Previous “Features” posts

Drive to the Sweet Spot 

Wednesday, February 13th, 2019

This post about AI-written spoof ads is from last May, but because the goofy Matthew McConaughey Lincoln ads have continued unabated, it remains relevant.1


  1. A copy of the embedded video is archived here. ↩︎

Did Disco Stu’s Disco Shoes Ever Really Exist?

Tuesday, February 12th, 2019

While writing about the TSA last week, I got on the subject of Disco Stu and his disco shoes, as one does. To refresh your memory, here are the shoes in question:

Upon seeing the shoes, Homer points out that the fish are dead, to which Stu sadly replies “Yeah, I know. I can’t get them out of there”.

This points to just one of the many problems there would be with such shoes. Ultimately, it all led me to search the web to determine if such a thing really existed back in the ’70s.

The first thing I happened on was this current, available-in-the-year-2019 product

These shoes feature a plastic fish inside a small, water-fill compartment in the heel. They’re utterly ridiculous, though if you’re attempting to create the perfect Disco Stu costume, they’re as essential as visible chest hair. However, a fake fish doesn’t really match what we’re looking for.

The more precise question is “Did any disco aficionados in the 1970s wear shoes with fish in the heels?”, which is a very strange and specific thing to be asking, while also being terribly difficult for the internet to answer. More digging turned up an interesting article from just three months ago.

Back in the ’70s disco era, fish were briefly subjected to physical injury and death (as well as humiliation, along with really bad music) when someone came up with the idea for the disco fish platform shoe. One could plop a live goldfish into the platform sole or heel, which was composed of clear acrylic or Lucite.

While many are convinced [the existence of these shoes] was an urban myth, I had a friend who owned a pair of these. (Which largely explains why she soon became my ex-friend.) The legend comes from the fact that no seems able to produce an actual pair of these shoes or even a picture of them from their brief heyday in the 1970s. The lack of evidence could be because the shoes were not mass-manufactured.

No offense to Alissa Wolf, but I’m unwilling to put much stock in the claim of one lone author who “has an ex-friend who owned a pair”. It has the ring of an uncle who works at Nintendo. Still, her general explanation seems logical:

Instead, the clear platform heels or soles were either removable or had some kind of flap at the back that lifted so that the wearer could fill with whatever he or she wanted. People report filling the heels with teddy bears, gumballs, marbles or crinkled colored tissue paper.

It certainly seems possible that shoes with a clear compartment existed back then (they’ve absolutely been made since). It also seems possible that a few terrible people put live fish in that compartment before taking to the dance floor. Still, a complete lack of physical or photographic evidence from the ’70s leaves me unwilling to give a definitive answer. Perhaps some future archaeologist can uncover more.

Rosemary Mariner Kicked Ass 

Wednesday, February 6th, 2019

In the 1970s, Rosemary Mariner finished college at just 19, in order to become part of the first group of women to earn their wings as United States Naval Aviators. Not long after, she became the very first female jet pilot in the American military. She was far from the last. At her funeral last week, a missing woman salute was performed by an entirely female flyover crew.

The Real Mystery Is Why Almost a Quarter of a Million Accounts Follow the TSA on Twitter.

Monday, February 4th, 2019

If you like seeing eight consecutive drives end in a punt, then Super Bowl LIII was the game for you! And if you attended the game, and purchased a program, you should apparently not check it in your luggage on the way home:

[Via a tweet from @TSA]

That’s really weird. We’re talking about a publication printed with ink and paper. What exactly could be going on here? And how is it safe enough to fly, but not to be checked?

These questions led me to the TSA’s “What Can I Bring?” list. There, I found just nine items which are permitted in carry-on bags, but not in checked luggage. I’ve reproduced them below, exactly as the TSA’s poorly edited list shows them:

  • Butane Curling Irons (cordless)

  • Electronic Cigarettes and Vaping Devices

  • Lithium batteries with more than 100 watt hours

  • Live Coral

  • Live Fish

  • Medically Necessary Personal Oxygen

  • Power Banks

  • Power Charger

  • Safety Matches

The TSA’s tweet doesn’t show the full program, so I had little choice but to assume it contains a small compartment with a goldfish inside of it, like Disco Stu’s disco shoes:

Cartoon shoes with fish in the heels, sadly dead
As seen in “The Twisted World of Marge Simpson

Eventually, I discovered the real issue. An earlier tweet with the same content also included a semi-helpful reply from TSA spokesperson Mark Howell. Under the atrocious username of “@TSAMedia_MarkH”, Howell explained the reasons for this instruction:

The programs are produced with materials that causes our screening tech to alarm, requiring a physical bag search by an officer. Carrying it with you to the security checkpoint and placing it in a bin will allow us to visibly inspect it without having to do a bag search.

