I’m moving to Basking Ridge, not Greenland

I met a few friends for a few beers a couple of weeks ago as part of an unofficial “Farewell to Hoboken” tour, and with the way some of them were acting, you would think I was moving 40 galaxies away, instead of 40 minutes away, to Basking Ridge, N.J.

The prevailing tone of the evening seemed to be, “We’re never going to see you again.” Really? I’m not going to prison for life, or to the chair — just the suburbs.

I do see their point, though. Some of my friends who made similar moves before we did have warned that when you are no longer in Hoboken, you tend to slip off the radar screen after a while.

It’s not as if you are forgotten by your friends, or they’re not thinking of you. I think it’s a combination of things. After moving, when you’re invited to a few events and don’t go, people tend to leave you off the list for future events, figuring that you won’t be able to make them. And the same applies for spur-of-the-moment gatherings. If a group of my friends suddenly decides to go out for drinks on a random Tuesday night after we move, the chances of me traveling from Basking Ridge to Hoboken to join them are minuscule, so I wouldn’t blame them if I wasn’t invited.

My plan is to try to let as many people as possible know when I actually am going to be in Hoboken, so I can try to see a good percentage of them. Will it work? That remains to be seen.

As I said in my blog post talking about the impending move, it’s not like I’ve really been going out a lot, anyway. The impending arrival and successful addition of 0.9 to the family has not left much time for debauchery.

Will some friendships fade in time? They probably will, as much as I don’t like to think about that. It happens constantly throughout life. But I intend to try to remain in the loop as much as I can, and, as I said, to try to make the most of every trip back to the area.

The next person who says, “We’re never going to see you again,” owes me a shot and a beer. I’ve had it!

My one piece of advice for future parents

No matter how many people tell you how much becoming a parent changes everything else about your life, you have no concept, clue, or theory until you actually go through it. As the father of soon-to-be-four-month-old 0.9, I have one piece of advice to share with anyone contemplating the journey to parenthood.

My advice has nothing to do with parenting. Three-and-a-half months do not qualify me as an expert. Rather, my advice concerns the period before becoming parents.

Until you become a parent, you don’t have a clear understanding of just how many places you really can’t go with kids, or with a pregnant wife, for that matter. It’s not that you’re forbidden from going to these places, whether they are vacation destinations, or beer gardens (which count as vacation destinations to me), or events, or whatever. The logistical issues are what get you.

So my advice is as follows: Make a list of things you want to do before pregnancy, or before childbirth, and try to do as many of the things on the list as possible. You won’t get to all of them, but you will be happy about the things you do get to do.

If it sounds in any way like I regret becoming a father, this could not be further from the truth. 0.9 is the second-best thing to ever happen in my life, behind Mrs. 9, without whom there would be no 0.9.

I only have two regrets, one of which was beyond my control. I wish Mrs. 9 and I had met a little earlier in life, so we could have had a few more years to do things as a couple, before becoming parents, but such is life.

The regret that I could have done something about, however, was not following the advice I just offered. I had a mental list of things I wanted to do and places I wanted to go, but it’s so easy to get lazy and unmotivated, and to decide to stay local, and when all is said and done, had I actually written out a list, very few items on it would have check marks next to them.

Don’t underestimate how much your life will change. Make up that list, and start checking things off. I wish I had.

Pre-moving mixed emotions

I am now smack in the middle of the most frustrating period of our impending move from Hoboken to Basking Ridge, two very different New Jersey destinations. On the one hand, time seems to be crawling, and on the other hand, it feels like it’s accelerating out of control.

Less than one month …

This experience is new to me, as I have never been involved in the purchase of a home, having spent my entire life in rental properties. It is basically a two-month period between the point when the house was pretty much officially ours until the point when we actually move in, and the two months has seemed like forever.

It’s hard to contain my excitement about the new space, and as much as I want to get started on buying things and laying out areas like my office, there’s so much we can’t do until the walk-through at the end of the month. We need to find out if things like shelving in the storage area are staying in the house or going with its previous owner. And even though we took measurements of all the rooms, there are certain things we can’t really buy or order until physically being in the house. I still don’t have a desk, and I work from home.

Plus, there are certain things that I just couldn’t do that far in advance. For example, I am embracing our upcoming switch from horse shit Cablevision to Verizon FiOS, but I had to wait until the other day to set it up because I couldn’t get an appointment as far in advance as the day after we move in. The same is true for things like magazine subscriptions, which I hope to begin taking care of this week.

