Friday, May 30, 2008

A Lost Addendum

A friend just sent me a link to a fascinating interview with Harold Perrineau ("Michael"). Truth be told, I agree with pretty much everything he says. His character was pretty poorly written this season with his demise tied to the absurd notion of the island determining when it's time to die.

He also has some interesting points on the depiction of Black characters (both on the show and within the entertainment industry, in general) which I'm sure most people will trivialize with their usual, lazy "playing the race card" appellation, but dude makes sense.

Lost - "There's No Place Like Home, Parts 2 & 3"

Ahh, spoilers!

What Aaron Liked: Of the two biggest developments from last night's season finale, I can honestly say that I didn't see the Penny/Desmond reunion coming. At all. I generally mock this show's paid puppets at and when they squish all over the slow-motion sentimental pap, but it was beautifully handled with a completely drained Desmond lighting up at the sound of her voice. Speaking of which, the whole rescue sequence – with all of its fits and starts and false hope – was excellent. I especially enjoyed Jeff Fahey's "Frank Lapidus" who lent some authentic urgency to the clichéd "…we're outta gas, we're goin' down…!" pilot role he was saddled with. The fight sequence between Keamy and Sayid was a kick and I gotta say I'm equally digging the futuristic silky-haired Sayid tryin' to look all sexy and swarthy while assassinating sh*t. Ooh, and I can't type another word without mentioning the lines of the season, which involved Ben gently chiding Locke for his ignorance in exotic flowers and Locke's "I don't know what they look like" response.

What Aaron Didn't Like: The whole "Jeremy Bentham" red herring was ridiculous. I guess I understand the need for anonymity within the context of the show, but it still felt like a cheap two-hour tease designed to artificially amp up what was already a compelling storyline. As for the big reveal of the coffin's inhabitant…meh. Once Ben emerged from the darkness of the funeral parlor and began his exposition, I turned to Mrs. Bootleg and called Locke. Believe me, I'm not bragging – hell, I'd been wrong about that eventual twist all season – it just came across as a little too obvious at that point. Elsewhere, I'm really hoping the writers find a way to make Sun just a wee bit more convincing in her new role as "Sun Bradshaw Layfield". So far, she's been awful. The "pissed-off widow" bit just doesn't click with me. I'm looking forward to the exploration of the "bad things" that happened on the island after the Oceanic Six left. In fact, I hope it includes a long overdue thinning out of tertiary characters like Rose, Bernard, Jin and Michael. Really, if Rose has nothing better to do that be the "peanut police"… Finally, Lost writers…can you please resolve the Walt storyline before turns 30? What are they feeding that giant? He's like the Black Apache Chief.

Verdict: It's a strong finish to a very strong season, in my mind. I keep hearing that the narrative will change next year, as the "flash forwards" become present time and the post-Oceanic Six island serving as the flashbacks. That works for me. There are still enough significant loose ends from the first two seasons that remain frustratingly unresolved, even as new questions arise, so for all the nitpick b*tching that I do…I'll keep right on watchin'.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Our Minor League Weekend

Squeezed in between a child's Chuck E. Cheese birthday party and a Memorial Day barbecue under cool, drizzly (in San Diego…in late May?!) skies, the Bootleg Family spent Sunday in the Southern California enclave of Lake Elsinore – about 45 minutes north of San Diego.

Lake Elsinore is one of those cities that wants to be more than the dusty little cow town that it is when, in actuality, they should be content with the only two things they're known for: (1) its enormous outlet mall and (2) their minor league baseball team.

We sampled a taste of both during our visit to this side dish of a real city.

I've been driving by the outlet mall for almost 13 years during my trips up and down I-15 to visit my family without ever actually stopping to shop there. I dunno…I guess the urge to pay 2% less than retail for factory irregular, overstocked and/or out of season merchandise just never appealed to me.

But, that's why I have a wife.

Mrs. Bootleg abandoned me almost immediately after we arrived, while I was left with the boy. He stumbled, half-asleep, through the second-rate toy store under the KB Toys banner until he came across their extensive collection of replica NASCAR crap. On the one hand, this did explain the insane amount of ill-fitting denim shorts on all the white male shoppers. On the other hand, I now knew how my father felt when he explained to me why I couldn't have that Dukes of Hazard confederate flag t-shirt when I was 10. (True story: I actually ended up with a shirt that featured a cheesecake shot of Daisy Duke practically humping a pick-up truck…I've always suspected my old man would've preferred I got the Klan flag one.)

Still, $7.00 for a NASCAR #24 "shaker racer" was a small price to pay for a few hours of peace n' quiet from my kid's pie hole. And, besides, NASCAR just let one of us in!

I'd really only wanted to visit one store while I was there. Since the mid-'90s, I've been about as brand loyal as a Black man can be to Nike without being an athlete, so I had to hit up their outlet store. What I hadn't realized were just how many other minorities enjoyed brand names at negligibly-reduced prices.

With a very light rain from earlier in the day giving way to a few clouds, the Nike store scene bore a frightening resemblance, I'd guess, to New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina – cluttered displays, unfolded shirts that weren't anywhere near a hanger and not ONE pair of size 11 cross-trainers. Just barbaric. Savagery.

The wife reappeared with two armloads of Gymboree gear for the boy and some assorted shorts for her. At 4'8", I assume it was one-stop shopping.

Afterwards, we drove over to the Lake Elsinore Diamond to see the Lake Elsinore Storm play the Lancaster JetHawks – the Single-A minor league affiliates of the San Diego Padres and Boston Red Sox (boo!), respectively.

My son's obsession with baseball has become something of a double-edged sword for me. As a fellow fanatic, I will never get tired of watching random games from the MLB Extra Innings package on TV with the boy and explaining, despite Vladimir Guerrero's shoulder-length dreads, that he is not a girl (anymore). Unfortunately, the cost of attending a game with the wife and the boy has turned me from a guy who never used to b*tch about those things into one who ain't spending $30/each for nose-bleed seats to watch the miserable Padres slog through another 18 innings of JV National League excrement.

The alternative: three seats purchased 30 minutes before first pitch (four rows behind home plate) for $10/each and $5 to park the Bootlegmobile.

Make no mistake, though…minor league baseball is, well, "minor league". There are only two umpires, so the bang-bang calls are almost always wrong. The PA announcer was standing on the dugout between innings to hype the crowd and offering up play-by-play during the game for those of us who weren't paying attention. And, the use of fart sound effects that followed every hit from the visitors was…well, yeah.

But, I still had a blast and, more importantly, so did the boy.

We feared he was scarred for life after an unfortunate and frightening encounter with the San Diego Zoo's harmless panda mascot at the age of 12 months. On Sunday, we had to stop a potty-run short so he could high-five the Storm's colorfully deformed "Thunder" mascot. He's still clinging to the free program he received and, best of all, the concessions serve up warm chocolate chip cookies that are about the size of my son's head (or just a tick smaller than mine). For just a buck, they were like diabetic pecks on the cheek from Jesus.

My mom's house in Ontario is about 40 minutes north of Lake Elsinore and just a 15 minute drive from two more California League teams. How many times d'ya think I can get up there without my mom knowing?

Friday, May 23, 2008

Dead Willie Walking

I'd been meaning to get to matter of New York Mets manager Willie Randolph and the gasoline-infused firestorm that his innocuous comments on race created. Instead, m'man Tom Daniels penned a spectacular masterstroke on the subject right here.

Personally, I don't agree with some of Tom's larger points – which, I'll hopefully be able to articulate when I've got some time – but, it's an otherwise balanced perspective from a New Yorker whose got an intimate understanding of the NY fan base.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

TBG's 2007-08 TV Report Card: Everybody Hates Chris

Grade: C-

Thoughts: If I know my readership, I'm gonna make an educated guess and assume few of you have ever seen this show. Still, you might remember that it had a little bit of buzz prior to its debut on the old UPN network back in 2005. Its first season was deservedly praised as one of the most accurate television depictions of Black family life in recent memory. As with most promising African-American themed shows, however, the networks have a way of manipulating them into a standard slapstick formula in hopes of reaching a wider audience (white folk) by presenting Blacks in the same way they've been shown on TV since the jive-time '70s.

