Has the Time Come for Polygamy at Work?

Many years ago, I introduced a concept that took the virtual world by storm. My idea was profound yet simple. I called it “work wife” and it was a term to describe your best friend/lunch mate at the office. For many years I rode on the coattails of this glorious invention. It was the crowning achievement of my young life and I always assumed that it would become my epitaph.

But alas, my laizze-faire vetting process ultimately came back to bite me in my prodigious rear. By employing the popular tool known as ‘the google’ I discovered that I had not actually invented the term “work wife” (although I certainly did help to popularize its usage,) but some real writer at a real magazine might have. Daunted and broken, I returned to my drawing board in a vain attempt to come up with another great idea to claim as my own.

Still waiting for said glorious idea to materialize, I thought that in the meantime I would revisit the concept of “work wife” as I’m no longer sure that it even makes sense in today’s topsy-turvy world.

For you see, monogamy may work in the bedroom but I fear that it’s a loser in the boardroom. And I think that it’s time for us to move beyond our dated notions of male-male/male-female/female-female workplace couplings and consider open workplace marriages. I think it’s time for us to introduce a little polygamy into the office park.

Experience now tells me that workplace lunch groups should actually be comprised of threesomes (aka friendship circles) for the following reasons:

1. If your work wife is traveling or out sick you’ll still have someone to lunch with, avoiding the dreaded “I’ll just heat up a can of soup and surf the web at my desk” lunch;

2. If you’re tiffing with the work wife, the third person can act as a mediator – both objectively weighing the evidence and actively attempting to smooth over hurt feelings;

3. Work ménage-a-trois allow for more stimulating conversation and less repetition of stories;

4. Having a tie-breaker vote is valuable for picking lunch venues, especially if the spouses have different salad/sandwich shop preferences.

5. Having a third party is beneficial for securing short-term lunch loans when funds are running short and trips to the cash machine are not desired.

Yes, the more that I think of it, the happier I am that I never invented that stupid concept of work wife. Who needs to be tied down? Work man was born to be free and unattached (and yet still likes to have dependable lunchtime companions.)

Now the hard part for those of you in established long-term work relationships will be to introduce the back-up work wife without making your first work wife jealous. The worst thing would be for you to go through an ugly work separation/divorce before you lock-down your second wife. Then you’re back to reading sci-fi books alone in the food court.

Sympathy is your best play here. Once you identify the man or woman who you’d like to a fiancée, engineer a situation where you “impulsively” ask them to join you and the wife for a casual (no commitment) lunch. Or better yet, try to get your work wife to think that it was his/her idea. At lunch, make sure that you steer the conversation back to topics that your work wife will enjoy, thereby ensuring a positive experience. Repeat this process a few times until it starts becoming a regular thing. Before you know it, you’ve just doubled your lunch pleasure!

One final note of caution: be careful when you’re picking your second work wife. If he or she isn’t into swinging, then you’re taking a big, awkward risk. The last thing you need is to be branded as some freaky office lunch tramp.

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The Boston Sports Fan’s Guide to Choosing a Jersey

While traditionally reserved for children and actual pro athletes, we’ve watched with some interest over the last few years as the sports jersey has assumed an unanticipated level of acceptability in American adult wardrobes from coast to coast. Dare we suggest that the sports jersey has become somewhat fashionable?

In just two short weeks we’ll hit that special time of the year when all 4 major sports will be in full swing. During this magical period of sports-frenzy, you may find yourself tempted to take the plunge and purchase an officially-licensed team jersey. But before you do so, may we humbly suggest that you first review:

The Boston Sports Fan’s Guide to Choosing a Jersey

You see, the jersey you choose says a lot about you. Which sport? Which player? With so many exciting choices, what’s a fashionable fan to do?

A good starting point is to first pick a sport. While the natural temptation is to pick your favorite team, the truth is that you might not look so good in your favorite team’s jersey. The key, therefore, is to pick the sport that happens to feature the jersey that works best for your personal style.

Choosing Your Jersey

Basketball jerseys are really just fancied-up extra-long tank tops, providing all of the advantages and disadvantages of wearing a regular tank top: perfect in the hot weather but difficult in adverse climate conditions. It’s important to note that a real hoops fan does not wear an undershirt. Actually, a real hoops fan does wear an undershirt on most days… a dirty, ribbed wife beater with a crazy hat, that is. But during basketball jersey-wearing occasions one should never wear an undershirt, as the basketball jersey provides a can’t-miss opportunity to display the guns and/or ink. If your lack of bulging muscles or shamrock tattoos makes you feel insecure and tempts you to wear a tee-shirt under your basketball jersey, then you probably shouldn’t be wearing the basketball jersey anyway. Look, basketball is a winter sport with a summer-style outfit. You go all in and display the arms or you get out. End of story.

For those reticent to bare their arms, may we suggest something in a hockey sweater? Hockey sweaters are well-suited for winter wear. And since hockey players wear so much bulky equipment, the traditional hockey sweater is of gigantic proportions, amply sized for even the most substantial of men. One can easily fit a hoodie or two underneath the hockey sweater without any unsightly bulges, rendering the winter coat redundant. One can also safely hide several bottles of Crown Royale underneath their hockey jersey without raising an eyebrow from arena security. Some people think that hockey fans get a free pass from security (compared to basketball fans) due to their fear-inducing mullets. Not true! This is an unfair stereotype. Hockey fans get a free pass from arena security because most people assume that any modern hockey fan is actually Canadian and is therefore not a real threat – unless one foolishly points out that time has not been kind to the MacKenzie Brothers’ brand of humor and that Labatt’s is French for “Miller Genuine Draft.”

A safer choice may be the baseball jersey. Baseball is the only sport that still requires managers to wear the team uniform during the game. This is what we like to call a “case study,” as in, study how ridiculous that fat old man looks in his baseball uniform and you’ll understand your wife’s case against you wearing your sports jersey out in public. But seriously, the manager-in-uniform rule is an absurd throwback that has been kept in place for well over a hundred years due to the strong-arm tactics of the powerful stirrup-pants lobby. Manpris aside, the baseball jersey really is a handsome look that works well on many different body types. While it’s an athletic look, it’s also a flexible look, as one can wear the shirt un-buttoned as a top-shirt or buttoned in the traditional manner. Baseball has also cornered the market on the ¾ length sleeve tee shirts with the reverse-colored arms. That’s a snappy look as well. Obviously Abner Doubleday was quite the fashionista.