On the other hand, there are so many things I wanted to do and places I wanted to go before leaving Hoboken, and all of a sudden, time is short. For example, there are three beer gardens in the immediate area that I must say farewell to, including Pier 13, which I haven’t been to yet, so it will be a hello and a goodbye.

A prevailing theme on Facebook today was surprise at the fact that it’s August already, and, as I said in my status update, it hit me even harder because I will be a resident of an entirely different place when this month comes to a close.

Having a baby in the family doesn’t necessarily have to mean an end to everything fun that we liked to do beforehand, but it also makes things more complicated. It’s not like Mrs. 9 and I are going to strap 0.9 into his car seat on some random weekday night and drive into Hoboken for dinner. It’s all about picking your spots, which we’re still learning to do. We’re new at this. It hasn’t quite been four months. There are so many things I want to do between now and Aug. 30, when the moving truck pulls up to the front of our building, and I know I will never get to all of them.

Although I am 100% confident we are making the right move, if I needed a sign, I got one today, when my neighbor knocked on my door to tell me that a car had been broken into in the parking area of our building. This is the first time I have heard of this happening in my nine years or so here, and it’s a little disturbing. By no means do I believe Basking Ridge is a crime-free utopia, as no such place exists, but I’d like to think our car will be a lot safer in our own garage, instead of in a building’s parking area where the door is constantly being left unlocked, or the lock is constantly broken.

My emotions are very mixed right now. As much as I can’t wait to open the door to our new house for the very first time, I almost wish I had a little more time here in Hoboken. But you can’t have everything, I suppose.

The end of an era: Saying goodbye to Hoboken and hello to Basking Ridge

On Aug. 30, my life will undergo the third most dramatic change of its 44-plus years, behind somehow suckering Mrs. 9 into saying yes, and welcoming 0.9 to the family.

When I wake up on the morning of Aug. 31, for the first time in my life, I will not live in a city. We are leaving the mile square of Hoboken for the friendly confines of Basking Ridge, N.J.

We would have had to move eventually, anyway, because the next good word I hear about the schools in Hoboken will be the first, but Mrs. 9’scommute is just too long. And since my commute is measured in steps and not miles, I could not put up a convincing argument to stay. Besides, it’s time.

This will be a huge adjustment for me, as I have only lived in Manhattan and Hoboken. Anyone who has spent more than five minutes with me knows that I love to throw back a few good beers on occasion — days that end in “y” count as occasions. Not being able to walk to a bar will be a culture shock. And I would never think of drinking and driving.

We will actually be walking distance from the Basking Ridge New Jersey Transit station, which is a huge plus. It will be nice to be able to sneak into Hoboken or Manhattan occasionally and not have to worry about driving home. I may try to do it for a few Dallas Cowboys games this season, to avoid having to add DirecTV to the long list of goods and services we are investigating or purchasing.

We are also walking distance from the downtown area, but that statement needs a little perspective. Downtown Basking Ridge looked really nice when we drove through it, with some cool shops and restaurants, but downtown Basking Ridge is not Washington St. in Hoboken, or any street in Manhattan. It’s still nice to have the option of walking over, rather than being a typical suburbanite and having to drive everywhere, but I didn’t happen to notice any sports bars, taverns, pubs, beer gardens, or other watering holes.

Another radical change for me will be learning how to do small repairs and maintenance around the house. I have spent my entire life in apartments, where you call the superintendent with any issues. When you buy a house, a superintendent does not come along with it. I am not completely incompetent, but calling me handy would be a stretch, to say the least. The only yard I have ever had was a really tall glass filled with beer. I have never had a lawn to mow and maintain. I have never owned a grill that didn’t say “George Foreman” on it. I am more than willing to learn, but I have already decided that anything involving electricity or plumbing will result in an immediate call for professional help. I will not be responsible for blowing up, burning down, or submerging our house.

I couldn’t be happier with the house we found, though. I love the location. In addition to the proximity to the downtown area and train station, it is also really close to schools that have good reputations, so 0.9 can work on that full scholarship. The yard is a great size — large enough to have a catch, but not so large that it will be difficult and costly to maintain. There is already a neat little patio area built into the yard, which will be the new location for 9’s Outdoor Office, Beer Garden & Wine Bar. There is a small deck right next to the kitchen that is perfect for a grill. The house is pretty set back from the street. And it comes with its own Christmas tree for us Jews, as there is a huge pine in the front yard.

