PATRICK MCVAY

WRITER

My Musings

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Bait And Switch

Beck-at-MGM-Fenway-Music-Hall


I would venture to guess (without checking the interweb) that Ticketmaster was established something like 30 years ago. In my not fully informed mind, this was the start of online ticket sales, and I'm sure I was immediately irritated by the fees. Prior to online sales, if you wanted to see the Rolling Stones in Atlanta, you'd have to do what Hache Verde did when he famously tried to awaken our favorite acerbic high school principle at 2 in the morning to head to the Civic Center in Atlanta, GA to buy tickets for a show at Fox Theater.

Fast Forward to early October, 2022. I've obtained tickets for a strange double-bill: 1) Beck; and 2) a Montreal-based band called Arcade Fire. I bought the tickets to see Beck, figuring that, at worst, Arcade Fire would be harmless. Stranger still, I learn that Beck would be first to take the stage.

Shortly after buying these tickets and forking over exhorbitant fees, I encounter a friend – a Canadian friend, truth be told – whose daughter was playing soccer with my daughter, and I ask if he has ever heard of Arcade Fire. His reaction, at first, is to look at me for signs of a punch line. Then, he turns almost angry. "They're one of my favorite artists," he says, incredulous. That's the way Canadians are when you dis their favorite rock bands.

I had never heard of them.

Anyway, it seems I'm going to see this band, but only after the great American (nutty Scientologist, but who cares) Beck does an acoustic set.

So about a month before the show, I get an email from Ticketmaster, my favorite agency that has a monopoly on ticket sales, informing me that Beck will apparently not be playing at the Beck concert. Instead, a Haitian band I'd never heard of would be replacing Beck at the Beck show. Which, it seems, is not the Beck show, but is the Arcade Fire show. But I'm not to worry: "Your tickets are still good!" What a relief!

As you might imagine, I immediately seek to rectify the situation by telling Ticketmaster that I don't care that my tickets are still good. I don't want them anymore. To which Ticketmaster replies that "we are just the ticket vendor. The promotor is not offering refunds at this time." I then have my battery of lawyers reach out MGM Fenway, the alleged promotor, to threaten the legal action if I do not get a refund. (In fact, I reached out to the Office of the Attorney General of Massachusetts to loudly complain about the bait-and-switch.) The acerbic high school principal, who is to accompany me, is about as interested in seeing Arcade Fire as I am. In other words, he isn't interested at all. I had already challenged him to find a single good song by Arcade Fire, something I could hang my hat on back when the worst of the situation was that we'd see Beck first and then would have to sit through Montreal-infused rock fare. Now a good song was needed just so that the night wouldn't be a total bust.

Meanwhile, I offer up our tickets for sale. Mind you, I had already bought tickets for $56.50, which came with a whopping $25.75 in fees (nearly half the ticket price). Now, by reselling through Ticketmaster, I would incur new fees. Additionally, people buying our tickets would also pay fees. (Yes, it did occur to me during this process that I have had a lifelong career in the wrong industry.) However, I was willing to take a modest loss, so I sought to price my resale tickets below other offers already listed. Alas, the evil promoter, which was by now was quaking in its boots (not really at all), was disallowing selling tickets below the price at which they were selling tickets. The best I could do was match what Ticketmaster was selling tickets for. And since there were still plenty of tickets left, only a sell-out would cause someone to buy my tickets.

A week before the concert, my acerbic friend and I were resigned to enduring this show. No doubt, we'd have fun, despite our lack of interest in the music and MGM Fenway's efforts to stymie us on reselling the tickets. Maybe we'd enjoy a drink, and there was still an outside chance that the music would be tolerable. This was something that we joked about relentlessly, as we were pretty sure that the music was not going to be our cup of tea.

The tolerability of the music was soon dispelled when Arcade Fire played their first song, Age of Anxiety I, which caused my acerbic friend to turn to me and yell, "This band is lame!"

Like almost everything in life, you need to hit rock bottom before you can turn things around, and this concert was no exception. After the first song, the band ripped through the rest of their set, playing an entertaining array of music and ending the show with a superb rendition of the Pixies "Debaser."

The next morning, my wife, who had heard of my Ticketmaster and MGM Fenway complaints many more times than she cared to, asked me how the show was. "Strangely enough," I had to admit, "It was really good."

Never saw the Haitian band. 

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Who Lost My Bird?

