Tuesday, July 31, 2007

TBG Reviews: The Simpsons Movie The Ultimate Double Whopper

There's this guy I know at my barbershop who comes in about once every other hour with two of those 24-count CD/DVD carrying cases that you might have out in your car right now.

I don't know his name, but he's a pleasant enough fellow who apparently makes a living selling pirated copies of the latest albums and movies. I've always had this weird rationalization for doing business with this man.

Y'see, I never buy music from him. I'm one of the last people on earth who actually enjoy things like CD artwork, liner notes, etc. It's why I spent $12.99 on a CD at Best Buy last week, instead of downloading it for $9.99 off of iTunes.

First-run movies are another story, though.

Whereas I'll play a good CD over and over again, I'm usually content with seeing a good movie at the theaters once, then waiting for it to come out on DVD. I'm also a sucker for the "special features", deleted scenes, alternate endings and director/cast commentaries, so it's not like Hollywood isn't getting my money in the end, anyway.

I've got no problem with paying $7 (or 3 for $15) for the latest summer blockbuster. If it sucks, I save a wee bit of coin with the added convenience of watching it at home. If it kicks azz, I'll ultimately be doling out twice the theater ticket price for the DVD.

These things all even out.

Last Saturday night, with the boy and Mrs. Bootleg in their respective beds, I popped in my illicit copy of The Simpsons Movie. Except it was actually Ratatouille. I took out the DVD and the front of it clearly read "Simpson [sic] Movie" in black Sharpie.

Obviously a mistake at the factory (the computer in his kitchen).

So, instead of a Simpsons review, y'all get the next best thing.

Have you seen this commercial yet?

Earlier that same evening, I was tempted by what Burger King calls The Ultimate Double Whopper. Now, growing up, Burger King really didn't register with me. To my adolescent palate, Mickey D's (sorry, but Black people have to call it that) was where it began and ended.

Then, about 10 years ago, BK had a tie-in with Mr. Potato Head (who, himself, was enjoying a rise in popularity from 1995's Toy Story movie) and re-invented their French Fries. Always a slave (sorry, Mathan) for effective fast food marketing, I took the greasy bait…and loved the taste!

Now, BK is a semi-regular fast food option for the family. And, The Ultimate Double Whopper is sure to keep my arteries clogged into autumn.

Quite simply, it's the best fast food burger out there, kids. The damn thing weighs about the same as a newborn baby and features two quarter-pound patties, two huge slices of that processed yellow cheese-food, six strips of bacon and all the usual Whopper condiments. BK is notorious for their sandwiches that disintegrate into a cholesterol glob before you finish, but this one held its form and texture from first bite to last.

Be a man, order it with everything and take 60 days off your life with every bite.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The 110-Word "We Got To Do Better" Review


No surprise: 30 minutes of ancient YouTube clips, late night urban commercials and assorted unfunny filler. That the show tries to paint itself as satire towards societal change is more offensive than any of the stereotypes on said show.

The premiere episode included footage with references to its original name "Hot Ghetto Mess". I assume host Charlie Murphy didn't have time to re-film his scenes, since it's a two-day Greyhound ride from whatever bridge he's currently living under. And, whatever charisma he once flashed on "The Chappelle Show" was nowhere to be found.

"We Got To Do Better"? Hell, it's BET.

They had the name right the first time.

Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron & The Idiot Media (L-O-N-G)

Tom Verducci is a writer for Sports Illustrated. For the past several years, he's penned several columns and feature stories on Giants OF Barry Bonds that make no attempt to remain unbiased or impartial.

Quite simply, Verducci despises Bonds.

In the latest issue of SI, Verducci ostensibly writes an over-the-top mash note to Hank Aaron, whom Bonds is about to knock off the home run mountaintop. The "Hank Aaron" angle is one that's been done to death in recent months, with everyone simultaneously racing to the time machine to embrace a man who, not that long ago, was essentially ignored for his accomplishments and vilified for the bitterness he still carries within.

Excerpts of
Verducci's piece on Aaron are below in bold, with my thoughts immediately following. You know the routine, kids:

On this spot, in what was the Braves' bullpen at old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, landed the 715th home run in the career of Henry Louis Aaron. Here too stand facsimiles of the outfield fence and the bullpen wall, on which there is a sign that makes no mention of the major league home run record or Babe Ruth, whose 53-year claim as the alltime home run king passed that night to a poor dry-dock laborer's son.

OK…a couple of things before we really begin: (1) If using the first, middle and last name of your subject isn't the most hackneyed tactic in journalism, it's definitely in the top two. (2) And, if it's not number one, then the tired "son of a (blue-collar profession)" certainly is.

In simple mathematical terms Barry Bonds will [soon] have outhomered Aaron and every other player who has swung a bat in the majors. Everything else about the new record, however, dissolves into the murkiness of interpretation. Bonds's ties to BALCO, the steroid factory busted by the feds, and Greg Anderson, his convicted, incarcerated friend and onetime personal trainer, have created the ugly impression of a bastard prince without true claim to the throne.

Make no mistake…for the millions of baseball fans in this country who've never met Barry Bonds, every "impression" of the man is first filtered through the media. And, because he's an a-hole to a locker room full of mostly middle-aged white men with a press pass and an ax to grind, we're expected to universally conclude that Bonds = bad, bad man.

Meanwhile, Yankees DH Jason Giambi, who was also caught up in the BALCO controversy, gets (for the most part) a pass because he schmoozes with the schleps who cover the team and smiles a lot. Don't believe me? About a month ago, Verducci referred to Giambi, in print, as a lovable "big galoot" and all but glossed over his supposed sins. "Interpretation"…getting…murkier…

Bonds's ascent to 756 has been (outside of his safe house in San Francisco) not only a joyless affair but, far worse for baseball, a public exercise in mockery and ridicule, with CHEATER banners, oversized syringes and "ster-roids" chants the de rigueur accoutrements of a traveling freak show.

"A joyless affair"? Yes, all of the props that Verducci cites have been in play, but to call this chase "joyless" is a sad attempt to transparently project his opinions on the proceedings. Check out the
highlights of Bonds' two home run game on the road in Chicago last week. Look at the immediate, instinctive reaction of the fans when Bonds makes contact. These are Cubs fans…generally, a discerning and knowledgeable lot…who rise to their feet, extend their arms in excitement, cheer for the ball to clear the wall – y'know, "joyless" gestures like that.

Admittedly, the cheers turn to jeers as Bonds is circling the bases. It's as if everyone suddenly realized that they'd been programmed to boo the man. An appropriate analogy might be the husband who is caught watching porn or pro wrestling by his wife. "H-how'd this filth get on our TV? Where's the remote? Where's the…oh, it's in my hand."

The commissioner of baseball doesn't want to personally witness the record-breaking home run (Bud Selig still hasn't said whether he'll be in attendance), and Aaron has been adamant in his refusal to be there. Corporate America too wants nothing to do with it, and a majority of fans (52%, according to a May poll by ABC News and ESPN) are rooting against Bonds.

The fact that baseball's commissioner can't separate his personal feelings from the game itself, isn't a good thing, Tom. Selig's non-response is an absolute embarrassment for a man who already embodies the word. Secondly, your statement on "Corporate America" is misleading at best and an outright lie, at worst. Or did I miss the dozens of press releases from sponsors who've pulled their advertising from any game Bonds has played or will play in?

And, let's save the survey data for later on…

Thirty-three years later it may take losing the record for Aaron to be sufficiently appreciated. Like Roger Bannister and the sub-four-minute mile, Bob Beamon and 29.2 feet, and Roger Maris and 61, Aaron and 755 are partners in posterity, not by defying belief, as Bonds has done, but by encouraging it. Aaron's record may be broken by Bonds, but it won't be eclipsed.

For any baseball fan who came of age in the 1970s, 1980s or early 1990s, the above excerpt is absurd. Patently absurd. It took decades for Hank Aaron's career home run total of 755 to receive the sepia-toned treatment. Babe Ruth's career total of 714 was the romanticized benchmark even after Aaron passed him in April 1974, just like the fat man's single-season mark of 60 was the still the standard amongst most of the media even after Roger Maris passed it in '61, retired in '68 and died in '85.

The retroactive "respect" for Hank Aaron is one of the worst residual effects of the media's hatred for Bonds.

They called him Hammerin' Hank, an encomium to his bluntly effective hitting but one that works just as well as a tribute to his overall ethos. Hammering is the life's work of commoners, not kings.

We get it, Tom: Hank Aaron = blue-collar, gritty, lunch pail, Midwest values, red states and other like people, places and things that were probably rooting against him breaking the Babe's record.

He did as much for the racial integration of the sport as any man who followed Jackie Robinson. Yet Aaron, in the pantheon of baseball gods and in the fabric of American culture, is an underrated and underappreciated presence. It must have been the monotony of all that hammering.

