Thursday, October 19, 2006

Dodelik Wapen 2

I caught part of Lethal Weapon 2 on TV last week. It was the first time I had ever seen the movie, which came out in 1989. For those of have forgotten or never saw the movie, the bad guys in this installment are a group of South Africans doing some shady business in LA. A lot of people would probably write this movie off as a mindless action flick. They are probably right, but I found it interesting to see how much the movie used the political situation in apartheid South Africa to advance the plot of the movie. It featured, among other things, an anti-apartheid protest outside of a bank that was doing business with the South Africans and Mel Gibson's character being called a kaffir lover by one of the South African diplomats. I guess the point I'm trying to make is that even movies that appear to be made simply for mindless entertainment provide an insight into the world as it was when the film was made. As for the title of this post, it's my attempt at translating "Lethal Weapon 2" into Afrikaans.

Wicked Smaht

Morgan Quitno Press came out with their rankings of the smartest states in the US. Vermont came in first, but the big winner was New England, taking the top three spots and six of the top 14. Rhode Island came in 14th, which makes us the the dumbest state in New England. That doesn't really matter, since we can totally kick the rest of New England's asses.

In all seriousness, I don't really put too much stock in any rankings like these, especially when they come from someone I've never heard of, like Morgan Quitno Press. I'm not surprised to see that the New England states scored so well, however. They are veritable magnets for bookish intellectual types. What do you think I'm doing here?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Barbershop Quartet

I got my hair cut this morning at my local barber shop. It would be more accurate to say that I got my hair cut at one of my local barber shops. There are at least three or four barber shops near by house. The Park Senate Barber Shop where I get my hair cut may not be the closest barber shop to my house, but it's only about three blocks away and it's the first one I found. Though I've only gone there three times, I can already say it's one of the best barber shops I've ever been to. I've gotten a great hair cut each time I've gone. My hair style is simple enough that it's nearly impossible for anyone with a license to cut hair to give me a bad haircut, but that doesn't mean I always leave the barber shop looking exactly the way I want to look. Each time George (I believe that's my barber's name) has cut my hair, it's come out exactly the way I wanted it.

I've been a big fan of old school barber shops for a while now. As a kid, however, I always hated getting my hair cut. My Dad went bald in his 20s and he got his biannual hair cut at the barber shop in his office, so my Mom was the one who usually took me to get my hair cut. She took me to a number of different places, none of which I liked very much. The worst, by far, was the hair salon at our local Meijer's (The Golden Knight Salon, I believe it was called). I absolutely loathed that place. Finally, when I was probably 11 or 12, I got my first taste of an old school barber shop, Mel's Golden Razor. I immediately took a liking to Mel's. The decor at Mel's was a random collection of Detroit Tigers and University of Michigan sports memorabilia. There was no muzak being piped into the shop, the barbers didn't ask me stupid questions like what grade I was in, if the TV was on, it was tuned to either sports, the news, or an old black-and-white movie. Like all great barber shops, it was a place where you could just go and be a guy. If you wanted to talk, you could. If you wanted to sit silently in your chair while you got you hair trimmed, you could and no one would care.

I don't know how much longer these kinds of barber shops are going to be with us. Whenever I get a haircut, I'm usually the youngest patron in the place, unless someone else has brought their children or grandchildren with them. There doesn't appear to be a new generation of barbers coming up through the ranks. The youngest barber I've come across at any of the old school shops I've been to over the past five years looked to be at least 45.

I've always had good luck with Italian barbers. I've been going to Italian-American and Italian barbers for so long now that I don't remember exactly how I decided that they are better at cutting hair than people from other ethnic backgrounds. It probably has something to do with all of the moving around I've done. It's a lot easier to choose a new barber shop from a list of places you've never heard of if you have some simple rules of thumb, like last name must end with a vowel.

I'll close by posting my barber shop recommendations. If you're ever in any of these areas and need a haircut, check one of them out.

Mel's Golden Razor
595 Forest Ave
Plymouth, MI
The original. I hear that one of the barbers who used to work at Mel's (Larry) has opened up his own place across the street from Mel's. I'm not sure what his place is called, but it's worth checking out as well.

Tony's Barber Shop
7601 Madison St # A,
Forest Park, IL
This place is run by two brothers from the old country who spend most of the time making bad jokes and then laughing hysterically at them.

Alibrandi's Barber Shop
194 Holland St
Somerville, MA
Lots of sports memorabilia on the walls here too.

Ottavio's Barber Shop
472 W Broadway # A
South Boston, MA
Ottavio is from the old country and does a great job.

