Wednesday, March 31, 2010

You Got No Rhythm

 Let’s face it. We cannot all have the fancy footwork of Patrick Swayze, the moon walking of Michael Jackson, or the swiveling hips of the dancers on Dancing with the Stars. In fact, some of you are so bad, you have probably heard, “you have two left feet,” or even worse, “just go sit down.” If you fall into any of these situations, let your worries disappear. There is a place where you can learn how to clap on beat. You can even learn some fresh steps. Let me introduce you to The Dance Complex located on Mass Ave in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The school is easy to travel to thanks to nearby buses, subways, and parking. Let's say you can nod your head on count. That is great; most people cannot find the beats in a song. However, you have an opportunity to take your ability to count to the next level. Whatever your dance background is, there is an opportunity to practice or perfect while having fun in the process.

Walking up to the over-sized, red doors you can hear the African drummers beating just above your head. If you listen a little longer, a few more windows up, you can hear a pianist accompanying a ballet class. Entering the building, you will climb a mass of stairs before approaching the front desk. There is an overwhelming assortment of emotions as you stare at the abundant dance descriptions plastered to the cork board. The Dance Complex offers everything: salsa, improvisation, ballet, jazz funk, hip-hop, break dancing, African, modern, Irish step, tap, stretch, Meringue, Bollywood, music video, and belly dancing, have I lost you yet? No worries, you cannot go wrong picking any of these options. Although not usually encouraged, look through the list, and select something that catches your eye. A lot of newcomers are pleasantly surprised with how much they end up loving the class and continue coming on a regular basis.

The only piece of information to keep in mind is the details on each class; some are strictly for advanced dancers and others are for men and women with no dance experience. My suggestion, start in a lower level class so you will not feel uncomfortable or afraid to be awkward with your body. Do not be alarmed if you see skilled dancers taking class with you; sometimes people take classes to rehabilitate injuries or focus on refining technique. This is beneficial to you because they are usually friendly and willing to help you out with combinations or steps. Nothing is more appealing to a new dancer than teachers and classmates that make you feel welcome.

Most of the classes are available multiple times a week and are all under $15, so you will not break your budget. For more information regarding the dance complex, the staff, and a thorough breakdown of classes, please check out will be on your way to becoming a more confident dancer at a party, performance, or just busting some moves with your friends.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Local Hipster Bored by Band's Recent Output

Dressed in a pair of skinny jeans and an American Apparel hooded sweatshirt, James Schwartz finishes off his bowl of Easy Mac and removes his Bose noise-canceling headphones. A cloud of Camel Light smoke hangs low in the air as he chooses his words carefully.

“I would say that I was disappointed but that would imply that I was actually expecting something out of the record. I think I’m just bored by it,” he said.

Schwartz explained that he first heard about these guys when they were playing VFWs and KFCs and frat house basements. He had downloaded a demo version of their breakthrough album from an invite-only torrent site nearly a full year before its official release date.

“Back then they really cared about the music, you know? Now they’re just a bunch of corporate sell-outs. All they care about is selling records, getting on the radio, and filling arenas. They’re more interested in making money for the corporations than staying true to their fans who have been loyal to them. It’s really kind of a slap in the face.”

According to Schwartz, the band’s entire sound was compromised upon being embraced by the web’s influential underground music elite.

“Once the blogs found out about these guys, it was pretty much over,” he complained. “Next thing you know, they’re on Facebook and YouTube and then, bam! They’re on your mom’s iPod, which I maintain for her. You know, she tells me what songs she wants and I put them on there for her.”

Schwartz maintained that the new record “wasn’t really bad, per se,” but it seemed like they were overthinking their material in the studio a little too much.

“I think that they were trying to go for a more anthemic sort-of feel with this one, whereas I think they’ve always maintained a sort-of New York gutter trash kind of dingy yet hauntingly melodic and beautiful sound. It just comes off as sort of confused. It feels like Springsteen meets Cheap Trick meets Duran Duran, whereas their earlier stuff is more Portishead meets Mellencamp meets Velvet Underground. It's a clear regression.”

Despite his negative reaction to the band’s new album, Schwartz was planning on getting tickets to one of their upcoming shows.

“I don’t have a lot of money in my bank account right now, but I just Facebooked my mom to see if she could PayPal me some money so I could pick up some tickets. Even if I’m not as into them anymore, all of my friends are going and its really more about having a good time, you know?”

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Fact: Lady Gaga More Influential Than Jesus & Mr. T Combined

“She’s like a modern day Beyonce but you know….. Better and modern,” said Ashley P. Napalm. I continued to probe her on the subject of Lady Gaga. I asked how she personally has been affected, as if I couldn’t tell by the trash bag around her hips and the tissue box shoes. Napalm continued, “Gaga is a god. She’s like if Jesus did crack and wore fierce robes.”

Self proclaimed diva, Lenny J. Buntcake, is claiming to be the biggest Gaga fan this side of the Mississippi.

I asked him how Gaga has affected him, “Ohhh girl you don’t even know…. You see this shawl? It’s a sedated badger.”

“Is that safe?” I asked.

“Who cares? It’s a statement. I’m saying fur doesn’t have to be murder.”

After I took two steps back he continued, “She’s the biggest thing in fashion since Britney’s vagina!”

Is Lady Gaga a communist-robot-spy sent from China to corrupt our youth into a life in the sex slave industry? Probably, but who cares she’s fabulous! We are all witnesses to the Gaga-lution (don’t even think about using that, I’ve already filed for a patent.) Prepare yourselves by buying anything diamond encrusted. You can choose to fight for them or against them; either way I hope you look good in glitter.

Friday, March 26, 2010

South End Buttery

Many people enjoy a café for the delicious freshly brewed coffee, comfortable environment and friendly service, but these characteristics are hard to come by and are difficult to find with much variety. Being pleased with every aspect of a café experience isn’t very common, and you may find yourself going to several places to get exactly what you want. Luckily, if you live in Boston, you can enjoy all of these aspects right in one place. The South End Buttery Bakery & Café encompasses all of these qualities and is located right in Boston’s historic South End. Owner Richard Gordon and his partner opened The Buttery in 2005, and it immediately became a success. The location of the café is ideal and is conveniently located right across the street from a laundromat; so you can do your laundry, get a cup of coffee, and wait for your clothes to wash. Centered right in the middle of a bustling South End neighborhood, the café is close to other attractions such as restaurants, boutiques, a dog park, and many other things to see.

At first glance, you can see why so many people visit this establishment; it evokes an instant friendly vibe and inviting feel. There are tables and chairs outside of the café in the warmer months, allowing for more seating and for the pleasure of being outside in the fresh air. One of my favorite aspects of The Buttery is that there are always several dogs outside, hooked up on leash latches that ensure the pets remain secured and safe. The Buttery’s staff and customers are known for their love of dogs.

Upon entering the building, you immediately feel welcome and relaxed; with friendly and quick service, the experience is pleasant. Inside, the space is split into two parts: a café section and a bar/restaurant section. The café section is of average size with five tables and a coffee bar and stools facing a window to the street. The bar/restaurant section is fairly small, but quaint and intimate. On the walls, there are several large professional photos of the owner’s dogs; a white lab named Madison, a black Labrador named Simon and a mutt named Harriet. The Buttery’s delicious signature cupcakes are named after the three dogs. The Madison vanilla, Simon chocolate and Harriet carrot cake cupcake proceeds are donated to local animal rescue causes.

The South End Buttery is famous for its decadent baked goods and superior quality foods. According to The Improper Bostonian, The Buttery won the “Boston’s Best Coffee Shop” award in 2008 and 2009, while also the winning the Boston Globes “Boston’s Best New Restaurant” award in 2009. Joe Brenner is the director of culinary operations and joined the Buttery team in October of 2009. Brenner has always been passionate about food and has been a chef for over sixteen years; he has even been seen on the television show the “Iron Chef.” The menu lists coffee, specialty drinks, breakfast dishes, sandwiches, salads, soups and of course cupcakes, all at fairly reasonable prices. The South End Buttery is comfortably laid-back, especially for its outstanding reputation. You can sit down with a cup of coffee and do homework, have a glass of wine at the bar or eat delicious food in the restaurant. The South End Buttery is a perfect option to fit any customer’s needs.

