Sunday, February 27, 2005

The glass tower

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I read recently, in this very newspaper, that the city of Providence is resolved -- nay, determined -- to do its part to solve the southern New England housing crunch.

Don't rent the U-Haul yet. This is from the Associated Press story: "The 32-story glass-paneled tower on Westminster Street, adjacent to the Arcade, will include condominiums priced at $500,000 to $2.5 million."

Which is fantastic. Be cause, as it turns out, there was a dreadful shortage of places where filthily, stinkingly prosperous people could live.

Now, thanks to a couple of real estate developers from Boston -- and I guess the people who will make 32 stories worth of glass panels -- you, too, can find a little slice of Earth you can call your own.

If you've got money coming out of your bazoo.

My wife is in charge of the money in our household. So the other day, I made an appointment with her and asked if we were rich.

"Honey," I asked, "do we have $500,000 by any chance?"

After she recovered from her laughing fit, my wife said, "No."

"All righty," I said. "How about $2.5 million?"

We didn't have that, either.

As it turns out, we have nothing in that ballpark -- not even in the nosebleed seats. Or the parking lot. Or the highway rest stop near the parking lot. From our distance, that ballpark appears to be a little greenish dot on the other side of a very large, deep river and a thicket of smokestacks, and we can only see it when the smog clears more or less. In fact, that might not even be the ballpark. Now that I've stared at it for a while, I think that's actually just some water tower.

And it's not like we're poor, either. We worked hard to get good jobs, and we save more money than most. We don't smoke or do drugs, so right away there's -- I don't know, what's Marlboros and pot come to per month? About 200 bucks?

We refuse to give any money to those despicable human bacteria at the cable company, so there's another 50. Also, I buy whatever deli meat is on sale that week, which tends to add up given the way I make a sandwich.

In short, we do well. We can't do the backstroke in piles of cash like Scrooge MacDuck, but neither do we have to wash and reuse the plastic forks we get with Chinese takeout.

Which is pretty good for somebody my age. Many of the people I know in my generation work in coffeehouses, bookstores, or bookstores with coffeehouses in them. Me, I don't get paid by the hour and finagled myself a fancy-sounding job title with the word "executive" in it. My wife has a career creating books, which then get sold in bookstore/coffeehouses.

I want to live in a nice place in downtown Providence. I hate the suburbs and the country -- I'm a city mouse. I want to live right by the river and everything, within walking distance of the mall. Within driving distance of Caserta Pizzeria on Federal Hill. Lots of interesting stuff to do and nice things to see.

Somebody with the word "executive" before his name should be able to live in a nice place in Providence.

But I can't, because I'm not rich.

Why am I not rich?

Here are 10 better questions:

1. With this shortage of living space that regular people can afford, where are we supposed to go?

Let me guess: To hell, right?

2. And what about all the wealthy people who are scheduled to fill 32 stories worth of a glass-paneled tower -- where are these jerks coming from?

3. More importantly, where have these steel barons and Internet gurus been hiding? Because, no offense to anyone, but Providence isn't exactly easily mistaken for Upper West Side Manhattan.

4. Can there really be that many scandalously well-to-do people in or around Providence? If you are a scandalously well-to-do person in or around the Providence area, and know of other scandalously well-to-do neighbors, please let me know. E-mail me your name, address, daytime and evening telephone numbers, bank account information and ATM password (for confirmation purposes) at

5. Speaking of banks, a while ago, when my wife and I were pre-approved for a mortgage, the bank was nice enough to give us a free pen. What do they give you with a $2.5 million mortgage pre-approval? A Staples franchise?

6. If the building's owner can't find enough gazillionaires to fill the joint, will they put some of the condos on sale? "Slashing prices," "everything must go," and that sort of thing? I could see myself and wife and our dog and cat relaxing in a marked-down condo, looking out of our cheap glass panels onto downtown Providence. Maybe we'd have a view of the spot where that goofy traffic cop dances.

Of course, it would have to be marked down quite far. I still couldn't afford even half-price.

7. Another question: Could I work off my $2.5 million mortgage at this condo? I'll Windex all 32 stories worth of glass panels. I'll chase away the traffic cop when he bothers the rich people. I'll even clean out the stables -- all the moneyed jerks at this high-rise will have to keep their polo ponies someplace.

Last questions before I retreat back to my middle-class life:

8. These people buying the condos -- where do they work?

9. What the hell job could it be that pays enough to meet the mortgage on a $2.5 million condo? Question 9a.: Is it one of those jobs where it's impossible to explain in five words or fewer what you do, and in fact it turns out you don't do
anything at all except move paperwork from one end of the desk to the other, said paperwork representing imaginary money or imaginary companies or imaginary people? Because I can be trained to do this.