I don't even know what that first sentence means. What did Hank Aaron do for integration of the game? I'm not being facetious. I'd really like Tom Verducci to tell me one thing that Aaron did towards the integration of a game that was already integrated when he got there.

And, the last sentence makes even less sense. Let me fix it for you, Tom: "It must have been the media." Y'see, in sports, the concepts of "underrated" and "overrated" begin and end with the coverage from the press. Fan perception plays a part in that, but it's the media who runs with it and gets the word out to those who wouldn't otherwise see the guy.

Why else do you think that fans in Chicago were actually excited that the supremely untalented Darin Erstad was coming to their team?

It was the media who marginalized and/or outright ignored Aaron's career accomplishments. There's a reason why the man has such disdain, to this day, towards the fourth estate. Far from"monotony", most of Aaron's career was met with a cacophony of indifference from the same people trying to kiss his azz today.

Brewers broadcaster Bob Uecker, who also played with Aaron, recently began a conversation about the home run record with a disclaimer, apropos of the times: "I don't really want to talk about Bonds at all."

So, because a career .200 hitter whose only relevance to the game of baseball is telling us how bad he played doesn't want to talk about Barry Bonds, Verducci would have us believe that everyone feels this way. Have you tried, Steve Balboni, Tom? Maybe Tim Teufel? If they're willing to talk, I'm sure they'd have something salient to say.

Even more monumental than what Aaron accomplished is what he endured. Aaron could not eat in the same restaurants, sleep in the same hotels or drink from the same fountains as his white teammates. Fans heaped racially charged insults at the teenager. A white teammate, Joe Andrews, bat in hand, would escort him out of the ballpark after games.

Was there some journalistic edict that mandates every story about a Black ballplayer in the '40s and '50s must include a heroic white teammate who "protected" him? Just wondering.

Now, we're at the part of the article that chafes me the most.

The racist crap that Hank Aaron had to endure is well-known by most fans. Long after he retired, Aaron's mentioned in interviews that he's kept most of the hate mail and death threats he received. He's often talked about how the home run chase was the worst time of his life. In many of those same interviews, he's spoken out on the sorry status of African-American management opportunities and other minority issues in the game.

And, you know the reaction he received from fans and the media? "Get over it." The phrase "bitter old man" was tossed around, along with the usual "he should've been grateful for the chance" type lines that are thrown at any African-American born after the slave days who talks about racial inequity.

But, in the same way that Republicans have memorized part of ONE line from Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech ("…not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character…") for use in their never-ending war against "reverse racism", sportswriters have gone back to the "well of racial challenges" in their war against Barry Bonds.

Aaron wants nothing to do with Bonds, not because Bonds is breaking his record, but because he doesn't want to get dragged into the conversation about Bonds and steroids and, as several friends have said, he does not find Bonds to be a likable person.

Bonds isn't likable? How come the media hasn't explored this previously uncharted angle?

One friend, for instance, says that Aaron was crestfallen to hear Bonds question whether the Hall of Fame is entitled to any memorabilia from his record chase. (Bonds has since relented slightly, saying he might share an artifact.) Said Bonds, in a self-styled epitaph worthy of his tombstone, "I take care of me."

"…an artifact." Verducci's tone makes it seem that Bonds has no use for the Hall of Fame. He also implies that it's not a sure thing that Bonds will give the Hall something to commemorate the home run race. Here's a direct quote from a
June 26 AP article on the subject:

"As I've said all along, [Bonds] has a history of being generous to the Hall of Fame, dating back to a bat from his rookie season. It was meaningful to have a face-to-face meeting. He assured me that if and when he hit 756, he will donate an artifact to the Hall of Fame, which in turn means he will share that milestone with the American public."

-Hall of Fame Vice President Jeff Idelson

The same article states that there are about a dozen items in the Hall of Fame connected to Bonds, including the spikes from his 400th stolen base and the bat and the ball from his 2,000th hit. Why let the facts get in the way of a good witch hunt?

A window into Aaron's position on steroids can be found in his autobiography, in which he said of 300-game winner Gaylord Perry, "I regarded a spitball as cheating, and because of it I have serious doubts as to whether Perry belongs in the Hall of Fame. . . . I had always taken a strong stand against anything that wasn't within the spirit and rules of the game -- like spitballs. I believed in the integrity of the game as strongly as anybody."

Verducci is quick to include this quote in his manipulative little story, but you know what Verducci thinks of the "spitball"? The following is from Verducci's August 3, 2005 "Mailbag"
column on SI.com:

And if you feel steroids are considered different from other cheating (corked bats, doctored pitched balls), why do you think so as these require as much or more planning and secret implementation?-- Bill Leonard, Chicago

Verducci: I should have known. Here we go again. The oversimplified cheating is cheating argument. On one hand you're talking about gamesmanship that has been around for more than a century. You're talking about skirting the rules of baseball to gain a slight edge in competition.

In summary: if steroids had shown up 100 years earlier, they'd be OK. And, also, spitballs and corked bats are just "a little bit of cheating". Thanks for responding to an oversimplified argument with one of your own, Tommy.

Bonds, by contrast, is desperate for the blessing from Aaron that will not come. He wanted Aaron sitting next to Willie Mays, Bonds's godfather and Aaron's charismatic contemporary, on the night he hit 756. Bonds so covets Aaron's acceptance that on several occasions he has reached out to Selig, far from a Bonds ally himself, for help in obtaining Aaron's support, if only to get Aaron to call him.

You know the difference between Verducci and me? I'm a hack blogger and he's a national journalist. The latter, you'd expect, would be obligated to provide a single shred of evidence to prove the above claims, since all of Bonds' public comments on the matter clearly indicate that he's OK with Aaron opting not to attend the eventual Bonds record breaker.

[Sports psychologist/sociologist Harry] Edwards compared Bonds to O.J. Simpson: a free man, but a prisoner of the widely accepted circumstantial evidence against him. The home run record is whatever you wish to make of it.

Ah…the obligatory O.J. Simpson analogy. Not altogether unsurprising, but, still…it has been over a decade since a certain demographic first found out that the system doesn't always work. Anyways, Edwards is an interesting choice of quote here. Verducci uses his words to shovel the last bit shyte on Bonds' legacy, while laying the groundwork for his racially inflammatory conclusion.

But, for those of you who don't know, Edwards is widely considered the influence behind the infamous
Black Power protest at the 1968 Olympics. The same people Verducci is appealing to wouldn't otherwise respect a word out of "that militant Negro's" mouth.

"Hank Aaron should still be considered the home run king," says Andrew, who is from Queens, white and here with his father, Michael, and friends as part of their quest to visit all the major league ballparks. "My friends and I start talking about baseball, and the conversation gets around to Barry Bonds. We don't think he should have the record. I think they should take away his home runs because he got so big using steroids. It's cheating."

Ervin Ross, who is 18, black and not on any sort of pilgrimage. He is a concessions employee at Turner Field. He knows about Aaron from history books, video of home run 715 and a story from his supervisor at work, a white man who told him Aaron once refused to give him an autograph. Ervin says he believes it is true that Bonds used steroids, but the teenager does not seem troubled by that. "He's a professional athlete," Ervin says by way of explanation. "I would have to consider him the home run king, just because he did it. It's good for black people. They can't take his home runs away, so he's got the record."

How can two people look at the same number and assign it a different value? Math isn't supposed to be this ambiguous. The home run record isn't supposed to be this complicated. Even when Barry Bonds holds the record, Hank Aaron can still be the people's home run king -- and 755 can still be the number in which we believe.

It was these last few paragraphs that prompted this post.

recent surveys that attempt to introduce race into the Barry Bonds debate are, of course, immediately swept aside by the mostly white sports media. So, when two differing viewpoints are offered up here, it shouldn't have surprised me that Verducci would drag out his soapbox and call one of the opinions "wrong".

And, I'm more than a little offended that Verducci would blatantly paint this as a black or white issue, while simultaneously dismissing the obvious racial context to this story. In other words, the white privileged kid is "right" and the Black working class kid is "wrong". But, it's not about race, right?

The media's coverage of Barry Bonds has been irresponsible at times and reprehensible at others. Verducci's piece above takes the proverbial cake.

Joe Sheehan, over at Baseball Prospectus, has had one of the few informed positions on Bonds since this whole thing began. His work is available on a subscription-only basis, but I'm closing with words he wrote on Wednesday that sum up my feelings perfectly:

The central truth about the "steroid issue" is this: average people don’t care about PED use. They care about tearing down those who they do not like, protecting those they do, and making themselves feel superior in the process.


· Y'all remember the brief recap of my trip to New York? And, remember how I'd teased a "the rest of the trip" epilogue? Yeah, not happening. When the number of blog posts exceeds the number of days I was actually away, it's time to wrap things up. Here's the short version: I flew out of Hartford (where "airport security" is an 80-year-old lady with a metal-detecting wand and, apparently, her mother who was in charge of the x-ray coke-bottle bifocals.) I was delayed an hour there, then another four hours in Dallas. I finally got home around 3:00 AM. Can't be sure if it was Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, though.