The third season shakily followed the show's original premise (comedian Chris Rock relives his childhood in Brooklyn's Bed-Stuy community, providing narration for each episode) but the once-dysfunctional charm and chemistry between the cast members was inexplicably de-emphasized. Instead, nearly every episode featured "Chris" (Tyler James Williams) getting himself into a dilly of a pickle with a secondary storyline, given about two minutes to develop, involving one of his parents or siblings.

And, after three years, the only interesting character, besides Chris, is his tightwad father "Julius" (Terry Crews). The other two kids are no longer cute enough to mask their crappy acting (same thing happened to all the Cosby kids), while Tichina Arnold's "Rochelle" character is the single most annoying presence in all of entertainment. She's essentially regressed into a louder version of the "Pam" harpy she played on Martin 15 years ago and become an embarrassing stereotype of the sassy Black mother.

Season's Best Episode: "Everybody Hates the First Kiss"…sometimes Chris can win, as he manipulates his way into a party in a pretty funny attempt to kiss his grade school sweetheart. The strong back-up story involving a $5 debt owed to Chris' brother Drew was also effective.

Season's Worst Episode: "Everybody Hates Being Cool"…stop me when the clichés become too much. Chris is suspended from school for smoking, but can't tell his parents! His kid sister finds out and demands hush money (just like Dee from What's Happening)! Rochelle is jealous of a gift given to her husband by an old flame…how far will she go to display her displeasure?!

In or Out for Next Season: In. The move to Friday nights pretty much ensures that the fourth season will be the final season, so I'll watch for a few weeks to see how they shake things up with Chris in a new school.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

TBG Eats: Taco Bell's New Value Menu Food

My Current Weight: 178.2 lbs.

I'm officially setting the bar at 185 lbs. If I pass it, then I'm retiring from fast food reviews forever. I mean, Jesus Christ, it's all I've been eating lately. Where's Mrs. Bootleg and how'd she slip past the kitchen sentry?

So, I got an email from m'man Smitty over the weekend. In it, he broke the news that the Bacon Club Chalupa – God's fat bomb – had been removed from the Taco Bell menu. I feared that this would happen. Last Friday afternoon, while driving 'round town, I noticed ginormous window placards in my neighborhood TB that advertised the newest additions to their Big Bell Value Menu.

These were the same windows that last week trumpeted the delicious union of ubiquitous farm animals – pig n' chicken – with a warm chalupa shell and club sauce.

Well, "all good things" as they say…let's regrettably move on.

Taco Bell has added several new items to their already awesome Value Menu. Unfortunately, I can't tell y'all if anything was actually removed from the menu to make room as my cheap eat staples (the beef and potato burrito and the grande soft taco) are still on there.

For whatever reason, TB is really pushing their 89-cent Cheesy Double Beef Burrito. You've surely seen the ad spot, which is kind of funny through the first viewing, then exponentially less humorous with each subsequent airing:

I dropped $2.88 on three of the new items.

Big Taste Taco - There's nothing more shame-inducing than shouting a ridiculously named fast food menu item through a drive-thru speaker to an employee who wasn't briefed before she started her shift and is hearing said ridiculous name of this menu item for the first time. ("You want a WHAT taco?"; "(To her supervisor, with speaker still on) Do we have a Big Great Taco?")

This is TB's standard Soft Taco Supreme with the sour cream replaced by "jalapeño sauce" and a few crispy red tortilla strips sprinkled within. It's juuuuuuust OK. The sauce doesn't have any appreciable kick, while the tortilla strips make for an odd, but inoffensive texture, throughout. Unspectacularly edible. Grade: 2.5 (out of 5)

Cheesy Double Beef Burrito - According to Taco Bell, this features "twice the seasoned ground beef" of their regular burritos. Bullshyte. There's certainly a 2:1 rice to beef ratio in this thing, though. The nacho cheese sauce is a nice touch and mine was apparently ladled out at a temperature of 200 degrees. TB claims there was "red sauce" in there, too, but damned if I could taste it. Continuing the theme, this was a definite "meh" and in no way will it unseat its beef and potato-packed brother. Grade: 2.5

3 Layer Nachos - The three layers are: cheese sauce, refried beans and red sauce. All things considered, for 79 cents, you get a fair amount of faux Mexican fare here. The red sauce, though, appears to be just TB's mild pre-packeted taco sauce spooned out by the gallon. They ain't exactly re-inventing the wheel, but it works. Grade: 3

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

"Who Are These F'ing Guys?" (The Oakland A's Monday #26)

Not sure why I don't quote 1989's Major League more often.

Anyways, much to Mrs. Bootleg's chagrin, my four-year-old son is becoming something of a baseball addict. Thanks to MLB Extra Innings, we get five or six A's games a week. More often than not, these games have been starting at 7:05PM, which means (1) a truncated bath for the boy and (2) his fully nude sprint out of the bathroom, down the stairs and in my lap to watch "God's Team" – green is for His earth, gold is for His sun (or Son) – vanquish another foe.

He can identify most of the A's roster by the numbers on their backs and – I sh*t you not – has been pouring over the A's 2008 media guide in what I can only assume is an attempt to link the grainy black-and-white thumbnail headshots with their jersey numbers.

The downside is that his favorite player is, ugh…this guy. Then again, in 1985 – the season between our trade of Rickey to the Yankees and the official start of the Canseco Era – I was firmly aboard the …Dave Kingman Express. I'm sure that Jalen's player preference will get a whole lot Black, er…uh, better.

So, the point of this post is simple: since my son knows more about the 2008 Oakland A's than you, I thought I'd offer up a primer. They're playing the Red Sox this weekend, which means actual A's highlights on Sportscenter. (I know!) And, you'll need to know the names of the players that Bob Ley and Chris McKendry will be mispronouncing on Sunday morning.

Kurt Suzuki - Catcher

Who Dis? - This 24-year-old Hawaiian was handed the keys to the pitching staff after our trade of that grittily intense no-talent corpse, Jason Kendall. At the time of the trade, Kendall was hitting .226/.261/.281. This year, after a hot start, Suzuki is hitting .236/.297/.280. He's made two huge, ridiculously stupid baserunning gaffes in the past two games, so don't be surprised if you see him falling for that "fake to third, throw to first" thing later this week. Actually a pretty good catcher, who's already getting too much credit for the pitching staff's talent.

Untrue Fun Fact That's Sure to Fool Your Friends: Son of former WWE superstar Ricky 'The Dragon' Steamboat.

Daric Barton – First Base

Who Dis? - Originally acquired in the Mark Mulder trade from St. Louis, along with former ace Dan Haren and the sometimes solid/sometimes execrable Kiko Calero. A preseason ROY candidate, Barton's gotten away from the sweet doubles stroke that got him to the show, instead attempting to violently torque every pitch out of the yard. Not nearly as terrible in the field as he showed in the first few weeks. Still brutal on foul pop-ups, but adequate at digging throws out of the dirt and owns a strong, accurate arm.

Untrue Fun Fact That's Sure to Fool Your Friends: His #10 jersey is haunted by the similarly left-handed, no-power presence of Scott Hatteberg's ghost.

Jack Hannahan – Third Base

Who Dis? - Currently keeping the position warm until Eric Chavez recovers from his three off-season surgeries and resumes flailing at 3-1 pitches at his eyes, killing rallies left and right. Extreme uppercut swing that's vaguely reminiscent of Phil Plantier's three-week Major League peak in 1991. Capable of the occasional spectacular play in the field, but offensively he's the very definition of a quadruple-A player. The Rob Ducey Society welcomes you!

Untrue Fun Fact That's Sure to Fool Your Friends: His last name is spelled the same way forwards and backwards.

