Cranky Neighbors Episode III: The Gays Strike Back

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[Fair warning: for the sake of accuracy, some foul language is included in this post. Children, make sure to read this when your parents aren’t in the room!]

So there I am, just sittin’ in my bedroom at 9:45am on a lazy weekend morning, petting my kitty, when I hear this banging on the wall from the apartment below ours.

“STOP THAT NOISE!!!”

I freeze.

As described in this post, our downstairs neighbor(s?) is your textbook curmudgeon: old, miserable, seemingly finds no joy in life aside from the sick satisfaction she must receive from making others miserable, yadda yadda.  So, what was causing her to lose her cool this morning?

At first, I could only think of two possibilities: the neighbors next to her downstairs were, I don’t know, vacuuming or something, OR, she was getting her undies in a bunch over something I was doing.

You may be asking, dear readers, “Why, Jeff, what sort of obviously irritating noise could you be producing that was so loud that it would penetrate through the floor of your apartment and drive your neighbor into a wall-pounding frenzy?”

The answer, my friends, is this: Humming “Life’s a Happy Song” from The Muppets.

But surely that can’t be it.  Humming? Really? Really…(with Seth and Amy)?!

I can’t believe it, but there was no other way to test this theory except trying it again.  So I pick up the song again. “<Hum>Life’s a fillet of fish…Errr, yes it is!</hum>”

BANGBANGBANG

“STOP THAT FUCKING NOISE!”

Whoa.

I just sit there, shocked.  And I begin to shake.  So this is what it’s come to then: humming?  I can’t hum at a below-polite-conversation volume without my neighbor becoming like an irate Hulk, flipping out and pounding on the walls?  For real?

After a few minutes of me sitting there, my blood pressure slowly rising at the ridiculousness of it all, Lance comes in from taking a shower and I wave him over.  “Come here, listen to this,” I instruct, and began humming again.

BANGBANGBANG

“STOP THAT FUCKING SINGING! ALL THIS FUCKING NOOOOISE!!”

And that is when I lost it.

I’d like to believe that I am pretty level-headed, a pretty rationale guy who doesn’t lose his cool too often.  But one thing I can’t stand is when I experience others acting unreasonably, and this was one of those times.  I basically reenact Picard’s speech from Star Trek: First Contact, yelling down into the floor, “The line must be drawn HEE-AHHH!

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Picard, you broke your little ships!

I’ve had enough.  I am not going to suffer through the intimidation from Grandma Grinch.  By living in a shared-unit living situation, you agree to abide by the rules of this two-way street:  you keep your noise at a reasonable level for the sake of the others around you, but you also have to expect some moderate amount of noise from your neighbors.  If humming is really the kind of thing that’s going to set you off, then you obviously have some unrealistic expectations of what living in an apartment should be like.

So what did Lance and I do? We escalate the situation to The Man (or, more accurately, our female property manager).  When we were dealing with noisy neighbors in our last apartment, the management there didn’t want us to confront them directly, so we figured the same would be true here.

Once we relay our concerns, the property manager smiles and nods slowly.  “This isn’t the first time she’s acted this way,” says the property manager.  “Actually, that’s one of the reasons why the tenant before you left: he felt he couldn’t play his music without her reacting that way.  I’ll note that she is violating her lease agreement and send her a letter about her inappropriate behavior.”

…And the icing on the cake…?

“The good news,” the property manager continues, “is that we have received notification from this tenant that she will be moving out in July.”

…What’s that?  We win?

WE WIN!

WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS, MY FRIENNNND

AND WE’LL KEEP ON FIGHTING…’TIL THE ENNNNND

‘CAUSE WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS…OF THE WOOORRRRRLD!

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Travel Tip Thursday: How to Stay Like a Prince But Pay Like a Pauper

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I used to be of the opinion that traveling was all about experiencing the local culture, and the quality of the hotel was inconsequential.

However, after a series of seedy stays in hotels, ranging from the classic flickering-light drug-den in Miami to the Belvedere Hotel in Manhattan, where an Eastern European lady emerged from her room in a muumuu and curlers to ask me for help in opening her bottle of champagne (apparently she lived there), I decided to re-frame my approach to hotels.