Salvatore's Barber Shop
6288 Thompson Rd
East Syracuse, NY
Every square inch of wall space is covered in postcards from around the world. Sal and Frank (the barbers) spend as much time busting on each other as they do cutting your hair.

Park Senate Barber Shop
46 Rolfe Sq
Cranston, RI
A great barber shop in a neighborhood full of clip joints.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Mountain Jam

We headed up to New Hampshire this past weekend for some hiking and foliage. We hiked up to the peak of North Moat Mountain (3196'). I took a couple of panoramic photos that actually came out well for a change. The first one was taken somewhere around the halfway point and the second one was taken from the peak.

I've done a little hiking the White Mountains before, but this was the first time I've ever climbed one of the peaks. It was probably the most difficult hike I've ever done, but it was well worth it.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Damn Yankees

After writing that I didn't think the Tigers had a chance against the Yankees on Wednesday, they went on to win the next three games and take the series. Perhaps Jim Leyland found my blog post on the Internet and posted a copy of it in the Tigers' clubhouse to inspire the team. Perhaps I should go on record saying I don't think the Tigers have a chance against Oakland right now for good luck.

In retrospect, it seems that Detroit sports fans should have been able to predict the Yankees' early exit from the postseason. The Yankees are similar to the pre-lockout Red Wings in a lot of ways. They both had streaks in the mid-late 1990s when they were the dominant teams in their respective sports. They then used their deep pockets and championship pedigree to bring in hired guns each season in order to keep the dynasty rolling. In both cases, a fat payroll full of all-stars failed to pay the kind of dividends that management and fans had hoped for. You may be able to buy your way to a championship in professional sports, but you have to build a dynasty. I don't think the Yankees are going to start playing moneyball anytime soon, however. Being able to outspend all other teams is a huge advantage and chances are that it will eventually pay off again sometime in the near future.

Whenever a big-name free agent signs with the Yankees, I tend to see it as almost a sign of failure on the part of the signee. For the most part, the guys they have picked up over the past few years have been great players who were never able to win with their previous team. Baseball is a team sport, but all great players are judged by whether or not they were able to win the big game. In a way, when a guy with great stats but no postseason heroics signs with the Yankees, he's saying that he's not good enough to lead a franchise to glory and is therefore casting his lot with the team that, statistically speaking, has the best chance of winning it all. I can't really begrudge someone like Johnny Damon for wanting to get out of Kansas City (plus his path to the Bronx went through Oakland and Boston), but guys like A-Rod and Giambi were part of some pretty good teams in Seattle and Oakland and Randy Johnson won a World Series with his previous club. A-Rod's move to the Yankees looked even more desperate, since he was even willing to give up the most glamorous infield position for a chance to play in New York. Perhaps that's part of the reason he's so reviled right now.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Beta Max

I switched over to Blogger beta yesterday. There aren't a lot of changes or new features, but it is an improvement. They finally brought the spell checker up to the level of the GMail spell checker. Hopefully, this means they also improved its dictionary. The other big improvement to the publishing tool is allowing you to type the time and date of your posts instead of having to select the month, date, year, hour, and minute from select lists. The best new feature is the ability to automatically add labels or tags to each post. I started doing this by hand using Technorati tags earlier this year, but I got sick of it because it was kind of a pain to do manually.

Keeping with the beta theme, as MDS pointed out, I failed to mention Acres of Books in my post yesterday. Acres of Books, for those who aren't aware, is a huge used book store in Long Beach, CA. I would have to say that it's the best used book store I've ever seen. My first (and so far, only) visit to the store was about four years ago. I overheard a conversation between two customers while I was there that can really only be overheard at a used book store. I don't remember exactly what they were talking about, but it was basically a discussion about the virtues of Betamax. From what I heard, it sounded like these two people regularly watched movies on their Betamax machines at home. Keep in mind that this was in 2002. They either loved watching the same movies over and over or they were members of some secret underground network that is copying new movies over Betamax. Either way, they are exactly the kind of people who shop at used book stores.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Get Used

I'm not a big fan of shopping, and I'm even less interested in recreational shopping, but given the choice of spending an afternoon browsing around a great library or a great used book store, there's a good chance I'd pick the book store. Michelle and I took Tuesday off in honor of my birthday, and spent some time at Cellar Stories, Rhode Island's largest used book store. I've been to the store a couple times now, and it's definitely a top-shelf used book store.