Ryan Sweeney – Centerfield

Who Dis? - Came over in the Nick Swisher trade after spending two unspectacular seasons for the White Sox's Triple-A squad. Perceived to be a disappointment due to his absence of power, but he's been pretty damn OK as a bottom of the order annoyance to pitchers. Too much smiling, an inability to grow facial hair and NO discernable football background will keep him from ever earning Darin Erstad Status, despite so-so numbers this season that eerily mirror Erstad's so-so career BA/OBP/SLG.

Untrue Fun Fact That's Sure to Fool Your Friends: Often mistaken for Caucasian, but actually an extremely light-skinned African-American like two of the five Huxtable kids and all eight of their jazz-playing grandfathers.

Dana Eveland – Starting Pitcher

Who Dis? - Jowly lefthander was part of the Dan Haren haul from Arizona this winter. Often compared to David Wells (fat southpaw) which is similar to the way white or black basketball players are, respectively, only ever compared with white or black basketball players. Eveland doesn't have Wells' command (4 BB/9 innings) or workhorse-osity (averages less than six innings/start). Height of unintentional comedy was watching him get thrown out at home during interleague play last weekend. His "slide" was akin to cow tipping.

Untrue Fun Fact That's Sure to Fool Your Friends: Took his name from a female hiker he killed back in 1978.

Greg Smith – Starting Pitcher

Who Dis? - Another lefty who was part of the Haren trade. He can hit the high 80s on the gun, but his most effective pitch is an awesome change-up. Repertoire includes a Jimmy Key-esque pick-off move, so try'n see it before the league catches on. Single most boring name for an Oakland A's player since the heyday of Mike Davis in the 1980s, Billy Williams in the 1970s and Bob Johnson in the 1960s.

Untrue Fun Fact That's Sure to Fool Your Friends: Greg Smith invented the question mark.

Monday, May 19, 2008

TBG Reviews: KFC's Toasted Wraps

I'm not really sure if I ever envisioned a mission statement for this blog, but the one thing I've learned is that the fast food reviews are, for whatever reason, more popular than anything else I write. It's gotten to the point where I'm eating any new menu item, even if it's something I wouldn't usually order, just so it can get the TBG treatment.

Sorry, heart.

Back when I was a kid, KFC was still "Kentucky Fried Chicken". This was a time when "Fried" could appear in a restaurant's name (and "sugar" could appear in the name of popular cereals). In the late '80s/early '90s, Kentucky Fried Chicken became KFC and, in the decades to follow, they'd go back and forth between full name and acronym.

I haven't regularly eaten KFC since my first year at San Diego State. At the time, the thought of a major restaurant chain on a college campus was still just an awesome novelty. And, since they took my bare-minimum meal plan card, I developed quite the taste for the two-piece white meat n' biscuit breakfast.

After college, I'd like to say my tastes…graduated (Eh? Eh?) to more sophisticated food, but what can I say…$1.29 for anything at any restaurant will get me to go in at least once.

KFC's "Wraps" are positioned to steal away sales from McDonald's own inexplicably popular line of tortilla-enveloped chicken strips. The gimmick is simple: KFC "toasts" their wraps, while McDonald's doesn't.

I ordered one at the drive-thru window and even by the disinterested teen employee standards of the fast food industry, this was some sloppy work. Almost all of the contents had fallen out of my Wrap, so while waiting at a red light, I cobbled everything back together.

With my very first bite, I hit the unmistakably slimy texture of chicken fat. The deep-fried strip was already splintering into dry strands as I spit what I'd bit out the car window.

I've had better starts to snacks.

The chicken didn't have that KFC "11 herbs and whatever…" taste and, not surprisingly, the warmed-over lettuce, partially-melted cheddar cheese and watery ranch sauce added nothing to it. You really do get what you pay for, I s'pose, Blech.

Grade: -5 (out of 5)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Self-Congratulatory Out-of-Context Awesomeness

Remember that baseball preview that I was a part of over at Tailgate Crashers? Well, we're around the one-quarter mark for the 2008 season and I thought it would be fun to take a look at how some of my predictions are holding up:

"I really don't think the A's are going to be as bad as a lot of people think."

You'd better believe that I caught a lot of flak around the Crashers' water cooler over this one…but, who's flakking now? Your heroes are in the thick of the AL West race, running neck-and-neck with an injury-depleted Angels team. The pitching has been exceptional, so far, and the offense is just slightly better than league average. Baseball Analysts had a terrific post the other day on whether or not the A's could keep this up.

"[The Diamondbacks are] going to be scary good this year."

What's that? All the knowledgeable east coast guys at Tailgate Crashers who have ESPN's programming and news coverage tailor-made to meet the needs of their teams didn't see this coming? Really? They've outscored opponents by 50 runs this year and feature a Dan Haren/Brandon Webb/Micah Owings threesome in the rotation that's as good as any in the game…even if you have to stay up until 10:05PM to see them. Zing!

"The glorious decline [of the Yankees] has begun. Same team as last year that lost over 1,000 player days to injury in '07 and this already old team is just another year older and even more susceptible to injury. I call mid-80s in wins for them."

Any team that gives a multi-year deal to a 36-year-old catcher kind of deserves it when said catcher goes down after 18 games, kids. The rotation is home to just one dependable starter, the bullpen is only three deep and Derek Jeter has been pretty damn average. Sure, they'll be better when A-Rod is healthy and Cano won't be this bad all year, but still…I'm setting the over/under at 85 for wins.

Now, once more with feeling, kneel before Zod!

Friday, May 16, 2008

TBG Reviews: McDonald's Southern Style Chicken Biscuit

Oh, like you didn't know this was coming.

But, before we get to the grub, let's spend a quick minute on the marketing campaign.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw two different commercials for this new menu item. The first featured an African-American couple sitting in the McDonald's drive-thru, wistfully remembering the chicken biscuits that "momma" used to make. The second commercial featured nothing but white and Asian twenty-somethings with the not-so-subtle message of "it's not as weird as you think".

I couldn't find either of the spots online, but I found a couple of other ones on YouTube that may or may not be legit. Here's the "Black" ad:

And, here's the "everyone else" ad:

I haven't seen either of these commercials on actual TV, but that doesn't change my point: Black people weren't raised on chicken biscuits for breakfast. The only place I ever saw this meat-n-yeast union (yes, I know we're talking biscuits, but it rhymes) was at Hardee's – a prominent fast food chain throughout the south and Midwest.

These are also terrible, terrible ads for a million more reasons than I could come up with here – so, let's do this thang.

McDonald's has a chicken biscuit and that's all it is…an all-white meat piece of breaded chicken breast crammed into one of their ubiquitous biscuits. It was served up blazing hot and the biscuit wasn't at all the chalky brick that Burger King and Jack in the Box break out for their breakfast sandwiches. The chicken was lightly seasoned and soft, if a bit overly processed.

By themselves, the chicken and biscuit had their own distinct flavors. Together, I'm not sure it worked. McDonald's biscuits have always had a salty aftertaste and it kind of the overpowered the poultry, which probably could've used a little more flavor, anyway.

The whole thing was edible, but I doubt it's something I would order again. It's too small to be a "heavy" breakfast and, consequently, it doesn't fill you up as easily as you might think. And, yes, I got the panty liner-shaped hash browns with mine.

I'm not going to live much longer, am I?

Grade: 2.5 (out of 5)

TBG's 2007-08 TV Report Card: The Office

Grade: C+

Thoughts: Judging from the bowls full of hot, steamy praise this show gets, you'd think it was still one of the most perfectly satirical sitcoms on the air. And, it is still eminently watchable…it's just that The Office has become something of a one-note joke. Clueless boss Michael Scott is still saying stupid things, the neurotic Dwight Schrute falls for every prank and is oblivious to his own goofiness, Jim Halpert is the goofball with a heart of gold. It's been the same schtick for four years, with changes that were predictable (Jim and Pam finallyOMGOMG hook up); exasperating (Dwight's pursuit of Angela) or preposterous (Ryan's power-mad executive arc that ended with a terrible drug habit/arrested for fraud cliffhanger).

Season's Best Episode: "Dinner Party"…this one was slammed by a lot of fans, but I thought the miniature plasma screen TV bit and the interminable wait for the food was terrific. Michael's brilliant con job to get Jim and Pam to come was only matched by Jim's deadpan realization that he'd been had.