Last, but certainly not least, is the football jersey, which is as popular as it is garish, and goes exceedingly well with face paint. The problem with committing to a football jersey, however, is that the average football career only lasts about 12 games, so you always run the risk of having an anachronistic player name on your back. If you wish to avoid spending $100 on a number that’s now being worn by a scrubbini, it’s a smart play to choose a classic franchise player. We’re predicting the Mosi Tatupu #30 as this season’s must-have classic jersey.

Finishing Your Ensemble

Sports jerseys are best paired with sweatpants to perfect the illusion that you actually are a professional athlete. It’s a well-known fact that professional athletes always wear their team uniforms when waiting in line at the food court Chik-Fil-A and the sweatpants help to complete the look. However, please feel free to mix it up and pair your jersey with jeans or cammo cargo shorts if the mood strikes you.

A sports jersey can be worn in any circumstance, really, but home whites are probably best for daytime affairs and dark colored jerseys are best for formal occasions and funerals.

Some people think that you can’t mix-and-match sports apparel, but this is just a myth. In fact, the most daring fashionable sports attire look is simply called ‘The Trifecta’ and is pulled off by simultaneously wearing three separate items that represent three different sports. A handsome mix is the Patriots cap with a Celtics warm-up jacket over a Red Sox tee shirt. (Don’t worry – the Bruins can be covered via your custom license plate, conveniently available for purchase at the Tobin Bridge toll plaza.)

Final Thoughts

In summary, it’s important to recognize that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a grown man wearing a sports jersey (or mock-jersey for those on a budget) featuring the name of a professional athlete that’s half their age. And just like my pre-schooler, you too can gleefully exclaim, “that’s MY guy, Big Papi,” when David Ortiz strides to the plate during a Red Sox game.

Make it work, people!

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Top 12 Gram Parsons' Songs

The term “legend” is tossed around pretty carelessly these days. If you write a good book or win a few games the next thing you know you’re a legend. But in my estimation, a true legend is that rare individual that makes an indelible impression on our culture-at-large. Whether their gift is for art or science doesn’t really matter. What matters is that their work has an impact on our society that far transcends their life.

In the music world, Gram Parsons is one of those legends. In his short life he changed music forever. He was one of the earliest artists to wed country music traditions with rock and roll attitude and instrumentation, and in the process he elevated both genres. He was never famous but he was influential. During his life he was a huge influence on both The Byrds and The Rolling Stones, among many other bands. In death, he’s influenced countless artists, including my favorite band, The Black Crowes.

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Gram Parsons died on September 19, 1973 at the age of 26. His professional music career began eight years earlier when Gram was (briefly) a theology student at Harvard. In Boston he formed The International Submarine Band with John Nuese. Their only album, Safe at Home, is considered the first country-rock album, even though Gram never called his music country-rock. He preferred to think of it as Cosmic American music, a blend of country, gospel, soul, rock and the blues.

After the ISB went nowhere, Gram hooked up with Chris Hillman and The Byrds for their classic album Sweetheart of the Rodeo, hung out with Keith Richards and the Rolling Stones (he “gave” them ‘Country Honk’, they gave him ‘Wild Horses’), formed The Flying Burrito Brothers, recorded two solo albums (featuring a young Emmylou Harris) and died far too soon. Gram’s death was as tumultuous as his life, but you can read about that elsewhere.

Gram Parsons’ music is deceptively simple. At first listen it doesn’t sound like much. But his melodies, his voice and his words have a way of burrowing into your consciousness, demanding another listen.

Aside from some early demos, Gram played on just 6 studio albums (all which are well worth owning) and wrote a mere 35 or so original songs. And while some of his covers are amazingly beautiful, for the purposes of this Top 12 list we’ll only be including songs that Gram wrote. Now, you would think that it would be easy to pick a top 12 out of 35 songs, but it was actually incredibly difficult. As you can see from the song-by-song ratings (below), Gram literally did not write a bad song. He was that good.

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Gram Parsons’ Top 12 Songs (in chronological order):

1) 100 Years from Now (Sweetheart of the Rodeo): The archetypal country-rock song, it’s a great vehicle for The Byrds, with McGuinn’s and Hillman’s voices harmonizing wonderfully.

2) Hickory Wind (Sweetheart of the Rodeo/Grievous Angel): Both versions of this song are incredible. The gentle shuffle, the steel guitar, the layered vocals, it’s beautiful.

3) My Uncle (The Gilded Palace of Sin): Hillman’s mandolin drives this fun, bouncy tale about heading to Vancouver to dodge the draft.

4) Wheels (The Gilded Palace of Sin): I’m always a sucker for that fuzzbox guitar sound, but throw in a little roadhouse piano and some great harmonies and you’ve got a winner.

5) Hot Burrito # 1 (The Gilded Palace of Sin): While Chris Ethridge’s bass line is monstrous on this tune, its Gram’s powerful and emotional vocals that turn it into a masterpiece.

6) Hot Burrito #2 (The Gilded Palace of Sin): Featuring that trippy, fuzzbox guitar again (Hey, it’s 1969!) HB#2 is a great psychedelic rocker.

7) A Song for You (GP): Gram’s strong religious faith was a driving force in his life and he was never afraid to express his beliefs through song.

8) She (GP): A testament to the power of true love, She features one of Gram’s most powerful vocal performances.

9) Return of the Grievous Angel (Grievous Angel): In addition to the strong vocals, Grievous Angel is compelling because of its complex compositional structure.

10) Brass Buttons (Grievous Angel): Perhaps my favorite GP song of all time, Brass Buttons is a tragic song about Gram’s mother. The lines: “and the sun comes up without her/it just doesn’t know she’s gone/ooh, but I remember everything she said” may be the saddest lyrics ever writer.

11) $1000 Wedding (Grievous Angel): In yet another tragic tale, Gram’s restrained performance gives the song weight, depth and sincerity. By the way, if you listen to the demo version, it’s clear that the bride ‘passed away’.