I've spent a lot of time in used book stores across our great nation, and I've come up with a list of things to look for and to watch out for when shopping for used books. First, the things to look for:

  • Clutter: A used book store should be cluttered. There should be more books than shelf space. Boxes of uncategorized books lying around are always a plus. Books and Memories in Syracuse is probably the most cluttered used book store I've ever seen. I have no problem with that, but I wouldn't complain if they decided to tidy up a little bit.

  • Oddity: There should be a good selection of odds and ends of dubious historical and/or literary value. Appliance repair manuals from the 1950s, books predicting the extinction of all mammals by 1987, etc.

  • Pulp: All great used book stores should have a prominent collection of pulp novels. Here's a good example. Note: I've never read this book, but I did stumble upon it at a used book store in Oak Park, IL and the title has stuck with me.

Things to watch out for:

  • Customers: Used book stores should be empty. Frankly, I have no idea how any of them stay in business. If there are a lot of customers in a used book store, it's probably because it's maintaining an acceptable level of neatness and/or refusing to shelve books that no sane person would ever want to read or purchase.

  • Decor: The less effort put into the aesthetics of a used book store, the better. Be wary of any store smelling of fresh paint. Ideally, all vertical surfaces in the store should be covered in shelves that reach from the floor to as close to the ceiling as possible. If the store has any furniture, it should be uncomfortable, used, and at least 30 years old.

  • New Books: It's very hard to run a new & used book store that preserves the used book store look and feel. Powells Books does a good job of it, but most stores can't pull this one off and probably shouldn't try (unless they want to make money, or something).

I'll end on a PSA in case this post has actually inspired someone to visit a used book store for the first time. The sale price for a used book is always written in pencil in the upper right-hand corner of the first page of the book. Any book store that fails to observe this convention is not a used book store, regardless of the ownership history of the books they are selling.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Tiger Town

I started following major league baseball sometime in the middle of the 1983 season, so the 1984 campaign was the first one that I followed from start to finish. While I became interested in baseball in 1983, I became a true fan in 1984. It was pretty hard not to be a fan in the Detroit area that year, with the Tigers starting off the season 35-5 and cruising to the world championship. When the Tigers won the American League East again three years later, I began to get the feeling that the Tigers were going to be making fairly regular appearances in the playoffs. I don't remember much about the 1987 ALCS between the Tigers and the Twins. Had I known that the Tigers wouldn't reach the playoffs again for another 19 years, I probably would have tried to savor those games a little more.

I doubt that last night's 8-4 loss against the Yankees provided much comfort for the long suffering fans of Detroit. I don't really include myself in that group anymore. The Tigers are still my favorite baseball team, but I abandoned them and the game of baseball for a long time before slowing creeping back over the past few years. No sports team will ever be as important to me as the Tiger teams of my youth. My 10 year-old self would have truly believed that the Tigers could recover from their end-of-season train wreck and last night's beatdown to win the series. Since I can't muster that kind of devotion anymore, I don't know if I can call myself a true fan. I'm still going to watch them play and root them on, since I know that when it comes to the Tigers, playing in October is not something that can be taken for granted.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Die Wiedervereinigung

There are two great national events that I've always felt a special connection to even though I didn't really get to experience them firsthand. The events are the American Bicentennial and German Reunification, and the reason I feel connected to both of them is largely due to my birthday. I was born in 1976 and I have always kind of taken pride in that, even though most of the bicentennial celebrations were probably over by the time I was born and even if they hadn't been, I was too young to know what was going on. The German Reunification, which happened 16 years ago today, coincided with my 14th birthday. I had just begun my study of the German language about a month earlier. The whole sequence of events that led up to the reunification of Germany was probably the most historically significant thing that had happened in my life up to that point, so the reunification seemed a lot more important to me then it probably would today.

As far as I know, no formerly divided nations reunited today and America did not pull out all of the stops for a year-long nationwide celebration of our 230th year of independence. The second digit of my odometer did turn over for the third time, however. I've been feigning horror over the prospect of leaving my 20's behind for the past few weeks, but my heart really hasn't been in it. I have neither dreaded turning 30 nor have I felt the need to take stock of what I have and have not managed to accomplish up to this point. Age is not as important as it used to be, anyway. While visiting reunified Germany a couple of years ago, I was kind of bummed that I never did the whole backpack through Europe thing when I was in college. Checking in for our flight back to the US, I saw a couple who looked to be in their 40s or 50s standing in line with their packs. More and more, youth is no longer wasted on the young. I didn't manage to experience everything that I wanted to experience in my 20s, but I think I did most of the things that I felt were really important.