Season's Worst Episode: "Night Out"…I really was looking forward to the forced evolution of Ryan's "temp to the top floor" character this season. But, he was written to be an unlikable prick from the get-go and would grow more and more repulsive before bottoming out (at the time, anyway) with a descent into cocaine addiction. Woefully unfunny, despite the million or so midget jokes here.

In or Out for Next Season: In...but, the expected 2009 spinoff can kiss my Black ass.

Lost - "There's No Place Like Home, Part 1"

What Aaron Liked: After four years, I'm glad that we're finally starting to dig into the myriad of contrived connections between the survivors. The writers have gone to great, strained lengths to let us know that Locke worked for Hurley's box company, Libby gave Desmond a boat and Shannon's father was in the car that hit Jack's future wife, etc. Now that Jack knows he has a sister – and who it is – it helps explain his eventual breakdown more than any of this season's booze-n-Jack's dead dad flashbacks ever did. The press conference scene was interesting and I'm certain this isn't the last we've seen of the "media's" involvement. The "How come you guys look so good after being on an island for 4 months?" inquiry and the questions regarding Kate's "pregnancy" have me thinking that some intrepid scribe will uncover the truth sometime in season five. And, sorry, but I loved Cheech Marin's brief cameo as Hurley's dad. The incredibly inappropriate "island" theme for the birthday party and Marin's awkward lunch suggestions were gold.

What Aaron Didn't Like: I wish I hadn't used "contrived" already, because I defy even the most ardent Lost lemming to come up with a better word for Sun's improbable hostile takeover of her dad's company. Even using the "dumb it down" curve for the masses, any eighth grader can tell you that's not how the business world works. Now, I know that Hurley is everyone's sweaty teddy bear, but enough with the numbers, already. I'll concede that they might be the key to whatever "endgame" is planned, but his tired freak outs and jiggly panic runs into the jungle or up the street are pretty played out. The Locke-n-Ben connection continues to run hot and cold for me. I appreciate the overt power struggle between the two, but how many times is Locke going to be surprised to learn that Ben wasn't honest about something or that he knows more than he's letting on?

Verdict: M'man Joe Reid has a review over at Low Resolution that's worth a look. I liked this episode, but echo Joe's thoughts on all the tension surrounding characters that we know are going to survive (for a little while longer, anyway). Each of the three previous season finales has been more awesomely outrageous than a plate of Southwestern Pizza Fingers, so you know where I'll be in two weeks. Uh, from yesterday. Assuming you're reading this today. May 16th.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Rob Dibble, Kevin Kennedy & Too Much Time on My Hands

So, a couple of weeks ago, I was driving around on an off Friday and listening to XM's "Home Plate" channel. It's basically sports talk radio with baseball as the 24/7 topic of discussion. It's really not very good, as all the hosts are graduates from the Clichéd School of Baseball Analysis, with a heaping helping of ex-jock bravado thrown in for the knuckle-draggers who think "You never played the game" is an effective retort for any sports argument.

But, it is baseball.

If you've read this far, you probably know that Rob Dibble is a former relief pitcher – most notably for the 1990 "Nasty Boys" bullpen in Cincinnati that won, uh, "something" that year – and Kevin Kennedy is an ex-big league manager who had stops in Texas and Boston before settling in with the FOX Network.

A few weeks ago, they were discussing the subject of rookie entitlement. I believe that was the day that Tampa Bay signed 3B Evan Longoria to a six-year contract after only his sixth day with the parent club.

Predictably, these fossilized dinosaurs were aghast that an unproven commodity like Longoria could command such a lucrative deal.

To illustrate a point on how undependable rookies are, Kennedy shared a story from his time as manager of the Triple-A Albuquerque Dukes – then, an affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Now, it's been a few weeks, so you'll have to cut me some slack as most of this is paraphrased, but the one thing I vividly remember is that Kennedy began his anecdote with:

"This guy was a young first baseman in the Dodgers system and it was NOT Eric Karros."

The gist of it was that Dodgers' first baseman Eddie Murray had gotten hurt, so this mystery player was called up from AAA. As Kennedy tells it, the player went "something like 1 for 11" before being sent back down to the minors. When he returned, he b*tched about Dodgers' manager Tommy Lasorda, his lack of playing time and how he knew he was ready for the bigs. Kennedy says that he chewed this player out for his insolence and the anonymous infielder never made it back to The Show.

I'm not gonna lie…I was curious.

Eddie Murray signed a free agent contract with the Dodgers and played there from 1989-1991. I thought Kennedy had identified the year in question as '91, so I started there. Unfortunately, Murray played in 153 games that year, so in a 162-game season, it obvious that he was never on the 15-day disabled list.

In fact, Murray played in 160 and 155 games, respectively, during his first two years in Los Angeles, so I'm immediately ready to call bull-plop on Kennedy. Casual searches for ballplayers who went "something like 1 for 11" over the course of Murray's time with the Dodgers didn't yield any exact matches, save for a guy who went 1 for 14 in 1991.

And, yes, he was a first baseman, who was called up from Triple-A. He was Eric Karros.

Still, it's not a perfect fit.

All of Karros' at-bats that year occurred in September, so it's reasonable to assume that he was part of the annual roster expansion call-ups that teams make every year.

Karros played in just 14 games – only starting two – while primarily serving as a late-inning defensive replacement…for Eddie Murray.

Finally, Karros finished the year with the Dodgers and was installed as the everyday first baseman the following season – never returning to the minors.

So, what does any of this mean – save for the last six words of the post's title, which we've already established?

It means I've stalled long enough. I should probably go home and see if the wife and the boy are asleep yet.

Catching the Gay

As the proud nephew of my lesbian aunt and her partner, this lightly-read blog heartily endorses the California State Supreme Court's decision today.

I'm sure the usual fringe lunatics will pour trillions of dollars into efforts to overturn the ruling – after all, it's been exactly 60 years since their grandparents were disheartened to hear that interracial marriages were no longer outlawed in this state. How'd that work out, hatemongers?

The TBGaithersburg Travel Diary – Part 5

6:10 PM - We opt to walk the concourse and, not surprisingly (yet, still depressingly) the most opulent sight is the HEE-YUGE Playstation 3 area and adjacent Build-A-Bear tent. Whoops, sorry…that's actually a "Build-A-Screech" tent. "Screech" being the mascot for the Nats. Yes, I made the obligatory Dustin Diamond joke to Josh. Timely!

6:20 PM - The names of several of the food stands are not-so-clever political plays on words that would only be funny to the paunchy marketing guys who thought them up. For example, "Steak of the Union" (cheesesteaks), "Red, Hot & Blue" (barbecue) and "The Scapegoat Grill" (Mexican). I opt for the first of four $7.50 Blue Moons. Thanks, doctored expense report!

6:30 PM - Lots of famous local eats to be had (Five Guys Burgers n' Dogs, Gifford's Ice Cream and the like), but I follow Josh's artery-clogged recommendation and hit up Ben's Chili Bowl – "an institution since 1958". When was MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech here? Around that time, right? Give or take five years? That's a good sign.

6:35 PM - My "half-smoke" is a gloriously engorged sausage topped with a small pond of chili, mustard and onions. This baby dropped my life expectancy into the late 50s and shaved at least 20 beats per minute off my heart rate.

6:50 PM - Our seats were in section 404 and cost me $20 for the pair on eBay. The only seats higher up had to be in heaven. Quick aside: I make a pretty decent living and I'm really not one to bitch about the cost of anything. If I can't afford it, I just don't buy it. But, have you seen
the Nats' ticket prices?

7:00 PM - Look, it's the peanut vendor who hawks his sodium-in-a-shell through double-entendres ("Hey, who wants my salty nuts?!") Never can get enough of him or his repetitive material. I bought a sack and, truth be told, his nuts were saltier than the ones I usually put in my mouth. Sh*t, I should've sold that one to him.