· Got a few emails from some people who seemed genuinely curious as to where New York ranks on the "TBG Top 5 American Cities" thang that I did last month. Really? Some of you care? Hey, I aim to please…solid #2. Your winner and still champion: San Francisco.

· My new Sports Illustrated arrived last week. There's a cloying little cover story on Hank Aaron that I hope to shred to pieces in the next few days. But, there's also a piece on Arizona Cardinals QB Matt Leinart. I got a couple of snippy little emails from readers who took me to task for suggesting that Derek Jeter and Tiger Woods manipulate the media. Yet, in the Leinart piece, there are about a dozen references to his leeching "entourage", in which the group of freeloaders is romanticized and compared to the inane HBO show of the same name. The word "posse" isn't used once. Oh, and Leinart's out-of-wedlock child and nonchalant attitude towards fatherhood is completely glossed over. Seems the media can manipulate just as easily, no?

· Mrs. Bootleg and I have already set the DVR to record tonight's BET debut of Hot Ghetto Mess We Got To Do Better. The new show has already changed its name and stirred up a firestorm of free publicity controversy. This could be one of those things I used to write about in The Bootleg with the heading "Sometimes The News Just Writes Itself". Stay tuned.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

TBG Reviews: Transformers

As one or two of you might've heard, last month's kitchen pass from Mrs. Bootleg was a trip to New York. There was no place to go but down, so this month's pass came in the form of an evening out with the crew from my urban barbershop. Nothing spectacular, as the opening act was the Bernard Hopkins/Winky Wright non-contact fight on pay-per-view. Then, in the main event…the bootleg DVD of the new Transformers movie!

And, that's the only exclamation point of excitement you'll see the rest of the way.

If you've seen one of Michael Bay's ridiculous action movies, you've seen them all. Choppy camera angles, inexplicable editing and that slow motion thingie where the guy (robot) is shooting the enemy, while simultaneously twirling in mid-air and parallel to the floor…? Yeah, there all in there.

Shia LeBeouf plays "Sam Witwicky", the first human to make contact with the heroic Autobots. His protagonist character comes thiiiiiiiiis close to Edward Furlong's "John Connor" in Terminator 2 as the good guy I most wanted to see killed by the bad guys. Megan Fox is delicious on the eyes, but isn't the least bit convincing as the bad ass sexy biiatch.

The rest of the cast is comprised of B and C-level actors like John Tuturro, John Voight, Bernie Mac and Anthony Anderson. Especially grating is Anderson's continued 2K7 J.J. Evans routine.

Lots of things blow up, earth is threatened, a Mountain Dew vending machine transforms into a warrior and the only Autobot I ever, ever cared about dies. Combine that with the fact that the Decepticons don't really show up en masse until the third act and you're left with a two and a half hour flick that feels twice as long.

Still, the movie does seem to have fun with its absurdity. There are in-jokes aplenty for those us who spent ungodly amounts of money collecting those silly dolls in the '80s and unearthing Peter Cullen, the original voice of the animated Optimus Prime, slayed me (to coin a phrase).

If you're over 18…maybe worth a matinee.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

"Even More 24" (My NY Trip, Part VI)

8:00 PM - Mistake #1 was wearing my long-sleeve puffy Puff Daddy-brand shirt. Unfortunately, a lifetime of sloth and malnutrition has left me with a pair of arms like pipe cleaners and a roll-of-dimes neck that can barely support my 7 ¾ hat size head. As a result, I only wear short sleeves when I know I'm going to be sitting in the sun or for bumming around on the weekends.

That mistake leads into the single biggest difference between NY and CA. My friends…here, in California, when we direct you to a landmark that is oh, say…four blocks away, you're in for at most a 10-minute walk and only if you hit a red light or two in trying to cross an intersection. In New York, "one city block" is the rough equivalent of seven miles. Maybe eight.

I was told that we were only "a few blocks" from Times Square. Now, we can all agree that the concept of "sightseeing" is a chick thing, right? Right. But, c'mon…it's Times Square! They film ESPN's Sunday Sports Reporters there! Current events run in ticker tape style across enormous electronic marquees! They have a Dunkin Donuts!

We began our walk with optimism. Nick in sensible shoes and Aaron in Timberland boots. (Not sure if the kids still wear them, but I got 'em on sale!) The outside temperature read 80 degrees, which was the same reading as seven hours ago when the sun was still up. Do you not have "high/low" temperatures in New York? Is it just a number that's in effect for 24 hours? The sun has set…where is this heat coming from?

Anyways, at about the five-mile mark of the first "block", I was sweating like (wait…where's that old Patrick Ewing reference I used to use in the old Bootleg days…can't seem to find it. Damn.) The sheer size of the Times Square lights make it seem like it's only a few feet away from anywhere in NYC. Trust me…it's not.

But, we did finally get there and now I can tell everyone that I've been to Times Square. And, from now on, it's the truth.

It was getting to be dinner time, so we sought out a subway. Quick weather update: 80 degrees outside…800 degrees, 7th level of hell inside the subway tunnel. All that was missing was molten hot mag-ma. It's been ten years, is it too late for an Austin Powers reference? Probably.

9:00 PM - We ended up eating here. Regrettably, I didn't get a chance to ask our server "Does The Mick still come around?" That wasn't due to any sudden outbreak of decorum on my part. It was because our server was nowhere to be seen. Also absent? Air conditioning. I finally had to ask the host to send someone over. In all honesty, it was probably hard to see us amongst the eight other people in there at the time.

Since the heat was making it feel like Calcutta within, it's no surprise that our server was a doughy Indian guy with bigger breasts than my wife. (And, since the birth of our son, her "maguppies" have become "bazongas", so that's saying something.)

The food was phenomenal (grilled salmon Caesar salad? Yum-O!), but the textbook for bad waiters was out and in full effect (drinks not refilled, entrées brought out before the appetizer was eaten and the server was nowhere to be found when we actually wanted to give him our money). Dude got a 3% tip for his troubles and only because I like round numbers on my restaurant bill.

10:00 PM - It's drinking time! Weeks and weeks of training for this night in New York City. In Nick's corner, Grey Goose & 7. For me, Jack & Coke. May the best man win.

And, we're off to an amazing start as a 20-something male patron gets a beer from the bar. He turns to walk away, then stops, sets the beer down and throws up on the floor. Dude happens to be standing right behind two women who don't seem to know what's going on until my "Run, b*tches, run!" warning reached their ears.

The best part? The guy tries to pick up his drink and act like nothing happened before the bouncer throws him out. His legacy…a full, untouched beer left on an empty, slightly splattered table.

11:00 PM - Nick'a takes an early lead, as I'm washing down my 2nd cocktail with a beer. "It's a marathon, not a sprint…It's a marathon, not a sprint."

Meanwhile, here's my favorite women's fashion fad of the moment: short shorts and high heels. These aren't to be confused with Daisy Dukes or hot pants, kids. These are classy azz-showing shorts, not trashy. Big difference.

12:00 AM - I'm two full cocktails behind at this point and seriously beginning to wonder if Nick'a isn't asking the bartenders for just 7-Up in a highball glass.

And, here's something you'd never see in San Diego: a white girl appears to be the house DJ. Words can't describe how surreal this is. She's even doing that "hold one ear of the headphones to the side of her head" thing. I still can't decide on her name for the night: "DJ Jessica" or "MC OMG!"

1:00 AM - After three hours of Cocktail Combat '07, I'm officially running back to the cold embrace of beer for the rest of the evening. Final Score: Grey Goose & 7s: 8; Jack & Cokes: 5. In my defense, I was on the road and in front of a hostile crowd, but I tip my hat to That Nick'a Guy. On this night, he was just better.

Nick'a asks the DJ if she can play Deep Cover. Hilarity ensues.

2:00 AM - TAXI! In search of a new block to rock, we take a $6.00 ride down the street and end up at a club that's about the size of a shoebox. The place is packed, so we wedge ourselves into a table and order two ten dollar beers. That's two dollars more than the previous highest price I've ever paid for a bottle at a bar. Pretty sure that record's gonna stand for awhile.

3:00 AM - Somehow…someway…we resist the urge to drop another $60 on another hour of drunken debauchery. Wait…is it "beer before liquor…" or the other way around…? Stay tuned.

4:00 AM - For the record, I'm not drunk. I did, however, briefly lose my credit card and hotel room key in the middle of the street. And, I went walking aimlessly down the sidewalk in search of a diner that I was sure I'd seen earlier in the evening. Oh, and I ordered a "sausage" from a street vendor that, I'm now absolutely certain, wasn't sausage. I ordered it "with everything" and it came on flatbread with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, barbecue sauce, mayo, mustard and some of that squirt cheese in a can. Gamey. The meat was a little, uh, "gamey".