Trina's Lites Up Inman Square

The next time you’re planning a pub or app crawl, you might want to check out the sometimes-overlooked neighborhood of Inman Square. Nestled between its more popular cousin squares of Harvard and Central, Inman is a favorite among hipsters, college kids, and folks in the restaurant industry. With the addition of Trina’s Starlite Lounge this past September, Inman has solidified its status as one of Boston’s best neighborhoods for great food and cheap beer.

Trina’s takes over the old Abbey Lounge spot on the Somerville side of B
eacon Street, on the very outskirts of Inman Square. Located under an old-school Miller High Life sign, in a plain and unassuming brick building, it might be easy to mistake it for the type of dimly lit joint where old men hide from the sunlight, swapping stories over Wild Turkey while they inhale the dust from piles of losing scratch tickets. On the contrary, when you enter Trina’s, you are welcomed into a 1950’s throwback lounge that keeps things classy and restrained despite the invitation for kitsch. Local artist, and part-time bartender, Thomas Tietjien provides much of the cozy space’s retro-inspired artwork.

Trina’s is the brainchild of Trina and Beau Strum, who spent years behind various Boston bars before tackling their own enterprise. Josh Childs, co-owner of the legendary downtown Silvertone Bar and Grill, is a partner in the business, as is general manager, Jay Bellao. Given the ownership’s deep connections in the city, Trina’s was a highly anticipated project that proved to be an instant success upon opening. Fueled by one of Boston’s most creative cocktail lists and a whimsical menu of delicious comfort food, word of mouth quickly spread.

Perhaps their most popular menu item, Trina’s Dog of the Day has reached a cult status through daily Facebook status updates sent to their 1,500 friends. Every day, Trina’s chefs use their wit and creativity to come up with a new way to cook a hot dog, with consistently delicious results. Recent dogs have included the Tostada Dog, the Fish and Chip Dog, and the Farmer’s Market Dog, which is made from all local ingredients, wrapped in smoked bacon and topped with brocolli and Brussels sprouts hash, laced with a mustard maple sauce. Trina’s also features the best Chicken and Waffles available in the city. The chicken is moist and juicy, fried picture-perfect and crispy on the outside, and served over homemade buttermilk waffles. All of that is topped with a
hot pepper syrup that contributes to the dish’s spot-on contrast of sweet and savory. There is a superb veggie burger also available to those so inclined.

The cocktail list features the freshest seasonal juices, fruits, herbs, and spices. As
they say, “if we can make it ourselves, we do.” Many of the liquors that they use are obscure, which can make for a fun learning experience. Try their Samata, made from Bison Grass vodka, ginger syrup, lemon juice, green tea, and mint if you want something refreshingly different. On a cold winter day, try the Adirondack, made with butter-infused bourbon and real maple syrup. If you’re not really into the fancy cocktails, then check out their beer list, which appeals to the hipster looking for an ironic can of Schlitz for $3 or the beer snob, who might appreciate the Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA on draft. My favorite happens to be the bucket of Miller High Life ponies for $11.

Because the owners have all spent years working in restaurants, they have recently started hosting industry brunches on Mondays, though everyone is more than welcome. Complete with classic sugary cereals, Saturday morning cartoons, and their signature “Velvet Elvis” French Toast, stuffed with peanut butter, bananas, and chocolate-covered bacon, Trina’s has applied the same ideas that have made them such a successful nighttime establishment to the day shift. There might be no better way to start the week than a plate of Huevos Rancheros and a Hair of the Dog, a dangerously easy to drink combination of vodka, Licor 43, orange juice, and orange soda.

Trina’s joins Bukowski’s Tavern and Chef Chris Schlesinger’s seminal East Coast Grill in Inman Square, as exciting options for great food that maintains a sense of fun and won’t break the budget. Bukowski’s, which also has a more popular sister location on Dalton St. in the Back Bay, is born from the same love of nostalgia that Trina’s is and boasts one of the city’s most impressive beer lists. If you’re overwhelmed by the selection, leave it to the fates and give their Beer Wheel a spin. Right next door to Bukowski’s is the East Coast Grill, which has been serving up delicious food for over twenty-five years now. With its focus on bright flavors, fresh seafood, live fire and barbeque, its popularity is at an all-time high, thanks to a featured segment on the Travel Channel’s Man vs. Food. Similar to Trina’s, they draw industry people into their dining room on Mondays by holding special events like Hell Night, Bob Marley Night, Pig Around the World Night, and Put a Little South in Your Mouth Night. These events sell out almost as quickly as they are announced.

There are a lot of good things going on in this often forgotten-about neighborhood quietly tucked away in the middle of everything. If you can’t drive, then hop on an MBTA bus (lines 69, 83, or 91) and get yourself a Nacho Dog at Trina’s or a Hobo Special at Bukowski’s or a bowl of Ghost Chili Pasta at the East Coast Grill (though, you might want to bring a pen, as you’ll need to sign a waiver).

(Trina’s Starlite Lounge is open 7 nights a week from 5 pm – 1 am, serving dinner until midnight. Brunch is available Mondays from 12 pm – 4 pm. Trina’s is located at 3 Beacon Street, Somerville, MA 02143.)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Power and Burden of Beauty

Artist Rachel Lee Hovnanian’s newest exhibit is awe inspiring and poignant for women of all walks of life. Hovnanian’s exhibit, “Power and Burden of Beauty,” focuses on the unhealthy emphasis that many women place on beauty and unattainable physical perfection. Today, the energy put into looking good by so many people and the subsequent stress caused by seeking the unattainable is astonishing. The vastly skewed perception espoused by beauty magazines and mainstream media advertising portrays women as sexual objects and chips away at our society’s idea of what is considered attractive. Hovnanian’s series of works investigates a truer notion of how beauty should be viewed.

Her latest exhibit incorporates and builds upon many of the topics Hovnanian addressed in works she completed earlier in her career, and, as such, it is a thorough exhibition, one that truly shows the complexities of Hovnanian’s artistic capabilities. In her earlier works, the artist incorporated still life motifs to illustrate the phases of a flower’s transition from its earliest stages to wilting. Hovnanian often restricted the palette of her pieces to the color white, because white is commonly used as a symbol of purity and untainted beauty. Her oil painting series of the white Narcissus flower further revealed the process of the flower’s passing into unavoidable wilting and its ultimate death, consisting of a number of paintings of this same flower at different stages. Hovnanian explains, “In a hectic life, white flowers provide a moment of rest for our eyes.”

Hovnanian’s exhibit,” Power and Burden of Beauty,” opened in New York City in October of 2009. The installation, too, is all white, consistent with the artist’s central theme. The exhibit is sectioned off to allow the viewer to grasp its depth amidst its monotone palette. Each installation integrates the exploration of beauty’s social meanings and costs. The most noticeable piece is an eleven-foot-tall, all white beauty pageant queen totem, standing perfectly upright and staring blankly into space. Holding a bouquet of flowers with a tiara sitting perfectly atop her head, the beauty queen looks eerily perfect. The beauty pageant totem reveals the idea of society’s drive for perfection and the obvious inconsistencies that come along with these desires.

While walking through the exhibit, spectators listen to an audio track of a woman, who complains, “Oh my god, I look like I have a beer belly.” A male voice then says, “You’re not twenty-one anymore.” The woman then whines, “It must be the lighting.” The male voice responds, “Your body looks awful.” This dialogue continues in a similar vein for a few minutes, after which point it loops again. These audio clips evoke sentiments that many women can relate to, juxtaposing a psychological soundscape with the stoic classic aesthetic of the pieces themselves.

Hovnanian’s other work that catches the eye in the exhibit is a white wall with artificial “Texas Beauty Queen Cream” jars lined up on it. Each jar is stenciled with phrases that the artist took from real beauty products. Each phrase is more shocking and appalling than the last. For instance, one jar says, “Make your boyfriend’s jaw drop,” and another “Look hot while protecting the planet.” These quotes were originally intended to entice women into buying the products, but Hovnanian uses them satirically to mock the ridiculousness of what they are suggesting. Why would a beauty product suggest that the phrases, “look hot,” and “while protecting the planet,” should ever be uttered together?