10. Does this company have any immediate openings for short, chubby, hairy Portuguese fellows with experience writing jokes for newspapers? You know -- court jester or something? I feel pretty foolish already. Might as well get paid for it.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Loaves' Labour's Lost

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Tomorrow is Valentine's Day, that special time of year where the whole world surrenders to romance.

I myself relish the snuggly feeling I get every year when I buy special somethings for my beautiful wife -- maybe dropping a few Georges at the local gasoline provider's and steaming home with a smile and a car full of plastic roses as if Captain Stubing piloting the Love Boat to fabulous Puerta Vallarta.

Yes, Valentine's Day warms the cockles of my heart, and nothing warms a good cockle like recalling how the ancients celebrated love.

And celebrate love they did! Particularly in the Dark Ages, when it was harder to see in the ancients' windows. A little while later, bedroom boredom gave way to the kinkier Light Ages.

But there's so much more to the history of love than memorizing dates and eras. There's poetry! Reams of awful love poetry!

For instance, everybody wonders who wrote the Book of Love. This is why we have the Internet: a quick trip to Google reveals that it was Roman poet Ovid (rhymes with Harvard). He wrote several books of love in B.C. times -- books that were sold in small, windowless stores over by the airport.

Contained in his books are some of the most time-tested pickup lines ever. Like this one, from Love Book I, Elegy III: "If I have no long line of famous ancestors to recommend me, if the founder of our family is but a simple knight; if innumerable
ploughs be not required to till my fields; if my father and mother are constrained to husband our resources, at least let Apollo and his choir the nine, and the discoverer of the vine, plead with thee in my behalf and love who gives me unto thee, and faith that shall fail not, irreproachable morals, guileless sincerity and modesty that knows how to blush." Try it the next time you meet a foxy chick at the Regatta and see if she doesn't slip you her number.

Romance in Roman times was just like romance is now. According to Ovid, if you liked a girl, you'd simply beseech her eunuch into sneaking her past the guards for the night. If that went OK, you'd take her over to the Coliseum to see a swell show -- first a comic, then the lions would eat the gladiators, and then the lions would eat the comic. Afterward, the emperor would eat the lions. And you would take the girl out for some dinner -- usually Italian.

During the spaghetti and meatballs, there would be that awkward "getting to know you" phase. You'd say your favorite color is green, and she'd say that as a slave girl her favorite color is whatever her master says it is. You'd say, "Green it is, then!" But that wouldn't go over too well.

You'd make it up to her with some ice cream and a moonlit walk by the Roman ruins (even back then, they had a hard time keeping up). If you hit it off, you might swing by the vomitorium for a late-night puke. If you really hit it off, then making beautiful music together is easy -- you're both already wearing bedsheets.

In summing up the glories of love, the Ovid has this to say in his Love Book IV, Elegy XXVI:

There once was a girl from Venice
Whose skills I admired at tennis
She tripped on her robes
And out fell her globes
Said the girl, "This toga's a menace!"

Another poet whose work often explores the complexities of love is William Shakespeare (rhymes with Lakespeare). His tragic play "Romeo and Juliet" is among the first major works of art to examine one of the unintended byproducts of young love -- crummy in-laws.

Shakespeare is also famous for his sonnets, many of which, according to the Cliff Notes, are about love. It makes my heart flutter just to think about some of them, like Sonnet XVIII:

"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? OK. You're like a summer's day: Hot."

Like many poets, Shakespeare was not fully appreciated in his time. Oh sure -- he scored a sizeable hit with "Henry IV." But then he unwisely followed it up with "Henry IV: Part II," which critics charged was just a thin ploy to rehash the characters from the first one with a bigger budget.

So, having lost the public's favor, Shakespeare began once more to write love sonnets -- and sold them. Like this example from Sonnet CXVI: "Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds. If you need alterations in a hurry, Bernie's Tailoring on Fifth will keep you in stitches."

Or, from Sonnet CXLVII: "My love is as a fever, longing still for that which longer nurseth the disease. But for tough fevers, take Tylenol."

The worst of Bill's shills was Sonnet CLV, "O, how truly do I love thee, [your name could be here -- ask me how]."

In more modern times, the love poem has suffered greatly. The most recent example of any love poetry worth a damn comes from mid-1980s rock group Bon Jovi (rhymes with anchovy): "Your love is like bad medicine. Bad medicine is what I need." Indeed, those sweet lyrics of innocent amour vis-à-vis expired pharmaceuticals captivated suburban girls the nation over.

But since then, there's been nothing of note.

