believe the Rhode Island-mall type atmosphere for the game. The empty concourse. The endless expanse of empty orange seats. The ability to freely pick where we wanted to watch the game from center field.

An audience you'd expect at the Division 5B Rhode Island Sectional Semifinals between Scituate and Cumberland, not a major league baseball game with the two-time defending NL champions.

Only a short baseball throw from rightfielders Jayson Werth and Mike Stanton, we watched the Phillies fool around with the disinterested Marlins. Both of us were on TV for just a second on Logan Morrison's solo bomb to center. Only an obnoxious, foul-mouthed teenage girl added any spice to the proceeding.

"I F'n love F'n Jayson Werth! World F'n Champs!"

Damn kids these days.

The Lost Winter of 2005 Part II

Back in December of 2005, Vlad and I watched more than a few seasons of the Sopranos. Worse, I was watching those episodes for the second time. It's like we went on a huge meth kick and loss a month of our lives strung out in some dilapidated shack. Only with more gabbagool.

After several expensive meals (including a delicious $11 margarita for yours truly) and a salacious A/C controversy that cost me a yet-to-be determined amount of money, we decided to revert to cheap college student mode and watch The Wire, otherwise known as the greatest TV show of all time.


Again, I was watching these episodes for the second time. In my defense, you have to watch that show more than once. It is that deep. We zipped through an entire 10 episode season in about two days, but what a glorious, "life is futile and we're all cogs in an evil machine" two days they were!

Vlad has since gone back to New Jersey, but that doesn't mean I stop having fun. Yesterday, I saw the Kings of Leon perform. They put on a solid set. Nothing fancy. They just got up there, played their songs skillfully and left. They played all the songs I wanted to hear so I was happy.

And I got a $30 t-shirt out of it.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Steve at the Emmys

I'm reporting to you LIVE! from Hollywood ... Florida.

Actually, I'm 20 minutes north of Hollywood ... Florida, but I should be in Hollywood, California. We all know I am Mr. TV. I am more qualified to vote on the Emmys than most of the real voters are. Emmy voters decide on submitted episodes, not an entire season, which is dumb. Imagine Oscar voters deciding on Best Picture based on a ten-minute clip.


So with the annual television awards set for tomorrow, it's time to for me to make the final word on who will win and who should win.

Best Actor in a Comedy Series

Who Will Win: Jim Parsons, Big Bang Theory. As a CBS employee I am contractually obligated to choose this hilarious actor.

Who Should Win: Larry David. C'mon. Just give him this one. He's willing to milk his real-life divorce for comedy. People like Parson's snobby nerd character, and he provides some new blood, so I think he takes it. Alec Baldwin and Steve Carell didn't have very memorable seasons.

Best Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

Who will win: Tina Fey, 30 Rock. Once the Emmy voters take a liking to someone, they never stop. Kinda like stalkers that way.

Who should win: Tina Fey, 30 Rock. I must admit, I really don't have a vested interest in this one. Edie Falco in Nurse Jackie? Never seen it, don't want to. Glee? Yeah right. Maybe Amy Poehler can pull this one out, but who watches Parks and Recreation?

Best Comedy Series

What will win: Glee. The buzz around this show is enormous. They sing! They dance! There's a love square! The Emmy voters won't be able to resist, not when 30 Rock had a bit of a down year.

What should win: Curb Your Enthusiasm. 30 Rock was good, not great. The Office was mediocre at best. And I don't care about the other shows, so this one is easy. Curb gave us a Seinfeld reunion we've all been waiting for as well as an alternative ending to the series. It worked brilliantly.

Lead Actor in a Drama Series

Who will win: Michael C. Hall, Dexter. He's won all the other awards and I think he continues to do so here in what is an absolutely stacked category. Dexter had a phenomenal season and to honor Hall for the classic character he's created would not be a crime.