If false positives are getting triggered by a Super Bowl program, perhaps better screening equipment is in order, rather than trying to get tens of thousands of people not to check an item that shouldn’t be an issue.

Making Medical Walking Boots Fun

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2019

I broke my foot last May, as readers may remember from the post on my iWalk. In addition to that high-tech peg leg, I also had to wear a medical walking boot. This was also decently advanced technology, but it was more than a little bland:

A dull gray Aircast

In an effort to give the boot a little pizazz, I stuck on a gem of a sticker:

A sticker reading 'Now slower and with more bugs'
[Photo courtesy of P. Kafasis]

However, what I really wanted for the boot was some rad flames, because flames make everything faster. A dope flame decal was more difficult to find than I’d have expected, but I eventually acquired these:

Some sweet flames stickers

This set included not just flames, but snakes! I used several of these stickers together, to really spice things up:

Stickers in place on the boot
[Photo courtesy of P. Kafasis]

This was a small way to put a smile on both my face, and the faces of anyone who noticed. However, the stickers also led to something which gave me a terrific laugh. After posting the above boot images on Instagram, I noticed this:

Instagram showing that flauntboots liked a post

When I saw this, I thought “Is that a medical boot accessorizing account?”. I’m delighted to tell you that yes, yes it is! A medical boot accessorizing account which wisely searches for the hashtag #brokenfoot, no less. This company sells all manner of covers for medical walking boots, to make them look more stylish.

A flauntboot and a regular heel
[Photo via Flauntboots]

As long as they match, surely no one will notice that you’re wearing one small shoe and one comically huge one!

Honestly though, I can’t knock the idea. I know from experience that anything which makes having a medical walking boot less awful is a good thing. So if you’ve ever got a broken foot and money to burn, your medical boot could look sort of like a Chuck, or an Ugg, or several other types of shoe. Alternately, you might just check your local hobby shop to add a few sweet decals.

You Get What You Don’t Pay For 

Wednesday, January 16th, 2019

The TSA has frequently been criticized, including on this very blog, as “security theater”. Still, they’re really not supposed to have a soundtrack, explicit or otherwise.

Boston’s Great Molasses Flood

Tuesday, January 15th, 2019

Most people think of molasses, if they think of it at all, as a slow-moving, syrupy substance. The expression “as slow as molasses in January” dates back to the 1800s, even appearing in the classic film “Gone With the Wind”. But while many may know the phrase, few know just how inaccurate it once proved to be. Under the wrong conditions, molasses in January can in fact move at deadly speeds.


In the early part of the 20th century, molasses was used in great quantities for the manufacture of both rum and munitions. In 1915, the Purity Distilling company built a massive five story tank to hold up to 2.5 million gallons of the stuff in Boston’s North End. Less than four years later, that tank was the cause of one of the deadliest disasters in the history of the city.

Molasses [Photo credit: Badagnani]

Death by molasses sounds like a completely ridiculous way to go, but on January 15th, 1919, it was no laughing matter. Exactly one hundred years ago today, the aforementioned holding tank failed calamitously, releasing a torrent of over 2 million gallons of molasses. A towering tidal wave raced across multiple city blocks at up to 35 miles per hour, instantly sweeping up people, animals, and even buildings. Men, women, and children were killed, multiple buildings were destroyed, elevated train tracks were damaged, and horses and dogs died by the dozens.

Buildings destroyed by the flood
Damage wrought by the wave
[Photo credit: Leslie Jones (Probably not that Leslie Jones)]

In the hours after the tank burst, hundreds of people worked in the chaos to try and find survivors. In the end, the molasses flood led to 21 people dying a bizarre, sticky death in Boston. Approximately 150 more were injured, many of them grievously. The devastation caused by the tsunami was extreme, and the nature of the substance made matters far worse than if it had simply been water.

Buildings destroyed by the flood
Rescue workers standing in deep molasses
[Photo credit: Leslie Jones (In fact, it’s this Leslie Jones)]

An article in Scientific American provided a thorough look at the fluid dynamics of a moving wall of molasses:

[A] wave of molasses is even more devastating than a typical tsunami. In 1919 the dense wall of syrup surging from its collapsed tank initially moved fast enough to sweep people up and demolish buildings, only to settle into a more gelatinous state that kept people trapped.