I moved to Hoboken in September 2000, and I have loved my 12 years here, but it’s just not the same anymore. It really hasn’t been the same for me since Ted & Jo’s, my absolute favorite bar and living room, closed in March 2008. And while I still have several friends here, many of my closest friends have let “real life” run its course, married, had kids, and moved elsewhere. Hoboken in July 2012 for me is nothing like Hoboken in September 2000, or any time between then and the untimely demise of T&J’s.

I can’t talk about Hoboken without mentioning another bar where I have felt like part of the family from the get-go: The Shannon. I don’t go there much on weekends because I am old enough to be the father of most of the patrons, but going there after softball games has been the source of some of my most fun nights in Hoboken. Everyone has always treated me and the rest of the various softball teams very well, from the owners, to the bartenders, to the bouncers. With T&J’s gone, The Shannon is the only bar in Hoboken I would even think of going to alone.

One of the biggest advantages to living in Hoboken is the ability to go out every night, with the entire town within walking distance, and between being married, having a son, and not having a lot of my close friends around anymore, I barely go out, so it’s a wash.

I’m sure we will find some decent places to eat, and hopefully a few that deliver, especially Chinese. I would have to turn in my barely used Jew card if I didn’t have regular access to Chinese food. However, after 12 years in Hoboken, I’ve developed an addiction to certain restaurants and dishes, and they will be difficult to replace:

  • Precious: When I moved from Manhattan to Hoboken, I thought I was saying goodbye to good Chinese food. Fortunately, I was mistaken. Precious is as good as any of the places I ever ordered from in Manhattan, and I am convinced that sorcery is the only explanation for how quickly they show up. Chicken Amazing is one of my favorite dishes of all-time.
  • Maru: Sushi from Maru is always fresh and delicious, and some of the specialty rolls are off the hook. I think the Hawaiian Roll is my personal favorite.
  • Rosario’s: I have never actually set foot in the restaurant, but Triple Fiesta is one of the best pasta dishes I have ever enjoyed, and it has been a delivery staple in our household.
  • Fiore’s: Roast beef, gravy, and fresh mozzarella — need I say anything else?
  • Leo’s: I will truly miss this genuine, family-run, inexpensive Italian restaurant littered with Frank Sinatra memorabilia. The stuffed mushrooms appetizer and the marsala sauce are to die for.
  • Zack’s: Bizarro Ted & Jo’s (same owner, nearly identical to the old homestead) imported Balsamic Chicken from the old T&J’s menu. After making the mistake of removing it for a while, it returned, due to popular demand. The beer selection is fantastic, too.
  • Three A’s: I will miss the outstanding dirty martinis and the second-best pork chops I have ever had, trailing only the ones my dear friend and old roommate used to cook up.
  • Philly’s Cheesesteaks: OK, it’s not Tony Luke’s, or Jim’s, or even Lee’s Hoagies, but the cheesesteaks here are the closest to real Philadelphia cheesesteaks I’ve had up in these parts.
  • Cucharamama: I have yet to refer to this place by its actual name, usually alternating between Cucaracha and Coochie Mama, but the Spanish food is outstanding, as are the cocktails. I could use a Mojito right about now.
  • Zafra: This is another source of excellent Spanish food, minus the cocktails. I only wish it had more than three tables (OK, I’m exaggerating on the number of tables, but not by much).
  • Biggie’s: I have been neglecting this place, and the new location where Clam Broth House used to be has an expanded menu, for those who haven’t been. I must treat myself to clams steamed in beer, very soon.
  • Hoboken Bar & Grill: This is another place I have neglected recently, for no good reason. It has a fantastic menu and an equally fantastic beer selection.

I will also miss Pier A, the park with the best possible view of Manhattan. I don’t know Basking Ridge well enough to know what bodies of water are nearby, but I’m pretty sure none provides the view of Manhattan across the Hudson River.

Naturally, there are some things I will not miss about Hoboken, although, as I said, I wouldn’t trade the past 12 years for any other place.

It will be great to invite people over to the new house without worrying about where they will be able to park. Parking in Hoboken is absolutely nonexistent, but we have a small blacktop area that could probably fit nine cars, if needed.

Speaking of parking, I won’t miss the parking area in my current building, and the assholes who believe ownership of a BMW entitles them to park free-of-charge while the rest of us pay $200 per month.