Also, Lance is generally a snob and will sleep fully clothed on top of the covers if the room doesn’t suit him.  Oh, and he’ll involuntarily make this face the entire time:

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My new philosophy is this: traveling is about having a great overall experience, which includes where you stay.  It’s like going to out to eat; the food may be great, but if the restaurant looks like it’s the after-hours meeting place for our impending rat overlords, then that tarnishes your experience.

So when planning for your trip, how do you know if your hotel is up to your lofty standards? And how can you stay somewhere that’s within your budget?  Here are some tips for newbies:

TripAdvisor is your friend. TripAdvisor, for the uninitiated, is like Yelp, but for all things travel, particularly hotels.  Two things are great about TripAdvisor.

  • First, many of the listings include photos taken by travelers themselves, not just the gussied-up professional photos you get from the hotels; this way, you’re getting a taste of what it’s really like to stay in these places, as opposed to the image that the hotels uses to sell itself, which could be vastly different.
  • The second great thing about TripAdvisor is their review system (0-5…circles? Owl eyes?) is a more honest representation of their quality than the B.S. star-system you see on Expedia or Orbitz.  Guess what? That star rating you see on hotel sites is totally bogus and is established by the hotels themselves! I’ve recently come around to semi-pro traveller Paul Carr (highly recommend his book The Upgrade for this and other useful travel tips infused with dry British humour), who sticks to the rule of only staying at places that have earned 4 or more TripAdvisor owl eyes; anything else isn’t worth your time.

Subscribe to yet another e-mail alert! Sign up for the weekly e-mail alerts from Travelzoo and Sherman’s Travel.  These sites have staffs that pull together some great deals on vacations, flights, and hotels from all over the world, and every once and awhile they’ll announce that the hotel you want to stay in is having a great promotion.

A little legwork will pay big dividends on your room rate.  The worst part about wanting to go to a place like New York or San Francisco is that, daaaaayyymn, hotels are ‘spensive. But, there’s a way you can sometimes beat the system and stay somewhere nicer than the Tenderloin.

Almost all of the major chains (Hilton, Starwood (which includes Westin, Sheraton, Aloft, etc.), Hyatt, Best Western) have a price-match guarantee, so if you see the same room on the same night cheaper than what’s listed on their own company website, they claim they’ll match and also give you a bonus, like an American Express gift card (Hilton) or a credit for your next stay (Best Western).  Unfortunately, most of these chains have a trick in their process so that you’ll almost never be able to match: for example, Hilton, Starwood, and Best Western require that you fill out a form online and give their customer service reps (CSRs) 24 hours to get back to you; if the lower rate is still available at the time they check, then they will match.  Keep in mind, though, that most hotel sales through sites like Expedia or Hotels.com only last for 24 hours, so the likelihood of that lower rate you’ve found being available by the time the hotel CSR checks is slim.

I’ve had the most luck with Hyatt’s Best Rate Guarantee. Unlike the other chains, you can actually call and get a real live person on the phone to check if your price match is valid at that very second. Not only that, but if it is valid, they’ll match, and then give you an additional 20% off on the room rate!  This is how we were able to stay at the Andaz Wall Street last year for $120 a night, a steal in Manhattan and definitely the nicest hotel…shower I’ve ever experienced.

Now, things to consider here: these best rate guarantees are VERY particular about a few things, especially that the room type be listed as exactly the same, word-for-word, on their website and a competitor’s.  You also can’t use sites with “auction” features (i.e., paying for the room before knowing exactly which hotel you’re staying at), like Priceline and Hotwire.  Lastly, they won’t honor any vacation bundles (like, if your flight and hotel price are combined on a site like Travelocity)–it has to be the room all by itself.

When looking for a possible price-match, I with check the following sites to make sure I’m covering all possible options: aggregate sites like Room77 and Kayak, but also American Airlines Vacations, which isn’t usually included in sites like those above and can often surprise with lower rates than you can find elsewhere.

Lastly, dealsdealsdeals.  Besides Groupon and LivingSocial, which rarely offer nice hotels in desirable locations at a rate I would consider a steal, there are often deals going on through the hotel chains themselves, or through other vendors, that can be worthwhile.  For example, for the next few weeks, American Express and the U.S. Travel Association are running some solid travel deals through their annual Daily Getaways promotion.  Earlier this week, I bought 32,000 Wyndham Rewards points for $110, which I was able to redeem for a Friday and Saturday night stay at the Wingate Manhattan Midtown. That’s $55 a night for a room that’s currently going for $335 a night on Expedia and Orbitz!