Cockatiel-circa-1989

Every now and again, I like to examine some of the nuggets of memory I have of the last century, such as the days when I lived in a rooming house (okay, an apartment) in Brighton, MA with a bunch of other newly minted college grads. Every month, we'd have to scrape together rent money, and if we didn't pay on time our landlords would come to our apartment with thugs to beat us mercilessly. 

My apartment mates were some of the genuine good guys of the 1980s. There was Guillermo, who came from New York City and had played baseball at Brandeis. There was Ted, who convinced his parents to let him attend the University of Hawaii. (The University of Hawaii! Why hadn't I thought of that?) Ted rode a Harley and famously left it with a custom paint shop, which held onto the bike from January (off season) well into the summer (peak season). It wasn't easy to anger Ted, and this was about as close as I had ever seen to him being genuinely ticked off.

Then there was Huatsu.

As far as I can intermingle confirmable facts with my memory of the 1980s, Huatsu came to us when Brian, one of the original four tenants, got engaged and moved out. I don't remember much about Brian except that he wore slippers in the apartment and slid along the floor when moving from room to room, which I found mildly irritating. Brian's departure caused Guillermo to vacate the smallest room in the apartment and move into the largest, leaving the smallest room to our new apartment-mate, Huatsu.

I have all kinds of fond memories of that pre-cellphone and pre-GPS era, when the back seats of cars contained spiral-bound regional maps showing every street in metro Boston, which were indispensable for getting you to a keg party in an unfamiliar neighborhood. One memory I have was of a keg party that we threw in our Murdock Street digs. Huatsu, from Taiwan, had quickly and seamlessly integrated himself into our group and was far more popular among my college friends than I was. While we Americans went out and got potato chips and Doritos for our tipsy guests, Huatsu drove into Chinatown in his cranky little deathtrap of car and returned with things like crunchy bits of dried octopus, and preserved duck eggs. Whut? The duck eggs – dark, translucent, gelatinous – were like something from another universe, odder than sushi, which to my mind was off limits. (A writer for the then-Boston Phoenix said to me one day, "Pat, we Irish may not be the smartest people in the world, but we know enough to cook our fucking fish.") Odder still, when I finally mustered up the courage to take a bite of one of the preserved duck eggs, it tasted not unlike your average hard-boiled hen egg.

But I may be wrong about this, as it turns out that my memory of that era isn't perfect.

In 1991 I had near-death experience when a window blew out of an apartment in Allston during the run-up to Hurricane Bob's arrival and struck my calf, nearly shearing my lower leg clear off the rest of me and creating a harrowing, bloody mess on the street. I had already decided not to sign another lease for the Murdock Street apartment so that my girlfriend and I could backpack around Europe, and now that trip was canceled and we were homeless. A friend told a colleague about our plight and this woman kindly offered us an apartment to use while I recuperated. These facts are indisputable. However, I recall very clearly that when friends kindly gathered to move us from Murdock Street, Huatsu was among the helpers. And, further, that he had brought one of the last of my possessions down to his car to transport to the new apartment – my cockatiel, whose name I cannot remember. Little did Huatsu know that the top of the birdcage had been removed so that the bird could fly around the apartment and poop wherever he pleased. My lasting memory is of the cockatiel discovering the sky above, and flying straight up into the sunlit afternoon, where no doubt he was destined to become a snack for a local raptor.

Huatsu recently contacted me, decades after we had parted ways, and when we dug into our past it turns out that he probably didn't help with that move. He had spoken to his wife and confirmed that he had moved out of the Murdock Street apartment by 1989, two years before Hurricane Bob. For him to have helped would have required someone to contact him. Remember, this was pre-cellphone, and mostly pre-email. He had left our apartment when his wife and son joined him from Taiwan, at which point he disappeared into another world, as we all tend to do. If I know my friends from that era, no one would have had his contact information.

Huatsu doesn't remember helping and doesn't remember the bird flying up and away with a piercing whistle of excitement. My friend Dave, known at the time as "Chowder," doesn't remember Huatsu being there either. It seems that some other friend had brought down the cockatiel – maybe Ted, or someone else entirely.

No doubt I have forgotten much more about that era than I remember, but it's dismaying to have had such a clear memory for so long about something that turns out to be inaccurate. What other inaccurate memories do I possess? How do I figure into other people's inaccurate memories? Maybe people from high school recall me as a tremendous student-athlete who could dead-lift huge weights. Despite the facts, I may never shake from my memory the sight of my forlorn-looking friend Huatsu staring up into the afternoon sky, watching as my pet bird whistles excitedly before disappearing over the trees, never to be seen again. 