I will also not miss the corruption that runs rampant throughout politics in Hudson County in general and Hoboken in particular. I am under no delusions that corruption doesn’t exist in Basking Ridge and Somerset County. Corruption exists whenever a person gains control over decisions that affect others. It’s human nature. But when you have a mayor who begins serving his term July 1, 2009, and is ousted July 31, 2009, you have some serious issues.

I will not miss the inevitable traffic that comes with trying to get in or out of Hoboken, due to its proximity to the Hudson River and the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels. I am sure Basking Ridge has its own traffic trouble spots, as a map of New Jersey should accompany the listing for “traffic” in the dictionary, but I am just about done with sitting under the covered roadway (if you live anywhere near here, this requires no explanation) for minutes that seem like hours.

I am also sure that living in the suburbs will come with its own driving challenges, but I will not miss driving in Hoboken, as the stupidity level of people behind the wheel seems to accelerate at a more rapid rate than the price of gas. Every time someone stops at an intersection when they don’t have a stop sign, I want to pull over and kick their car. Doing that only causes accidents, as people are unsure whether to proceed or not. And the same people who stop when they don’t have a stop sign usually fly right through the intersection when they do have a stop sign. Plus, double-parking is a fact of life, especially with the dearth of available parking I mentioned earlier, but it would be nice if people tried to get as close as possible to the legally parked cars, rather than just sitting in the middle of already narrow streets.

I will not miss having upstairs neighbors. I have no beef with anyone who has lived in the apartment upstairs. The problem is that my building was constructed in the typical Hoboken method of getting it completed as quickly as possible and cutting every corner, so there is absolutely nothing muffling the sound of the people walking upstairs. I jumped out of bed a few times the first couple of weeks I lived here because it sounded like someone was walking through my living room.

I will not miss Cablevision in the least. I have hated that company and its piss-poor service and treatment of customers for years. Having worked for a weekly newspaper that covered the cable industry, I also know about the detestable Dolan family, and I hate them, too, particularly cokehead James Dolan. Fuck the Cablevision-owned Knicks and Rangers, as well. We could have gotten Verizon FiOS in our current apartment, but we knew we were moving, so there was no point. FiOS will be a welcome addition in Basking Ridge, however. There is no way the Internet service won’t blow away Cablevision’s spotty, overrated Optimum Online, which seems to get slower every day.

All in all, I am looking forward to starting a new chapter in my life. As I said, it will be a huge adjustment on many levels, but I am confident that it will turn out to be a good move in the end. Hoboken: It’s been real. Basking Ridge: Duck, punk! Here we come.

New Year’s Eve … whoop de damn doo

What are you doing for New Year’s Eve? Doing anything special for New Year’s Eve? Got plans for New Year’s Eve? Bite me.

In my younger days, I used to really enjoy New Year’s Eve, but the past few years, it’s become more of an irritant than something to look forward to. I vented about it in a blog five years ago, and my mood toward this holiday has only become darker in the past five years.

From my blog of Dec. 29, 2005:

From my experiences, two things happen on New Year’s Eve: People who rarely drink decide to imbibe heavily due to the “special” occasion and make asses of themselves, and people who drink regularly decide to exceed their usual consumption and make asses of themselves. For the record, I have been guilty of the latter on numerous occasions.

Yet people seem to feel that it’s mandatory to spend $100 to get into a crowded, hot bar, when there’s no way in hell they’ll get up to the bar enough times to drink their $100 worth. Bartenders are often grumpy because most people don’t bother tipping them during all-you-can-drink nights, so they’re in no rush to quench your thirst. Going to the bathroom is a mission. And when it comes down to it, there’s often no difference between the bar on that night and the same bar on any of the other 364 nights of the year, aside from goofy hats and noisemakers.

All of the above still holds true, but, unlike when this was written five years ago, I no longer have my favorite bar as an option, since Ted & Jo’s is no longer with us. Among the many reasons I loved Ted & Jo’s, New Year’s Eve was just another night. There was no outlandish cover charge, and most of the people there were the regulars, whose company I enjoyed on a regular basis. New Year’s Eve was fun there, and the bar is sorely, sorely missed, by myself and countless others.

The past couple of years, my wife and I have had a few people over for dinner and drinks (in the interest of accuracy, she was my girlfriend the first time and my fiancée the second time, so this will be our first New Year’s Eve as husband and wife). It’s been fun — nothing to yell and scream about, but pleasant company, and avoiding all of the things I mentioned above.

So why is it that when someone asked what I did, I feel so lame responding, “Nothing special. We just had a few people over.”