7:05 PM - At first pitch, there are large swaths of empty seats. I'd read that attendance and enthusiasm hadn't come close to matching the Nats' home opener this season, but there can't be 10,000 here. It's also getting really chilly as a consistent breeze has blown in. My windbreaker isn't breaking any wind, at all. (I can't stop!)

7:45 PM - On my way to obtain beer #3, Nationals' 3B Ryan Zimmerman homers over the left field wall. I didn't see it and, judging from the inexplicably quiet reaction, the home crowd didn't, either. No exaggeration, I've never heard such a muted response to a home run hit by the home team.

7:47 PM - I'm almost back in my seat when the next hitter, 1B Nick Johnson goes yard. The polite cheers and disinterested golf claps are slightly louder than the last one, but it's no less disconcerting. Say what you want about the miniscule crowds in Oakland, but they're at least loud when they're supposed to be. I know some of you will be heading out to Nationals Park later this year, so I'm genuinely curious to know if the audience is more enthusiastic by then. Anyways, it's now 2-1, Nats.

8:45 PM - I've finished my fourth beer and I'm frickin' freezing as the temperatures have dipped deep into the 50s. Before I left San Diego, told me it'd be 64 for the low on Tuesday. It lied. So, imagine my surprise when I discovered that you can buy hard liquor and mixed drinks here! I've seen enough cartoon St. Bernard's in the snow with that little barrel of booze on their collars to know that Jack Daniels is the K-Y warming lotion of cocktails. Here's my conversation with the bar kiosk wench:

Me: "Can I get a Jack & Coke?"

Her: "Yes, you can! And, I'mma take care of you, too. They told us to only put a little bit of Jack in the cup, but I'mma take care of you."

Me: "..."

8:50 PM - Despite being bloated with unidentifiable animal parts, hops and barley, I figure I need one more meal to get the complete baseball-in-DC experience. Now, I have no idea why chili cheese fries sounded appealing, but they didn't disappoint. Here, they hit 'em with that liquid cheese goo that's usually only on nachos. Only downside was the length of the line (I finished my drink before I even ordered), but after gleefully wolfing down 90% of the cholesterol, I tapped out with a few bites to go.

9:30 PM - Ballgame! The Nationals win, 6-3, with a 4-run seventh inning. Announced attendance was a little over 25,000, but there is no way there was even half that here. My take on Nationals Park: It's a lot like San Diego's Petco Park in that its sole redeeming quality is, uhh, "new". If you've been to one of the swanky new mall-parks, you seen them all and this one lacks the spectacular views of San Francisco's AT&T Park, the passionate fandom of new Busch Stadium in St. Louis or the "part of the neighborhood" feel of Coors Field in Denver.


I'd be grotesquely remiss if I didn't thank m'man Josh for the hospitality, conversation and directions that got me around his town and through some always exciting JV National League baseball.

Next: Why Will Smith is sooooooo overrated…

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The TBGaithersburg Travel Diary – Part 4

Can't really go into much detail over the reasons for my trip. I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement that actually included the phrase "…no part of these meetings shall be reprinted, restated on…blah, blah, blah, including, but not limited to…personal blogs…" It's like they knew I'd be there! I can say that the two moderators held a total combined age of 345 years. The first guy bore an uncanny resemblance to former slave trader Strom Thurmond – if aged 80 more years. The other one looked and talked just like…this guy.

So, we'll fast forward past Monday and most of Tuesday, which gets us to…

4:15 PM - I took a cab from my hotel to the Shady Grove Metro station. As someone who's lived in Southern California all my life, I'd estimate this is just my tenth time in a cab. We have them out west, it's just that (1) cabs don't really roam the streets in search of fares – if you need one, you call the cab company…they come to you and (2) everybody…everybody…has a car in California. Except the homeless. But, really, where would they park it?

4:25 PM - My ignorance of cab etiquette is on full display. The fare was $9.60 and I pay with a $20. The driver audibly snorts and recoils from my money as if it were soap, while asking if that's all I have. Pretty sure it's still legal tender in this country, Sabu. He gives me $11 back in ones, I tip him three bucks. Was that appropriate? I have no idea.

4:26 PM - Why does every train or subway station smell of blight?

4:30 PM - M'man Josh, who I'll be meeting at the Nationals game, has given me explicit directions – including where to transfer. Transfer? Two trains? Oh, this won't end well. My back-up plan is to follow the mass of Nationals hats, shirts and jerseys to the ballpark. Total number of riders wearing Nationals attire, so far: 0.

4:40 PM - Probably should mention that I'm in a San Diego State windbreaker (a/k/a the sweatshirt and hoodie for men too old to get away with sweatshirts and hoodies) and baggy Jordan shorts (the cargo shorts for men too Black to get away with cargo shorts). The steady stream of professional African-Americans getting on and off the Red Line are shooting me the stink-eye, as if I'm bringing property values down all by myself. Damn it, I'm one of you! I probably make more than you! I could buy and sell all of… I've made my point.

4:45 PM - I'm reminded that I've turned down one formal offer to transfer to our Rockville, Maryland facility a few years ago. Last Christmas, Rockville again pursued me. The future of our San Diego office is, admittedly, a wee bit uncertain. While the thought of no longer being an ethnic novelty is indeed enticing, I just don't know if I could give up the two W's: (1) West Coast start times for sports and (2) white girls.

4:55 PM - Time to change trains and there's still no sign of anyone actually going to the game. The Gallery/Chinatown stop is an insane mass of men and women running for trains that appear to arrive every five minutes and none of them are wearing the things I'd be wearing if I were going to see my favorite team. Yeah, yeah…let's just move on.

5:00 PM - All aboard the Green Line! And, how can I say this delicately? It appears the disposable income of the riders here is demonstrably less than the Red Line riders.

5:15 PM - We reach the Navy Yards stop and, in the blink of an eye, everyone is wearing Nationals gear. It's like Lost when people randomly appear out of nowhere. Tell you what…I'll resolve this clothing conundrum, when the Lost writers explain how it happens on their show. I shan't hold my breath.

5:20 PM - The station spills into a street that's been cordoned off for the game and it leads right to the centerfield entrance for Nationals Park. (As an aside, if ever a stadium name cried out for corporate sponsorship, it's this one. Dodger Stadium and Yankee Stadium at least can claim decades and decades of tradition and brand name recognition. The Nats are here because no one else wanted them. Seems like a natural tie-in with Arby's, no?)

5:25 PM - My plan is to bum around the neighborhood for awhile until Josh shows up. In San Diego, there are dozens of bars within a few blocks of the ballpark. Here in Washington DC, there are dozens of "Coming 2009" signs where watering holes and restaurants will be…eventually. I walked in every direction and nothing was even finished, much less opened – save for a 7-11 and another, generic liquor store that was a stones throw from the left field foul pole. You stay classy, District of Columbia!

5:45 PM - I've been people-watching for 20 minutes and concluded there are three types who attend Nationals games: (1) elderly, well-to-do residents from, I presume, Northern Virginia (2) college-aged kids with nothing better to do and (3) business travelers with no ties to the area. I met two other people out from San Diego who saw my windbreaker and struck up a conversation. Also, Braves fans are outnumbering Nats fans by about 2 to 1.

5:50 PM - I will say that my "last Black baseball fan" gimmick may need to be retired. There are a lot of 'em here, with their saggy jeans and cockeyed caps. Someone unearth Dr. Cosby, quick!

6:00 PM - Josh shows up and we head inside…on "Cheap T-Shirt Night", to boot! Nats 1B Nick Johnson is shown sliding head first on the back, porn 'stache uncluttered from the Georgia red clay. If only it fit. (I need at least an XXL to cover this glistening butterscotch torso, kids. Now, let that be a haunting reminder of my March 30 birthday.)

Next: Washington Nationals vs. Atlanta Braves!

Monday, May 12, 2008

The TBGaithersburg Travel Diary – Part 3

4:45 PM (East Coast time) - From my airplane's window, I see that it's almost entirely gray outside with a steady drizzle here at Dulles International.