5:00 AM - We get back to our room. Three bites to go to finish my vermin gyro and I polish it off like a champ. A Formula 50 Vitamin Water follow-up, and…

6:00 AM - Sleep.

7:00 AM - Sleep.

8:00 AM - Sl… Awake? Aaaaaaaaand, I can't seem to fall back to sleep. Well, on the one hand, the Vitamin Water successfully conquered what should've been a humdinger of a hangover. On the other hand, the pure, uncut Colombian sugar that makes up Vitamin Water is what currently has my heart beating out of my chest.

8:00 :01…8:00 :02…8:00 :03…

Next: The Rest of the Trip…

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

"More 24" (My NY Trip, Part V)

1:00 PM - Yankee Stadium plays a pre-recorded National Anthem instrumental. Where's that Enrico Palazzo "Three Tenor" guy that always does it when the Fox cameras are rolling in October?

(Quick aside: I know that most of you snobs – in high-pitched, British voice – "would never, ever drink a ballpark beer", but Bud Light delivered right to your seat is what makes every stadium outside of California better…except for AT&T Park in San Francisco. That place is just awesome. Get the garlic fries, if you're ever out there.)

The A's go down in order in the first inning which, little did I know, would foreshadow the way they'd play for most of July. The Yanks are set down 1-2-3, as well. The only notable development was discovering that Derek Jeter's pre-at bat theme song is this. I hate that song. Just one more reason to hate him, Gary Sheffield.

Nothing happens of note in the second inning, either, save for finding out that Alex Rodriguez's intro music is…this. OK…for the record…A-Rod gets drawn and quartered almost hourly in the tabloids and talk radio, yet he inexplicably gets a pass for having the P.A. play Mims?! Not to overstate the significance, but this is a jillion times worse than the whole "stripping mistress" thing. Maybe a KA-jillion times.

The A's finally made some noise in the third. Oakland catcher, Jason Kendall, is usually the equivalent of "piss break" when he's at the plate. So, I'm about five bites into a chicken fingers and beer extra value meal, when our resident Nancy pulls a pitch off the foul pole for a home run.

Did you know the A's are 2-0 in the last 2 ½ years whenever Kendall homers? And, did you know that Kendall has only homered twice in the last 2 ½ years? Well, three times now. Thanks, Yankees starting pitcher, Kei Igawa!

A Black man named Mathan Shannon follows Kendall with a solo shot of his own and the A's are up 2-0.

2:00 PM - Meanwhile, the Yankee fans are getting restless. One section over from us, two mouthy broads are laying into the local nine with assorted f-bombs and harpy squawk. Nick says they must be from Jersey, which makes me wish Californians had an adjacent state to knowingly mock. "Dude, she's probably from Oregon!" Hmm…not really the same, is it?

A's starting pitcher Chad Gaudin has just completed five no-hit innings. A pair of Yankee fans behind me asks who this guy is. I explain that he's only got the eighth-best ERA in the league and even cite that it's 3.23. Nick rightfully mocks me for my esoteric wisdom, but come on. Are the Red Sox really the only other team that Yankees fans recognize and vice versa?

Quick, name five pitchers who've started a game for the A's this year. Now the Royals. Now the Devil Rays. Now the Red Sox. I've proved my point. (What? You want me to name some Royals and/or Devil Rays starters? Make me.)

With two outs in the top of the sixth, A's first baseman Dan Johnson swats a long home run into the upper tank…4-0, A's. I stand and applaud proudly as the boos rain down upon poor Kei Igawa. "It's a long drop to the first level, Oakland!", says one fan from the vicinity of the two she-males I mentioned earlier. Ooh, my first death threat! And, me without my video camera to capture the moment.

"Go back to Oakland, a$$hole!", says one of the "women". Based on that city's crime rate, we'll count that as my second death threat in less than six seconds.

3:00 PM - Yankees DH Johnny Damon hits one of his patented, punk-azz 11-bounce singles up the middle to break up Gaudin's no-hitter with one out in the sixth. The home team threatens before A-Rod strikes out (natch) with two on to end the inning. The A's change pitchers after the following inning, as the pace of the game slows to a snail's…uh, pace.

Only highlight the rest of the way is Nick's inventive nickname for an attractive African-American female fan, who happened to have the rustiest, dustiest feet of anyone I've ever seen. He called her "Ashley".

(Trust me, it's funny on every level. See, there's the obvious play on words with "ashy", plus the subtle irony of the un-likelihood that a sista would be named "Ashley"…early '90s NBC sitcoms, notwithstanding). See? Every level.

Speaking of sistas…two more of them sat down next to us with the game almost over. They hadn't been there all game, but immediately proceeded to smack talk the Yankees and their fans. My favorite insult: "We (Oakland) already got seven points (sic), we goin' for 10!" It would've sucked to catch a bullet intended for them.

4:00 PM - Final Score: A's 7, Yankees 0. Just one hit for the Bronx Bombers, to boot. We leave The Stadium and join the slow-moving herd back to the subway. An overwhelmed foreign family in front of us can't seem to get the turnstile to work. The locals, smelling blood in the water, attack the "new booty" with insults and invectives, imploring them to "Just jump it already! Jesus Christ, jump!" I love this place.

On the ride back to the hotel, Nick makes mention that he saw a rat at one of the stops that was about the size of his dog. If I could have, I would have gotten off just to see it. Of course, not before making sure that this wasn't the Harlem stop.

5:00 PM - Back to the hotel and it's officially time to power down. Nick and I finish each actor's lines during A Few Good Men.

6:00 PM - Stomach's not…quite…right. A basket of fried chicken and four light beers has sustained my people for generations, so a gastric betrayal now would be most unexpected. Moments later, Nick tosses me a Vitamin Water. I take care of my 20 oz in about two seconds and, inexplicably, I'm cured. "Vitamin Water", eh? I wonder if I'll be seeing you again later tonight. (Cue foreshadowing music)

7:00 PM - Time to shower, shave and press our ersatz dress shirts for the evening ahead. It was right about now that Nick tells me how much later "last call" is in New York compared with the rest of the country. The sun is just starting to set. This evening can't…end…well.

Next: Night at the Roxbury!

Monday, July 16, 2007

"24" (My NY Trip, Part IV)

"The East Coast ain't got love for Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg?!" - Snoop Doggy Dogg

The 1995 Source Awards were fresh in my mind as I prepared to enter the belly of the beast. Twelve summers ago, a ragtag collection of West Coast rappers were met with scorn and disdain from the moment they set foot in the five boroughs.

The similarities were striking: Snoop and I both hail from Long Beach, while we both represent our colors proudly and unapologetically. Crip blue for Snoop…Oakland A's green and gold for me. Spindly Black men, both of us, with the weight of the West Coast across our slight shoulders.

Today, I'm going to New York City for the first time. Uhh…again. But, this time it counts.

24 hours from now, I could be found face down with 41+1 ("A new record!") in me.

24 hours from now, I could be 50 feet tall and knocking over buildings.

24 hours from now, I could be on my hands and knees, turning a toilet into the new Ground Zero.

"It's not about East or West…
It's about n*ggaz and b*tches…power and money… riders and punks.
Which side are you on?"
- Makaveli

7:59: 57…7:59: 58…7:59: 59…

8:00 AM - Nick'a and I are on the road. I'm armed only with my wits, my street smarts, a steely glare and some delicious coffee prepared by Nicka's wife and handed off to me in a convenient travel cup. (BTW, if she's reading this, I forgot to ask you what kind it was…just send me an email. Oh, and I loved the "crispy" granola bars that you packed for us! I'm so used to those Nature Valley bars that are like concrete to my teeth. Just include the brand in the aforementioned coffee email, please.)

Before we hit the expressway (do they call it that in Connecticut?) we stop at a bank. Here's another difference between CT and the rest of the world: All of their consumer-related buildings (banks, restaurants, Radio Shacks) look like this.

9:00 AM - Despite the fact that Connecticut is the third smallest state in the country, we still haven't made it to the train station. There's no traffic to speak of and Nick's doing at least 100 a responsible speed that won't worry his wife.

It's obvious to me that this is where the show "Lost" takes place. In another two or three years, they should reach the state line.

10:00 AM - We're on the train into NYC, after parking on the 450th floor of an adjacent parking structure. I exaggerate, but only slightly. Fortunately, our state-assigned Sherpa was able to guide us down from the mountain and into the station. We're now shoulder-to-shoulder with every New York Yankee fan in New England. Nick is one of them and…I don't know if I can trust him.

I re-position the concealed phone book over my abdomen, appropriately.

11:00 AM - The train ride is a lot more scenic in the sunshine. We pass a few hundred feet from dozens of homes and homeowners who really need a new realtor. Meanwhile, at the back of our train, a gaggle of teenage girls have managed to make my ears bleed with their machine-gun squeals of "Hey, you!", "OMG!", "I know, right?!" and "She is such a slut!"