Who should win: Jon Hamm, Mad Men. This was a tough, tough one to pick. Matthew Fox turned Jack Shepherd into a lovable martyr. Bryan Cranston took Walter White on his final steps into full Heisenberg mode and continues to amaze the hell out of me. He also has a great last name and has won the past two awards in this category. Kyle Chandler makes me wish I played football for Coach Taylor. Hall fools you into liking a serial killer. But Jon Hamm gets the all-important Sears nod for finally bringing the iconic shadow that is Don Draper into the sunlight last season. His work in The Gypsy and the Hobo cinches the trophy for me.

Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

Who will win: Juliana Margulies, The Good Wife. Have never seen a second of this show. Just going with the conventional wisdom here. January Jones gets undue flack for her acting. She does a good job with a character,but that good job is with a character who Mad Men could do without, so I don't see her winning. Glenn Close has a chance because she's an Emmy favorite, but Damages is on the back-burner for most people, unfortunately.

Who should win: Connie Britton, Friday Night Lights. It's about time she gets recognition for what is the most realistic depiction of a married woman, mother and teacher you'll ever find on TV. She doesn't need to chew scenery. She's just unflinchingly authentic in every scene. She has almost zero chance of winning, but I would love to hear her name called Sunday night. I'm rooting for her.

Best Drama Series

What will win: Mad Men. Like with the West Wing and James Spader, once the Emmy voters give you one award, it's like they feel obligated to keep it going. Mad Men is tough to resist. Impeccably acted and amazingly evocative of an America on the precipice of colossal societal change, it couldn't be more award-attracting if it were a old British actress at the Oscars.

What should win: Breaking Bad. While I like Mad Men plenty, season three had a lot of episodes where nothing happened at all. It hit several home runs towards the end, but that can't cover up for some clunkers that came before. Meanwhile, Breaking Bad offered one of the greatest seasons of episodic television in history. One Minute, Half Measures and Full Measure should have plaques in the TV Hall of Fame. Walter White's final descent into the criminal underworld, and the resulting corruption of Jesse Pinkman that can never be taken back, resulted in the best season the show has had and the best season of any show I've watched this year. Frankly, this is not even close. Mad Men will win, but Breaking Bad is much more deserving.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

How the other half lives

I am on the 80-year-old man schedule.

At 4 a.m., with the sun yet to rise, I awake to prepare for the hustle and bustle of another day in the rat fast-walk. With the help of some Red Bull and intestinal fortitude (for which I am famous) I manage to keep my eyes open long enough to last until 2 p.m.

Then I get home and feel like napping the rest of the day. Perhaps, if the will arises, I will watch the beginnings of a sporting event on TV until I decide to call it a night anywhere between 9:30 and 11 p.m.

I have the same routine as my dad. He's 78.

This new life - the life of a regular, sunlight-enjoying worker bee - has been eye opening. I'm like Ryan Atwood staying in the guest house of the well-to-do Cohens. I have no idea how I got here, but I'm thankful for the opportunity. And I'm brooding about my inner-pain.

Look at all the things my release from the night prison has allowed me to do.

First, I was able to attend a Goo Goo Dolls concert. Yes, the Goo Goo Dolls are still rocking the adult alternative charts. Switchfoot even opened for them. There was a guy with a t-shirt that said, "Boobies make me smile." The crowd groaned audibly whenever one of the Goos said the following words: "Here's a new song ..." All those people enjoying themselves on a sweltering Miami evening ... and little ol' me accompanied them. On a Saturday no less!

Then on Sunday, I saw a matinee showing of Inception. I enjoyed all the thought that must have went into that film. And I saw where the ending was going to go in general terms. It was a Sunday afternoon and I was not buried in an avalanche of baseball recaps. Instead, I sat next to a large man with a keg of popcorn. The real life.

I wake up on the weekends and feel the mid-morning sun and realize I have a whole day to waste, instead of just half of one.