4:55 PM - And, from the airport terminal, I see that it's almost entirely Black inside. This is my fifth or sixth business trip to the Northern Virginia/Washington DC area and I will never ever ceased to be shocked by this. In San Diego, the menial airport labor is Mexican…here it's Moesha. In San Diego, the business-class travelers on a Sunday are old white men….here, they're old Black men. In San Diego, the shoeshine guy is a brutha named Otis…here, it's…well, probably Otis' son – but I assume he's just working his way through Howard University or something.

5:10 PM - I'm not sure what I love more about this airport: the three-mile walk to the shuttles that transport passengers to baggage claim or the 3 MPH rate of speed of the shuttles themselves. Even with a piss break, there's no way it should take 15 minutes from the plane to my luggage.

5:20 PM - There'll be no rental car for me, this time. I'm traveling with a co-worker who won't be in until 10:00PM and she got the one rental that my department will pay for. Meanwhile, I'm forced to settle with…Super Shuttle. A bit presumptuous, perhaps, but the word "super" added credibility and years of extended shelf life to Mexican wrestlers Super Calo and Super Crazy, to say nothing of early '90s hip hop act Super Cat, so what have I got to worry about?

5:25 PM - I'm standing right behind an Asian lady at the Super Shuttle counter. English does not appear to be her first language and she's having an, uh…"uncomfortable" exchange with the SS employee. Just for grins, try and guess the employee's ethnicity:

SS Employee: "OK, wait! What do you need? WHAT do you NEED?!"

Asian Lady: "I'm trying to…reservation…"

SS Employee: "Then USE the computer! Can you READ English?!"

Asian Lady: "I don't think it's working…"

With that, the Super Shuttle gal exhaled heavily, rolled her eyes, slowly loafed around the counter to the computer kiosk and set up the customer with whatever it was she needed.

Aw, sh*t…I'm next.

SS Employee: "What you need, baby?" (looks over to Asian lady, who can't be more than 10 feet away) "Ooh, I can't STAND when people won't learn no English!"

5:30 PM - With the personal treatment from this wonderfully helpful Super Shuttle sista, I was assigned a shuttle and on my way. I don't really follow the news, but I'm pretty sure the last five minutes would qualify as "reparations".

5:35 PM - My shuttle driver appears to be – and, I KNOW I reach for this reference whenever I see a man of such obvious African descent – Simon Adebisi. But, this guy's got an equally ill-fitting knit cap, so the comparison is actually slightly less lazy on my part.

5:40 PM - Fine…"Akon" has abandoned me. We were power-walking to his shuttle, when I lost him. The sidewalks outside Dulles are very narrow and pocked with those waist-high cement pillars to keep suicide bombers from plowing a truck into the terminal. Good for our safety, I s'pose, but bad for a guy with a ginormous rolling garment bag.

5:45 PM - Turns out my driver was hustling for unauthorized under-the-table passengers on the side – provided that these men wanted to leave right now. I'm all for illicit entrepreneurial spirit, but it's 50 degrees and I'm in shorts and a t-shirt. You think you can get me to Gaithersburg, Maryland before sundown, Saba Simba?

5:50 PM - There are three white men on the shuttle with me. For some reason, the seat belts drape down from the inside ceiling, so when they're in use, they come across our necks instead of our shoulders. I can tell that one of the guys wants to make an unfunny lynching reference, but considering the company he's in, he can't. Too bad, cuz all I had was "Who says 'lynchin' ain't easy?!' Huh? Huh?" I would've welcomed something funnier.

5:55 PM - Here's the deal I make with myself: If I'm the first drop-off, the driver will get a $10 tip. If I'm second, he gets $5. Anything after that and he can kiss my Black ass. Cool? Cool.

6:00 PM - The temperature has gone from 50 degrees outside to 500 degrees inside. The shuttle has become an oven and the driver is acting like it's just another lazy day in Zamunda under the benevolent rule of newly-crowned King Akeem and Queen Lisa McDowell.

6:35 PM - We take the Bethesda exit and it's obvious that I'm going to be the last drop-off. It's raining a little harder now and I'm genuinely concerned that the first one out of the shuttle is going to shatter like a hot casserole dish that's immediately introduced into cold water.

6:55 PM - We've been navigating Bethesda's surface streets for 20 minutes. Right around the fifth "we're almost there" out of him, I became convinced he was lost. Just then, he spotted a hotel and exclaimed, "Oh, THERE it is!" Encouraging, this is not.

6:57 PM - We fishtail through an intersection. Is that sweat on my groin? It's still awfully hot in here. Jesus, let it please be sweat.

7:01 PM - Another fishtail.

7:05 PM - After more than an hour of this inferno, another passenger finally speaks up. Thank God the white man remains the most overtly annoyed race on earth.

7:30 PM - We finally reach my hotel in Gaithersburg and, yes, I'm the last drop-off. This is about a 30-minute drive from the airport, if memory serves me and Super Shuttle got me here in one hour, 45 minutes. Hope you enjoyed the read, cuz I will never do this again.


Later that evening, I met Josh DaCane – a longtime reader dating back to the Friday Music News Bootleg days. So far, I've had nothing but great things to say about the folks I've met through my column. MGF's Jeff Fernandez was awesome, but smaller than I thought, based on our mutual love for fast food. Mathan talks exactly like he writes (he really says "slayed" and "shagged") and didn't take too kindly to three days of me mispronouncing his name.

And, of course, I met That Nicka Guy in 2003. That evolved into his 2 ½ year run with a featured piece in my column, occasional in-person debauchery and an odd urge from Mrs. Bootleg to meet a man she only knows through me.

So, it should go without saying that when Josh showed up at my hotel with a care package of energy bars, candy and nuts (from his mother!) he was instantly accepted into my Hall of Degenerates. We went out for Chinese and he sealed the deal when he awesomely mocked my order of fried chicken wings for an appetizer and Szechuan pork as my entrée.

Racial comedy from a Jew? We're like those three scenes per week featuring Ice-T and Richard Belzer on Law & Order: SVU.

Next: More Josh, a review of the Washington Nationals new ballpark and I ride the Metro…unescorted!

Friday, May 9, 2008

TBG Reviews: The New Jalapeño Chicken Sandwich at Carl's Jr.

Back in the late '90s, our friends at Carl's Jr. successfully reinvented themselves from a family-friendly fast food restaurant to a place where men – and, only men, goddammit – go to get big, messy burgers.

I'm a man. I like fast food. And, after a weird phase of my life in the early/mid-90s when I gave up red meat (why, yes, a woman was involved) I was back on board the coronary express.

Carl's Jr. introduced the absolutely awesome Jalapeño Burger to their menu about two years ago. It was intended to be a limited time release, but it became one of the chain's biggest sellers and now maintains a deserved space on their permanent menu. Hard to believe it took this long for them to make the obvious, incremental leap to the only other meat-flavored sandwiches they sell.

They go with the grilled chicken breast here and top it with a small woman's fistful of sliced jalapeños, pepper jack cheese and something called Santa Fe sauce – along with the usual lettuce, tomatoes n' onions.

Overall…Aaron approves. The sandwich, of course, isn't anywhere near as spicy as the commercials might lead you to believe. (I mean, really, white people…are jalapeños too hot for you? Really?) It actually strikes a nice balance of flavors between the chicken and the mountain of toppings.

The sauce helps out the usually dry chicken breast, the peppers mesh well with the tomatoes and the pepper jack cheese vaguely reminds me of my favorite liquor store deli sandwiches. In fact, if Carl's is in the market for some free advice, I'd add a spoonful of guacamole just to California-ize it up a little.

The doughy buns remain their overly chewy Achilles heel, though. If you don't finish it fast enough, the whole thing morphs into Play-Doh™. This one probably won't cure cancer like the Jalapeño Burger will someday, but it's a damn fine kid sister that I would like to eat once a week.