Once upon a time, I wanted to sleep with women from that, uh…"demographic". It's amazing how much can change in 24 hours.

12:00 PM - We pass through Harlem right before we get to Grand Central Station. As an African-American, I marvel at the neighborhood's history, legacy and renewed spirit as part of its ongoing renaissance. Approaching the 125th Street stop, all I can think is "Don't stop, train. Keep going. Don'tstopdon'tstopdon'tstop."

We arrived at GCS (not sure if the locals refer to Grand Central Station that way, but in California we abbreviate everything). Our hotel was a few hundred feet from there, as we dropped off our bags with the indifferent African immigrant bellhops. Akon and Adebisi should show a little more enthusiasm for their sh*tty jobs. They'll never make it out of the field lobby with that attitude.

I bought a "MetroCard"! It entitles me to six(!) rides on the subway for only $12! And, on the other side of the card is the post 9/11 warning: "IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING", with the number of the "Terrorism Hotline" included. My initial enthusiasm is officially muted.

Overall, my first New York subway experience was uneventful. Since I learned everything I ever needed to know about them from early '90s movies, I was disappointed when I didn't see Patrick Swayze debating another, less attractive apparition over whether he was "pushed" or "fell" or "jumped". We did bump into Wesley Snipes & Woody Harrelson, though. Still trying to rob the "Money Train". We gave them each a dollar.

The Yankee Stadium subway stop is pretty much unlike any place I've seen. It opens up to a world where the well-to-do and affluent walk casually alongside the unwashed masses in an area where, under normal circumstances, none of them would be caught dead in after dark. It's all I can do to not stop and soak all the surreal in.


We're in a crosswalk, about 7/8 of the way to the other side when the light turns red. That all caps commandment came from a traffic cop, furiously waving her arms while gently chiding the young couple about 100 feet behind us. This place is awesome.

I've been to all five ballparks in California and none of them compare to the pre-game atmosphere for a regular season game here. The entire town wears a chip on their shoulder and thousands upon thousands of them are politely filing into The Stadium

Here's another difference between the coasts: In California, "heightened ballpark security" consists of an 18-year-old squeaky voiced teen halfheartedly looking inside overstuffed diaper bags with the equivalent of a keychain flashlight. At Yankee Stadium, there are three security checkpoints before you can enter.

They were digging through purses and bags at the first one, making us empty our pockets at the second and having us open our cell phones at the third. Precautions obviously inspired by the pre-match instructions during the 1991-92 feud between Missy Hyatt and Paul E. Dangerously.

Now, safely inside the bowels of Yankee Stadium (and trust me, that word has never been more applicable in the history of all that was written) we make our way to Nick's season seats. Up the ramps and past the concession stands, I try my best to appreciate the history of the team and the character of the stadium.

Unfortunately, the former is hampered by seeing dozens of children in ridiculous trash talking t-shirts that mock the Red Sox and/or trumpet "their" 20-something world championships.

With apologies to Bill Maher…New Rule: You can only "claim" a world championship for a team you actually saw win The World Series. And, while we're at it Yankee fans, there are 12 other teams in the American League besides you and Boston. Stop with the centuries-long blood war bullsh*t when everyone knows that this latest "rivalry" traces its history all the way back to Aaron Boone. All of four years ago.

Nick introduces me to "Sleepy", a short and somnambulant concessionaire who can barely see over the cash register. In fact, everyone handling the cash here today is a testament to the term "public assistance". Good to see…good to see.

We're in Section 617 with a spectacular view of the entire field. We get the last few moments of the pre-game radio show piped in as the host states that this is the best day game weather they've had all year. Hard to argue, as it's about 80 degrees with NO humidity and an actual breeze.

Could someone let The Mayor and Mother Sister know that there'll be no temperature-related race riots today?

(Fine, I'll say it…just to get it out of the way, so I can delve (and devolve) into the events of the rest of the day and night with a clear conscience. Thanks again to Mrs. Bootleg and That Nick'a Family for making this all possible. Oh, and God. Seriously, this was one of those days that could've swayed atheists. I mean…no humidity!)

12:59: 57…12:59: 58…12:59: 59…

Next: Yankees vs. A's!

The Oakland A's Monday #11

Overall: 44-48 (3rd Place, AL West)
Last (Three) Weeks: 5-13 (1-3 vs. Indians, 2-1 vs. Yankees, 1-2 vs. Blue Jays, 1-3 vs. Mariners, 0-4 vs. Twins)

And, so it ends.

The 2007 season for my intrepid Oakland A's came to its inevitable conclusion in Minneapolis, Minnesota, as the Twins swept a four game series from our heroes. At the start of play tonight, the A's are 11 ½ games behind the division-leading Angels and 10 ½ games out of the wildcard race.

Over the last 14 weeks, I've used this space to blame everyone from Bobby Crosby to Jason Kendall to Milton Bradley to the bullpen for the A's malaise. In hindsight, the proverbial bloody glove can clearly be seen in GM Billy Beane's back pocket.

A whole lot of winning and a mostly ignorant, blindly loyal fan base have kept Beane in the good graces of the 14,000 who fill up the Oakland Coliseum on a frigid Friday night. But, at some point, "the genius" needs to take responsibility for the team he put together.

This was an offense that, last year, finished ninth in runs scored and next to last in batting average, hits, and slugging percentage. No fancy sabermetric stats here, so I assume everyone can keep up.

Our best hitter (Frank Thomas) signed with the Blue Jays and he was replaced with Mike Piazza. Both men are future Hall of Famers, but Piazza hasn't consistently hit right-handed pitching since 2003 and doesn't walk enough to offset his decline in power and average. Best case scenario was a season in which Piazza provided about 50% of the offense that Thomas did in 2006.

The rest of the team was the same inept squad at the plate, just a year older. Good young players improve as they age, then peak and decline over the course of their careers. The A's once had several good young players.

Guys like Mark Ellis, Mark Kotsay and Eric Chavez are in that 29-31 age range and are about as good as they'll ever be. In fact, one could argue that the offensive decline phase has already begun for these three to varying degrees. 1B Dan Johnson is only in his third year, but he's already 27 and it's clear that his peak will be as a solid, if unspectacular hitter.

Chavez is signed through 2010, while Kotsay signed a very questionable contract extension through 2008 a season or two ago. And, we haven't even gotten around to mentioning Earth's Worst Hitter™ (.226/.261/.281) and his little brother, SS Bobby Crosby (.222/.265/.336).

Make no mistake, the starting pitching has been excellent. And, Beane should get credit for the heist of All-Star Dan Haren and the infamous "Moneyball" draft that yielded Fat Joe Blanton. The rest of the rotation has performed solidly, in spite of the injuries that led to their jobs in the first place.

But, this team finished fourth in the AL in team ERA last year. The pitching didn't need to be fixed, even with the departure of the I-told-you-he-was-overrated Barry Zito.

The offensive decline of this team was a decade-long slide starting back in 2001. Beane was able to mix and match and trade and draft for awhile, but the end result was that "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic" analogy that everyone uses too much. This 2007 offense is a dull, uninspired lot that trots out two guys who are looking like they can no longer hit major league pitching and Jason Kendall who no longer leaves any doubt that he can't

Make no mistake…this is Billy Beane's team. He found a pleasant, personable puppet in Bob Geren to "manage" this outfit, but every time you watch Kotsay or Crosby kill another rally, it's because Beane wants him out there.

He's been inexplicably spared the wrath of A's fan, thus far. And, with that kind of Teflon coating, he should consider running on the Democratic ticket in 2008.

TBG Note: I just…like JUST found out that the A's traded Kendall to the Cubs. I'm too damn excited to change any of the above! Huzzah! It's like the Emancipation Proclamation all over again!

This Week: vs. Rangers (3), vs. Orioles (3)

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Let's Play the Race Card!

Part IV of the New York Adventure should be up on Monday. Meanwhile, can I be serious for a moment…?

I'm Black and I'm a rabid baseball fan.

Those terms are mutually exclusive for most of America.

Gary Sheffield is Black and he's a baseball player.

Those terms, too, are mutually exclusive for most of America.

Doc Gooden's nephew has done it again. In an interview set to air next week with HBO's Real Sports, Sheffield makes the following claim:

"Black players are treated differently than white players, particularly at Yankee Stadium. Black players had an issue with Joe Torre. They weren't treated like everybody else. Even I got called out in a couple of meetings that I thought was unfair."

Not surprisingly, the reaction from the mostly white sports media has ranged from dismissive to offended.