And then I relaxed in the sauna that is the 6 p.m. Florida heat and finished the Lisbeth Salander trilogy. I admit I was sad to say goodbye to those quirky, kinky, coffee-swilling Swedes. I felt like they were true friends and when I read the last words I teared up a little, as if I were giving a goodbye hug at an airport.

So there you have it. A honest weekend in South Florida, my first since November of 2006, before Barack Obama ruined the earth with his Islamic socialism and Asante Samuel ruined my dreams with his dropped interception. A full week of semi-normalcy.

Granted, as a result of my early early EARLY bird hours, I am currently drooling all over my Toshiba and my eyelids weigh more than Albert Haynesworth (hey-o!), but it's a price I'm willing to pay.

As long as I have my Red Bull.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The surrender

I'm a Twitter-er. Sigh.

My overlords at CBS strongly suggested we all join Twitter. It's the future, you know? I need to know the latest BS rumors about baseball trades and I need to see athletes murder the English language day after day, minute after minute. So I gave in after years of Twitter-phobia and joined.

You can find me at Evenflow226.

I've only been on for a few hours and already Twitter is annoying me. Every time I click on something, I get the "Secure Connection" warning, on both my home and work computers. And I'm following MLB so does that mean I have to see every single person's re-tweet or whatever it's called?

Ah, whatever. It's late. I'll look into it more tomorrow after I fall asleep drenched in my tears of shame.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Soundgarden is back. It must be 1994

I would have paid a lot of money to see Soundgarden at Lollapalooza. Lots of money. Superunknown is firmly ensconced in my top five albums of all-time list. Chris Cornell, in this WBRU-weaned music critic's opinion, had the best voice of any rock singer I've ever heard.

So it was with great interest that I read reports from the band's reunion show at Lollapalooza in Chicago. Of course I was too lazy and cheap to even consider flying out there to see them and when they were still together and touring, I was but a lost little kid who kinda liked classical music and had no interest in "grunge."

The next best thing? Watch clips on YouTube. Like Bill Belichick I've been secretly eying videotape the past few nights to construct a scouting report on one of the best bands of the 1990s. I'll probably never see them live, so this would be the next best thing.

And it's tough to say this ... the guys disappointed me. I understand I can't put too much stock in crappy YouTube clips of a rock concert, but Chris Cornell looked to be going through the motions. Check out this clip of Black Hole Sun. Surely he's not going to prance around stage like Lady Gaga or even Billy Joe Armstrong. That's not his style. And of course most of Soundgarden's songs are about sunny topics like drug abuse, depression, mania and suicide, so he won't be waving his hands in the air like there aren't any repercussions.

It's the way he sung it, like he was racing through the lyrics. Cornell is in his mid-40s. It's going to be tough to bring the same passion to his songs, the same passion I heard in those albums. And just like an quarterback's arm or a sprinter's legs, talents fade over time, like a singer's voice. I heard Cornell live when I saw Audioslave and his voice was scratchy. I've seen Eddie Vedder four times live and he's not anywhere near his Ten or Vs. level.
Good ol' Eddie was never bored, though.
All that KISS BS with fireworks and facepaint is just a cover for bad music. Great bands don't need that fluff and I don't expect it from Soundgarden. Just play the songs hard and with passion. Perhaps I'm just being ornery today. Perhaps work has finally turned me into the bitter old man I'm destined to become. They just didn't sound great.

All this being said, I would have lost my mind when the first chords to Black Hole Sun undulated through Grant Park. And I would have loved the show, just because I actually saw Soundgarden perform live. YouTube just can't do it justice. Even Chris Cornell at 50 percent is better than most.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Kinda like 1984, but different.

I've hesitated about doing this for a long time, but I figured "Why not?"