Grade: 4 (out of 5)

"Lost" - Cabin Fever

What Aaron Liked: So sue me…I'm really digging Kevin Durand's "Martin Keamy" character. He hasn't been written with much depth, admittedly, but for now I'm appreciating the rare presence of someone who appears to be without the shades of gray that color the motives of every…freaking…body else on the show. A taciturn mercenary with an itchy trigger finger? Welcome! Locke's ascension towards the mantle of Ben (Linus 2.0?) has me intrigued, even though Locke remains one of the most frustratingly inconsistent characters on the show – hard-boiled leader/cold-blooded killer one minute, soft-hearted and insecure the next. Lance Reddick's "Matthew Abbadon" is much creepier than any of the contrived island apparitions. And, maybe I'm in the minority here, but I'm intrigued by the goings-on aboard the freighter. Desmond's refusal to go back to the island, the "sickness" that's overwhelming the sheltered crew, hell, even Michael's sniveling cowardice are all more watchable storylines than "As Jack's Appendix Turns".

What Aaron Didn't Like: Further cementing my minority status, I really think the reduction of episodes from 16 to 13 has hurt the first two post-writers' strike shows. Seeing Claire pop up so soon after her disappearance was a little jarring, considering how this show has historically used its episodic format to create the illusion of time (think back to how long it felt like Jack, Sawyer and Kate were held captive at the start of season three). I still don't have a reason to care about Claire and her dad – especially, now that their characters appear to have been elevated in the storyline. I'm officially counting down the days until Hurley is off my screen, forever. Did he really say "malomars" in his sleep? Did Locke mock his love of Dharma ranch dressing? Fat jokes? In season four? But, he did share his candy bar with Ben. The lack of dialogue in that scene was meant to convey…I dunno…maybe the same thing that the ham-baking and towel-toting did for Ben a few weeks ago?

Verdict: I keep coming back to "uneven" to describe these last few episodes. During last season, critics like me were shouted down in the blog-eteria when we b*tched about the glacial pacing and told to "trust the writers" and that "every episode is another piece of the puzzle". Now, that three of those pieces have been removed in the middle of season four, it's like some of the storylines are being crammed into an ill-fit to get to the finale.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

That Book-Leg Guy: "The Last Great Fight" by Joe Layden (a/k/a The TBGaithersburg Travel Diary – Part 2)

So, when we last left, uh, myself…I was deplaning down in Dallas/Fort Worth. I love DFW's airport because they refer to "restrooms" as "toilets" on all their signage, which sounds like the 19th century tradition and terminology the entire state is stuck in. I now also love DFW because it's the first airport I've seen with a Popeye's Chicken inside. Unfortunately, I noticed this after I'd already paid $3.00 for a cold, butter-drenched cinnamon sugar pretzel from Auntie Anne's.

Anyways, the rest of my layover and ensuing flight into Dulles was rather uneventful. I did, however, finish a book that I started before I boarded in San Diego. Segue!

I've been thinking about the precise moment that the sports world, as I once knew it, became lobotomized by ESPN, the internet and those damn, dirty bloggers. Specifically, I'm wondering when the 24/7 sports cycle begun, because it certainly wasn't there in 1990.

18 years ago it was unfathomable that world would forget Bo Jackson – the single greatest force of nature to ever step on to the field. Similarly, Michael Jordan had yet to win a championship and was routinely labeled as a selfish, me-first player who didn't make his Yankees Bulls teammates better. Joe Montana was still the gold standard for quarterbacks, but, by 2008, he'd be eclipsed in the media's eyes by a pill-popping alcoholic who'd lead his team to ¼ of the titles.

How quickly you forget.

I still remember where I was on February 10, 1990.

My dad had the remote control and he was clicking back and forth between the NBA's All-Star Weekend festivities on TNT and the Mike Tyson/Buster Douglas fight on HBO.

Back in the day, I was a HUGE basketball fan – mostly because the hated Lakers (who my dad adored) were in decline. I was only a casual boxing fan, but this was still a Tyson Fight and, as such, it was an event.

I still remember how infrequent the channel changing became when it was obvious that Mike Tyson was getting his ass handed to him by the unheralded Douglas. By the sixth round, we'd lost interest entirely in the manufactured Caucasian drama of Rex Chapman in the Slam Dunk contest.

Tyson would be knocked out in the tenth round and his fearsome mystique would never return.

Today, I can't help but laugh when people slap that "upset" label on Appalachian State beating Michigan or Golden State defeating Dallas. Unfortunately, the passing of time – and, Tyson's emotional, physical and psychological collapse into caricature – has dulled the moment for those of us who watched it unfold or eliminated it entirely as the sport of boxing has been dead to the mainstream media for over a decade.

Thankfully, Joe Layden has put together one hell of an attempt at a time machine.

What Aaron Liked: Layden meticulously details the build to the Tyson/Douglas fight and how it came to be. In particular, the "quitter" profile of Buster Douglas (he essentially surrendered during a 1987 title bout) was one I hadn't heard before and serves as ominous foreshadowing for Douglas' first – and only – title defense. The author knows that Mike Tyson's story has been told 10,000 times, so his build is brisker, while stopping to spend a little more time celebrating Tyson's apex (the 91-second destruction of Michael Spinks) and the beginning of his downfall (Robin Givens, car wrecks – both literal and figurative). Douglas' story, before and after the Tyson fight, is poignantly painted against the backdrop of a father he could never please, while the center represents the one night when it all came together. Douglas' full cooperation with the book allowed for an intense first-person account and adds an infinite number of layers to a man who entered and left the public's consciousness in less than a calendar year. Two of the book's most heartbreaking moments are its biggest highlights: (1) Tyson/Douglas fight referee Octavio Meyran, who speaks in detail about how the fallout ruined his career and (2) the deaths of Douglas' parents.

What Aaron Didn't Like: The book persuasively argues that the Douglas loss might've actually been the most valiant moment of Tyson's career. However, after Layden covers the last of the angles from that fateful night in Tokyo, the book ping-pongs from the decay of Tyson's career (which reads more like summarized newspaper clippings) to the more fleshed-out (HAW~!) "Whatever Happened To" pieces on Douglas. According to Layden, Tyson only offered minimal participation, which doesn't really hurt the book (is there anyone who doesn't know about Tyson's affinity for ear?) but, it does make things feel a little one-sided. The retroactive rip job on Tyson's fight skills (mostly from historian Bert Sugar and commentator Jim Lampley) might be accurate, but I find it hard to believe Layden couldn't find anything in the way of a rebuttal from someone. And, as much as I enjoyed this book, I was surprised to read how many times Layden described an African-American as "well-spoken". I hear in Washington DC, we're even allowed to ride in the front of the Metro!

Steal, borrow or buy it? Layden has an easy-to-read writing style that restores the shine to one of my favorite sports eras ever. Buy it if you're a boxing fan or if you were a self-aware sports fan at the time of the fight. If you see it at Borders, flip to the fight (around pages 150-170) and thank me later for making a few minutes breeze by.

Next: An unintended two-and-a-half hour tour of Maryland and I come face-to-face with another longtime Bootleg reader for the first time. Do I survive the encounter? I'm not telling!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Dear, Everyone I Know...

Thanks for sending me this ridiculous piece from..."StreetBeat". Yes, I know how lame I look and sound. On the other hand: Who's the bigger loser - the one who gives parking lot interviews to free neighborhood newspapers or the ones who read 'em? Fine, we'll call it a push.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The TBGaithersburg Travel Diary – Part One

Sunday, April 27th

3:30 AM - What the f*ck was I thinking with this 6:20 AM flight? I slept downstairs in the living room and used my cell phone's alarm clock function to wake me up on time. I love how I was sure that I needed to upgrade to a more modern cell phone last year, yet the only functions I've used on my four-month old super-phone are the camera, the alarm clock and E-Z Tip – and, yes, the default is 5% for black phones like mine.

4:30 AM - I'm about halfway to the airport as I pass the second most surreal sight of the morning: the Déjà vu Gentlemen's Club is just closing for the night and I can clearly see patrons milling about in the parking lot from the freeway. All you need to know about this place is that (1) they don't serve alcohol and (2) a stripper there once recognized me between visits that were over a year apart. For months, I was terrified to go out in public with Mrs. Bootleg for fear that "Essence" would be in the adjacent booth at Applebee's with an urge to catch up over quesadillas.