12) In My Hour of Darkness: (Grievous Angel): A tale of two young men that died before their time, this tune is both beautiful (due to Gram’s harmonies with Emmylou) and haunting – a fitting coda to Gram’s short, sweet life.

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Gram Parsons Album-by-Album Song Ratings

(Ratings scale: 1 = poor; 2 = average; 3 = good; 4 = great)

The International Submarine Band: Safe at Home
Blue Eyes: 3
Luxury Liner: 4
Strong Boy: 3
Do You Know How It Feels: 4
Average Score: 3.5

The Byrds: Sweetheart of the Rodeo
100 Years From Now: 4
Hickory Wind: 4
Lazy Days: 3
Average Score: 3.7

The Flying Burrito Brothers: The Gilded Palace of Sin
Christine’s Tune: 3
Sin City: 4
My Uncle: 4
Wheels: 4
Juanita: 4
Hot Burrito #1: 4
Hot Burrito #2: 4
Do You Know How It Feels: 4
Hippie Boy: 3
Average Score: 3.8

The Flying Burrito Brothers: Burrito Deluxe
Lazy Days: 3
High Fashion Queen: 3
Man in the Fog: 3
Older Guys: 3
Cody, Cody: 4
Down in the Churchyard: 3
Average Score: 3.2

Gram Parsons: GP
Still Feeling Blue: 3
A Song For You: 4
She: 4
The New Soft Shoe: 4
Kiss the Children: 3
How Much I’ve Lied: 3
Big Mouth Blues: 3
Average Score: 3.4

Gram Parsons: Grievous Angel
Return of the Grievous Angel: 4
Brass Buttons: 4
$1000 Wedding: 4
Ooh Las Vegas: 4
Hickory Wind: 4
In My Hour of Darkness: 4
Average Score: 4

Overall ‘Gram Parsons Originals’ Average: 3.6

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Help Make Competitive Sleeping an Olympic Event!

If you’re like me, one of your biggest regrets in life is that you never made it as an Olympic athlete. And even though you stink at sports, find the Olympics kind of boring and are afraid of angry old Romanian men, nothing can stop the dream of standing on the ceremonial riser, collecting a gold medal and making an awesome movie/double album with the Village People.

But rather than mope around and dwell on things that could’ve been, I’m going to steal a page from our friends to the North to help ensure that future generations of husky, unathletic Americans have a chance to succeed where I’ve failed.

As you’ll recall, the Canadians, sad from years of not winning many medals, solved their own problem in 1988 by inventing a “sport” called “curling”. And while that bizarre hybrid of ice hockey and housework might not have been the best game ever created, it got the job done: the Canadians won lots of medals and their national pride was restored.

Now all I needed was to come up with a sport that I could personally dominate. After eliminating all activities that involved balls, running or coordination it hit me:

Competitive Sleeping

It’s literally a dream come true! You see, while everyone sleeps, some of us are just better at it than others. I, for one, am a rock star sleeper that can easily put up 12 hours without batting an eye.

The best part is that I’ve already figured out the first 5 events:

Hibernation: Who can sleep the longest, uninterrupted stretch? You better build up some serious bladder strength if you want to go the distance!

Mommy, Help!: Only moms of newborns are eligible to compete in this nerve-wracking event, where we pipe in the sound of crying babies to see who wakes first!

Morning Joe (brewed by Starbucks): Who can fall asleep first after chugging a shot of espresso? In this exciting elimination battle we add another shot of caffeine each round!

Noise Pollution: Sure, sleeping through the classical music phase of “noise pollution” might be easy – but only the real pros can slumber soundly through speed metal.

Bed-doin’: Sleeping on a comfy mattress is easy, but can you handle a cold cement floor? How about a stained futon in a dorm room? This event mixes up the sleeping surfaces to see who’s got the most game.

The more I think about it, the more excited I get. I’m barely scratching the surface here. We haven’t even talked about pillows, thread-count, darkness, bad bedmates, etc. There are infinite variations that we could explore in the field of competitive sleeping.

With enough support I think we can even fast-track this event and get it approved in time for the 2016 Olympics in Chicago. Who’s with me?

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So You Think You Can Be a Television Critic?

With another sure-to-be fantastic season of network television descending upon us, it’s time to share my proprietary methodology for judging the quality of this year’s new shows. Now, please bear in mind that I am generally not a fan of television dramas (unless they feature sexy vampires) because: a) they run so very late at night, b) they require a long attention span and c) they make me sad. As a result, my secret system is primarily intended for evaluating sitcoms and/or cartoons.

Similar to my Hugh Grant-inspired movie rating system, I have created a scientifically valid assessment technique for determining the true quality of sitcoms. I call it the “L.P.E. Scale”. And while the LPE is based on some pretty heavy quantum mathematics, I’ve simplified it so the average layperson can play along.

The L.P.E. (or Laughs per Episode) Scale is a system where one tallies up the number of out-loud laughs (audible chuckles count but smiles do not) per each 22 minute episode. At the conclusion of the episode you simply compare your total LPE score to the following handy-dandy results chart (clip and save!) to find out if you really enjoyed the show you just watched.

Level 1 (Angry): Any show that averages under 3 LPEs is an awful show that should never be watched again. It’s referred to as the ‘angry’ level because the fact that you wasted your time watching the show quite literally makes you angry. It’s all about the opportunity cost. Unfortunately, most sitcoms fall into Level 1. The only exception to this rule is if the star of the show is extremely attractive – then you can still watch it. A good example of this phenomenon is Christina Applegate’s 1998-2000 NBC sitcom “Jesse,” where Christina portrayed a single mom who struggled to make ends meet by bartending at day (and vampiring at night).

Level 2 (Meh): Any show that scores between 4 and 8 LPEs is not something that you’d go out of your way to watch. You’d never set the DVR for an episode. You might not even admit to friends that you watched the show. But if you’re too “lazy” (aka drunk) to change the channel or if there’s literally nothing else on, you might watch it. Shows like “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “Home Improvement” fall into this category. They’re not bad but they’re not particularly good, either. You might laugh a few times, largely dependent on the plot, the performances and the theme song.