While some people like to smoke pot or go to Disneyland for fun, I like to write. Yeah, I find it enjoyable. Sometimes, anyway. In the summer after my senior year of high school I started writing a story that was inspired by my reading of 1984. I basically wanted to do a dystopia-type novel on a draconian future American school. I named it Pennyroyal Tea because the Nirvana song seemed very apporpriate for what I wanted to convey.

Ever since that summer, I've been working on it off and on. I've finished it several times, but then I always go back and change a bunch of things. It's about as finished as it will ever be.

Since it'll probably never see the light of day anyway, I supposed posting some parts of it here can't hurt. Here's the beginning few pages. Enjoy it or if you're Zach, fall asleep to it.

Chapter 1

Just follow 1593.

She lined up behind a short, frumpish girl with braided black hair that stopped short at the shoulders. Now all 1594 had to do was stand behind this girl, mimic 1593’s movements, keep her own head straight up, her shoulders back and her mouth closed.

Half-an-hour earlier during the school orientation, Erica Windon dozed off while a never-ending cadre of school officials approached the central podium and preached whatever it was that they preached. She did not know or care about what they said because a slideshow of her favorite band, Morality, reeled through her mind instead. A pop band comprised of five wholesome, young men, the group sang righteous, melodic tunes about teenage romance, familial bonds and charity towards others. Most of all, they were hot. She fancied Shane in particular - the black-haired, pointy-jawed rebel with a heart of gold - and she paid all her attention to his visage that morning, that body of stone bursting through a skin-tight, black leather jacket, that stubble of facial hair peeking out from his strong chin. All for her and her alone. He looked straight at her – right through her – and he ignored everyone else. She tried to hide her proud smile.

Once the presentations finished, all the freshmen of High School stood up and marched with militaristic precision out of the Gopher Industries Memorial Auditorium (GIMA). Erica had no idea where to go so, as she had done all morning, she tailed 1593. Her shepherd, dressed in white dress pants and a white suit jacket like every other freshman, guided Erica to her current location in a lifeless room nestled in the southwest corner of the first floor.

1592, a pale little red-headed boy with a nervous twitch in his left arm, conversed with a man at a rectangular table set up in front of the room, but Erica paid them short shrift. She surveyed her surroundings instead, swashed in a whirlpool of white. To her left sat 50 students dressed exactly alike except with different faces. Even then, the distinctions seemed immaterial. Most sported white skin, white outfits and they sat on bright white chairs which rested on a cloudy white-tiled floor. The table for which she waited dutifully in line was topped with pearl-white plastic and contrasting black computer screens.

1592 finished and walked to his left to another white table where a group of three elderly ladies administered to him. Erica hung her head and stared at the floor, blocking out the booming, masculine voice that shot a shiver through the entire room. She did not have many talents, but she could tune out the outside world almost at a moment’s notice.

A minute passed before 1593 followed in the path of 1592. Her turn had finally come.


Erica nodded. The man’s appearance almost knocked the wind out of her chest. Adorned in black blazer and a yellow dress shirt stretched to its limits by a sizeable gut, he could not have differentiated himself more from the whiteness of the room had he appeared naked or painted his skin red. His gaunt face and balding brown hair were not remarkable, but a mist of hostility seemed to hover about him, like the haze from a bonfire. His creamy brown eyes popped out from his wrinkled skin like a periscope just inching its way past the surface of an ocean. His wavy forehead extended up to the middle of his scalp while thin, smooth bristles of brown hair formed a semicircle around his skull. His lips pursed, he reviewed the screen before him as he scratched his scaly skin, which dangled off his neck like the gullet of a turkey. His face looked like that of a starving man or a lung cancer patient, but his protruding stomach betrayed his eating habits.

“Nice to have you here at High School. We don’t hope for your best because we already know we will get it,” he said with a wispy air of satisfaction. His monotone voice unnerved her.

“I…yeah,” was all she could muster.

“Here are your assignments,” the man said, handing her a silver data card no bigger than his thumb while turning his computer screen around so she could read the bold green letters.


She crunched her nose as she read them.