You can usually find out about these deals from sites like The Points Guy or Mommy Points, so I suggest liking them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter so you can keep abreast of the latest deals.

All right, so now that I’ve shared some of my tips with you, share some with me! Particularly, where are some non-sucky places to have dinner in NYC?  No matter how many times we go, Lance and I always seem to get stuck at really terrible over-promise/under-deliver restaurants.  Recommendations in the $ to $$$ range?

Cranky Neighbors Episode II: Attack of the Cranks

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Sorry, Tim. Your stature just makes bad short jokes so easy...just like your mom. **wink**

The diagram above will be handy later for the open-book quiz.

Our friend Tim came for a spontaneous visit this past weekend, and like any suburbanite worth their salt, we (along with our pals and also-married couple, Romina and Rick) decided to go to Cheeseburger in Paradise for dinner.  We met up with Romina and Rick at their house, and Romina was nice enough to move her car out from in front of their house so that we could park there, crucial when only street parking is available. Then, all five of us hopped in Rick and Romina’s CR-V, excited for some fried pickles and Jimmy Buffett playing every hour, on the hour.

Now, this may surprise you, but Cheeseburger in Paradise apparently does not hire the most intelligent or physically balanced members of our fine species.  In the process of delivering our drinks from the bar, all atop a tiny tray, our server spilled a good quarter of every drink on the tray, the floor, and Tim.

“Oh, darn,” she stated monotonously, as if Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation tipped over your Corona.

Of course, this round of drinks was not comped for sloppiness, nor were the other few rounds she managed to do…the exact same thing with.  Learning from the mistakes you made like twenty minutes before? Apparently not an actual trait amongst America’s youth anymore.

When we got back to Rick and Romina’s house to hang out after dinner, Lance and I spotted a slip of paper underneath our windshield wiper.  I was terrified it was a ticket, though I didn’t think parking tickets were, like, a thing in the suburbs.  Instead, it was a note, which read:

“The only place we can park is in front of our house, so thanks for taking our parking spot.”

We were all dumbfounded, except Romina, who proceeded with a mix of rage and concern over her guests’ overall experience (damn, I forgot to fill out the comment card when we left her house!).  Rick, the quintessential MAN’S MAN (don’t look at us), took it upon himself to track down this anonymous cranky neighbor and give him a piece of his mind.

The strangest part of this whole Notegate, though, was that the spot was directly in front of Rick and Romina’s house, not a neighbor’s, and is usually where Romina parks her own car. So, unless Romina has multiple personalities and spirited away from dinner to write a spiteful, passive aggressive Post-It, the whole thing makes little sense.

My other beef with this is: IT’S STREET PARKING. Street parking, unless there are city signs up that say otherwise, is for everybody to use on a first-come, first-serve basis.  If you weren’t occupying that spot and somebody took it, you don’t get the right to be mad.

This entitled attitude always urked the crap out of me when we lived in Philly, especially during the winter.  People would “hold” their on-street parking with lawn chairs or kiddie pools or other equally trashy things. Sure, I understand that you may have shoveled the snow out of that spot, but that action did not transfer the legal ownership of that piece of payment to you.  You chose to live in a place that doesn’t have reserved parking, so you’ve forfeited your right to be demonstratively mad. You only get to rant and scream about the unjustness of it all from the comfort of your own car, not to my face, or…on a really intimidating piece of stationery.

[This post was bought to you by the 2013 Ford Fiesta.  Actually, no, wait, it wasn’t, but if Ford wants to give one to me for loving our first one so much, uh…I’m not gonna turn it down.]

Flick-Fil-A Bonanza: To Netflix or Notflix?

Another week brings another stack of Redbox sleeves into my cheese-powdered paws. Since going to the cinema these days to catch a talkie on the silver screen is so damned troublesome (if it ain’t the $12 ticket, it’s the obnoxious old people who have to narrate the plot to one another), we’ve resorted to Redbox’ing a lot of movies, and here’s where I tell you if they’re worth your time.