Level 3 (Good): Any show that scores between 9 and 21 LPEs is a good show. Actually, it’s a very good show. At one time “The Office” was in this category (no, really, “The Office” didn’t always suck all fun out of the known universe) – a show where you’d laugh out loud consistently throughout the episode. Sitcoms often have difficulty maintaining this level of quality for a long time, but the ones that do are the classics: Cheers, Friends, Frasier, What’s Happening!!, The Jeffersons, The Odd Couple, etc. These shows are appointment viewing, they’re saved on your DVR and you talk about them with your friends. You might even buy the DVDs of the best seasons. Unfortunately, these are also the shows that typically go on for a few seasons too many and go horribly awry. It’s always tragic when a once-great show goes bad.

Level 4 (Hall of Fame): Few shows reach the rarified air of Level 4. To do so you must hit at least 22 LPEs, meaning an average of at least one laugh per minute for the length of the episode. The show is so consistently funny that you actually miss jokes because you’re still laughing from the previous jokes. Few shows perform at this level. The Simpsons is obviously the gold standard as the funniest show in TV history (although now it’s a Level 3 show). The only show that’s even close to hitting this level currently is “30 Rock” (if they can keep it going strong in season 4). That’s it.

Now, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “Why do I need to do all this work? Can’t I just decide whether I like a show or not without all the math?” And the answer is: “Sure.” But is it really worth the risk? Not putting in the extra effort is precisely how people end up accidentally buying the entire “Perfect Strangers” collection on limited-edition DVD, watching each and every one of the 150 episodes, starting a blog devoted to the show, sending unsolicited gifts to Mark Linn-Baker, ignoring the restraining order and getting sent to prison, all before realizing that Balki wasn’t really a sexy vampire after all.

Just do the math.

And enjoy the new season. TV…it’s always there!

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Introducing…the Work Short

It’s well known that I am a trendsetter. A trailblazer, if you will. One who boldly goes where others fear to tread. And while my fashion sense has been charitably described in the past as “disastrous,” I am happy to announce that this summer I have finally done it. I have broken new ground, shifted the paradigm and transformed my revolutionary thoughts into astounding action. And this time I am poised to turn both the fashion world and the work world on their collective ears.

Am I building it up too much? Do you fear that I am overselling this concept? I think not. For I have done nothing less than created an entirely new category of dress.

Today I introduce to you…the work short.

That’s right. I have finally successfully crossed the heretofore forbidden threshold of wearing shorts to the office.

But like all good stories, let us start at the beginning.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF OFFICE ATTIRE

Back in the old black and white days, men wore suits everywhere. They sported fancy hats and used garters to hold up their socks. They starched their collars and wouldn’t dream of complaining about the heat. But as the years passed and styles changed, men ditched their hats and traded their three-piece suits in for trousers and sport coats. Garters were reduced to their current status as accessories to the most awkward part of the wedding reception.

By the time I started working in an office the appropriate dress was trousers (aka slacks) with a button-down (or is it called an oxford?) shirt. For big meetings you’d add a tie and a coat. Perhaps even a suit for really big meetings. In the summertime we were theoretically allowed to switch to short-sleeved button-down shirts, but that look is so horrendous that few (outside of the IT group) bothered with it.

Then the Dockers revolution hit and it became acceptable to wear khakis (aka chinos) with a button down shirt. But the big win came in the summer – finally you could replace the button down with a polo (aka golf) shirt. Now, I’m no fan of the golf shirt – it just screams corporate wanker – but it’s certainly a big improvement over the button-down in the heat.

Casual Fridays brought another workplace revolution – jeans on Friday. Now, my friends, we were finally getting somewhere.

So this became the office dress code for many, many years: slacks and a button down shirt for most of the year, khakis with a golf shirt in the summer and sweet, sweet denim on Fridays.

How funny it is to look back and to think that I was satisfied with that arrangement. What a precocious, naïve youth I was.

ENTERING THE FORBIDDEN ZONE

My first foray into breaking the dress ceiling involved increasing the frequency of jean wearing. For example, if I had Friday off, I’d wear jeans on Thursday because it was “my Friday.” If it snowed I would wear jeans because “It was snowing.” Over time, I dispensed with the excuses altogether and just wore jeans whenever I didn’t have a client meeting.

And then the summer came. Denim, while the single greatest clothing fabric ever invented, does have an unfortunate tendency to get a little sweaty in the heat. I needed a new solution. But there was no way that I was going back to real clothing.

Something had to be done. And I was just the guy to do it. And that something is called: WORK SHORTS.

But there was still a lot of work left to do before my dream would become a reality.

THE SEARCH FOR THE HOLY GRAIL

The first thing I realized is that “work shorts” do not exist in the eyes of the fashion world. There is no “work short” section in the store. Most shorts that you encounter are either board shorts, athletic shorts, cargo shorts, or the dreaded jean shorts – none of which qualify as “work shorts.” They’re just not formal enough. And Bermuda shorts don’t work either. A young guy wearing Bermuda shorts runs the very real risk of getting dragged into a pick-up shuffleboard game on the walk to work.

After much searching, I finally discovered there’s a rare type of short that fits the bill: khaki colored, flat-front, mid-thigh length with discreet pockets. I stocked up and breathed a sigh of relief. “Operation: Find Work Shorts” was complete.

SHIRTLESS IN SEATTLE

I will admit to the fact that I have, upon occasion, worn a tee shirt to work. Unsurprisingly, I have work (fancy) tee shirts and regular tee shirts. Somehow, a work tee shirt with jeans and shoes seems acceptable, especially in the advertising/marketing/promotions world. Yet pairing the “work tee shirt” with the “work shorts” just didn’t cut it. The tee shirt diminished the shorts and it crossed my (already quite low) standards for office attire – it was just way too casual. So I have reluctantly reintroduced the golf shirt to my wardrobe. It’s a small price to pay to pull off shorts in the office, though.

THE SHOE DILEMMA

To date, I’m still really not satisfied with my shoe situation. I’ve been wearing Teva sandals with the work short-golf shirt ensemble but there’s something about exposed man-toes that hurts the pseudo-corporate look that I’m going for. I’ve tried the loafers with no-socks look, but it makes me feel like I should be meeting Muffy at the club for lunch. Perhaps I’ll sample some boat shoes. I’m really stumped on this one, so any tips are greatly appreciated.