Hovnanian’s works address a social condition that demands impossible expectations of feminine beauty. Even trying on clothes in a dressing room can be an uncomfortable task for women, as clothing stores are often plastered with images of skinny, sexy, overly photoshopped women staring back at them. Likewise, magazines with article titles such as “Get great buns in 10 days,” tease them with unrealistic expectations. One of the most interesting pieces in Hovnanian’s exhibit is a dressing room equipped with unflattering and especially tiny bathing suits. These suits emphasize the pressures of body image and cultural scrutiny, specifically focusing on the role of weight and the pressures to be thin. The installation also has a fun house mirror and purposefully obnoxious lighting. The fun house mirror symbolizes what some women see when they look into a mirror: obscured reflections looking back at them with fluorescent light glaring down illuminating every flaw. Hovnanian reveals that if women were able to ignore and learn from the harmful stigmas created by the media and other influences, they could flourish and gain true confidence. I recommend Hovnanian’s exhibit because it portrays an important message about identity in an approachable and eloquent way. Also, check out her works online, by visiting her website at:

Charlestown Comedy

Over the past eight months I have traveled up and down this city looking for open mic comedy nights. During this time I’ve had success at the All Asia in Cambridge and failure at the Howard Johnson in the shadows of Fenway Park. When performing at an open mic it’s never a good thing to only go to one place week after week, but it is good to have a show that you can treat as a comfort zone. A place that you can go to when the patrons of the Howard Johnson express discontent toward your unique brand of comedy consisting of two “knock-knock” jokes and seven minutes of funny faces.
The Tavern at the End of the World is a great place for beginning comedians. Located near the Sullivan Square T stop in Charlestown (the hometown of NFL Hall-of-Famer Howie Long), the Tavern is the place to be on Wednesday nights. Take it from someone who finds something wrong with everything, this really is a great place. Well, besides the fact that it’s in Charlestown. As soon as you get off of the T stop you’ll be convinced that this was the place where MTV got the inspiration to create the show 16 and Pregnant.
If you’re looking for something else to do before the show you can certainly travel into downtown Charlestown and look at the Revolutionary War monuments, take a trip to the harbor to see the U.S.S. Constitution or get on a bus and become the victim of a hate crime. The possibilities are endless.
If you’re not a comic and you’re looking for a place to grab some cheap food and drinks they have deals on Wednesdays to help attract people to the shows. Sandwiches can be as low as five bucks and beer as low as three. They have two really good sandwiches that you should try. The first is the turkey Reuben. There is nothing better for a nervous beginning comic with…um… stomach issues to eat a giant sandwich loaded with Thousand Island dressing. The second is the Hawaiian. It’s packed with ham, pineapple, pickles and cheese. There is also an immature vomit joke attached to that one too.
To try and make it more enjoyable to patrons there are weekly contests like “Charlestown’s got talent,” for example, which is held in-between sets. Audience members with a little bit of talent can win themselves some cash. It’s one of the few things the bar does to help keep people around for the show. From 8pm to 10pm comedy hopefuls from all over the Boston area come down to see if they have what it takes. Signup is at 7:30 and usually fills up pretty fast. You want to get in a little early so you don’t end up going on after the show is over (yes, you can do that) and most people have already left. Comics can also win money based on weekly contests. There have been prizes given out for the most inappropriate Michael Jackson joke and the dirtiest Tiger Woods joke. Yours truly even won ten bucks for being “legit,” whatever that means.
On many nights this bar is packed to capacity and the lively atmosphere can really make the show a very enjoyable experience for both the comedians and audience members. Overall, it’s a place I highly recommend for anyone wanting to test out their comedy material. The laid back atmosphere will certainly help build any comic's confidence, as it did with mine.

Pawn Stars

When I first saw the description for this show, I knew right away that it was going to be worth my time. Pawn Stars is not only an interesting concept, but it blows all other reality shows away with an antique 1830 .78 Caliber sporting rifle.
This reality show takes place at the Gold & Silver Pawn shop. You may be wondering about the name ‘pawn stars’. Yes, it is a clever play on words. You see, the series is filmed in Las Vegas. One of the things that Vegas is known for is the Las Vegas International Chess Festival that’s held every June. No, I’m kidding, sometimes they film dirty movies in Vegas. But, unlike real porn stars, the only thing these “pawn stars” let people dump on them are antique collectables.
The store is run by the Harrison family. Richard (the old man) has owned the store since 1988. He employs his son Rick and his grandson Cory or “Big Haas”. Their personalities are what make the show great. Many critics have called it a “cool” answer to Antiques Roadshow. These guys certainly make it that. Unlike Antiques Roadshow, which is just an hour of a guy in a top hat buying cabinets from old women, you get ribbing and bickering between fat guys buying guns. It’s a reality show about the running a very unique business. It’s not about spoiled celebrities or finding phony soul mates. You get to see these guys by and sell rare finds that people just bring into the shop. It adds a very fun aspect to learning about history, culture and pop-culture. This isn’t like pawn shops were some guy is selling a VCR they just stole or hub caps. People come in with weaponry, coins and jewelry.Sellers from all over come to sell historical items like an 1849 Colt revolver or a 1901 Edison phonograph. Or items with pop cultural significance like a 1930 Mickey Mouse doll or a KISS pinball machine.
It’s interesting to see the bargaining process and how much an item actually goes for. The most entertaining moments are when an item that a seller has there heart set on, ends up being completely worthless. Despite it being a reality show, the History channel does a good job making the item at hand top priority. The viewer will be entertained by the real life aspect of running an odd business like a pawn shop, but they will also learn about history in a fast paced manner.

TV Stinks

I used to watch so many great shows. I knew everything that there was about TV and I was happy with it. But I recently noticed something. Whenever I overhear a conversation about television, I don’t know what the hell the people are talking about. I’m absolutely clueless to what these people find interesting. So, I decided to do some research. I turned off ESPN and I “flipped” around the dial for bit. I am not happy with what I found. Television has really gone down over the past couple of years. This country is obsessed with the lives of actors and the lives of reality stars. The state of the sitcom is in shambles. And to top it off, our television news is a complete laughing stock.
I don’t understand why so many people are captivated by these reality shows that focus on the lives of terrible people. The show Jersey Shore is a perfect example. After watching an episode, I felt so terrible, I immediately had myself and television set tested for crabs. What made this program about trashy kids so popular? Is this country in such a poor state where it needs to watch idiots act like idiots? I’m glad that Italian rights people spoke out about how this show wrongfully portrayed Italians as rude, loud and annoying. The same goes for shows like Jon and Kate plus 8 and 19 and counting. These are two programs that follow around two families with an unnatural amount of children. People were fascinated with watching their lives fall apart. Why did America give so much attention to these women who gave birth as if they were possums? Programs like these add absolutely nothing to my life and in turn ruin others.