As an aside, I want to take the opportunity to RAISE THE ROOF for Redbox.  it’s sort of like the Boost Mobile for movies: you aren’t locked into a plan for stuff you barely use, like me and Netflix.  And there’s the bizarre novelty of picking up a movie outside of a 7-Eleven like its a drug deal.

Anyway, on to the reviews…!

The Descendants (2011)

What was this movie, really, besides an excuse for the crew to take an extended vacation to Hawaii and for George Clooney to slum it up as a millionaire in an attempt to win an Oscar? While the acting is pretty good, I think the film stumbles in capturing the book’s interior monologue, which lends more weight to Matt King’s (that’s Georgie-Poo) self-doubts about raising his daughters as a previously-workaholic dad.

And who would’ve figured, at the end of the day, the guy walking home with the Oscar wasn’t George but instead…Dean Pelton?

My rating: Notflix.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)

Look, I get that Tom Cruise is a whackadoo, but this is actually the perfect vehicle for him.  His hyperfocused, obnoxious intensity, which usually makes me want to step on him </end obligatory “Tom Cruise is short” joke>, is exactly the kind of character that Ethan Hunt is in this film.  Throw into a bag with Paula Patton (not to be confused with Paula Poundstone, friends), Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, some nuclear weapons, then shake and voila! You’ve got yourself what’s probably the most well-crafted action movie in quite some time.

Oh, and can I just say something about Michael Nyqvist, the bad guy in this film? Remember when he was Mikael Blomkvist in the Swedish adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo? …Have you seen this guy? While he can play a competent bad guy, how the hell do you expect us to believe he’s the kind of aloof charmer that ladies throw themselves at? Again, I say: have you see this guy?

My rating: Netflix.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Oh, sweet merciful crackers, this movie is a whole bunch of build-up and no payoff!

Guess what? **Spoiler alert!**

The apes don’t actually rise, the actually just relocate to the woods.  Do I have to see the sequel, “This Time, The Planet of the Apes Actually Rises…No, For REALSIES!” just to see some hardcore debates about possible forms of government or trade negotiations??

My rating: Netflix…but just for the last 20 minutes.

Kitchen Catastrophe: Week 2 Recap

…Or as I’ve started to call it, my Home Ec homework.

Okay, so Week 2 was a much more resounding-ier success than Week 1, mostly to do with the fact that all of my food actually maintained the shape it was supposed to.  Let’s take a look at the results:

I was originally going to make a Bacony Breakfast Cupcake, but considering I had  ~5% of the required ingredients on hand, I instead substituted out for Barefoot Contessa’s Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp.  This was surprisingly simple to make, so much easier than last week’s Flat Apple Pie that I kinda feel like I cheated.

I had an excess of strawberries in the fridge that were on the verge of going bad, which is why I began looking for strawberry recipes. Strawberry aficionados out there: when fresh strawberries become frozen on the inside and slushy on the outside, is that a bad sign? A handful of my S-Bs (“strawberries,” duh, but can also stand for “Starbucks”…don’t get the two confused!) were like this and I just threw them out since they made me nervous.

I have definitely never used rhubarb before in my life, and even had to Google Image search it to make sure I didn’t make a fool of myself in the produce section trying to figure out where it was.  To my rhubarb fans out there (can I get a “Heeeeeey!”), are you supposed to “skin” the rhubarb or just leave it on?  I did a mix of both since I didn’t want to add in too much flavor that wasn’t supposed to be there, or take away flavor that was.

The “crumble” part of the crisp.  Obviously, I need to find healthier recipes for this challenge or people will wonder why two fat gelatinous monsters didn’t have the shame to stay off the beach this summer.

…Aaaand here is the crisp upon completion.  Thankfully, it was pretty edible, nice and tart with the crumble adding a good texture and a baser taste for balance. I can really only see this being served accompanying ice cream (which Barefoot’s recipe calls for), since it’s a little messy and unattractive once on a plate or in a bowl.  And as you can see below, it’s super runny; I panicked at first and thought I’d done something wrong, but the commenters on FoodNetwork.com have the same criticism.