4:45 AM - The most surreal sight of the morning: $4.49/$4.59/$4.69…these were the gas prices at a service station along that area of the airport parking/rental car return area where you expect to take it up the ass, but c'mon…

4:50 AM - I arrive at the Park & Ride, haul my luggage out of the trunk and wait for the shuttle. Moments later, it pulls up and the driver opens the back double-doors. She sleepily says, "Just toss your bags right there in back, hon." Umm…aren't you the one in the ill-fitting polyester pants with the G.E.D. and the smack habit, princess?

5:15 AM - I'm assigned an exit row seat, which means some extra leg room in exchange for promising to open the emergency exit doors in the unlikely event we survive a crash. Joke's on American Airlines, though, as the exit row passengers have to verbally declare that we'll perform this duty and verbal contracts are almost always unenforceable. (After 9+ years in the contracts law industry, I'm quite the sieve of applied knowledge.)

6:00 AM - Time to board. And, in one of those moments that would certainly result in my deadpan reaction right into the camera that's filming my life…my seat is next to a graying, middle-aged King Mabel (or Mabel King). For you movie fans, think Della Reese without the wig and the pieces of her pinky toe put back together.

6:05 AM - I finally make my way around him – naturally, he didn't even attempt to move and let me through – and discover that he's oozing over his aisle seat, right into my window seat. But, before I can give him a lecture on "armrest etiquette"…

6:06 AM - …he appears to have nodded off.

6:07 AM - Of course. (3rd bullet down…)

6:20 AM - M'man wakes up during the runway taxi, looks around as if he has NO idea how he got here, then goes right back to sleep. Seriously, I haven't seen such a wonderfully funny wide-eyed take since Amos & Andy. (Which one was Flavor Flav, again?)

7:00 AM - The arrival of the beverage and snack carts wake the grizzly bear from his latest chainsaw slumber. He hauls himself off to the airplane lavatory which, and I can't lie, has me…intrigued. But, I can't act on my impulse as I won't likely get another chance to lift my seat's tray from inside the armrest that, to this point, has been one with the stomach of my row mate.

7:05 AM - Upon his return, he annexes my tray for his own territory, and then gets whacked by the sandman, again.

7:20 AM - After 15 more minutes of a beefy left elbow in my ribs and snoring in my ear, I make a glorious discovery: I'd…inadvertently hit my tray with my knee, which seemed to re-start the big guy's heart and wake him up. For the final hour of the flight, whenever he'd close his eyes and take just half of a nasally-blocked breath, I'd swiftly raise the knee and interrupt his dreams.

8:30 AM (10:30 AM, Dallas time) - At the end of the flight, Mabel grabbed his bag and de-planed without even acknowledging that he had two seats the entire time. Seriously, I could've lived without an apology, but I did at least expect some oblivious, insincere self-effacement ("Hope my morbid obesity didn't inconvenience you, son!") Instead, I got nothing but the horizontal lumps on the back of his neck as he lumbered up the aisle and off the plane.

Next: It's Dallas to Dulles…with a really good book along for the flight!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Lost - "Something Nice Back Home"

What Aaron Liked: Elizabeth Mitchell's "Juliet" has been one of the best things about this season. Her refusal to kowtow to Jack's delirious operating table dictating (especially when juxtaposed with Kate and Bernard's sheepish reactions to Juliet taking charge) was awesome to watch. The same could be said for her opening up to Kate after the surgery and, especially, Juliet's deadpan "I know you're awake" line to end a great scene. The evolution of Ken Leung's "Miles" character, from everything I've read, was one of the storylines pushed back to the 2009 season due to the writer's strike. His "ghost whisperer" schtick didn't click with me when it was first introduced, but I'll admit to being the last Lost fan to realize its potential. Miles' gruesome discovery of Danielle and Carl portends to bigger "dead or alive" questions getting answered, at some point.

What Aaron Didn't Like: Shhh! Don't tell a soul, but I hate when Lost turns into an hour-long "Jack and Kate's Cavalcade of Whimsy" episode. I get that the writer's strike forced certain storylines to be hastened along and others to be tabled or abandoned entirely. That said, the only explanation we get from future Jack wanting nothing to do with future Kate (and "her son") four episodes ago to future naked Jack slobbin' on future naked Kate is that Jack "changed his mind"?! Blergh. And, hey, y'know what this show really needs? Another soap operatic angle of love! Thankfully, Charlotte and Faraday appear to have feelings for each other. Watch out for Jack, though, Faraday. He gets all the b*tches! Can't say I enjoyed the return of Jack's graying, grape-favoring father, either. Not to oversimplify this, but almost everyone else on the island has cooler, more interesting demons to deal with than an alcoholic father who didn't dispense enough hugs. On the plus side, "Ghost Dad 2" walked off with the consistently uninteresting Claire, so bully for that, I s'pose.

Verdict: This was the first episode taped after the writer's strike and, not surprisingly, things felt a bit disjointed. The next three weeks represent what's ostensibly the "big finish" for the fourth season, so I'll only give this week's episode a "conditional boo" pending where this all ends up on May 23rd. Too early to call Hurley as the coffin resident from the end of season three? Seems to be heading that way. That'd be as good a reason as any for me to rescind this week's "boo".

Friday, May 2, 2008

Blue Moon Odom Shook My Hand

Thursday night seemed like a bad idea.

Y'see, I spent all day Wednesday in Washington DC, before boarding a 6:00 PM flight out of Dulles. As I'll outline later in my travel diary, it was one of the most turbulent plane rides I've ever been on. And, considering I never sleep well in hotel rooms, I would guess that I've averaged only 3 ½ to 4 hours of shut-eye every night this week. My flight over the Lost island just ensured that I'd be too wound up for any quality Z's in my own bed, as well.

I dragged my somnambulant Black ass into work on Thursday so that I could assist in the completion of a huge proposal. I'd scored tickets to the fourth and final game of a series between the Oakland A's and Los Angeles Angels (first pitch, 7:05 PM) hoping to be able to leave the office at 12:30 PM, power-nap until 2:30 and then hit the open road (and enclosed gridlock) at 2:45 PM.

Everything went according to plan…save for the leaving the office at 12:30 and power-napping until 2:30 parts. I did, however, find time to change into an A's throwback jersey. I honestly can't remember the last time I saw the A's win in person, but I did remember that my 1998 Rickey Henderson alternate green, my 1995 Dave Stewart road gray and my 1983 Mike Norris home gold brought me no luck, recently. So, it seemed like the right night for good ol' 1973 John "Blue Moon" Odom psychedelic yellow.

For the 99% of my readership wondering…Odom was a pitcher for the A's from 1968 thru 1975. He was a two-time All-Star who was famous for three things: (1) his nickname which, depending on who you believe, was either a childhood reference to his round face or a "Catfish" Hunter-like creation of A's owner Charlie Finley, (2) a violent fight with teammate Rollie Fingers prior to a 1974 World Series game over Fingers' soon-to-be ex-wife and (3) a cocaine and heroin habit that prematurely ruined his career.

Our seats were first level behind the visitors' dugout. It was 15 minutes prior to game time, when an older African-American gentleman shuffled across our row. He was craning his neck and twisting his torso in what appeared to be an attempt to see my face.

And, thanks to the insane amount of A's propaganda I've read and watched over the years, I recognized Blue Moon instantly. His playing height and weight have always been listed at 6'0" and 185 lbs, respectively. He was either lying back then or has shrunk with age. His face wore a childlike Christmas grin from ear-to-ear as he excitedly expressed, "You're wearin' my jersey!"

We only talked for a minute or two – Odom went on and on about the jersey and how great it was that someone remembered him, while I stumbled over my words in explaining how long I've been an A's fan, how much I like our kids this year and how great it was to meet him. Before he left, he asked me to show the jersey to his wife and she seemed to get just as big a kick out of it as he did.

The A's went on to beat the tar out of the Angels, 15-8 and split the four-game series with the team that I hate more than Tina Fey and racism, combined.

Thursday night was a good idea.