Child stars are also contributing to the ruin of television. First of all, the production quality of a show centered on kid actors is incredibly awful. These programs are all poorly produced and the dialogue is atrocious. I understand that the shows aren’t made for me. But I do remember a lot of programming from when I was a kid and the shows were actually smart and well written. Tiny Toons is a perfect example. This cartoon was satirical and actually funny for a kids show. It truly had a hand in prepping me for satirical shows (like The Simpsons and Family Guy) later in life. It may be a good reason why I don’t get offended at everything. I was prepped early in life to understand what a joke is.
The main reason why I blame child actors goes back to America’s obsession with the personal lives of actors. Child stars are the center of too much gossip. There are more shows and news segments dedicated to a child star and her DUI or public drunkenness than there should be. I would actually like someone to tally up and see exactly which network (Nickelodeon or Disney) is responsible for producing the most prescription pill addicts. The one were kids get “slimed” in the face at age 8 or the one that was founded by an alleged Nazi sympathizer.
When it comes to sitcoms we need shows that are actually genuine with their humor and not be completely worried about offending everyone. TV is in this current trend where the only “funny” or “safe” story angle is poking fun at how “men are pigs.” A show like Two and a Half Men is the perfect example of what I’m talking about. I could spray paint swear words on the door of a church and more people would see the comedic value in that terrible act than any one episode of Two and a Half Men. Another example is on Spike TV. Spike TV is currently the network for men. This channel is basically Maxim Magazine on television. Even though I’m a guy, who likes most typical guy stuff, the way this channel operates is terrible. First off, it’s currently holding Star Wars captive. I hate that this channel is playing the movie I obsessed over during my childhood. I can only imagine that every guy who watches that movie high fives when Chewbacca howls and then copies it for the rest of the movie. But that isn’t the problem here. They have a show called Blue Mountain State. This show is about a bunch of college guys who have sex and drink. I don’t want to sound like a guy who doesn’t believe that’s a great fantasy, it is. The problem I have is that it’s an overused story angle. They don’t do anything new with that idea. It’s the same formula every single time. The characters all look the same, they make lame jokes about sex and then do lame things when they get drunk. TV producers need to take more risks with there comedy shows. I’m not expecting a show that’s like the movie A Clockwork Orange with a laugh track, but anything different would be welcomed.
If you’re going to make a show and pass it off as “relatable” to the nerds and underdogs, do it right. Pick kids who actually look like underdogs and nerds. That’s why I hate the show Glee. They should have taken a page from the creators of Freaks and Geeks. All of the main geeky kids actually looked like nerds. They were all really nerdy in real life, too. They all looked like they were one “gym class hazing” away from being on the cover of Newsweek. The kids in Glee are way too pretty to be in any kind of outcast situation. Those kids (based on how they looked) would have run that high school in real life.
Why has the news become like a TV show? Every news anchor acts like he or she is part of the world’s shittiest improvisation group. Why do they feel like they constantly have to riff with each other in-between stories? They always do it to those really safe and non-controversial stories. I would like for a news anchor to show off his “comedy chops” in a quirky conversation about the last sex predator story that just ran. I would love for one of these guys to go way off the teleprompter about something a lot heavier in subject matter. The anchor turns to the sportscaster and asks him what town has the sexiest little league team or asks the weatherman about the contents of his hard drive. It’s no secret that the news has become just as much entertainment as it is actual news. Recently, while watching a local newscast, a promotion was advertised going to commercial. It was a commercial that encouraged the viewers to text what news stories they would like to see next. Here’s an idea, show all of them. It’s the news, don’t make us choose what’s important, we don’t know. I myself did not text because whenever I try to it ends up looking like Rosie O’Donnell’s dialogue from the movie Riding the Bus with My Sister. Here’s another idea for the TV news. Instead of picking the news like a twelve year old girl, try picking the news like I pick jokes for my articles. If it’s a movie reference that no one gets or something that makes everyone totally uncomfortable, go for it.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Lush Bubble Bars

As a college student on a budget, I have to choose my indulgences wisely. Most of the time I try to be as frugal as possible: frozen vegetables instead of fresh, trips to the dollar store for cleaning supplies and other household needs, passing by any clothing item on the rack with a price tag of more than twenty bucks. But I know that a place needs to be made for the occasional splurge, that beautiful, scandalous, “I am fully aware that this is silly and overpriced but I don’t care” purchase. Otherwise life as a consumer can be really boring and monotonous.

That’s where Lush comes in. Lush offers “fresh, handmade cosmetics” with a focus on natural ingredients and creative concepts. As written in their credo, the people at Lush believe in “making effective products from fresh organic fruit and vegetables, the finest essential oils and safe synthetics.” Lush is all about indulgence and making bath time fun. They have variety of products, ranging from body butters, lotions, shampoos, to perfumes, soaps and face masks. But the things that I’m really a sucker for are their bath products, specifically the bubble bars.

Lush’s bubble bar comes in solid form and adds bubbles to the bath when crumbled under running water. The bars I tried were called “Amandopondo” and “Flosty Gritter.” Lush loves giving their products signature monikers. These range from silly to clever to baffling (I still don’t know what Amandopondo means). A bar of Amandopondo is $5.95 for a 3.5 oz bar and Flosty Gritter is $5.65 for the same amount. Lush suggests using one bar per one bath for maximum bubble capacity. For my first bath I figured I would test the waters and chose to crumble only a portion of the Amandopondo. This portion was more than enough to generate the kind of bubble bath wonderland I always dreamed of as a child, with mounds of wonderful scented bubbles. So, sorry Lush, I refuse to pay you six bucks per bath when in actuality I can get it down to more like a dollar and fifty cents and ease my spending conscience a little.

As for fragrance, the Amandopondo is made with a combination of rose, lemon and orange oils that create a wonderful, light, floral citrus scent that lingers as long as the bubbles are around, present but never overpowering. And because it’s made using primarily natural ingredients there is no harsh chemical note or artificial weirdness to the smell, as sometimes occurs with other products in the same genre. The bubbles themselves, however, could linger longer; they dissipate a little too quickly.

After the last crumbles of Amandopondo dissolved into my tub, I tried out the Flosty Gritter. Flosty Gritter is made with vanilla, lavender, and clary sage oils, resulting in a relaxing, pleasant scent that perfectly compliments the soothing heat of warm bathwater. Flosty Gritter also does a few tricks Amandopondo does not; it turns bathwater a soft pink shade and fills the tub with flecks of gold glitter (Frosty Glitter equals Flosty Gritter…I cringed when I figured that out). Again, I didn’t use the entire bar for one bath. If so I assume the pink tint would be a lot stronger. Some of the reviews on the website even had complaints from users unable to clean the glitter/color from their tubs, but I had no such problems. This is most likely because I used a smaller portion of the bar and I rinsed the tub out immediately after. A few flecks of glitter stuck stubbornly for a while, but nothing I would complain about.

All in all I was beyond satisfied with my Lush bubble bar experiences. I highly recommend it to anyone that is sick of spending their money on practical things, like college tuition, or rent, or textbooks. Treat yourself to something scented and sparkling. Boston area locations: 166 Newbury Street and 30 JFK Street in Harvard Square, open Monday-Saturday 10am-8pm and Sundays 11am-6pm.

The Butterfly Man

When I knock on the door of Duncan Nelson’s University of Massachusetts Boston office, he is sitting at his desk, bent over a small pile of papers. The office is carpeted with a large couch and a window overlooking the campus. There is a book shelf almost filled to capacity with books, papers, magazines, and file folders; the walls are covered with pictures of family, friends, handwritten notes and bright-colored drawings done by his grandchildren.

Duncan lifts his head and turns toward the door. His signature look remains unchanged: ruddy complexion, neat white beard, safari hat. “Jillian Jackson,” he says, smiling. “Well, hello. How are you?”

We exchange greetings and I sit on the couch. As he sits across from me we begin to talk about his career. “I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. My father was a teacher; I grew up around it, and at first I wanted to be a history major, but my grades were better in English,” he smiles and does a small shrug with his shoulders, “so I went into that instead.” Duncan taught at Harvard and MIT before settling in to a position at UMass Boston in 1967. This evolution reflects a change in attitude and academic philosophy for Duncan.

“When I first started out I gave a lot of low grades and wrote a lot of long comments, trying to prove how smart I was,” he says. “But there weren’t any results. The writing wasn’t getting any better. The kids weren’t improving.” After reflecting on his experiences with academia as both a student and a professor, he decided to switch tactics and focus on a method that would encourage students to really focus in on their writing and to think about what it means to write well. “It’s about more than writing. It’s about becoming better listeners, readers, learning what clean writing is, how to write quietly, and how to tell what happened,” he says. “It’s about taking out a lot of modifiers; less adjectives, adverbs.”

At the core of Duncan’s philosophy is a disdain for traditional “academic writing,” filled with long, elaborate words, written for the purpose of adding to the word count and reaching the page limit. “When someone is trying too hard to write the writing reflects that.” He has an endless supply of comparisons to explain his ideas. During our conversation he compares it to acting: “With truly good acting,” he says, “You don’t notice the acting. During the performance you don’t stop and say ‘oh wow that’s good acting;’ you get caught up in the experience. Good writing works the same way.”

We talk about what he wants his students to take away from his classes. He first summarizes by saying that he wants his students to improve their writing skills and to change their thoughts about what it means to write well. After this he pauses, then looks straight at me. “Well, actually,” he says, “I really enjoy listening to students tell me about their experiences with my course and what they get out of it. What did you think?” Duncan asks.

At first I’m not sure what to say. I tell him that I loved his class and that it was different from any other I’d taken at UMass. As I say this I find myself thinking back on what the experience was like: the many one-on-one meetings in his office, Duncan with a yellow-lined legal pad in his hands as we edit, questioning word choice (what if instead of “grabbed” I wrote “took?”), the process ending with everyone in the class sharing their stories. I tell him that the specific attention to the sound and feel of words together is something I still try to think about while I’m writing. He seems satisfied by this response.