Barefoot, time to revisit this recipe! Maybe not so much OJ next time? I’d also recommend either cutting the S-B/rhubarb requirements by a 1/2-cup each, or increasing the amount of crumble you’re making, since the proportions seemed a little off.

So while that was in the oven, I began Sandra Lee’s Crouton Crusted Chicken Tenders with Orange Barbeque Sauce. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize there was no thawed chicken in the refrigerator, and after an unsuccessful bath under some water for about a half-hour (as recommended by Yahoo! Answers, the Magic 8 Ball of our times), I had to nuke them just to get the process along. Thankfully that didn’t sap the chicken of too much of its moisture.

My breading stations. Yes, Lance's "The Book of Mormon" keychain was integral in the preparation of this meal.

This dish could end up wildly different depending not only on the croutons used (this one called for Cheese & Garlic flavored) but also the type of barbeque sauce used.  I used Bull’s-Eye Kansas City, which is fairly sweet, though I wonder was a smokier BBQ sauce would produce.

Note: I subbed out regular bread crumbs for panko. Interestingly enough, panko tends to make your recipes healthier because their shape actually keeps out a lot of grease and oil.  The more you knooooow…!

[Also, as an aside, did you know that Bull’s-Eye (one of the cheapest brands you can buy) and Stubb’s (one of the most expensive) are some of the few BBQ sauces available in large supermarkets that don’t have high-fructose corn syrup in them?]

Uncredited cameo appearance by Kitty.

Ta-da!  I think these came out pretty well, and I would recommend them if you’re an easy and quick meal to throw together after work and don’t care about the fact that you’re consuming a lot of carbs, buttermilk, flour, so on and so forth.

All right, Week 2 is DONE! Feelin’ pretty good, but as with every Hero’s Journey, I need to remind myself of these sage words:

"Don't get cocky, kid."

Bath and Blubber Works

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Howdy, y’all.  It’s Lance here.  Yes, that Lance.  I’m the donut-eating, Ruby Tuesday-loving, rolling-my-eyes-at-Jeff Lance.  That’s me.

I decided I can no longer sit on the sidelines (sports? what’s those?) and allow Jeff to continue his own ramblings – I must add some of my own.

[You will notice, too, that I have supplied you, my kind reader, with more of my soon-to-be-infamous artwork.  Please note: the artwork you see is real.  I am really that bad.]

When I got home from work today, and after saying hello to Kitty and calling her some kind of ridiculous, non-sensical name (today was Booby-Boobstery, I believe), I flipped through the Details magazine we got in the mail.  Great.  More ads of nearly naked, perfect looking people.  I hate them and hope they choke on a donut.

Anyway…on page 68 I stop cold.  It is a list of 8 OBESOGENS.  Yes, you read that correctly.  OBESOGENS.  As in carcinogens, but OBESOGENS.  Okay, Details, you have my undivided attention.  Here’s the list:

  • New Car Smell (!)
  • Antibacterial Hand soap (!!!!!!)
  • Show Curtains (!!!!)
  • Teflon Cookware (!!)
  • Personal Care Products (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
  • Plastic Bottles (!)
  • Cash Register Receipts (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
  • Pizza Boxes (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

I’m sorry, WHAT?  PERSONAL CARE PRODUCTS ARE MAKING ME FAT?  Yep, according to a study (yes, another study), there are chemicals in scented body products – colognes, shower gels, deodorants, lotions, shampoos – that cause obesity.  Grrrreat.  Do you have any idea how many personal care products I use a day?  Too many to freakin’ count, and THEY’RE MAKING ME FAT?

In the period of about 5 minutes (it was a short article but, hey, I’m a slow reader – don’t judge me) Details magazine ruined my life.  Each and everyone one of those things is something I either enjoy, love, or takeitawayfrommeandiwillcutyou.  I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve been driving home in my new car, drinking diet Mountain Dew from a plastic bottle, after having just held a receipt from my purchase of both antibacterial hand soap and scented shower gel I plan to use behind my shower curtain, on my way home to make dinner in a teflon pan, only to burn it and order a pizza [box].

So all that time I spend going to the gym (and, conversely, the time I spend feeling guilty for not going to the gym) is pointless because just about everything is making me fat?

Sigh.  My life is over.  I need a Ruby Relaxer.  

And a donut.