“Excuse me,” she said.

“What was that?” he asked.

“Excuse me. I-”

“Sir,” he said.

“I’m sorry?”

“You will address me as ‘Sir.’ Understand?”

She glanced nervously behind her to all the faces and then back at the man in black and yellow.

“I’m sorry, sir,” Erica said. “I have a question. It says here that I’m in the Hispanic Student Association.” She extended her hand to point to the screen, but he turned it back to his direction and sneered

“I know what it says, 1594. I’m the one in charge of the assignments. Some may prefer the term ‘Latino,’ but we value our traditions.”

“Yes, of course, sir. It’s just that I’m not Hispanic. My great grandmother on my mother’s side was from Portugal, but that’s it.” Holding out her arms, she proclaimed, “As you can see, I’m as white as you can get.” He did not say a word, which jogged her memory. “Sir.”

“You’re Hispanic,” he said.

“I am?”


“Most of my ancestors are British-”

“Hey, Janine!” he called out. One of the elderly ladies, the one in the middle with an inviting round face and plush cheeks, raised her head to acknowledge him.

“Yes, Mr. Lamond.”

“Do you hear someone talking?”

“Why, no I don’t, sir.”

“Yeah, me neither.”

He looked up at her and raised his eyebrows. Gulping, she dropped the subject and waited for new directions.

“Glad to hear you don’t have any other comments. Now head on over to that desk over there and Janine will make sure to set you up very nicely.”

Jaw shivering, she strolled to the desk. Janine did not even bother to look up, instead motioning to the attendant to her right. That elderly woman actually made eye contact and ordered Erica to hand over the data card and look straight ahead. Hiding in the middle of the wall was a glistening camera lens the size of a coaster. She stared straight at it. The woman pushed a button and Erica heard a click and then the humming of a small printer on an adjacent table. It popped out a laminated card, which Janine picked up and handed over along with the data card.

“Here you go, young lady.”

Erica dropped the data card in her pocket, grabbed her High School identification card and studied it as she headed back to her seat. The school’s name and insignia, a muscular hand with all five fingers stretched to their capacity, filled up the top of the card. To the right was a small square that stored her face. Her black hair, which she had tied up in a tight bun earlier that morning on her mother’s orders, was barely visible in the box. She saw her blue eyes, high cheekbones, button-like nose and thin lips that appeared to her in the mirror every morning. She saw those features but, they all seemed separated from each other, a hodgepodge of random items with no common purpose.

It was her picture, just a different face.


The classroom she needed to find was in Section F. If the giant F’s all over the walls were any indication, she had found the right section. While trekking to her class, she kept replaying her confrontation with the man in black, the Mr. Lamond.

What the hell was that guy’s problem? You’d think, on the first day, they would at least try to be nice.

Students packed the sterile hallways, clapping their new shoes on the green tiles and admiring the advertisements on the walls as they walked to class. They did not talk or joke with each other. The ads did the speaking for them. The ads were the entertainment. Most of them hocked new snacks or fad clothing or teenager movies. Nothing spectacular, except for one ad for Morality’s upcoming record. All five band members mucked for the cameras, for her eyes only. Their new album, titled “Completely For You,” would be coming out in three days and this fact alone almost erased from her mind the humbling experience with Mr. Lamond.

“Welcome to High School, class of 2086,” a voice said from above. She looked up to see a speaker hanging indiscreetly from the ceiling. “I’m 711, the host of the award-winning RBS. Before class starts today, everyone should know that Xstacy Soda will be hosting a company orientation after school in the Cafeteria. You can win free Xstacy products while tasting their great new drink, Orange Watermelon!”

Erica passed an escalator that ascended four stories and gazed at it in wonderment. A sturdy male student dressed in a green suit cut in front of her and took the moving stairs. He must be a senior, she thought. She noticed a multitude of merit badges from various sponsors stitched on the lapel of his suit jacket. That kid meant business.