Before ending the conversation, I can’t resist asking him about his first day of class routine. I’ve seen it firsthand: opting out of the usual word for word reading of the syllabus, Duncan instead enters the classroom donning a set of yellow and blue painted cardboard wings and recites a poem he has written called “Butterfly.” He laughs when I ask, but then explains exactly how the tradition works well to express what he wants his students to take away from the class: that the writing process can be transformative, that after the hard work of a semester and through the process of writing, “A beautiful thing emerges.”

Monday, March 22, 2010

Dorothea Brande's Becoming a Writer (writing about a book written about writing)

There have been hundreds (if not thousands) of manuals written on how to write fiction. Many of these works address craft in a formulaic, scientific manner and explain in academic language what a story should be and what it takes to develop a character. Others use a broad, philosophical technique, exploring writing as something which cannot be taught but must be known, leaving readers to wonder why the author bothered writing the guide in the first place. Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer takes an entirely different approach.

Brande’s handbook immediately reassures the aspiring writer. In her first chapter, she addresses what she considers to be the main difficulties in the process. These difficulties have nothing to do with development of plot or technical performance: Brande addresses universal issues an aspiring author must face after these discrepancies in technique have already been overcome. “First, there is the difficulty in writing at all,” she begins. “The full, abundant flow that must be established if the writer is to be heard from simply will not begin. The stupid conclusion that if he cannot write easily he has mistaken his career is sheer nonsense.” Brande continues with her unapologetic tone, not only stating the common issues writers face but also addressing why they arise and the unfair conclusions drawn in consequence—conclusions which often lead novice writers to abandon the craft.

From here, the book explores the process as an art. While it does supply advice on craft, the angle here is more psychological than literary. Brande puts writing into terms that the reader can understand as an art and a consequence of their nature rather than an academic process. She also quells any notion that writing fiction is something unattainable; she reassures readers by suppressing any romantic notions that an author must be a born genius.

Once these general fears have been addressed, Becoming a Writer goes on to provide practical and (unlike many books of this sort) universal advice. The concentration here is on mentality more than technique. Brande offers advice on the temperaments the writer must establish to write well. At times, the focus is on self-perception. There is an entire chapter devoted to developing the ability to separate the artist from the rational, day-to-day self, explaining how these two sides of the personality can hinder one another and—more importantly—how each side is integral to the creative process. Other times, the book offers much more direct advice. Brande’s most important exercise is to actually write at designated times each day, no matter what it is that’s being written. In her mind, the inability to comply with this practice is the only sure sign that a writer has chosen the wrong profession.

Becoming a Writer offers aspiring fiction writers a well-balanced guide to their craft, and considering it was originally published in 1934, it’s a wonder that Brande’s theories on the human psyche remain relevant. Other than a few references to typewriters (a cumbersome technology which is becoming a staple in the writer’s room), the content of this book has stood up to the test of time quite well. While there are certainly a number of books in this genre (many of which have, no doubt, borrowed from this title), Becoming a Writer should not be overlooked. This classic guide is not for the novice, but for the writer who is already acquainted with voice and technique. This is a book for the writer who struggles with his or her commitment to the craft and the implications of that commitment. For those who have trouble establishing an identity as a writer, Becoming a Writer is a place to start.

a review

Modern Laughter

In the past few years, the popularity of the typified sitcom – recorded laugh track and all – has dropped significantly. In its place, it seems the highest rated shows on television follow that of the mock documentary format, or the “mockumentary.” One refreshing new show that uses this style is the 2009 premiere to ABC primetime, Modern Family.

The show, aired on Wednesday nights at 9, is nearing completion of its first season, and was long ago picked up for its second by network executives. It is written by Christopher Lloyd and Steven Levitan, and follows the lives of three interrelated families, each composed of particular familial dynamics that have become more common in the 21st century. As of now, Modern Family is one of the highest rated new shows on television, but despite all this critical acclaim, I don't really know anyone who is watching it (with the exception of myself and my roommates). And I don't understand why, because it is - in all probability - the most refreshing comedy on television this year.

The series revolves around the lives of two generations of family: Jay Pritchett (as played by Ed O’Neil, who is commonly known as Married … With Children’s Al Bundy), his young Columbian wife Gloria, and her son Manny from a previous marriage. The other families are composed of Jay’s two grown children from his prior marriage: Marshall and his partner Cameron, who adopt a Vietnamese baby in the pilot episode, and Claire and her husband Phil Dunphy, as well as their three children. In a sense, the show strives to represent the different ways that the 21st century family is composed, thus retrieving its name.

This style of film and television making is not new; it has been extant in society since the 60’s, but only recently has it settled so broadly within American pop culture. Probably its most notable inundation into television came with the 2005 premiere of the US version of The Office, a mockumentary that chronicles the lives of sales and accounting personnel at their local paper company. Whether it was attributed to skilled acting, clever writers, or the show's format implying that these people were “real,” a lot of people got attached to the show really fast. Its popularity mounted, and with producers’ newfound realization that this format of television was going to catch, new slews of similarly styled shows were picked up.

The longstanding appeal of a mockumentary isn’t simply to parody “real” life or to imply that people necessarily adjust their personalities when they know they are being filmed. Although the initial aim of a mock documentary was in fact to satire a particular lifestyle, habit or nuance (think Drop Dead Gorgeous or Best In Show for some more recent films in that category), the younger bunch of mockumentaries aim to suggest comedic value in real life itself. What has provided shows like Modern Family permanence in consumer culture is that with few elements of absurdity, the content is both funny and relatable. The content also strikes a sentimental chord in its viewers, thanks to its everyday relativism and the realistic portrayal of family relationships.

Statistically speaking, divorce rates have spiked. There is certainly a new sense of cynicism that surrounds the entire production of marriage, settling down, and bearing children. It is very likely that you yourself knows someone who is adamant in insisting they will never get married, or they don’t want to have children, or they just don’t see it happening for them. What is so radically appealing about Modern Family is that it illustrates lives that are not radical at all. What you are watching are the regular banalities of family life, equipped with a witty sense of humor.

When my friends and I first became avid fans of The Office, I remember we often remarked that in some bizarre fashion, the show amplified the appeal of the dreaded 9-5 office gig. That is the sort of appeal that Modern Family offers in the sense of traditional family life.

There is a stale, repeatable aspect to “reality” television that has clearly indicated to us that we cannot ask “real” people to entertain us with their “real” lives. To succeed in the parameters of reality TV, “real” people turn themselves into characters. They become hyperbolic and absurd. Its entertainment value is based in the absurdity of these “real” people's characters: their tendency to fight, their drunkenly outrageous antics. They are actually the antithesis of what is classified as “real” life! Perhaps it this absence of reality presented in the realms of “reality” TV that urged America's desire for television celebrating normalcy.

Modern Family's episodes run half an hour in length, and the beginning usually starts with the film crew asking each family member a question that will become the central theme of the show; “What are you most afraid of?” was the topic of a recent episode. If not that, there is at least a common thread that ties all three families and their activities in the episode together. Each character has staple trademarks and lines that they usually use at least once per episode, such as Phil Dunphy and the unmended stair that he always trips on in his home. Through the span of the episode, trivial conflicts emerge between the characters, like a longstanding grudge between siblings, or the discrepancy of age between Jay and Gloria. But these conflicts are always trivial. I do not envision a future with the show where anything particularly tragic or hard hitting will occur. For some viewers, this may diminish their interest, but we must remember that we are dealing in the realm of reality. Reality can be harsh or tragic or difficult, but usually it is simply trivial, and that is what invites such frustration into our lives… but also the potential for comedy.

Lloyd and Levitan seem to understand the structural faults of family life; one small disagreement often has a domino effect on everyone. Each character has a few trademark qualities: Phil Dunphy is sheepish but well intentioned, and it is his clumsy errors that often jumpstart the show. Claire Dunphy is exasperated but loving. Jay Pritchett is jaded, but trying really hard. Manny, Gloria’s son, is portrayed as an incredibly perceptive, almost frighteningly intelligent 8 year old. Cameron is full of flair and emotion, and his partner Marshall is more pragmatic and prone to agitation. The writers use these traits, which are pretty typical of the average human, to create humorous confrontations that don't cause the characters to lose the affection they have for each other.