SUCCESS AT LAST

Take it from one who’s been there and let me give you a small bit of advice if you’re thinking about embracing the work short concept. Unexpected client meetings have the potential to ruin everything that we’ve worked so hard for. It’s probably best if you keep a bag of “Big Boy” clothes in the office for emergency use. This will prevent you from getting into too much trouble with the boss.

You know the more that I think about it, aside from the shoe dilemma, the more I feel like I’m really on to something here. This morning, for example, my wife saw me and said, “You look nice today.” Incredulously, I stammered back, “You mean you like my outfit? The whole work short thing is working for you?” And believe it or not, she did and it was.

Of course, when I later met a friend for lunch (on a 90+ degree day he was wearing a tie and a long-sleeved button-down shirt with his initials on the frenchified cuffs) and he declared upon seeing me: “So now you’re wearing shorts to work you slob? You’re pathetic.” So I guess you can’t win them all.

That’s okay. Trailblazers like me need to possess a thick skin. I’m sure people laughed at Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison and Bill Gates, too. It’s lonely here at the bleeding-edge of office fashion – but believe me it’s well worth it – my calves are cool and comfortable and I no longer have to pretend to be Scottish in order to wear a skirt to work on hot days.

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A Conversation (not a review) about The Black Crowes’ “Before the Frost…Until the Freeze”

While it’s tempting to write a full-on review of The Black Crowes’s new release, “Before the Frost…Until the Freeze”, we thought that perhaps it would be best to let the initial excitement wear off a bit before making any final judgments. But since Don and I are dying to obsess about it, we figured that we’d try something different – an e-mail conversation. The format is simple – we’ll just shoot questions back and forth until we run out of interesting things to say or get fired.

Mitch:

I’ll start. You were at one of the Cabin Fever shows. How does the final product compare to your post-show expectations?

Don:

The final product exceeds my expectations. I am shocked at how Paul Stacey captured exactly what it sounded like in the room – which was a live performance. Yet, at the same time, the recording is so clean that if the applause wasn’t there to remind you an audience was present, you would never know. Each instrument is separated nicely. I was literally one foot away from Larry Campbell. His fiddle, banjo and pedal steel make this record special. I couldn’t hear him well on the one bootleg that emerged, so I’m really happy to hear it again. I do hope the DVD shows some of the banter between songs so those who didn’t attend can see how small and special the barn was.

There was a lot of speculation (and concern among some fans) that the album wouldn’t rock. What’s your take now that you’ve heard what they actually played?

Mitch:

Well, that depends on what your definition of rock is. I’ve always viewed the Crowes as a mid-tempo band that jams - rather than a hard rock band - so I’m not necessarily looking for heavy shredding. By my count there are only 5 rockers out of 20, including ‘I Ain’t Hiding’ and ‘Kept My Soul’ (arguably the weaker tracks on BTF). So I think if you’re a Southern Harmony/Amorica fan you’ll be happy for the handful of rockers but probably will have hoped for more. If you’re a 3 Snakes fan (like me) then you’ll find the mix of rockers, ballads and mid-tempo jams to be perfect. It was probably smart of them to put the rockers on the ‘official’ album.

Your turn: Since BYS, Chris’s lyrics have been dismissed as lazy and/or Lord of the Rings-esque and impersonal. What is your opinion of the words?

Don:

(ignores my question and answers his own previous question)

I think rock and roll is a melting pot of blues, country, psychedelia, jazz and other genres. So, in my opinion, the album definitely rocks. I wouldn’t say TSHAMC or Amorica are more rock and roll than TSAOC or BYS. They just tap into different flavors. Southern Harmony is bluesy. TSAOC is more cosmic. BYS is (too) straight-up paint-by-numbers rock. In the case of BTF…UTF, there may be more mid-tempo numbers but they DEFINITELY rock. Take ‘Make Glad’ for example. That is a heavy, funky riff. And I love it.

Obviously they had a lot of songs worthy of release and chose a certain format for releasing them. What do you think of their approach and what would you change if you were Pete Angelus (without the mullet, of course)?

Mitch:

I was giddy running into you at the food court yesterday. Why? Because you were holding an actual LP of BTF…UTF. I haven’t bought a new release on vinyl since 1987 (Tom Waits’ “Frank’s Wild Years” for the record). As a result of seeing that gorgeous double album I will now and forevermore consider BTF…UTF to be a 20 song release. The buy one, get one free bit is a marketing gimmick. I love that you can get all 20 tunes for $9.99 on iTunes. So, yes, I’m really happy with the marketing aspect of the project – from the Cabin Fever shows to the free download of ‘I Ain’t Hiding’ to the ultimate official release. Plus, there’s only one bad tune (‘Kept My Soul’) in the whole lot. As the kids say, Pete FTW!

Are there any clunkers/filler tunes on the album in your opinion?

Don:

None of the 20 songs are “unreleasable” and I appreciate that they covered so much ground that they could justify releasing two records. I like the concept of one “more expected Crowes” and one “more unexpected Crowes”. But I think that decision forced them to include some songs on the “main album” that weren’t as good as some on the free download. For example, I can think of many better songs on UTF than “Kept My Soul”. Obviously, they had to include “Kept My Soul” on BTF because it would have ruined the vibe of UTF.

So, if it was me, I would have released a 15 or 16 song double-album called BTF…UTF, and then given away an EP of 4 or 5 songs that didn’t make the cut:

Before The Frost…Until The Freeze (Every format: Vinyl, CD, iTunes)
Good Morning Captain
Appaloosa
A Train Still Makes A Lonely Sound
Shine Along
So Many Times
Roll Old Jeremiah
Lady Of Avenue A
I Ain’t Hiding
Make Glad
Been A Long Time (Waiting On Love)
What Is Home
Fork In The River
The Garden Gate
The Shady Grove
And The Band Plays On
The Last Place That Love Lives

EP: “Cabin Fever” (Download only)
Aimless Peacock (throwaway)
Greenhorn (boring, redundant)
Kept My Soul (Been there before)
Houston Don’t Dream About Me (overrated)

Let me know your thoughts and then why don’t YOU tell me about Luther and Adam you Eddie-loving Fordist!

Mitch:

‘Greenhorn’ and ‘Houston’ are both gems. You’re crazy.

‘Kept My Soul’ is definitely the worst of the bunch. And I agree that ‘Peacock’ is filler. It’s certainly no ‘Buttermilk Waltz’.