“This announcement was brought to you by the kind folks of Cranston Information Network, tomorrow’s leader in the safety information business-”

She continued on until finally coming upon her room after passing hundreds of doors and even more advertisements. With the same square footage of a mall and just as aggressive on the senses, even the simple task of finding a classroom in the High School building required diligence, a trait Erica did not want to exact on her first day of school. Her only goal: survive the day.

The classroom looked exactly as she had imagined. The students sat in ten rows of stadium seating with each personal desk accompanied by a Neo5000 personal laptop. The teacher’s desk, devoid of any personal artifacts, stood squarely in the middle, flanked from behind by a giant projection screen. A soft green carpet and dim lights ushered in a welcoming feeling to any newcomers and made it easier to read the high-definition screens.

After everyone became situated, a slender woman with veins the size of a garden hose snaking their way on her hands appeared from nondescript door at the far end of the room. Dressed in a pinstriped business suit, she stood behind her desk and surveyed the new crop of future CEO’s, future heart surgeons, future data entry specialists. The lights dimmed immediately and the word “Engram” ballooned up on the projection screen.

“Engram…the lifeblood of the American educational system,” said a brisk feminine voice. “In the dark ages of our school system, grammatical mistakes, literary ignorance and the mutilation of the official language of our country were common practice among wayward youth. Today, 95 percent of all students know their language as well as they know their own family.”

Erica surveyed the students around her, who all diligently watched the presentation. Their eyes did not blink as much as hers. Their cheeks were not as red nor eyes quite as furtive.

The feminine voice went on and on about the requirements for the course and the essential importance Engram held in American life. Vital to success. American values. Enrich the mind to enrich yourself. All the keywords the school system had weaned Erica on since her formative years. The same words, the same phrases every year, all presented in a slightly different manner. After the presentation ended, the lights remained dim and a new phrase appeared on the screen.


“If you learn only one term this class, it must be this one,” the teacher said into a slender cordless microphone. “What we teach you is all you need to know. The rest is just clutter.” Like a theatrical production, the room brightened up, the laptops turned themselves on and the teacher pointed in Erica’s general vicinity.

“What’s your name,” the teacher asked. “The pretty little girl with black hair in the back row. What’s your name?”

Pointing to herself, Erica asked, “Me?”



“No, what’s your name?” the teacher asked more forcefully.


“Good. What is ‘A Tale of Two Cities?’ ”

“Um….I have no idea, sir.” Her heart stalled until she corrected herself. “M’am.”

“You have never heard of it?”

“Should I have?”

“No, because it does not matter. It’s useless knowledge.”

“How come it’s useless?” Erica asked.

The teacher glared at her. “You’re asking me a question?” Erica’s mouth opened to respond, but she could not utter a word. A strangling silence infested the room and a burning sensation fulminated underneath her sternum. “Sit down.” Erica plopped down into her seat and bowed her head in shame. From the corner of her eye, a fellow female student with braces sneered at her for a second. Every step she took and every word from her mouth seemed to bring on derision from somebody. Her first day at school was supposed to be some exotic journey of enlightenment and discovery. Right then, it felt more like being burned at the stake. So much for surviving ...

“When the first state-wide tests are administered in four weeks, you will now the ins and outs of every possible question and every imaginable topic,” the teacher continued. “Anything - and I mean anything - that does not pertain to said test does not exist and it doesn’t exist because it doesn’t matter.”

The teacher looked around to make sure her point went through to the blossoming minds before her. Satisfied, she began the lesson.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Morning guy

Remember how I said I was frazzled beyond repair just a few days ago?

How things can change.

Thanks to some recent upheaval at my place of employment, I, Stephen R. Sears, will be taking over the morning shift.