Similar to its opening, each episode's conclusion is usually a voiceover of one character as the show runs a quick montage of the remaining Prichett-Dunphy clan, demonstrating how everything has worked out for them. It’s all fairly predictable, but the clear sentimentality is what has reserved the show its space on ABC primetime. The characters assure us that they love each other despite one another's flaws, and it is comforting to realize that you have thoroughly enjoyed and laughed through an entire show devoid of any vulgarity or ruthless, reckless interactions between characters. Modern Family is a breath of wholesome, fresh air in a world of television that often resorts to crude or offensive jokes. With the surge of mockumentaries like Modern Family we are able to ascertain that we can be funny too, just as we are.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Heavy Rain Review

When it comes to electronic entertainment, Heavy Rain is the culmination of technology intertwined with story-telling to form the epitome of a modern adventure video game. Quantic Dream's title will keep players enthralled until its twisted end. It has an interactive, choose-your-own-adventure movie experience. This game is the title to choose when attempting to show anyone how far video gaming has come since the 1980's blocky pixels and 'bleep-bloop' sound effects. Heavy Rain has players take on the role of four seemingly disconnected characters trying to trace the steps of a serial killer who has recently kidnapped a young child. The "Origami Killer" kidnaps children, drowns them, and leaves a piece of origami and an orchid on their bodies. The visuals, voice acting, and clever story all mesh together to deliver a memorable and unique experience.

The entire game is essentially a quick time event (QTE) game akin to the classic game, Dragon's Lair, a rudimentary cartoon game with similar game mechanics. A quick time event is a moment when the game shows buttons presses and joystick movements for the player to respond to. If done properly, the characters onscreen succeeds at connecting a punch or dodging an oncoming vehicle depending on what the scene is. The beauty of Heavy Rain's twist is that rather than failing and having to restart the game at a previous checkpoint, the storylines and scenes deviate into different paths. The real-time actions and you're ability to keep up with the QTEs dictate the story. The fumbles that do happen can range from a missed opportunity to land a kick on an enemy in a fight scene, which prolongs the fight, to even killing off a character in the game that could have proved useful later on in the story.

It’s possible for a number of players to progress through the story and leave with completely dissimilar and unique experiences stemming from their decisions and their hand-eye coordination. Some of the decisions that players are subjected to can also be quite intense and even border on tough moral choices. The gameplay also throws curve balls to players when it comes to reaction and decision making within the game. There are moments where the player's immediate button presses dictate how successfully their onscreen character will fare. In other situations, waiting before acting or not reacting at all would have been the better decision.

There are instances in the game that create immense tension and anxiety for players which sucks players in and makes them feel they are actually in the shoes of the character that is onscreen. Some situations in the story get quite hairy. A main character was in a situation where he was crawling through a tight claustrophobic tunnel that was littered with broken glass. He was forced to clamber through the dark confined space with only the light of a match to guide him and the eerie soft howls of wind swirling around him. It made me sit on the edge of my seat wondering what was lurking around the next corner.

Each of the four playable characters is well developed, interesting, and play integral roles to the intricate story. They are all fully modeled from their real life actors voicing the parts. The semblance between the digital characters and their real life counterparts are stunning. The lighting effects in Heavy Rain create photo realistic scenes. The motion capturing and physics behind the game's engine add to the visuals and make the characters and scenes look natural. There is meticulous detail to the facial modeling of the characters. The dialogue is synced seamlessly with the character's mouth and facial expressions. It's incredible how the polygons spring to life from the intricate art style and programming.

Lightning crackling and the pitter-patter of rain sets the mood for this title. There is a dark and dreary ambiance to the entire game which helps to supplement the atmosphere of this title. The voice acting is well done, but it is not perfect. The entire cast of the game is voiced by British actors who are imitating an American accent. For the most part of their dialogues, it works, although they do occasionally fumble a few lines and let their British accents slip out and cause awkward sounding sections. There are no famous actors performing in this particular title, but their voice work is convincing and moving nonetheless.

For the price of $60 dollars the game delivers enough content to justify a purchase. There is strong replay value with Heavy Rain due to the multiple branching storylines. Also included is bonus content, similar to the special features on a DVD or a Blu-ray movie, such as behind-the-scenes videos, trailers, and concept art that gets unlocked with multiple playthroughs. It adds incentive to sink more time into the game. The first couple hours of Heavy Rain are slow before the game begins to climb in story and action. Once the game gets going, it holds on to players and sends them on a roller coaster ride. Players won't want to put down the controller until they reach the very end of the 8-10 hour show.

Heavy Rain is a title that is great title to showcase the Playstation 3's prowess on a monstrous 52-inch television display. It keeps players alert and on their toes throughout the entire adventure. The story progresses through a variety of clever plotlines and goose-bump inducing moments that fall under the same category of many blockbuster movies. Heavy Rain is a simple enough game to play and doesn't require the extreme hand-eye coordination that most video games are known for. It's poignant and cleverly written story will satisfy players until the credits roll.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Testing Your Taste Buds at Fire + Ice

With high-end boutiques on Newbury, pricey restaurants on Berkeley, and upscale housing on Commonwealth, Boston’s Back Bay area seems to hold the reputation of being one of the city’s most expensive neighborhoods. And if you’re a newcomer to this area, you might not acknowledge that until after you received your bill for two at Grill 23 & Bar for $200. Although the Back Bay is filled with many costly restaurants, there are more affordable options, even if it may take a few strolls to find them. If you’re looking for some delicious, authentic, inexpensive Asian cuisine, you might want to try Panda Express on Commonwealth or Thai Cuisine on Westland Avenue. If you’re in the mood for some all-American food, then head right over to Kings on Scotia Street or Bar 10 on Huntington Avenue. But if you are tired of going to the same restaurants and looking at the same fixed menus, then you might want to try one of Boston’s own, Fire + Ice on Berkeley Street. Following the path of our “founding fathers and the history of our freedom,” Fire and Ice permits you the freedom to build a meal to suit your own individual taste. Not only do you have the liberty of creating a delicious meal, but you can do it in a pleasurable, interactive way.

When you first walk into the restaurant, you saunter into a trendy, cozy bar where you can begin with a drink while you wait for your table to be prepared. Once it’s ready, the hostess will assist you to the upstairs dining area and when you’re seated, the waiter will come over and explain the steps to your adventurous dining experience. First, you walk over to the back of the restaurant to create your own unique salad from the salad bar. With more than a dozen options, anything you can possibly add to a salad is offered, such as chick peas and pineapple chunks. When your salad is made and topped off with your choice of dressing, you then walk over to the main entrée selections and find an assortment of over 20 raw foods. You pick up a bowl and begin filling it with any of the ingredients offered. Whether you’re a meat lover or a vegetarian, you’re guaranteed to find something appealing, such as the salmon, or the sirloin, or the BBQ ribs or even the mussels. Along with your seafood, meat and poultry, you have the choice of selecting from a range of pasta and noodles, as well as vegetables and fruits. Your last component is a choice of a signature sauce from over 10 different options, such as teriyaki, sweet chili, pineapple curry, honey garlic and many others.

When you are done with your inventive meal, you walk over to the over-sized round grill in the middle of the room, hand over your bowl of food and sauce and watch your own personal chef cook your meal in front of you. While you wait, you can order a drink and hang out with your friends and family, as you watch a dozen chefs prepare each guest’s meal. Once your meal is fully cooked, the chef transfers your dish onto a plate, and you’re off to enjoy your own creation.

For only $16.95, you have unlimited access to create as many creative dishes as you want and if you are a college student, show up on a Monday night with your college ID and you’ll be given unlimited dinner for only $9.95. Fire and Ice is located on 205 Berkeley Street and is open Monday-Thursday from 11:30-10:00 PM, Friday and Saturday from 11:30-11:00PM, and Sunday from 10:00 AM to 10:00 PM. The first Fire + Ice restaurant opened up in Cambridge, which is still currently located at 50 Church Street.

Why is Cancun the ideal Spring Break destination?