I like your track listing but it highlights just how many mellow tunes there are on the disc – that’s a long run from ‘Captain’ to ‘Hiding’, although I guess ‘Shine’ and ‘Jeremiah’ have a little pep to them. I might bump ‘Shady Grove’ to the EP as well.

Then again, you could also create an EP of just the 5 rockers (Captain/Make Glad/Hiding/Been a Long Time/Kept My Soul) and make a separate release with everything else, book-ended by ‘Aimless Peacock’/’Shady Grove’. Then you could credit that album by its proper band name: “New Earth Mud III featuring Rich Robinson”.

Now, before I wax lyrical on Luther & Adam, you never answered my question about the lyrics. Since BYS, Chris’s lyrics have been dismissed as lazy and/or Lord of the Rings-esque and impersonal. What is your opinion of the words?

Don:

My gut says that the lyrics have improved but I haven’t had time to fully digest them beyond these initial observations. I like how he’s writing about interesting characters. “Good Morning Captain” stands out to me – just a great story. Some lyrics are laudable for providing a window into Chris (“Last Place That Love Lives”). I’m on the fence about “I Ain’t Hiding”. Maybe it’s an accurate – albeit simple – take on NYC club-land circa 4 am. But it doesn’t seem like a Black Crowe lives that lifestyle. Long lines at a club? Overall, I’m really happy with some great turns of phrase: “beauty in the broken”, etc.

Now, how about Luther and Adam?

Mitch:

Yeah, I agree. Long lines at the club sounds like an A-Rod/Kate Hudson deal (now there’s a perfectly loathsome couple).

You know that I’ve got the proverbial Luther Dickinson poster on my bedroom wall these days. I was not a fan of NMAS when they opened for the Crowes so I didn’t know what to expect when Luther joined. During the Somerville One Night Only show I really liked his slide work but found his tone to be a little shrill at times. Watching him progress from Somerville to the Opera House to Hampton Beach to last week’s show has been incredible. He’s playing with confidence, his tone sounds great and he’s crushing everything – old and new. I will never speak ill of Marc Ford. Marc Ford took this band to the next level. I view the Marc-Rich partnership in the same light as Mick Taylor-Keith Richards. There’s no higher praise. But I’m really happy with Luther and I credit the brothers for bringing in another ringer.

Adam has been a continuous disappointment on the catalog stuff. I’m not sure why. Eddie Harsch is a great keyboardist but I’ve seen plenty others just as good – Bruce Hornsby and Jeff Chimenti – to name the first two that come to mind. Adam seems to be doing everything that he can to not be Eddie (whereas Rob Clores did a decent Eddie impression). Unfortunately, this doesn’t work too well on the old material. But Adam is surprisingly fantastic on the new material and the recent covers. I honestly think that his playing is an integral part of the ‘Old West’ vibe that permeates the new sound. So, aside from wincing at ‘Wiser Time’ I’m okay with Adam. I guess I’d rather see the band taking risks and moving forward than worrying about reproducing the past perfectly.

Let’s get to the heart of the matter. Do you feel like Rich’s riffs are still integral to the sound or is he just along for the ride because big brother is calling the shots?

Don:

Are you kidding? I think it’s less Chris calling the shots than it is a more even partnership than it was at the end of the pre-hiatus era. Towards the end of that era, Chris was “out there” and it was obviously Rich’s show (BYS & Lions). You could tell Chris wasn’t into it – he was forcing it. They broke up, grew as artists and people, and I suppose they’re back together on terms that require them to be mutually happy and satisfied with all decisions.

I think the observations (accusations?) by some that Warpaint and BTF…UTF sound like NEM III have to do with Chris’ vocal style (phrasing and tone) more than anything else. That’s evolution of his instrument, not a purposeful walk away form his classic Crowes howl. Warpaint is full of Rich riffs (‘Evergreen’, ‘Wounded Bird’, ‘Goodbye Daughters’ to name three off the top of my head). And so is Before the Frost. Just listen to the first 4 tunes, plus ‘Kept My Soul’ and ‘Make Glad’. Rich’s playing is absolutely integral to the sound. In fact, when I listen to the new stuff on headphones I’m amazed by the parts he’s playing. He’s in and out and highly creative, far from mailing it in. While Until the Freeze has much less “rock-guitar”, I don’t think that’s only a Chris thing. All you have to do is listen to Rich’s cover choices of the last few years to realize that his range is much wider than his stereotype.

Big question – how successful do you “Before the Frost…Until the Freeze” will be? And how would you define success?

Mitch:

At this juncture in their career – almost 20 years after the release of SYMM – I think that success for this band is measured by only one measure: respect. Judging by the early reviews, it looks like they’ve done it. This is a band that’s never been critically revered. They’ve been viewed as talented musicians that effectively channel their influences without transcending them. I think that changes now with BTF…UTF. From now on they’re going to be viewed as a truly original American band that is carrying on the torch from the ‘70s rock scene.

Does anyone even know how many albums are sold anymore? Does it even matter? I’m sure that BTF…UTF will be profitable, especially since you paid for the studio time in Woodstock. They make their money on the road and by playing corporate gigs. I just wish that they put a disclaimer on their tickets to the effect of “if you want to hear the greatest hits, go to a festival show or see them when they’re opening for someone else. If you go to “an evening with” show expect to get lots of new stuff, album cuts and obscure covers.” It’s a pretty obvious format but people still seem to struggle with it.

So, after a couple of days and few dozen spins how do you rate the album? Where does it stack up in the pantheon?

Don:

I still think it’s too early to tell where it ranks vs. “pantheon”. But I will say that it is a great album. In fact, I think it’s their 5th “great” album (others being the first four). By comparison, I would describe By Your Side as fair, Lions as terrible and Warpaint as good. The range on Frost/Freeze, though, is so great that I have a feeling it will grow in stature in time. It all comes down to the songs and there are at least a dozen great ones and a bunch of really good ones with only 1 or two clunkers. Throw in the performance (superb), production (second only to Southern Harmony) and album concept (live in studio) and it goes to another level.

We haven’t covered Sven and Steve. Talk to me about this…

Mitch:

It’s surprising that we haven’t talked about Steve & Sven yet, but I guess it’s because they’re both so solid and dependable that it’s easy to overlook their impact.