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My Bunker

Putin-Bunker

News of who has been invited into the bunker of Vladimir "Don't Put It Past Me" Putin when he launches tactical nuclear weapons makes me realize that I haven't finished the guest list for my bunker.

As with any major event, you have to get your invitations out early so people can make their plans and you can have accurate numbers to give to your bunker caterer. Imagine if you blow off this important pre-work and suddenly discover that it's time to lob a few nukes at the enemy, the enemy's civilian population, and your own soldiers who are battling at close range using conventional weapons and raping and pillaging indiscriminately. And now you have every random person who's ever friended you on Facebook expecting to join you in the bunker and eat your freeze-dried breakfast skillet. Annoying to say the least.

My recommendation is to do formal invitations with RSVPs well in advance so there is no question who is invited and who isn't. Unless you have a giant bunker and lots of cash, you're going to need to make some tough decisions. Distant uncles who vote for the wrong political party can find a different bunker, that's for sure. High school friends you haven't seen in years are typically "on the bubble" and can be put on a waitlist pending RSVPs from A-listers.

Important: Don't forget to add the requisite postage onto the RSVP envelope. History is littered with returned bunker RSVPs because the host didn't account for the extra weight of good paper!

(I know I said I'd post about Murdock Street, but I'm running an essay by the Boston Globe first to see if they have any interest in publishing 650 words about me and the old days. Give them a few weeks, and if I don't hear back I'll expand on it here.) 

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Before You Were Born

While trying to sort out details of my life back in the 1980s on Murdock Street with Guillermo, Ted, and Huatsu, my mind wanders, as it often does, to a recollection about Dear Old Dad, an accountant who did work for a few decades for the grumpy then-owner of the Syracuse, NY steakhouse restaurant The Scotch and Sirloin.

My father spent zillions (not really) treating us and other friends and family to drinks and dinner at "The Scotch," as did his brother George. But, from what I recall, he was never comped a single meal. That's what we learned by listening to my Dad complain about such things to my mom. 

OK, not a big deal.

But then my father dies, and we come to learn that this lucrative restaurant is in arrears several tens of thousands of dollars to him, which my uncle George – executor of his brother's will – made right via several strongly-worded letters, cc'ing a few lawyers. I thought it was somewhat unseemly to demand money as my uncle did, but later in life I came to understand that this was my father's money. He had done work for the restaurant and hadn't been paid for that work. I also came across form letters that were sent monthly to people who had accounts at the Scotch and hadn't paid on time, which called for additional interest of 1.5%. Per month! In other words, an annual rate of 18%. And this restaurant was notoriously slow to pay my father.

But that's not what I wanted to post about.

Sometime in the 1980s around the holidays, when parking was hard to find at the now-defunct "Shoppingtown Mall" in Dewitt NY, in whose parking lot, detached from the rest of the mall, the Scotch was and still is nestled, my father went to deal with some accounting BS and found that there were no parking spaces. What a hassle! My father had had several heart attacks by this point and wasn't the physical specimen that I am presently: an avid biker, who nevertheless is well overweight due to the consumption of bread products and good beer and so forth.

Keep getting sidetracked.

In the early 1980s "handicapped parking spaces" were brand new. There were no tags for your rearview mirror in Syracuse, nor were there norms around who could use the spots. As I recall, early on it was the honor system.

So my father, who had been circling the vast parking lot of the Shoppingtown Mall for several hours (or maybe mere minutes – sorry, no video footage to review, alas), was encountering some of the same cars over and over, whose drivers circled the lots also without luck. Frustrated, my dad decided to nab a handicapped spot so he could drop off a redweld folder or retrieve "the books" or whatever – a five-minute task.

As luck would have it, he emerges from his car, now parked in a handicapped spot, to lock eyes with the driver of another vehicle, who had been looking for parking for as long as my father had. The driver slowed and stared, and my father, who by today's standards would have easily qualified for a pass based on his heart condition, was forced to fake it. As my Dad told it, he decided to drag a leg from the car into the restaurant.

Let's face it, it takes a really good actor to do believable fake limp, but anyone can drag a perfectly healthy leg for 50 or so yards.

Or maybe it's harder than I thought! I've never really tried.

(Coming soon: memories of Murdock Street)! 

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J'Biden Era Haikuage

 

People's Arms. That's right!

200 million shots

In 100 days

 

We are good people

But we still have far to go

Repair. Restore. Heal.

 

There's nothing new here

The Affordable Care Act

We're restoring it 

 

America's Day

Democracy is fragile

The world is watching 

 

Strategy is based

On Science, not politics

Truth, not denial

 

 

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