Ever since I’ve started college, I have been constantly hearing about how Cancun is the ideal spring break destination. But why? Why is this small Mexican city the place to spend your one week vacation off from hectic college life? I needed to experience this craze over Cancun so a group of five of my closest friends and I decided to go last year during our spring break. Many of whom have experienced a week at this costal city also recommended us to stay at Oasis Cancun, the hotel where MTV aired their spring break specials in past years. Even though there were many things to do and many things to see, over all, this hyped-up city did not seem all so pleasing.

Cost: We had been planning this trip for quite some time, trying to find the best possible deals. We tried dozens of websites, such as Expedia, Trip Advisor, Priceline, but the prices and airfare were not within our budget. Many recommended speaking to a travel agency, but their prices were not any different. We ended up finding the best deal on Cheap; a 7 day, 6 night, all-inclusive stay at Oasis Cancun with round-trip airfare from Boston for $800. With the Mexican peso being worth less than the dollar, Cancun was one of the cheapest trips I have every taken.

Hotel: Oasis Cancun is a 3-start hotel, located in the heart of the Hotel Zone, on a beautiful white sand beach. The town’s center, where many of the night clubs were located, was only a 10-minute drive away. It wasn’t necessary to rent a car even, for the hotel provided us with transportation to and from the clubs, as long as we bought our admission tickets in advance from the front lobby.

When we first arrived at the hotel, we were surprised to see how many college students roamed the lobby area. We didn’t even get to check-in yet and were surrounded by dozens of men, trying to force us to drink from their half empty beer cans. Since we purchased the all-inclusive package, we were all given purple plastic bracelets, which we were supposed to wear for our entire stay. This bracelet gave us access to the cafeteria and all day free booze. The all-inclusive package was very useful, for we didn’t need to carry a great deal of money on us because everything was included in our package price.

After we were handed our keys, we began to walk towards the elevators, and noticed a long wait. There were only 2 small elevators, and about 10 people in front of us. The hotel did have stairs, but our rooms were on the 4th floor and we all had our luggage. As we were waiting for the elevators, I realized that the majority of the people staying at this hotel were college students. The hotel lobby seemed like a complete zoo. College students, who were obviously intoxicated, were fooling around and being completely obnoxious. On your left, you had students screaming and running around like madmen, while others were sliding down the railings. On the right, you had students splashing around in the fountain, while some poor soul was vomiting at the other end. And then you had your typical, X-rated material; women flashing their bosoms to the entire lobby while riding down the glass elevators.

I had inquired on having our rooms next to each other, and luckily, Cheap Caribbean was able to successfully put in our request. As we walked through our door, our bathroom was on our left, which had a large vanity with two sinks, a bathtub and a toilet. The bathroom seemed sanitary, without any unpleasant smells. Luckily our AC was in full force, and our view from the balcony was breathless.

Hotel Pool & Beach: Our hotel had a beautiful, lushly landscape, with peacocks and iguanas roaming freely. The hotel’s pool is said to be one of South America’s largest swimming pools that includes 3 swim up bars, and comfortable water temperature. The only dilemma with the pool area, especially during the day, was the impossible task of reserving lounge chairs. Also, there were empty plastic cups floating everywhere in the pool, along with the inebriated, deafening spring breakers, most of them being men. We might have been there on a spring break vacation looking to have a good time, but we weren’t looking to get trampled on inside the pool.

We decided to spend our days at the beach, which indeed did have soft, white sand, but not enough room to lie out. The sand area was very small, and some parts were rocky. If we showed up too late, it was difficult to find a nice comfortable, rock-free area. We tried to get some lounge chairs, but the hotel staff did not allow it. The beach was very clean and had a stunning shade of blue, but there were too many waves, which made it quite difficult to swim, and even caused a few bikinis to fall off.

The only positive thing was the easy access to the beach bar, which had blaring music and provided us with free drinks all day long. You even had men dressed in ponchos and sombreros walking around, offering free shots of tequila. After a few drinks, it didn’t matter where we laid out. The blazing sun and hot temperatures caused an instant siesta.

Cafeteria & Food: The hotel provided us with free breakfast, lunch and dinner, each served at specific times. The cafeteria was this enormous room, with three separate dining areas and buffet style serving. The food was not the best you could possibly eat, but it satisfied us. Since we were always waking up late, it was impossible to make it to breakfast, but the lunch menu had the typical America food; hamburgers, pizza and fries. The dinner menu had a variety of different selections; from fish, to meat, to chicken, to pasta and anything else you could think of. They even had a dessert table with a great selection of sweets, ice cream, coffee and soda.

Clubs: Cancun is filled with many different clubs. The ones we visited were the clubs that our hotel had deals for on that particular night. Some of the clubs we went to were Bull Dog, Basic, Daddy’O, The City and Cocobongos. We usually got a good deal from our hotel that included transportation, admission, and free drinks all night, for about $40-$50 each. This surprised us, for a night out in Boston; $40 is good to get you through the door and one drink. In Cancun though, we were being fed free drinks all night, as though they wanted us to get wasted, and which they productively did. The only downside to the clubs were the drunk ones, who couldn’t even stand without falling, and eventually took you down with them. But I guess that is what you get when there is an endless amount of alcohol.

My favorite club would be Basic. Besides the loud, and hip music it played, the whole dance floor bounced up and down, and then sprinklers would get turned on every once in a while, which that caused one wet-wild show.

Booze Cruise: My friends and I decided to do a one-day booze cruise. We signed up at our hotel, and we were provided with free transportation to and from the port. The cost was $75 per person, but it included lunch, alcohol, snorkeling and water sport rides. We also got to visit Isle de Mujeres, a small island off the coast of Cancun that had one-of-kind Mexican food and great shopping. The crew on the boat recommended us to a specific store for souvenir shopping, but to our surprise, they were completely overpriced. We all wanted to buy sombreros, and the clerk was asking us each for $60. As we continued to walk around the island, we ended buying sombreros for only $10.

On our way back from Isle de Mujeres, the crew members made the “chicas in sombreros” dance the Macarena and take tequila shots. I highly recommend the booze cruise, but I would ease off on the alcohol. Sometimes alcohol, heat and boat motion do not mix well.

Overall, Cancun, Mexico was infested with drunk, unbearable, untamed college students, who are looking for a cheap place to party and have a good time. Even though it was a memorable experience, it is not a place I would visit again, especially during the valuable one week off from college where much relaxation is needed.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Wagamama Delivers Positivity

“Location, location, location”; that’s what people are concerned about, right? Not only in terms of housing or business but also when it comes to eating. Easy access can make or break any food enterprise. The accessibility and great location is why I think Wagamama is one of the best choices someone running around in the city can make.

The Wagamama I frequent is located in Faneuil Hall but there are two others: one in Harvard Square and the other at the Prudential. All of these Wagamamas are strategically placed around a variety of shops and sightseeing musts for tourists. So while you can get a great day of shopping or sightseeing done, you don’t have to travel far for a great meal to refuel. Not only are the locations opportune for visitors, it’s also within walking distance of bus and train stations. Wagamama is a global franchise with locations in Europe, the Middle East, Egypt, and Australia but only three of them are in the Americas--all of which are located in the Boston area.

The menu specifically states that dishes come out as soon as they are done, instead of waiting for the entire order to be completed. This promotes fast paced service for fast paced people. While the food is made as fast as possible, taste is not compromised. Wagamama has a Japanese inspired menu that caters to carnivores but leaves options for vegetarians. The menu is easy to read and explicitly spells out what certain unfamiliar words mean. One of the things that you should love about the menu are the actual descriptions of the food and wine. For someone who are unfamiliar with wine, the explanation of taste and flavor can be very useful. For example' one of the wines is Oxford Landing Chardonnay; the text directly under the name is “Australia. A medium bodied wine with crisp, tropical overtones.” Enjoy the fact that this menu doesn’t assume you are an expert in wine or Asian cuisine.

The food has a decent assortment of noodle, grilled food, rice, and salad dishes, but the most variety by far is within the noodle category. Another aspect of Wagamama that offers an array of choices are the beverages. You can choose from juices, most of which are freshly squeezed, white or red wine, soda, beer, or sake. Seeing as how this is a Japanese themed restaurant, the three choices of Asian imported beer can be interesting for an adventure or if you feel more comfortable with a local brew, Samuel Adams is also available.