Anyone who knows me knows that I can still throw back quite a few cocktails when the mood strikes me. Just ask anyone who was around after my team won the softball championship, or anyone who’s ever been to a Friday-night Yankees game with me. So it’s not like I’m worried about my reputation, or about people thinking I’ve become old, married and lame (Silence!).

What am I doing for New Year’s Eve? I have no fucking idea. Whatever.

A very non-Nine Fourth of July

After years of being spoiled with the most perfect possible view of a decent fireworks display without leaving the deck of our old beach house on Long Beach Island, I spent this Fourth of July watching an even better fireworks display from the grounds of Cherokee High School in Marlton, N.J., with my wife and her extended family. Some things about it were great, and some were just weird.

July 4 fireworks from Marlton, NJ

At this stage of my life — 42 and grumpy — I am totally over giant crowds. The Marlton fireworks had an ideal number of people — enough to make it seem like an event, and totally worth being there, but a small enough group to allow us to arrive two hours before the fireworks started and find ample space for our beach chairs. And while I would never dream of comparing the show to the Macy’s Spectacular that has spoiled me in New York for most of my life, it was definitely better than the LBI effort.

The weird part: 2010 marked the first Fourth of July since I was about 14 or 15 when I did not indulge in a single sip of beer. Nor did I partake in the American tradition of pigging out on red meat (we did barbecue a little, but it was more for the purposes of eating dinner before heading to the fireworks than for putting on a display of gluttony).

It was still fun, and I’d definitely do it again. With the LBI house no longer an option, there’s no way in hell I’m dealing with the crowds in Hoboken, Manhattan, Philadelphia, or any of the “real” big-city fireworks displays. And spending time with the family is always fun (no, I am NOT just saying that because some of them read this blog!).

But I could have used a cold one, or several.

Hawaii honeymoon highlights

My wife and I — and yes, I know it’s only been two weeks and change, but it still feels weird using the words “wife” and “husband” — just got back from the greatest vacation ever, our honeymoon in Hawaii, specifically Maui and Kauai.

Much as I did after our previous trips to Washington, D.C.; Napa; Boston; Cape May; and Newport, I wanted to share the places and experiences we really enjoyed. This is by no means meant to be an authoritative and comprehensive list, but merely places that were special to us. If it helps anyone on a future trip, excellent!

I’ll start with Maui, since that’s what we did. First off, if you spend any time on Maui and have access to transportation, and you don’t eat at Mama’s Fish House, you suck at life. Our meal there was one of the absolute best I’ve ever eaten, and the setting is brilliant, both inside, as the walls are full of countless pictures and items that bring the place tons of character, and outside, where the sunset over the Pacific, just yards away, is breathtaking.

Road to Hana

Second, driving the Road to Hana is an absolute must. Ignore all of the naysayers and guide books that make it sound as dangerous as baiting a starving shark with a sushi platter: The drive is challenging and a bit nerve-wracking at times, but as long as the driver is on point and paying attention, it’s risk-free, gorgeous and definitely worth doing. Don’t be a sally and a wuss. Do it. The ocean views and the waterfalls are spectacular, as are some of the lesser-known spots.

However, one thing I noticed about Hawaii in general is that the road signs and street signs sort of suck and are very hard to see until you’re right on top of them, and this is especially evident on the Road to Hana, so I definitely recommend making the trip with both a guide book and a guide CD (we bought ours from a Shell station at the beginning of the route) so you don’t miss out on some of the hidden gems.

If you’re in Hawaii, you have to go to a luau, right? Everything about Old Lahaina Luau was fantastic — the food, the drinks, the show, the setting. I can’t compare it to other luaus because it was the only one we did — my stomach can’t handle more than one luau — but I can’t fathom the experience being any better.

Snorkeling in Maui was a tremendous experience and, for those who want to devote a half-day to it and hit spots you can only reach by boat, I definitely recommend the Trilogy trip to Molokini. The two snorkel spots could not have yielded better results, from a bevy of colorful, huge fish to being inches from a very charming and friendly large turtle. The lunch was delicious, and I don’t mean delicious for a boat ride: I mean flat-out delicious. The cinnamon rolls were to die for. And our crew — Captain Brett, dive instructor Dave and the two others whose names are escaping me — were friendly, hilarious and helpful.