I heard an example of the former on my way home from dinner last night. An ESPN Radio talking head called Sheffield a few derogatory, but FCC-friendly names and ended with the expected "Who cares what this idiot thinks?" The "offended" segment is led by Buster Olney, also from the World Wide Leader:

"Sheffield's words about Torre are sharp and vicious, whether (Sheffield) meant them to be or not. It feels like he is slinging around words recklessly -- hurtful words which, when coming from a star player like Sheffield, can label someone for life."

Let's look at Sheffield's words, again.

He's essentially saying that Joe Torre treats Black players differently than white players. Now, I consider myself something of an intelligent individual, but I fail to see the "recklessness" in Sheffield's words or how they could possibly be interpreted as "hurtful".

Once again, Sheffield isn't calling Torre a racist (in fact, in the interview, he flat out says "no" when asked that question). He's saying that his boss treats whites and Blacks differently.

Is this really that difficult of a concept for white people to grasp?

In the American workplace, men are sometimes treated differently than women, the old and experienced are sometimes treated differently than the new college hires and Blacks are sometimes treated differently than whites.

By themselves, these aren't examples of sexism, ageism or racism. But, they are the way things have been and will always be, to varying degrees.

Getting back to Buster for a minute…if there's anything the media is good for, it's falling all over themselves to find a contrarian Black example who refutes the "hurtful" claim of the first Black guy. Buster says:

"Sheffield has his perspective. So does Darryl Strawberry, an African-American who wept on the steps of City Hall after the Yankees won the World Series in 1999 and thanked Torre, in particular, for being there for him."

Just precious, isn't it? Now, for any non-sports fans reading this, if Darryl Freakin' Strawberry is ever part of anyone's rebuttal, the first guy has already won the argument. Strawberry snorted away a potential Hall of Fame career before ending up with the one team (the Yankees) that was deep enough to stash him at the end of their bench for his final five seasons.

And, in hindsight, how much did Torre really help Strawberry, who arguably has had just as much turmoil in the aftermath of his Yankees run as he did during his entire baseball career?

More from Buster:

"Derek Jeter, who -- regardless of how Sheffield defines race -- has an African-American father and a white mother, and has always had the highest regard for Torre. (It must come as a great surprise to the esteemed Charles Jeter, by the way, to hear from Sheffield that his son is not African-American. Derek Jeter "just ain't all the way black," Sheffield said.)"

One of my earliest memories of Jeter was an interview he did for USA Today's old "Baseball Weekly" (now "Sports Weekly") newsmagazine. It was in the mid-90s and, if I remember correctly, Jeter had just been called up to the Yankees. It was the usual puff piece on what a good kid he was…humble, grateful, etc.

There was a line in there about the type of music he listens to. I don't remember the exact quote, but he cited a rap group (Heavy D & The Boys, but don't quote me on that) and his reason being that they don't cuss. The reporter ended with this factoid and signed off with words to the effect of "just one more reason to like him".

Derek Jeter, like Tiger Woods almost immediately after him, has curried favor with the media as much through his tacit manipulation of the press as for his extraordinary on-field exploits. Both men go out of their way to downplay their race, which pleases the white fans and media who've long since tired of the Black athlete who actually acknowledges his race and the challenges that come with it.

In simple terms, Derek Jeter is "Black" when it suits him or a media agenda. It's the only time you'll ever see his race mentioned in a newspaper or on Sportscenter.

But, sometimes the world simply isn't "black" or "white". Olney takes a swipe at Sheffield's "just ain't all the way Black" comment, but the fact is…Jeter isn't. He's bi-racial or mulatto or whatever the hell they're called today. My mother is bi-racial and my father is Black, which makes me…uh…well, very confused at Kwanzaa.

Black people are often accused of "playing the race card" too freely over every little thing. And, if you believe that, then doesn't the converse hold true, as well? That is to say, why is every discussion or mention or debate on race almost immediately dismissed by most of America?

Yes, race plays some part in fan's perceptions of Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Terrell Owens, Mark McGwire or any number of "controversial" athletes from any sport.

It's perfectly normal, America and it doesn't make any of you racists.

Now, let's all ponder the apocalypse in a world where Gary Sheffield is leading the way.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

"And, Then There's Maude!"

Longtime readers of mine know that The Golden Girls sitcom is one of my most favorite guilty pleasures. Next to my collection of Lil' Kim fat comments and my various quips on the Huxtable Kids' multiple hues, there's probably no pop culture reference I beat into the ground more than the show about four white women coming of (old) age in 1980s Miami.

So, imagine my surprise when I found out that Bea ("Dorothy Zbornak") Arthur's seminal '70s show Maude was finally being given the season set DVD release it long deserved.

If you've read this far, then you probably know the premise: Maude was a spin-off of All in the Family (both produced by Norman Lear) and featured Edith Bunker's liberal cousin, Maude Findlay. She originally had a role as Archie Bunker's foil and was so well-received by viewers that a spin-off (which was what "prequels" are to the entertainment industry today) was the obvious next step.

Highlights - The chemistry between Arthur's character and her husband, Walter (ably played by Bill Paxton Pullman Macy) is off the charts. I'd argue that a more authentic married couple has rarely been seen on TV. The first season is a fascinating reflection of the times as several long-standing television taboos (sharing a bed, saying the word "God", just to name two) are often referenced as part of the storyline. Along the same lines, and as trite as this will sound, there's just no way a show like this could ever be made today.

Lowlights - The "political humor" isn't nearly as prevalent as you'd think (at least in season one). Most of the themes are standard sitcom fare ("Walter's Secret" is a 30 minute misunderstanding about an affair that could've been resolved in 1/6 of the time). The Adrienne Barbeau character "Carol" serves no purpose other than wearing short skirts and boobalicious blouses, with a level of acting that might've gotten her the role of The Invisible Girl in Fantastic Four: '72!. The DVD set doesn't have even one "extra"…just the shows.

Notable Episodes - "Maude's Dilemma" is probably the most famous episode of the show's six season run. It's an edgy, borderline dark look at the subject of abortion with a comedic element that's never forced or contrived. "Maude Meets Florida" introduces the viewing public to Good Times matriarch Florida Evans, while "Florida's Problem" marks the debut of John Amos as her husband, "Henry". "Maude and the Medical Profession" is a brilliant satire on hypocrisy and the Hippocratic Oath. Finally, "Maude and the Radical" deftly balances both sides of the political debate on "Black Power".

A Lot Has Changed in 35 Years - Maude's initial reaction to the news that she's pregnant was fixing herself a double scotch and gulping it down…Walter is choking on a piece of chicken, clutching his throat and gasping for air, and his best friend (a doctor, played by "Mr. Drummond" of Diff'rent Strokes fame) gives him a piece of bread "to get the food down"…John Amos' "Henry", exasperated with his wife's desire to work outside the home, threatens to punch her in the mouth…Throughout the first season, characters often mix tranquilizers with alcohol…In the first episode, there's an extended paranoid rant on the downfall of society by the token conservative character that could've doubled as the keynote speech at the 2008 Republican convention…In the season finale, we get several (several) shots of Maude in her underwear.

Hey, Isn't That… - Ed Begley, Jr. and Tom Bosley have notable one-shot cameos. Future Golden Girl Rue McClanahan has a recurring role as Maude's best friend, Vivian. She appears two or three times and her hair color magically turns from gray to brown to six shades of blonde. There's also a pretty funny scene involving Maude's reaction to finding out that Betty White will be on that night's Johnny Carson Show.

TBG Sez - Fans of All in the Family, The Golden Girls, Norman Lear or, especially, Bea Arthur, should add this to their Netflix queue. It's obviously a little frayed and dated around the edges, but not nearly as much as you'd think. Grade: B+

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

CT State of Mind (My NY Trip, Part III)

It's the calm before the storm.

I awaken on Friday, June 29 in someplace called Tolland, Connecticut. It's 8:30 AM local time with cool, overcast skies. It's also "trash day" as my first sight of scenery outside my window is my host hauling his garbage bin up his driveway.

Now, my West Coast readers aren't going to believe this…but, you know how our driveways are about the size of a supermarket parking space? Well, back east, you can actually drive in your driveway. It was like 40 football fields in length to me and every house had one!

Happy shoveling during your six months of winter, though. Suckers.

Meanwhile, here are 10 Random Things I Discovered During One Full Day in Tolland (in chronological order):

1.) I have tasted the Gates of Heaven and they're glazed with God's Goodness. We don't have Dunkin' Donuts out west, so I'm left to be teased with their commercials during NESN and YES broadcasts on my MLB Extra Innings baseball package. They've got a new key lime pie donut that, without a hint of hyperbole, must've just missed the cut when they recently re-did The Seven Wonders of the World.

It was all…kinds…of awesome, kids. My one regret is that I didn't bring a batch back with me like I did when I discovered the equally incredible ketchup-flavored Lay's in Canada last summer. Sadly, California donut shops are an endangered species, mostly owned by Koreans who take a cookie-cutter approach and offer the same eight donut types. Throw in the fact that we're the ONE state still on that ridiculous anti-carbs kick and it's obvious that we'll remain many, many miles behind our pasty, un-athletic East Coast counterparts in the department of "500 calorie fat bombs for breakfast".