Along with great food and a great location, something that should draw people to this restaurant is the ambiance. It is very friendly and comfortable. The seats are long benches with long tables promoting inter-party conversations. Seating is also available on a patio when the weather permits it. The waiters are pleasant and helpful when any questions arise about the menu.

Wagamama is a great place for lunch or dinner with Japanese dishes and a very comfortable atmosphere. I recommend this place for a casual dining experience with friends. The tagline of Wagamama is “positive eating + positive living” and they deliver.

Visit to consult a list of locations and a full menu.

The Boston I.D.

How can we understand the collective identity of this great city if we have not first embraced the individual identities of each citizen? In the words of a former student of mine, “It’s unpossible.”

There is no better place for people watching, and for the subsequent social behavioral exploration that comes from such an activity, than at a local pub. This urban truth is not exclusive to Boston, but apparent in every major metropolis the world over. In Dublin, I spent almost two weeks in unprecedented frustration behind the wrong-sided wheel of an economy rental, asking myself why I had foolishly chosen Ireland as a vacation destination. Then one afternoon, I decided to crawl into one of the many hole-in-the-wall pubs along my non-Temple-Bar walking route, and was invited to join a party there already in progress. The festivities were in honor of a great-grandfather turning 96, and I spent four hours drinking half-pints of whatever with his extended family and friends. I was able, and in fact, welcomed, to discover the personalities that had been missing from my touristy view of Dublin. And this same social phenomenon, minus the backward driving ritual, can be had right here in our fine city.

If you’re interested in meeting, or at least watching creepily from a distance, the real characters that make up Boston, one might argue that any local pub will do, so long as it has a personality to match its patrons. I would like to propose, as a prime example, one establishment in particular, that boasts both local color and the big-city vibe that Bostonians and travelers alike have come to love. Cornwall’s Pub in Kenmore Square has food and drinks, yes, and fully-functioning pool tables on occasion, but more importantly, it has character.

The menu at Cornwall’s is English, not Irish, and decent. You should order a burger if you starving, the nachos (complete with re-heated cheese sauce and a garnish of Old Bay seasoning) if you’re drunk, and the Shepherd’s Pie if you’re just visiting. Don’t expect anything from the menu beyond the description you read. If it says the salad has lettuce, tomato and chicken, that’s all you’re getting. But keep in mind that if you had wanted fancy and flair, you would have gone across the street to Eastern Standard and paid the price.

The beers are cold. Order a Guinness if you want to wait. If you’re pressed for time, get a Black Velvet, because the Strongbow pours quickly and reduces the wait on that Guinness flavor you really want. And the Bud Light and Amstel bottles are close at hand, for the patron who needs a drink pronto. Mixed drinks are hit or miss, and your Martini might (eventually) arrive in a pint glass or tumbler, but rest assured, it will always have the full alcohol pour and then some.

Because Cornwall’s is a family business, you will more than likely be served by a relative of the owner. Billy and J.R. are competent bartenders, if a little distracted by whatever is on the TV, and they know the Kenmore Square gossip like the back of their beer-soaked hands. The pub is also more laid back than most Kenmore establishments, so restaurant workers come from city blocks around, when they’re sufficiently fed up with corporate-chain-slavery, to work at Cornwall’s. Bad news for places like Pizzeria Uno and Bertucci’s, but good news for the Cornwall’s patrons, who are ensured of being helped by a less stressed bartender or waitress.

So far, Cornwall’s is landing only slightly off the middle of the road. But the people who drink there, who make up about ninety-nine percent of the Cornwall’s character, are the real attraction.

When you walk in the door, take a right down the ramp. Ok, get a beer first, and then take a right down the ramp. This is the path that will lead you to what the USA network promises, but never delivers…a character fantasy. A glance to the right at the bottom of the ramp reveals an almost hidden from view ‘Touch the Titty’ machine. The real name of this arcade is something more advertize-y and less vulgar, but if you’ve ever put any money into it, you’ll know it by its street name. There will be two or three older gentlemen sitting with stacks of dollar bills, playing Word-Dojo or Photo Hunt Erotic (where the street name comes from). If you’d like to know any of the Kenmore Square gossip Billy and J.R. were too busy to fill you in on, ask these guys. And if you have time, invite them up onto their political soap-boxes, too, because these guys have surprising vocabulary and knowledge of current events, despite their eyes being glued to the video screen.

If, instead of looking right, you turn left, you’ll run into the pool tables, and the slew of Kenmore collegiate that spend their lunch hours and quarters here. Most of them have tap water in hand, because, when faced with the frugal decision between beer and billiards, their choice is obvious. These are BU, NESOP and AI students with little cash and too much cool to waste in class. And any one of them will offer up a slice of academic or street knowledge, if you can stand the stench of shabby-chic long enough for a conversation.

Turn around, and exit the side door past the men at the machine. Here’s the meat of the sociological meal. The door leads to the patio. Don’t worry; it resembles anything in the world but a patio. It’s cement, for one thing, and startlingly bare.

The first table along the wall hosts two bartenders, both of whom ‘control the cool’ at their respective watering holes. If you order them a round of Powers, rather than Jameson, you might earn just enough respect to pass the line on a Thursday.

At the second table, the real estate agent that controls who lives and dies in Kenmore Square is clinking glasses with the guy you’ve seen everywhere in the square. It turns out he’s a BU professor with free time out the ass and the stickiest property-fingers you’ve met this week. But if you need to get in to a class, or in to an apartment above the photo lab, squeeze in with these two and ask for a light. Of course, they both smoke.

The third table down is a random assortment of greasy hair, hair gel, ballet flats and flat-brim caps. You’re welcome to join them as they chat about the latest Sox stats, alcohol trends and the new Kenmore hostess/sous chef couple.

No one of these groups holds the key to the one true identity of the city. But with the right blend of conversation and intoxication, which is all any bar can hope to offer, Cornwall’s reveals what many tourists and residents have failed to find in all their hotspot frequenting and Zagat’s research: the Boston personality.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Designer Hard-drive

Imagine spending two weeks writing a paper or report. Imagine saving it to a computer only to find the file was deleted by a shared user or corrupted and lost forever. Hard-drive reliability is vital so that data created from hours of toiling can recalled upon in 10 years. In steps the external hard-drive. There are few things less exciting when it comes to computer hardware than a hard-drive. Computer monitors glisten with high-definition glory and mice have lasers now. A hard-drive’s only function is to sit and store data files. Still, the pragmatic purpose of a dependable hard drive cannot be denied and the LaCie holds a firm position as one of the most stylish.

I came across a LaCie 500GB external hard-drive designed by Neil Poulton and it is sexy. It looks like something out of a sci-fi movie. My computer was running low on space from all the files I've accumulated over the years and I couldn't find any way to pare down any of it. The LaCie hard drive does its job by storing all my data. By dragging and dropping all the extra files and folders I had over to the new hard drive, I freed up massive amounts of space on my computer. That means all my essays, mp3 music files, and my multiple seasons of The Simpsons have a fairly permanent and safe home to hibernate in until I need to call upon them again.

The LaCie hard drive is sophisticated and super sleek. It is encased in a glossy black rectangular shell with no markings beside a LaCie logo etched on the rear of its exterior. There is a clean bright blue LED light emitting from the bottom front of it that makes it scream cool. The LED serves as two functions. When the light is on, it shows that the hard drive is on. When the LED flashes, it indicates that the hard drive is currently being accessed and it shouldn't be disconnected. The hard drive as a whole also runs as quiet as a tip-toeing ninja. There are plenty of options for external hard drives available, but none provide the same level of style as the LaCie.

500GB can hold up to 550,500 images, 135,000 songs, or 710 movies. There is a 750GB and a 1TB flavor available which is roughly double the capacity. The LaCie is compatible with PCs, Macs, and any laptop for an on-the-go backup of indispensable data. The LaCie runs at 7200RPM which the fastest speed available for data saving and accessing speeds. It uses a USB 2.0 connection for decent data transfer rates, however there are faster connections available. A downfall to its glossy black exterior is that it is prone to smudges and fingerprints. It also requires its own power supply. Regardless of those issues, it is still a solid hard drive. The LaCie 500GB hard drive can be picked up at retail for about $129. I found it on for $75.