Sunrise at Haleakala National Park

If you can deal with leaving your hotel room by 2:30 a.m. (doing it early in the trip, before your body adjusts to Hawaii time, is probably best), the sunrise from atop the volcano in Haleakala National Park is worth every second of lost sleep and tricky driving. The pictures don’t do it justice. As strange as it sounds to say this about packing for Hawaii, bringing warm clothes is a must, and I don’t mean one long-sleeved T-shirt. The temperature was 41 degrees the morning we went, with very strong winds, and those who didn’t dress properly were not happy.

Because I have a supernatural ability to find freshly brewed beer no matter where I am, one of our free nights (no reservations) was spent at Maui Brewing. The food was decent, but the beer was outstanding, particularly the Coconut Porter, the McGrumpy’s (a red ale) and the Black Pearl, which is the Coconut Porter aged in oak rum barrels. Prost!

Other excellent dinners we shared were provided by Plantation House and Lahaina Grill.

Sunset from The Beach House

Moving on to Kauai, our meal at The Beach House was a very close second for the trip to the previously mentioned Mama’s Fish House feast, as was the view of the sunset over the Pacific. It was another incredible experience on many levels, and the place is definitely recommended.

My wife and I in our Yamaha Rhino

One of the most fun days on our trip was the four-hour ATV tour from Kipu Ranch Adventures. The scenery at Kipu Ranch is breath-taking, and you can see why several movies were filmed there. The ATV (a Yamaha Rhino) was easy to learn and handled all of the bumps, rocks, roots and mud with ease. My biggest laugh of the trip came after watching a peacock wind up and kick a wild pig while the group of animals was being fed. We got to swim in two watering holes, one under a waterfall. And our guides, Troy and Randen, were a hell of a lot of fun.

The North Shore of Kauai was probably my favorite region on the trip, and I could easily see myself spending a full week there and taking full advantage of the numerous hiking trails, wealth of drop-dead-gorgeous beaches and fun and interesting local villages and restaurants. If you go to Kauai and have access to a car, the North Shore is a must, period.

Naturally, I found beer in Kauai, too. The Grove Café is the home of Waimea Brewing and, while I liked the brews from Maui Brewing better, the Waimea offerings were no slouches, particularly the porter.

I also found the best hotdog I have ever had (sorry, Rutt’s Hut): Puka Dog. I’m already going through serious Puka withdrawal. I tried Puka Dogs with both the coconut and papaya relish, and they were both worth drooling over. Puka Puka Puka!

We spent the last real night of our trip on Captain Andy’s Na Pali Sunset Dinner cruise, and the honeymoon couldn’t have ended on a nicer note. Na Pali is captivating, and it can only be seen via plane (which we did, as well) or boat. Captain Trent and his crew (Hans and Sterling) were engaging and entertaining, the scenery and sunset were rich, the food was excellent, and the Sneaky Tikis were quite sneaky, which is why I switched to beer. And depending on the time of year, you might be lucky enough to see a whale!

Whale sighting on Captain Andy's Sunset Cruise

We also had memorable and tasty meals at Plantation Gardens, Dondero’s (located in the Grand Hyatt, where we stayed), Wrangler’s Steakhouse and Keoki’s Paradise.

Our last official day was spent in Honolulu, at the Pearl Harbor Memorial, which was sobering and touching, and in Waikiki Beach. I was stunned to find out that the U.S.S. Arizona still leaks oil every day after nearly 70 years. As for the Waikiki area, truthfully, it did absolutely nothing for us. The beach was tiny and didn’t really have a boardwalk area, and the hotels and stores are on top of each other. And the stores were the same ones you’d encounter in any mall on the mainland. Dinner at Roy’s was great, but overall, Waikiki was like Los Angeles with a few more palm trees, and not spending a lot of time there turned out to be a sound decision.

This trip was one wonderful day after another, and I really didn’t want to leave. Hawaii and its people are fantastic, and I hope we get to go back someday (we’ve been joking about returning for our two-month anniversary). If you ever get the chance to go, jump on it immediately, even if you have to get married to do so!

Kipu Ranch

The Hangover, 9nine9-style

My bachelor party was this weekend. As I type this late Monday morning into early Monday afternoon, my entire body is exhausted, but I wouldn’t change a thing. It was a great weekend, for a number of reasons.

The Hangover

My bachelor party did not include any of the following: strippers, midgets, farm animals, Las Vegas, Atlantic City, tigers in the bathroom, missing teeth (although I did spend four hours and 45 minutes in the dentist’s chair just prior to the start of the festivities Friday), hookers, lap dances, lubricants, road trips, gambling, strip clubs, blow-up dolls, law enforcement, prison, missing friends, and probably several other things stored in parts of my brain that haven’t been reached by the caffeine in my Dunkin Donuts iced coffee yet.