I consider Sven to be the MVP of the Crowes on the last two releases. His playing is outstanding and he’s all over the new material. Just listen to his work on ‘Houston’ – it’s phenomenal. On top of his excellent bass work his vocal harmonies have really strengthened the band’s overall sound as well. I’ve got nothing but positive things to say about Sven.

With regard to Steve I need only to draw your attention to the 3/26/05 Hammerstein ballroom show – the only non-Steve show that I’ve seen. Bill Dobrow, who’s a perfectly decent drummer on the Rich solo stuff, couldn’t come close to filling Steve’s shoes. Many rock drummers are only noticeable if they screw up. But Steve has a gift for knowing exactly what to play and when to play in order to add texture and richness to just about every tune. “And the Band Played On” is a great example of how well this current line-up plays together: the combination of Sven’s foundational bassline, Rich’s hook, Luther’s slide mimicking Chris’s vocal line and Adam’s fills. But it’s Steve that stands out. You know what’s wrong with Steve? Nothing.

Last Question. We’ve gotten two albums and endless tours from this line-up in the last 3 years. Is this it? Do you think this line-up will last for years to come?

Don:

Yes, I think this lineup will last. Although I think they’ll take a break after the 20th anniversary world tour in 2010. They have been full-throttle for 5 going on 6 years and I bet they take a breather for a year. In fact, I hope they do, because it will prevent burn-out. Plus, Chris, Rich and Luther (NMA) are so prolific and so dedicated as musicians that I have no doubt we’d hear new music from them if TBC goes on “hiatus 2”.

In the end, though, they were made to be The Black Crowes; they know this, can’t help it and are well aware of the legacy they are creating. I’m sure they want to continue to build on it.

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If you’ve read this far then you’re obviously a Crowes diehard. That means that you’ll probably enjoying reading a review of the 8/27/09 Boston ‘Stuck Inside Utopia” show, the Black Crowes Album Project, plus many other essays about music and concert reviews here.

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Concert Review: The Black Crowes in Boston, MA, 8/27/09

Concert Review:
The Black Crowes
August 27, 2009
Bank of America Pavilion
Boston, MA

The big fear amongst long-time Crowes fans has been that after 20 years the band had lost their edge. That they were no longer capable of writing the well-crafted songs or performing the type of ferocious rockers that made them “the most rock and roll band in the world.”

We were wrong.

On a beautiful Thursday night on the waterfront in Boston, The Black Crowes delivered a near-flawless performance that demonstrated a perfect harmony between the past and the present, between rock and country and between the divergent influences of the brothers Robinson.

The first song of the night, ‘Good Morning Captain’ was a great example of the feel of the Crowes’ new material. Complex and layered, it’s halfway between Southern Harmony and Warpaint, crossing over multiple genres. ‘Make Glad’ is a funky, upbeat number that gave Luther Dickinson his first opportunity to shine. At this juncture it’s impossible to overstate the importance of Luther to this band. His playing is excellent and the slight shrillness that was in his guitar tone when he first joined the band is completely gone. The always-welcome ‘Let Me Share the Ride’ came next to keep the momentum going. The song ended with a very long and tasteful harp solo from Chris, although the expected ‘Mellow Down Easy’ never came.

Things did get mellow, however, when they launched into the gorgeous ‘Houston Don’t Dream About Me’ which was just amazing. ‘Whoa Mule’ kept the organic vibe going strong. Another new tune, ‘Shine Along’, featured Luther on electric mandolin and has huge sing-along potential down the road. The laid-back portion of the evening came to an end with ‘Appaloosa’, which may turn out to be one of the strongest ballads in the Crowes’ catalog. You could drop ‘Appaloosa’ onto any classic country-rock album from the ‘70s and it would fit in seamlessly.

The energy came roaring back with a fun ‘She Gave Good Sunflower’ and a killer ‘High Head Blues’, featuring the heavy and dense outro jam that we all known and love. Even the new single, the disco tune ‘I Ain’t Hiding’ sounded great and was a hell of a lot of fun to groove to live.

Next up was Rich’s ballad, ‘What is Home’, which joins the ranks of “songs like ‘Locust Street’ that I really enjoy but don’t need to hear live but make for a well-timed piss break if they play it anyway.”

A song that I always love hearing live, ‘Movin’ on Down the Line’ came next and it was great as always, although I’d like to hear them speed it up a touch. I think it could be even more powerful if it was a little more aggressive. ‘A Train Still Makes a Lonely Sound’ is another great new song that goes in a lot of interesting directions and features a particularly compelling bridge. The peak of the evening came with a powerful, spot-on performance of the classic ‘Sometimes Salvation’ with both Luther and Chris absolutely nailing their respective parts. Instead of struggling to sing ‘Salvation’ Chris found a delivery that was intense, passionate and powerful without exceeding his current vocal range. Hearing such a great version of ‘Salvation’ within the context of all of the new material was revelatory. In many ways, the new Crowes are still very much the old Crowes. A solid ‘Twice as Hard’ followed and the set closed with another new rocker, ‘Been a Long Time (Waiting on Love)’. My reaction to this tune was simply “holy shit!” As the jam progressed and as Chris’s harp solo transitioned into Luther’s guitar solo, everything suddenly became clear: this isn’t an abrupt new direction for the Crowes, it’s a broader direction for them. The new material captures all of their influences. For once I felt like the brothers have found a way to bring themselves together. These aren’t Chris OR Rich songs – these are Chris AND Rich songs.

The show ended with the crowd pleasing encore of ‘She Talks to Angels’ and the only cover of the night, Elmore James’s ‘Shake your Money Maker’ which featured some really great roadhouse piano work from Adam. That’s right – I’m even praising Adam.

Sometimes it all comes together – the venue, the setlist, the friends, the performance – and this was one of those special nights. This band has given me so much joy over the last 20 years and last night was yet another highlight on this amazing trip.

In other words, they’re still “the most rock and roll band in the world.”

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How to Drive Like You're from Boston

Since the earliest days of the automobile Bostonians have been admired and respected for their legendary driving skills. Long before the term “road rage” was invented, aggressive driving was all the rage in the hub of the universe. Driving anywhere in the country with a Massachusetts license plate on your car is fair warning to your fellow motorists to beware…a Masshole is on the loose.