So I suppose it's up to me to keep the tradition of love poetry alive. I dedicate this one to my wife:

When I think of you, dear,
The world becomes clear
And there's really nothing more to be said,
But if love were a food,
On you I would brood--
I'd be a baker and you'd be my bread.

I'd make you all crunchy,
Just perfect for lunchy,
And bake you up warm in my oven
I'd sweep up your crumbs
And ogle your buns
And together we'd make 12-grain lovin'.

I knead you, O sweetie,
So be my whole-wheatie,
Give in to my hearth-baked rye lust
Just gimme a slice,
I swear I'll be nice,
'Cause I can't loaf without your sweet crust.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Bet your bottom dollar

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Any column about gambling on sports would be incomplete without a lengthy warning about its illegality outside of authorized venues and, of course, the horrors of gambling addiction. Therefore, let's just consider this column incomplete, shall we?

I bring up the issue because today many people will be betting on Super Bowl XXXIX, wherein the New England Patriots will face the Philadelphia Eagles. I won't be betting. Just like you won't be betting. Nobody can prove a thing.

Super Bowl wagering has a long and storied tradition dating back -- what? Thirty-nine years? Really? To 1966? Egad, that just can't be right! But I guess the Roman numerals don't lie...

A quick trip online to do some research shows that, yes, in that first Super Bowl, the fabled Super Bowl I, is where Super Bowl gambling began. A drunk sitting in a bar in Las Vegas, Nevada, won ten bucks off another drunk for correctly guessing the outcome of the game's opening toss. Later, that drunk was to find out that his vision had doubled, so he'd just bet against himself. Also, he'd only won five bucks. But that man went on to turn a little idea into a pot full of golden dreams, and founded a little place you may have heard of in Vegas -- he called it Caesar's Palace. And his name was Julius Caesar.

And now you know...the rest of the story.

Other interesting facts about Super Bowl I: After losing several dollar bills to a stiff breeze, the referees eventually switched to coins to decide the opening toss.

The Beatles were also mired in scandal that year when they headlined 1966's Super Bowl I halftime show. During their performance, Paul McCartney ripped off part of George Harrison's suit jacket, exposing Harrison's right nipple.

I, myself, have a long and storied tradition of gambling that dates back 18 years. I'm thinking of the time when I was about 10 years old and my family went to Walt Disney World. We went on a daylong cruise into the ocean around Florida, and the second we hit the international waters they fired up the slot machines.

Trying to escape the sweltering heat and all those strenuous outdoor activities, I snuck into the casino. I sat down at a slot machine and stuffed a quarter in. Nobody bothered me until I won a cup full of change. I was just about finished with my victory dance when I felt a meaty paw seize the scruff of my neck and yank me out of there.

So accept these betting tips from somebody who knows the joy of winning and the pain of losing. Read, place your bets, kick back to watch the Super Bowl, and watch the money roll in.


--Any knowledge of the sport of football will be a distinct advantage in your favor when you bet. If possible, play professional football before placing any wagers.

--If you're participating in one of those pools where you buy "boxes" based on the digits in the score, buying every box will ensure a 100 percent victory.

--Office pools are illegal. Remind other bettors in your office pool that "everybody knows what happens to squealers."

--Remember: Football is a game of inches. Placing bets on every inch of the game played will dramatically increase your chances of winning.

--If you're unable to make it to Las Vegas to place your Super Bowl bet in person, there are hundreds of Web sites online, headquartered both in America and internationally, that will gladly accept your money. Some of them are even connected to casinos.

--Speaking of online gaming: If you're worried about giving up your credit card number online to a casino, try giving them cash. That's what that slot in the computer is for.

--When deciding how much to bet on the Super Bowl, always bear in mind that, when it comes to your children's college fund, there are very many sources of financial aid available from the federal government and private donors.

--Consider the many side bets you can make on the Super Bowl. Besides the actual outcome, you can gamble on whether the halftime show will stink or not, how many million dollars Buick spent on that perfectly ordinary commercial they keep playing, and the average height of the playing field grass.

--If you're betting on a Patriots win, give Tom Brady steroids. If betting on the Eagles, Donovan McNabb.

--Don't be stupid. Betting your life savings is a bad idea. Of course, if you get lucky, it could be a brilliant idea.

--If everybody else is using bills, it is impolite to pay your share of the office Super Bowl pool in empty Coke cans.

--Studying the team rosters can often be a source of help when deciding whom to bet on. For example, the temperature in Jacksonville, Florida, is often warm. A glance at the Philadelphia team roster reveals that three key players are penguins, giving New England the natural advantage.

--Lastly, before forking over the cash in your office pool, write "This money not legal tender if I lose" in fine print on your bills.
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