2.) Yes, Dunkin' Donuts deserves two distinct discovery points. Their coffee isn't as strong as Starbucks, but it provides a more sustained synthetic shot of caffeinated adrenaline throughout the day. And, they have them on every corner!

3.) Spent the rest of the morning viewing a new DVD release. It wasn't as amazing as the key lime pie donut (came close, though), but it did help me realize two things: One, if my wife didn't control the Bootleg Bank Account, I'd spend all my money on these things. Two, watching pro wrestling with another guy is infinitely more entertaining that watching with my wife. (Fewer plot points to explain.)

4.) I forgot a few things in my haste to get away from the wife and kid. Most notably: soap. I'm one of those brand-loyal Bootleg Guys and I've been using Zest since I moved out of my parents' house and no longer needed to settle for their homemade Crisco and Pine-Sol "soap" combo. In a pinch, I had to borrow some body wash from the lady of the house. This would rank a solid second behind The Dunkin' Experience for the day. What a lather! I haven't been that clean since birth. And, the best part is that it left a moisturizing feel to every inch of my body. Curiously, I could smell the melon, but not the cucumber. I know, I know…I'm nitpicking.

5.) We hit up the Bidwell Tavern Café for lunch. Proudly established in the slave days of 1822, it was an honor to sit in the same place my great-great-great grandfather might've been lynched. They feature more than 15 flavors of chicken wings which automatically makes them my favorite restaurant in all of Coventry, CT. We split a 30 wing platter and then ordered lunch. Bad idea? Yes. Great quesadillas? YES! And, mine came with a phenomenal homemade salsa that burned my tongue like turpentine.

6.) I also forgot my A's cap for the game tomorrow. Now that genetics and my barber have conspired to cut my hair to the bone, us light-skinned bruthas need all the protection we can get from the sun. We went to a local mall and surprisingly discovered that 27 major league teams vanished or went bankrupt overnight. All that remained were the Yankees, Mets and Red Sox as these were the only team's merchandise on the shelves. Oh, and Connecticut…when your mall features eight sporting good stores and a "$1 For Everything" shop that's gone out of business, you might want to throw in the towel.

7.) After our two-lunch lunch, it was time to shop for dinner, which meant my first visit to the Big Y chain of supermarkets. Friendliest check-out girls you'll ever want to meet. And, we'll just leave it at that.

8.) My boy's wife got home from work and unlike some Mrs. Bootlegs I know, she started dinner almost immediately. Immediately! There was no "Oprah". No balancing of her checkbook. No 45 minute phone call from one of her girls to distract her, either. In my house, all of these interruptions are a regular occurrence, then the wife comes downstairs around 8:00 PM and asks, "What time do you want me to start cooking?" How can I answer her without Doc Brown and a DeLorean?! I knew I should've married white…I knew it, I knew it.

9.) Former New York Yankee John Flaherty is actually a pretty decent color commentator. He can currently be found on the YES Network.

10.) And, I was served steak! On a Friday! And, it was the way I like it! The last time Mrs. Bootleg brought me steak on a Friday was when Taco Bell screwed up my Chicken Chalupa Supreme. She never double-checks the order at the drive-thru.

Next: New York City…Yankees vs. A's…Aaron rides a subway…Jack & Cokes…Grey Goose & 7s…and an early-morning rat sandwich.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Planes, Trains & Automobiles, 20th Anniversary Edition (My NY Trip, Part II)

So, I made the flight.

A five-hour direct shot from San Diego to New York. I finished a book, watched my Living Single DVDs (don't you judge me) and paid $3.00 for an oatmeal cookie. Singular.

Oh, and I also sat between an old married couple. Wife on the window, husband on the aisle. A brief summary of their non-stop five-hour conversation:

Her: "Do you want some more chips/candy/popcorn?"
Him: "What?"

Her: "Do YOU want some MORE chips/candy/popcorn?!"
Him: (Says nothing, just sticks his hand out across my lap.)

This went on for about 290 minutes and only ended upon our descent when the old lady spilled her club soda on my crotch. This happened right in front of a flight attendant and I'm still waiting for a napkin. I don't think it's coming. Ever.

Anyways, Aaron…Welcome to New York City.

4:00 PM - Upon deplaning, it's obvious that the emotions of the locals remain raw towards all things West Coast. Residual hatred from Hit 'Em Up, perhaps? In a belated Big Apple retaliation, it appears JFK Airport hasn't been cleaned since 1967. That'll teach us Californian fruits 'n nuts a lesson.

4:05 PM - It takes a few minutes to find the "facilities" and I can honestly say that the restrooms at JFK are giving those rancid public bathrooms at the beach a run for their money. Sorry, ladies, but you'd catch crabs from these cans even if you "hovered". And, I assume all of those little square holes in the wall are where the soap dispensers used to be.

4:15 PM - I've long since left the Petri dish of pee, when I finally realize that I have no earthly idea how to get to Connecticut from New York City. My CT connection is former Bootleg co-defendant, "That Nick'a Guy". He directs me to the Ground Transportation Desk, which, fortunately, is right behind the baggage claim. Finally, something goes right for me.

5:00 PM - The first batches of baggage finally make their way across the conveyor belt. 45 minutes?! Is this normal, New York? I wanted to get indignant but, no one else was complaining and besides, Mrs. Bootleg wasn't there to get indignant for me.

5:10 PM - The Ground Transportation clerk directs me outside to catch the bus to Grand Central. And, as I immediately pass through the double doors, I'm hit with the unmistakable olfactory cocktail of homelessness, humidity and tinkle. Did I land at the Section 8 Airport by mistake?

5:15 PM - The bus stop is under a freeway, er, "expressway" overpass. (Other NYC language differences I'll have to get used to over the weekend: people stand ON line, not "in" line and a "pie" is what they call pizza. Strangely though, their word for "pie"…is "pie". Pfft…and they wonder why they lost the Bi-Coastal Rap Civil War in 19 aught 97.)

5:35 PM - For the last 20 minutes, I've been choking down exhaust fumes, fending off the assault on my wallet from five or six homeless gents and silently marveling at the number of boob tattoos I've seen in such a short amount of time. Is that a requirement for all minority women out here?

5:40 PM - Fortunately, my bus arrives before the pimps and the C.H.U.D.s and the little Asian driver Frisbees my bags into the storage bins below as if they were some sort of, uh…novelty flying discs. He's also wearing a pin that says, "Tips appreciated for great service and good advice." We're not off to a great (or good) start, Driver-san.

5:41 PM - Nick'a has informed me that if I can hit Connecticut by 8:00 PM, I'm doing OK. With over two hours to go, there's no way I miss that deadline. After all, I've done Southern California rush hour and Rush Hours 1 & 2. I can't imagine anything worse than that. (OK, I liked both Rush Hour movies, but I needed the material.)

5:45 PM - We're at Terminal 8, which I assumed to be the end of the bus' "pick up passengers" process. Imagine my surprise when we exited the shuttle area only to double back and begin (again) at Terminal 1. For the record, San Diego is the eighth largest city in America and we have TWO airport terminals. Total. And, our airport bathrooms don't look like an inside-out ass.

6:00 PM - Finally, we're on the free…damn it, expressway to Grand Central. And, physics be damned, we appear to be doing negative miles per hour at this point.

6:10 PM - I make out what appears to be Shea Stadium's upper ring of lights and the abandoned exoskeleton of what was once their World's Fair. Quite the glistening landscape you have here, New York.

6:45 PM - We hit the surface streets, which leads me to believe that we're getting close. "Streets", of course, is a relative term here as these were built narrow enough to only accommodate turn-of-the-last-century rickshaws and horses.

6:55 PM - Without any announcement, the bus stops (in the middle of the street). The driver hops off his phone book and starts randomly unloading bags. Into the street. Is this my stop? Well, since that is my bag that he just slammed to the asphalt, I'm going to say "it is now".

6:56 PM - It starts raining.

6:57 PM - Here's another NY/CA difference: the women out here in New York wear skirts to work. In California, e-v-e-r-y woman wears slacks, pantsuits or slacksuits to work. At least, I'm assuming these NY women are coming from work. They could just be sharp-dressed street walkers.

7:01 PM - Grand Central is just down the street and Nick'a is effectively my cell phone compass as he leads me towards the ticket window. And, let me tell you, that Grand Central on a weekday at 7PM is like Grand Central. It's not just a tired cliché, my friends.

7:05 PM - Nick's still on the cell phone as I'm apparently wearing my "disoriented tourist" aura with oblivious pride. I find the "information" desk and (which I never do) asked for directions to the ticket window.

"You don't get tickets here! You get them over there! Like, right behind you! You had to walk past the ticket window to get over here!"