So, you wonder, what are the defining characteristics of a masshole driver? How can you become a masshole driver? Don’t worry – it’s easier than you think and absolutely no practice is required!

Tip #1: Follow Right-of-Way Rules

The first rule – the mother of all rules – is that “I have the right-of-way.” This applies at all times in all situations. While other cities have different rules for different driving situations, we make it a little simpler here – the best approach is to just assume that you always have the right-of-way! Whether you’re driving, changing lanes, walking, entering a rotary or stopped at a 4-way, just assume that you have the right-of-way and go for it!

Tip #2: Use Turn Signals

Turn signals are very useful – if you like tipping your hand, idiot! Why would you ever tell the competition where you intend to go next? You might as well just put up a huge neon sign that says: “Please speed up because I’m going to change lanes soon.” Turn signals are called turn signals because they’re meant to be used while you’re turning. That way you can’t get a ticket for not signaling. In fact, you should probably learn how to casually hit the turn signal with your left hand as it’s spinning around the wheel.

Tip #3: Respect the Yellow Light

Every school child in America knows this one: green means go, red means stop and yellow means speed up. Running red lights can be dangerous, so you better haul ass during the yellow if you want to get through that intersection, pally. Hey, you got places to be.

Tip #4: Drive the Right Vehicle

People think that Bostonians are thrifty, as evidenced by the high rate of older cars in an affluent area. Wrong! In the death game of chicken that we call “Boston driving” the more expensive car always loses. Go ahead and try to cut me off Mr. New Lexus – me & my Datsun are wicked afraid of getting dinged.

Tip #5: Understand Rotaries

You may call it a traffic circle. We call it a Rotary. Technically, the right-of-way belongs to the driver already in the rotary. Realistically, the right-of-way goes to the driver with the most gumption. Did you just lift your foot off the gas? I guess that’s my invitation to cut you off!

Tip #6: Avoid Difficult Turns

Even get stuck trying to take a left onto a jam-packed road? Frustrating, isn’t it? In Boston we have a solution to this problem. It’s called “The Move” – see, if I have to wait an exceedingly long time to take my left – say 30 to 45 seconds – then I have every right to block traffic in the first lane, cause a complete meltdown of the traffic flow and force my way into the other lane. Look, I can’t wait forever.

Tip #7: Carpool

In theory, carpooling is a great idea. It saves the environment and cuts down on traffic. In the real world it’s a terrible idea. What if the carpooler wants to listen to a different radio station than I do? What if they want DD and I want Starbucks? It’s bad enough that I have to go to work – I’m certainly not sharing my ride with some (other) jerk.

Tip #8: Pay Attention

Driving is a dangerous, high-skill endeavor. That’s why you should de-stress on the road by talking on the phone, playing with the radio, text messaging, eating a bowl of cereal, doing your make-up, reading the paper, drinking coffee, playing the harp, etc. And since God gave you two hands and two knees, you can easily drive with your knees and do many of these relaxing things at the exact same time.

Tip #9: Merge Carefully

Merging requires patience and respect. Therefore, when you see a merge coming, make sure that you speed up and never let anyone else into your lane.  And that goes double if it’s raining.  Remember – you were there first AND you’re much more important than they are.

Tip #10: Share the Road

The roads are busy with cars, motorcycles, trucks, buses, cabs and bicycles. The best way to get by is to remember that cabbies are your mortal enemy and you never have to let them in front of you. Similarly, bicyclists should get off the road because they look silly in those garish spandex outfits. Busses and trucks are bigger than you, so it’s probably best to let them by.  Please note that you can safely cut off Japanese motorcycles, but you should probably let the Harleys go by – Harley drivers tend to be mean and they enjoy knife fights.

Unfortunately, we’re out of time and space here, but there are many more Boston driving tips, so please feel free to leave a comment and share your personal favorites.

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If you liked this post, you’ll probably also like my guide to the MBTA, ‘Riding the Rails, Boston-style’.

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Some Not-So-Crazy Fashion Advice

As one who is deeply in tune with the subtlest forms of matter known to mankind, I operate with an extremely sophisticated level of perception. While many of you mechanically trudge from home to the office and back again barely noticing your surroundings, I am strongly aware of anything and everything that is happening around me. But don’t be jealous – it has taken me decades to happily exist without being overwhelmed by the sound of a hummingbird’s flapping wings or the scent of a fresh blooming rose.

As the years have passed, I have tried to turn my gift for super-sensory perception into a practical art. As a public service, I shall share a very important observation with you. My only hope is that my knowledge can become a boon in your daily existence.

STAY AWAY FROM “CRAZY HAT” PEOPLE

Please allow me to explain. In my personal lexicon a “crazy hat” is a baseball cap worn in a crazy manner. Following are the tell-tale signs of “crazy hat”:

1) It features a flat unbroken-in brim

2) The hat is worn at a jaunty/sideways angle

3) A doo-rag under the hat is optional, but recommended

Through careful observation over the years I have come to the extremely scientific conclusion that people that wear the “crazy hat” are not to be trifled with.

(Please note that the team featured on the “crazy hat” is not important, although it’s probable that New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox “crazy hat” wearers are the worst of the lot.)

“Crazy Hat” is a lifestyle. It knows no bounds of age, gender, ethnicity or socio-economic status. It is possible that “crazy hat” wearers are all members of some sadistic national uber-gang, the capo di tutti capo of street gangs, if you will, but I was unable to test this hypothesis (i.e. I was too scared to find out).

Be particularly careful in traffic situations. If you see a “crazy hat” driver on the road definitely give them a wide berth and don’t retaliate under any circumstances. A “crazy hat” is always looking for trouble.

“Crazy hat” people live for danger – they like to rumble. They love cigarettes. They adore the ribbed wife-beater shirt and they often fancy a necklace or two. If they have kids, they often enjoy yelling at them in public.

Please don’t confuse the “crazy hat” with the backwards cap wearer. While nominally related, the backward cap wearer is often merely an obnoxious frat boy, and is only dangerous after last call. The “crazy hat” wearer is dangerous 24/7.

That is all that I have for you today. But please, please, I implore you, take my advice and STAY AWAY FROM “CRAZY HAT” PEOPLE!

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