After years of coming in at 5 p.m. or 7 p.m. and leaving at 2 or 4 in the morning, my new shift calls for me to come in at 5 a.m. Which means I won't be able to sleep until 11 or noon anymore, nor will I get to stay up until 3 a.m. to see a seven-inning Yankees-Red Sox game.

Not to be trite, but my whole life is about to flipped upside down. Our work hours dictate how we live, when we go to bed, when we wake up, when we eat. From working at the Globe to CBS, I've grown accustomed to my late hours, my vampire existence. I'm used to missing most of the day, missing out weeknight activities and generally walking around in a no-man's land surrounded by smug 9-to-5'ers.

I won't exactly be a 9-to-5 person either, but it's the closest I'm going to be in a while.

Of course this will take some time to get used to. I won't be able to stay up and watch Monday Night Football, the Daily Show or World Series games. If I do, I will certainly pay for it the next day. My nightly co-workers, of whom I've grown fond over the past four years or so, could disappear from my life. I'll go from joking around with them every day to nearly never running into them.

But ... I will have weekends off. I will be able to watch most Patriots games in peace. I will leave work and still have hours of sunlight ahead of me. I might be able to do stuff. Going to bed at the grandfatherly time of 10 p.m. will suck at first, but the benefits are enormous.

My colleagues have been congratulating me on my new life. I can tell some of them, even my boss, were wondering why I didn't seem ecstatic. Little do they know I rarely get ecstatic over anything besides sports. When I'm not watching a game, I tend to be very stoic and guarded. People always wonder why I don't seem happy when they give me good news. I am, but my mind just immediately reverts to an assessment phase. (Also, I'm incapable of human emotion.)

I wondered: What does this mean? How am I going to handle this? How can I make sure I don't screw this up?

That's what happened on Friday when I heard the news. This will be such a monumental change, a complete 180 of the last seven or so years of my life, that I'm not jumping up and down. It has yet to sink in. I'm content and very satisfied I will be able to live like a normal human being for however long I have this shift. I know that much.

It's not permanent, but it's a great break. Time to see how the other side operates.

And time to start liking coffee.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Reason No. 324 that I'm getting old

At Cranston East my freshman year there was an assistant principal who had one big focus. No, it wasn't reading comprehension or healthy lunch food.

Her laser-like focus zeroed in on the length of girls' shorts.

I can't remember her name, except that it began with an 'A,' but I do remember this lady sending girls to change all the time. She made many stand straight up with their arms stretched downward and if their fingertips reached past their shorts or skirts they were forced to change or do whatever. Not sure what happened to the offenders. My shorts were always long enough.

I thought of this as I walked around Coral Springs today. I was in a plaza to buy the last of the Stieg Larsson books and there's a very popular Starbucks right next door along with a new YogurtLand place that was packed with people, mostly high-school aged kids.

I walked tall among these youngsters with my two-day old stubble and my 45-year old Jim James Band t-shirt, knowing I can beat up at least 25 percent of these punks. Still, I could not help but notice the shorts teenage girls wear these days.

They make the ones from my high school days look like nuns. It's kind of shocking. I'm no prude, but c'mon. They were wearing underwear.

Before you think of it, no, I wasn't walking around saying "Sweet statutory!" You would have to be blind not to see what I saw. Where are kids' morals these days? What happened to the days of Bayside High? Those girls had class ... and frizzy hair.

Another thing that made me feel real old tonight was my cell phone. I still have the one I upgraded for after my old phone kicked the bucket in New Zealand. A simple flip-phone, it does not perform cold fusion nor can it launch nuclear bombs like the iPhone 7. Unlike the iPhone 42, it can make calls. Fancy that!

So I'm sitting there texting someone and a huge bout of self-consciousness rushed at me. I should have brought out one of these and called Emily Post to report the hussies all around me.

Then I got to thinking I never even had cell phones during high school and how class would basically have been impossible if everyone had an iPhone back in 1998.

And then I threw out my back.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


This year I've been trying the no-vacation thing. I don't recommend it.