After the accident, the tank’s then-owners U.S. Industrial Alcohol (USIA) ludicrously attempted to avoid the blame. They tried to pin the disaster on “anarchists”, the bogeymen who predate “terrorists” and even “communists” in the American consciousness. USIA claimed Italian radicals had blown up the tank to prevent the molasses from being used to create munitions. Never mind that the tank was improperly engineered in the first place. Never mind too that it had been shoddily constructed in the second place. And certainly, please ignore the fact that when leaks were spotted in the structure the previous year, the company simply painted the tank brown to hide the evidence. No, it was anarchists to blame, they said.

Fortunately, neither the people nor the courts were having any of this. Over 100 lawsuits were filed, and USIA was eventually forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in settlements. Better still, this litigation prompted the strengthening of development laws, which surely saved uncountable lives in the century that followed.


I now live just a couple hundred feet from where the ill-fated tank was once located. My building was about two decades old in 1919, but it’s situated up the hill from where the tank stood, and this high ground allowed it to be spared. The land in question is now a public park, with a baseball diamond sitting directly on top of the tank’s old footprint, and bocce courts nearby. The story is poorly-known even in the neighborhood, and many children and adults play in the area, blissfully unaware of the history.

The centennial of the disaster has led to a slight increase in awareness of this story, as has Stephen Puleo’s book “Dark Tide”. The tale has also long been a staple for guides who lead visitors on walking tours of the area. However, despite the ridiculous claims I so often hear them make, it’s not actually possible to “still smell molasses on a hot summer day”. In reality, there are almost no indications that Boston’s Great Molasses Flood ever occurred. The tragedy is memorialized in very meager fashion, with this lone plaque put up near the tank’s former location:

A small plaque commerating the 1919 molasses flood
[Photo credit: P. Kafasis]

This marker sits barely two feet off the ground, well below eye level, on the short wall of a park. Seeing it in context really shows how feeble the attempt is:

The plaque, in place
[Photo credit: P. Kafasis]

One local group recently earned approval from the city to install a larger and more descriptive sign about the flood. There are also plans afoot to more properly memorialize this catastrophe. On the centennial of the event, however, a paltry marker is all that exists to commemorate one of the strangest accidents in Boston history.

Also Worth Noting, He’s Currently Hurting Nearly Everyone

Friday, January 11th, 2019

Earlier this week, I read a New York Times piece on the small Florida town of Marianna, and how it was being affected by the on-going federal government shutdown. The story ended with this quote.

“I voted for him, and he’s the one who’s doing this,” she said of Mr. Trump. “I thought he was going to do good things. He’s not hurting the people he needs to be hurting.”

The utter awfulness of that line has been stuck in my head ever since. The initial reaction to this should be obvious: The president of the United States doesn’t need to be hurting anyone. That’s not the job, and if you think it is, something is deeply, sickeningly wrong with you.

There’s a lot to unpack in that line. Perhaps the most striking aspect of it is the solidification that for some people, cruelty is the point of a Trump presidency. For some percentage of his supporters, making America great again expressly means inflicting pain on others, not as a byproduct but as a goal. That’s extremely disheartening.

I hope we can be better than this. I wish I knew how to get there.

But hey, I ought to at least try to provide a dark laugh about this whole thing, right? So, here’s a tweet from over three years ago that applies perfectly to this story:

Via Adrian Bott

Haha! Haha…ha…*sob*.

They Didn’t Make It

Thursday, January 10th, 2019

As the end of 2018 approached last month, I started a different kind of new year’s countdown for two nearby businesses. Throughout last year, I passed the following soon-to-be-restaurants frequently, and each featured signs announcing their imminent arrival. However, rather than a simple “Coming Soon!” sign, both establishments opted for more specificity.

Tenoch sign stating they'll be open 2018

As you can probably guess from the headline of this post, Tenoch didn’t make their opening in 2018. As of yesterday, these signs remained up, and the restaurant did not look particularly close to opening. I’m not sure when those signs first went up, but it was several months ago. The restaurant had through December 31st to hit their self-imposed goal, but alas, they fell short.

The next one was foolishly even more precise:

A+B Burgers Sign stating they'll be open Late Fall 2018

I think it’s fair to say that “late fall” means approximately Thanksgiving and onward. At that point, why would they not just give themselves a little more breathing room? Despite what our local weather often seems to indicate, fall in the Northern Hemisphere technically lasts until almost the end of the year. They could have simply said “Late 2018” or even just “2018”. Alas, the folks at A+B Burgers flew too close to the sun on wings of ground beef before coming crashing back to earth on December 21st. Of course, they didn’t make it by the 31st either, so they’d have been screwed either way.