It was like a bad pro wrestling promo. I told that anecdote to a co-worker when I returned to California and she told me that she probably would've cried.

7:06 PM - With my own eyes watering (due to the dusty conditions within) I get in line for the train to New Haven.

7:11 PM - I ask for a one-way ticket (cost: $18.50) and make the mistake of also asking the guy when the next train leaves. Viscera points upwards (in his little booth) and rhetorically asks, "What's the sign say?" Of course, the sign seemed to have every city listed except New Haven, but I wasn't going to give him the satisfaction of saying that. Now, who's the fool?

7:15 PM - I find that the next train for New Haven is leaving on track 28 at 7:37 PM. With 22 minutes to kill, I figure I should find my track, make contact with the train and then go potty. Things seem to move in hypertime around these parts.

7:25 PM - You know what Grand Central needs? More stairs. This is the only place on earth where rolling luggage is a burden, not a blessing. Paraplegics, you've been warned.

7:26 PM - Track change! The 7:37 PM to New Haven is now leaving from track 108. I'm forced to throw my bags down the stairs to save time. And, up the stairs. And, back down the stairs.

7:37 PM - The train leaves right on time and, in a shocking development, I'm actually on it. And, it's the right one!

9:45 PM - Now in New Haven, That Nick'a Guy and his lovely Nick'a Wife are there to meet me. They pay for pizza and beer while politely ignoring that whole "I've been up since 4 AM" funk I'm giving off. They're good people.

And, I'm dead tired.

Monday, July 9, 2007

New York, New York, Big City of Dreams... (Part I)

I've been back from my New York-to-Connecticut-to-New York-to-Connecticut adventure for about 10 days. The sharp-eyed amongst you might've noticed an extra "New York" in there, but it's been so long since I've posted anything, I'm sure most of you forgot that I was originally supposed to fly into Hartford back on Thursday, June 28.

And, that's when this diary begins…

4:45 AM - The World's Greatest Kitchen Pass has been authenticated, stamped, hologrammed and is in hand. With bags packed, I leave Stately Bootleg Manor on my way to the airport and an extended weekend of beer, debauchery and baseball. What could go wrong?

5:30 AM - My flight's leaving in about 50 minutes (6:20 AM) and I'm just now getting dropped off at the terminal by the Park 'n Ride shuttle guy. I tip him $5 for not once attempting to make any awkward idle chatter. Curbside check-in beckons.

(Quick aside: For the life of me, I'll never understand why more people don't take advantage of curbside check-in. There are never any lines and you're virtually assured of meeting 1 to 3 gainfully employed Negroes who carry on the tradition of the Black Sky Caps. They're like living, breathing Shirley Temple movies! Dance, Mr. Bojangles, dance!)

5:31 AM - Sky Cap: "Where you headed?"…Me: "Hartford, CT, by way of Dallas"…Sky Cap: "The 6:20 flight?"…Me: "Yep."…Sky Cap: "That's been cancelled, you'll have to go inside."

And…here we go!

5:35 AM - At the American Airlines counter, I'm met with a series of unwieldy lines that seem to snake in eight different directions. Anyone remember that old Tron arcade game from, like, 500 years ago? Remember the un-winnable light cycle sequence? No? It was based on the movie, people! Y'know…Tron! TRON!!! THE ARCADE GAME!!! ARCADES!!!

5:40 AM - Knowing full well that whichever line I select will surely be (or become) the slowest, I'm five minutes into not moving when an AA employee (who looks and sounds like The Snapple Lady) shouts at the gathered masses, "If you're flying through Dallas/Ft. Worth, you should strongly consider going home and rescheduling for tomorrow or Saturday. No one scheduled to fly on any flight through DFW will be leaving today due to "weather" in the Dallas area. We have three days of cancelled flights backlogged and those passengers have priority."

5:41 AM - As most of you know, I'm not a fan of flying, so my first thought is, "This is just like Final Destination. Maybe, I'm not supposed to be on an airplane today." But, then the thought of "fate" hunting me down for the next 90 minutes didn't seem too intriguing. So, while everyone else in line was on their cell phones trying to get through to someone at American or Expedia or Orbitz, I called the ONE person who was put on this earth to solve the most unsolvable customer service crisis: Mrs. Bootleg.

5:42 AM - She picks up on the third ring. I brief her on the situation and inform her that, all around me, people are trying and failing to reach American Airlines directly. Her response: "I'll get through. Don't get out of line." I'll be in Connecticut by sundown, I think to myself.

Y'see, kids, my wife was blessed with an inherent, incessant "nagging" gene. In men folk, it's called a "tenacious bulldog spirit". In women, it's…well, it's just bitchy. Ladies, help me out here…you know what I'm talking about, right?

6:00 AM - Naturally, my line hasn't moved much more than a midget's shoe size, when the wife (height: 4'8") calls back: "I can't get through to American. My call just dropped off."

What the…? I mean, I know that she has to get to work and get Kid Cameron up and ready for day care, but I'm trying to get out of town for a vacation from these people! Doesn't she realize how important this is? Why won't she keep trying?!

"I'll keep trying.", she says.

6:20 AM - Mrs. Bootleg calls back and she has an American Airlines rep on the other line. (How awesome is that? Hundreds and hundreds of people are trying to get through and not only is my wife successful, but then she puts the AA phone monkey on hold.)

I'm told I can get a flight to JFK Airport in New York that leaves at 7:45 AM. Obviously, that's not Hartford, but technically I'm not even supposed to be allowed to fly out today. (Y'know, if Kurt Russell's free…and, we know he is…I think this could be the plot for his next "Escape From…" movie.)

Mrs. Bootleg seals the deal as I have managed to attain an unattainable flight to the east coast. I rule.

6:21 AM - Meanwhile, the line is my crisis of the moment. I'm standing in the line for passengers to reschedule their cancelled flights, which still isn't moving. A few counters over, there's an even longer line that's checking in for all regularly scheduled departures. Once again I ask: "Why don't more people take advantage of curbside check-in?"

6:22 AM - I get out of line (and if you can't see where this is going…) and race outside.

6:25 AM - Sky Cap: "Where you headed?"…Me: "New York…JFK."…Sky Cap: "Weren't you on the 6:20 to Dallas?"…Me: "Yeah."…Sky Cap: "You're not supposed to be able to fly out today. I'm not authorized to check you in. You'll have to go inside."

Just to recap: A minimum-wage curbside luggage guy doesn't have "check-in" authority, but a slightly-more-than-minimum-wage indoors luggage guy does, apparently.

6:30 AM - And, I'm back to where I started an hour ago: at the end of the line and now, my rope. But, this is the "regularly scheduled flight" line and at least we're moving.

6:40 AM - Hmmm…we haven't really moved all that much.

6:45 AM - Still, not moving.

6:50 AM - Just then, the same Snapple Lady who was telling everyone to go home, was asking for all passengers on the 7:45 to JFK to raise their hands. Excitedly, I shoot mine up. Looking around, there appears to be about a dozen of us who will now get preferential, expedited treatment right through check-in!

7:00 AM - 45 minutes until takeoff and all the JFK passengers are still in line…myself included. Umm…still waiting for the "preferential" and/or "expedited" and/or "treatment" here, guys.

7:15 AM - The Snapple Lady has been through a few more times and keeps asking who the JFK people are. Finally, a young woman asks her what we've all been thinking, "Why are you asking us if you're not going to bother helping us?" Mee-YOW! This kitten has claws!

Her reply: "I'm just getting a head count." What…?! "Hey, all you starving people that haven't eaten in a week: who's in line for prime rib? OK…7, 8, 9…good. I'm just getting a head count. What's a few more minutes, right? Now, don't y'all go and start eating each other!"

7:20 AM - Time's running out, but at least I'm finally at the counter. I walk up to an obviously disinterested employee and, before I can blurt a word, she tells me, "This if for electronic check-in only."

A quick credit card swipe at the kiosk and whaddaya know…my new reservation ain't in the system. The AA employee rolls her eyes as I explain this to her. She begins to loudly, forcefully pound her keyboard one button at a time until it finally shows up. She's a real pearl, AA. Don't let Delta steal her away!

7:25 AM - I get into the security line with 20 minutes to spare. A sign reads, "10 minutes from this point". It's obvious that someone can't spell "miles".

7:30 AM - I'm literally seconds away from becoming one of those people who tries to cut in front of everyone in line with the "my flight's about to leave" speech, when The Snapple Lady sees me and directs me to the security line for first class passengers and flight crew. She was like an angel in ill-fitting polyester pants.

7:35 AM - I'm through security and power walking to my gate when I see that my flight has been delayed until 8:00 AM. At the gate, I'm handed my ticket, which I'm told was the last one available.

Then, the lady looks at her monitor, looks at me and asks, "Weren't you supposed to be on the 6:20 AM flight to Dallas?"

To be continued…