Some people may read this and think the festivities were tame and lame. As I said, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. For me, this weekend was all about spending time with my friends, many of whom beat me to the altar and are already well into raising beautiful families. What can I say? I was always a procrastinator. But when we reach this stage of our lives, it’s so difficult to get everyone together in the same restaurant, bar, or other location, and being able to spend time with older and newer friends was fantastic.

The last part of the festivities was a return to a place where I used to be bar furniture: Bar None. I actually only had two beers the entire time I was there, but I would be a poor writer if I left out the fact that those beers were entire pitchers of Guinness. I saw so many people I haven’t seen in years, and the time gap didn’t matter: We picked up right where we left off, and I was truly touched by the turnout.

Plus, as much as I hate to admit it, I’m 42: I love beer just as much as I did in my 20s, and I can still throw them back with the best of them, but back-to-back nights are really, really tough.

As for the absence of, shall we say, entertainment: I’m not morally opposed to strippers, strip bars, etc., and I don’t look down on anyone who’s into that stuff or think any differently of them, but it just never did anything for me. When I was single, I found the experience more frustrating than anything, because I found it to be pointless and a complete waste of money, and I felt like rather than relieving the loneliness and boredom of being single, all it did was highlight it and make it worse. So the exclusion of that stuff from this past weekend was 100% fine with me, and I’m not just saying this to score brownie points.

At this stage of my life, being able to share the whole weekend or parts of the weekend with good friends from all of the other stages of my life was a far more valuable, rewarding and fun experience than being tied to a pole in a strip club with my own belt (which did happen to me years ago and was pretty damn funny, actually, but would have been out-of-place this weekend).

And dealing with our three cats is enough wildlife exposure for me: I’m happy I don’t have to figure out a way to return Mike Tyson’s tiger.

Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival: Why can’t there be one every week?

I’m not saying that the Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival that was held at la.venue on the West Side of Manhattan Saturday was geared toward men, but the first thing I saw when walking into the venue (pun intended) was a young, attractive blond woman in a checkered shirt with most of the buttons undone, tied in a knot at the bottom, and Daisy Duke shorts, and she was holding a plate of bacon. You do the math.

Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival

All kidding aside, plenty of women were there enjoying the festivities, as well, and any woman who likes any combination of beer, bourbon, bacon and barbecue is OK in my book.

I am by no means trying to pass myself off as an expert, nor am I claiming that the brands I’m about to recommend should be considered the best, but a few of the spirits I tried left impressions, and I wanted to share those.

Buffalo Trace a Kentucky bourbon, was one of the more hearty samples of the day.

I had tried Woodford Reserve previously and, while I didn’t hate it, I wasn’t that impressed, either. I don’t know what I was thinking. This was one of the best spirits I tried Saturday, if not the best, and a bottle will adorn my shelf soon.

Once I was done chuckling at the name, because acting like Beavis or Butt-head will apparently never leave my system, I also enjoyed George Dickle, another Tennessee whisky.

1792 Ridgemont Reserve was probably my favorite bourbon. I’m not going to try to throw reviewers’ terms into this blog. All I can say is I took one sip, pulled the glass away from my mouth and could do nothing but exclaim, “Wow!”

Blanton’s Single Barrel was another fantastic bourbon. One of my friends had enjoyed it before, and she (yes, she, believe it or not) was spot-on with her recommendation.

One of the more interesting spirits I tried was Hudson New York Corn Whiskey. I’m pretty sure that if I poured this stuff into the gas tank of my Honda Accord, the car would run. I actually really enjoyed it, but I seriously doubt I could drink more than one. It was one of the strongest things I’ve ever tasted.

As far as beer, I had already tried most of the selections at the show, but other than the joke of Coors Light having a table there (give me a break), it was a stellar beer selection.

One of the beers that were new to me was Sixpoint Sweet Action. This was an outstanding cream ale, and that’s a style I don’t drink very often.

My favorite beer at the show, by far, was the Heartland Brewing Sumatra Porter with Chicory. This stuff tasted like very strong, very good coffee, and it was the only beer that made me go back for seconds (thirds, too, if I recall correctly).

A San Francisco-based brewery called Speakeasy brought two very solid brews: Big Daddy IPA and Prohibition Ale. Both are highly recommended.

I’m sure there were a few other bourbons and beers that I enjoyed, but cut me some slack: After all, I was drinking all day!