Goofy though they are, it’s likely that these businesses will open in the coming weeks, or at least sometime this year. Assuming they do, neither of these businesses will come anywhere close to the all-time reigning champion for inaccurate estimates.

That would be Canal Walk at Hamden, a “new lifestyle center” slated to open in Summer of 2009.

A sign advertising Canal Walk at Hamden, Opening Summer 2009
This picture was taken with an iPhone X.

For nearly a decade, I passed this sign while driving between Boston and New Jersey to see my family. I would look for it about halfway through my trip, and it just got funnier every time I saw it. Now I know, the financial crisis of 2008 almost certainly stalled this development, and perhaps even bankrupted some poor developers. And unlike a restaurant, it makes sense to advertise this before it opens, to get businesses signed on.

But wouldn’t you think someone would take this sign down once the date had passed? Perhaps in the fall of 2009, or early 2010, or at least sometime during the Obama presidency? It was visible to tens of thousands of cars passing on the highway every day, but it was also accessible from a walking path. Hell, with can of spray paint, anyone could’ve done them a favor and at least removed the date. And yet, this sign survived, year after ridiculous year.

This particular photo was taken in late December of 2017, but my own delays meant I never managed to write about this while the sign was still standing. At some point in 2018, the board was finally, mercifully, removed. The project itself is still nowhere to be seen, of course, but at least that sign is no longer lying to every passerby.

At a minimum, this project’s monument to failure stood for eight and a half years past its purported deadline. That’s a record I doubt I’ll ever see broken.

Sorry, Chicago

Monday, January 7th, 2019

As a young child, when it came to football, I rooted for my father’s hometown Buffalo Bills. The “no-huddle” offense run by head coach Marv Levy and quarterback Jim Kelly1 led the team to an astonishing four consecutive Super Bowls, where they won exactly zero championships. My dad and I even attended Super Bowl 28, the last in the team’s impressive string, in person. In Atlanta, I had my heart broken by a football team for the last time. After that, I drifted away from the game for many years.

Years later, when I came to Boston for college, the New England Patriots got very, very good. While my interest in football never returned to its previous levels, I watched as the Patriots made it to eight Super Bowls in the 21st century, winning five championships along the way. It’s nice when your local team does well, and it’s also nice to not particularly care if they don’t. I was strictly a fair-weather fan, and I was never a loud one.

By last year, however, I really couldn’t stand football at all any more. The NFL’s impressively awful handling of the national anthem protests was perhaps the final straw, but for some time I’d been disturbed by the violence of the game. Nearly every play seemed to feature some sort of injury, and it had become clear that playing football did lasting damage to both the bodies and the minds of its players. As the 2018-2019 season began, I bowed out of the dumb fantasy football league some college friends and I had enjoyed for a few years.2 I have tuned in to no football games whatsoever this season.

Still, it’s impossible to escape the NFL entirely in modern America, and for all its awfulness, it’s also a good source of absurdity. So it is that I know that the Cleveland Browns scored free beer for their fans by finally winning a game, for the first time in 635 days. I’ve noted just how epically bad Nathan Peterman was as quarterback for the aforementioned Bills as well.

And whether through osmosis or the ether, I also know that Chicago Bears kicker Cody Parker has had quite an eventful season. Back in November, he managed to hit the goal posts on four separate missed field goal attempts, all in one game. That’s equal parts amazing and terrible.

The Bears managed to win that regular season contest against the even more hapless Detroit Lions. Yesterday, however, they were not so lucky. Improbably, as the clock ticked down and he attempted a game-winning 43 yard field goal, Parker managed to hit both the upright and the crossbar. The ball fell no good and just like that, with a *bwoing* and a *booong*, the 2019 championship hopes of Chicago evaporated. I know how you feel, Chicago fans. I’m also able to tell you that you can get out of this thing. There’s a huge world out there to enjoy, free from the agonies of kicker-induced defeats.

This doesn’t have to matter.


  1. Featuring, off the top of my head, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, James Lofton, Don Beebe, and more. It’s useful and good that my brain has decided to hold on to those names. ↩︎

  2. I went out on top, having won the league the year before. Worth noting, we paid $0 to participate in our pathetic little league, and most people paid little to no attention to anything beyond mockery of others. We don’t need football for that. ↩︎