In an effort to pay down my credit card, and because I didn't have any grand plans, I have not traveled at all this year. I hate wasting vacation days here on stay-cations so I haven't taken any since early January.

My boss will throw me a day off here and there, but I haven't had a true vacation in 2010. Mostly by choice. I was able to pay off my credit cards, which was a very proud moment for me. That New Zealand trip, among other things, put me in a hole that I wanted to climb out of. Those zeros in my credit card bills lasted two weeks until my car needed nearly a thousand dollars in repairs.

It wasn't meant to be.

Now with July counting down, the toll is demanding to be paid. Work has been insane, for many reasons which I can't elaborate. Lots of people coming, lots of people going, resulting in radical change and the confusion it creates.

Why don't I just take a week off for myself? Good question. I just can't do it. Wasting valuable vacation days I could use later is an anathema to me. It robs me of the opportunity to complain, and that's not what I'm doing. In a roundabout way, I'm just letting you know what's going on in the world of Steve and why this space is looking like the Rhode Island Mall lately.

(Yeah I love that joke.)

I just feel like a zombie. You would be too if you had to watch Hideki Okajima and Manny DelCarmen everyday.

A mini-vacation does await in early October for my sister's wedding. I look forward to it. In the meantime, I have no idea what I'm gonna write about here since I'm so exhausted when I come home from work. Be warned if updates are scarce from here on out.

Monday, July 12, 2010

My fair lady

Ask me who my favorite literary characters are and I'd be hard pressed to answer.

I have favorite fiction books, of course. 1984. The Great Gatsby. Jurassic Park. Disclosure. A Time to Kill. All Sears favorites.

But none contains a character whom I really like. Winston Smith? Nah. Ian Malcolm? Nope. Perhaps this can be attributed to the fact that you only get one book with most of these characters. You meet them, then they're gone. With TV shows, I feel like I know Jack Bauer, Omar Little, Walter White, Patty Hewes or C.J. Cregg.

After reading the Swedish thriller "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" I think I've found a keeper.

The over 600-page crime thriller is a worldwide bestseller. I'm not breaking any new ground, nor does the book for that matter. It resembles much of what you'd see in Criminal Minds or CSI:Wherever. Don't get me wrong, though. The book was fantastic. Gripping, intriguing, haunting, disturbing ... I finished it in a few weeks. With as much reading as I do at work, it usually takes me months to finish a book.

What sets the novel apart is the leading heroine, Lisbeth Salander. She lives off the page. I could practically see and hear her while I was reading it. She's a gothic punk super hacker who wears leather jackets, platform boots, close-cropped hair and several rings in her nose, ears and eyebrows. Of course, she also has a giant tattoo of a dragon on her shoulder blade. Having endured some unknown terrors as a child, she's extremely withdrawn and anti-social. She's very fierce and supremely intelligent, able to dig up even the most secretive person's darkest past and connect the dots to the most complicated schemes and conspiracies.

Mostly, it's her memorable attitude. You don't screw around with this one. Several people find that out in the book. She might look like a haggard puppy but if you attack her, she'll bite your head off. And she's far from a stereotype. Paired up with journalist Mickael Blomqvist, her tender side comes out. She's actually quite protective and just wants to know people she can trust.

The author, Stieg Larsson, found a goldmine here. This character lives off the page and leaves a big mark despite the fact she's disappears for huge chunks of time. The book and character are so indelible I just watched the 2 1/2 hour Swedish adaptation. Never did I think I'd be watching a movie in Swedish, but I don't regret it. The film was faithful (for the most part) and the actress fit Salander perfectly, as you can tell from the above photo.

I write this because "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is one of my favorite books now. If you're looking for a page-turner in the Dan Brown mold, but with interesting characters and without all the symbology, then you should give it a chance. (Be warned, however. It's very twisted and dark.)

You'll grow to love Lisbeth Salander just like I did.