In any event, if the Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival comes to your city, do NOT miss it. Trust me.

The best part about 2009 (well … besides getting engaged)? It wasn’t 2008!

Everyone else is doing year-end blog posts, so what the hell? And what better way to do so than actually waiting until the last day of the year, sitting in the recliner, on the laptop, sipping an Exit 1 Bayshore Oyster Stout (yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like, stout brewed with oysters) from Flying Fish Brewing, with a cat assisting me by resting on the back of the recliner (Hi, Trouble!)?

So, here goes nothing. I didn’t think 2009 was an overly good year or an overly bad year. It was pretty mixed for me, with more good than bad, but not enough good to call it wonderful. This is in direct contrast to 2008, which can pretty much go to hell. I managed to lose my job, my favorite bar and my ballpark in 2008, while 2009 brought some sadness, but nowhere near on the level of 2008.

In Newport, R.I., just before getting engaged

The highlight of 2009, by far, was getting engaged. It was a remarkable day, spent in Newport, R.I., and a remarkable experience that I will never forget. I have yet to experience one second of doubt about this and likely never will.

The precursor to getting engaged was fun, as well: Welcoming my fiancée and her cat, Skittles, to the apartment my two cats, Trouble and 8-Ball, graciously allow me to occupy. Trouble and 8-Ball still hate Skittles, but their skirmishes have become more amusing than alarming. As for the humans, we’re getting along just fine, thank you!

Anyone who knows me and has gotten to this point is saying, “Um, what about the World Series, jackass?” About fucking time! The entire season for the Yankees was a great run, starting way back when I first saw the new Yankee Stadium, before the start of the regular season. Yes, I would move back across the street in a heartbeat, and I miss the old ballpark like a lost family member. But it was great to have the Yankees rise back to the top again, and I really liked the makeup of this team, as opposed to some of the underachieving squads of the mid-2000s.


I went to two weddings that I was very happy about, within weeks of each other. Both brides are longtime friends of mine, one much longer than the other, and both finally found perfect matches and soul mates, which was quite heart-warming. It’s funny to think of how much I used to hate weddings, and how quickly my opinion of them reversed when the prospect of actually being a groom inched closer to reality.

My then-girlfriend, now-fiancée and I went on a great trip to Cancun and, even though it was more than nine months ago, I still find myself dealing with insatiable cravings for Mojitos at 11 a.m. on occasion. We also went to Cape May and loved it and, of course, there was Newport, where I finally popped the question (without actually popping the question, as I am constantly reminded of … sigh!).

Now, on to the not-so-good: The obvious lowlight is pretty simple. If anyone had told me that I would go an entire calendar year and not spend one second working on a full-time job, I’d have asked them when I won the lottery or was named in the will of a rich old aunt I had never met. This economy sucks, this recession sucks, and this job market sucks. I’d have completely lost what little mind I have left if it wasn’t for the one part-time job I still have.

Bidie, R.I.P.

One of my favorite pooches went on to doggy heaven. I still miss Bidie. I lived with the little bug-eyed, hot-tempered, 200-decibel-snoring rascal of a Boston Terrier for a year, but I knew her for most of her long, happy life, and there was a strong bond between us. As I said in my tribute post to her: If there’s a dog run in Heaven, I hope all of the other dogs up there are quick, or they might be in for a rude awakening.

For the first time since 2001, I was not part of a beach house on LBI, mostly for financial reasons. It turned out to be a good summer to skip, as it seemed like it rained almost every weekend, but there’s a certain calm and peacefulness about being near water, and I truly missed that all summer.

My Aunt Rose gave me a huge scare, as she suffered a minor heart attack and minor stroke in October. It was very unsettling for a while, as she was having a great deal of trouble expressing things like names, numbers and dates, but she’s improved to the point where she’s very, very close to 100%. I knew things were on the upside when she started nagging again.

So as I said earlier, overall, 2009 was pretty mixed, and it doesn’t draw the same “two middle fingers up” response that 2008 would. There was a lot of good and lot of bad, but the good outweighed the bad. Whatever else happens in 2010 (a job would be nice), our wedding April 25 and the honeymoon in Hawaii directly afterward will be the highlights, and I’m ecstatic about both.

The Flying Fish Exit 1 Bayshore Oyster Stout is now history, and I am currently enjoying a Defiant Christmas Ale as I post this. Happy New Year to all who read this, and I hope 2010 is better for everyone. Cheers!

My fiancée and I on the beach at Key West