Tuesday, September 30, 2008

TBG Drinks: StoneWall Ale (Stone Brewing Company)

12.80% ABV

In June 2006, I attended a VIP event at the Stone Brewing Company in Escondido, CA. OK, truth be told, I was an invited guest of the guy who was actually invited to the shindig. The celebration was being held in advance of the brewery's new restaurant and included menu samples, beer tastings and an ultra-limited release of StoneWall Ale.

Every invitee was handed a 22 oz. bottle of the secret suds. Conversely, invited guests of the invitees received nothing. More than two years later, I thought my lasting memory of the event would be the god-awful fried Brussels sprouts and thick-as-a-brick over-battered onion rings. So, it was quite the surprise when m'man invited me over on Monday night to watch the game(s), eat his wife's cooking and drink his aged alcohol.

Mr. S poured the brownish-orange nectar into a pair of pint glasses and, admittedly, I was a little leery. If you order a bad beer in public, you can trade it out for something else. Here, I was stuck. The whole evening revolved around the epic unveiling – after 27 months! – of this heavily-hyped brew.

What if it had aged too long?

What if it hadn't aged long enough?

What if it tasted like ass?

Turns out this beer was the absolute antithesis of "ass", my friends.

Shockingly smooth, with sweet (but not too sweet) notes of caramel and toffee, it finished with a sharply contrasting climax. Each sip was the equivalent of oral sex followed by a glancing kick to the crotch at the end – you feel it the first time, but once you know it's coming, it's not so bad.

Sadly, this was a one-time brewing, but it might've been enough to convince me to join the fraternity of beer aficionados who snobbishly turn their noses up at [in British accent] convenience store beer, yet can't appreciate the irony of walking past the Bud Light to get to the tin of self-serve jerky.

Grade: 500 (out of 5)

Flipping Thru: Entertainment Weekly - 10/3/08

"I was convinced an Obama/McCain campaign would be measurably different on almost all standards. And to watch it become Bush/Kerry, Bush/Gore, has been one of the most dissatisfying experiences." - Jon Stewart

Just a terrific cover story/interview in this past week's EW with Comedy Central's Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. I don't watch either The Daily Show or The Colbert Report, but I've read some of Stewart's previous "can I be serious" screeds on politics and the mainstream media.

My disillusionment with the American political process has metastasized into an acrid disgust and Stewart and Colbert capture many of the reasons why. Colbert's comment on the "…14 voters in Boca…" proving the creation of "political science" was equally awesome.

You. Read. Now.

The Tee-Ball Chronicles – Week #1

Dateline, San Diego – Jalen Cameron, 4 ½, reported to his first tee-ball spring fall training earlier than his (middle)namesake ever did…a full 15 minutes! Here are last Saturday's highlights from South Village Neighborhood Park.

6 Teams, 3 Time Slots, 1 Depressed Dad: There were 11:00 AM, 12 noon and 1:00 PM slots available. We wanted noon, but got stuck with 1 o'clock. Kids in the early session get to be Yankees or Red Sox, at noon their options are Padres and Dodgers, while the 1:00 PM teams are the Pirates…and A's!. "Attention, everybody!. Let's all give thanks to the Leader for this glorious day!" A 50/50 chance for me my son to live his dream! And, of course, he ends up being a Pirate.

I Am NOT Making This Up: At check-in, all the (ugh) Pirates gathered around "Coach Chris" and gave their names. Right before Jalen, there was a little boy named David. David Eckstein. The coach looked at the dad and asked, "Isn't there a 'David Eckstein' in the big leagues?" The dad looked like he'd never had anyone ask him that before and sheepishly responded, "I dunno. There might be." "There MIGHT be?!" Jalen's teammate is David Eckstein and I'm only 30% sure the little tyke isn't the 30-something version. (Yes, yes, you all saw that line coming, but I still went there.) Don't get David's grit in your eyes, son.

Jalen's First Baseball Nickname: The boy is clearly reading his old man's mind, because Jalen is pretty bummed about not being on the A's. Every time the coach addressed the Pirates, Jalen responded, "I'm an Oakland A." Patiently, the coach looked at my son and said, "OK, Jalen. I'll just call you 'Oakland'." AIEEEEEEEEE! I NEVER had a cool nickname growing up – and, for those of you who've known me more than a minute, don't forget that I moderate comments 'round here. Now, on his first day of practice, my son has a handle that's a bazillion times more bad ass than "Cam".

Scouting Report – Fielding/Throwing: The coaches had set up three stations for the first day of practice. We started with fielding and throwing. Jalen rigidly took a few groundballs from me and seemed fine as long as they were right at him with minimal bounce. He moves falls down to his right and left with equal aplomb, though. His next nickname: "DH". And, since he was blessed with his dad's bony girl arms, all the technique in the world couldn't keep our game of catch from turning into even more groundball training. For both of us.

Scouting Report - Baserunning: My son would run all day if he could. I realize that I'm on borrowed time here, as Jalen will soon realize there are several other sports that promote physical movement more than tee-ball/baseball. But, for now, it came as no surprise that Jalen was the fastest kid on the team. He zipped around the basepaths with all the awkward, false hustle of Eric Byrnes, but like ol' Byrnsie, the fans will give my son a pass because he's so darn cute doing it.

Scouting Report - Hitting: Every kid got 12 swings off the tee and once the boy found out that he couldn't run after hitting the ball, his interest fell off with each increasingly lackluster hack. With all the bat speed of me, he somehow started to stroke the ball to the opposite field, then to the opposite foul territory – and not in the Tony Gwynn "meant to do that" context, either – finally, the poor hitting tee took brunt of his last three swings.

A "Pirates!" team cheer at the end wrapped up the hour and Jalen went off to the playground to roughhouse with his best friend. His first game is in two weeks and…well, we gots some work to do. It'll take commitment and focus from both of us, so…hey, ice cream man! Ice cream man!

An ice cream truck pulled up after practice (you'd have thought he was waiting for us!) and I enjoyed my first-ever Choco Taco. Seven more weeks of this? I'm in.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

TBG Sees: Playhouse Disney Live on Tour

6:00 PM: After our surprisingly satisfying meal at Chick-fil-A, The Bootleg Family began the short walk across the parking lot towards our city's crumbling 1975 entertainment archetype – the San Diego Sports Arena.

6:05 PM: The east entrance appears to be closed as it's cordoned off with what appears to be canary yellow crime scene tape.

6:10 PM: The north entrance isn't open, either. They're not seriously filtering 2,000 people through one entrance are they?

6:15 PM: Sho' nuff, it seems. The line for the west entrance isn't too long, but the realization of only one way in is beginning to register with all the other lollygaggers. In seconds, this line is now snaking through the parking lot and blocking cars from coming through.

6:16 PM: There's an off-duty hooker or stripper or pro athlete's wife immediately behind us and her grotesquely enormous store-bought boobs appear to be the only things on her not ravaged by the hands of father time, the hands of her pimp smacking her or her obvious smack habit. Oh, look, she brought two of her bastard kids. Adorable.

6:20 PM: With 10 minutes until show time, the length of the line is officially "airport security". Amazingly, we're already inside, but there's no way they start this thing on time with half the audience wrapped around the outside of the arena.

6:25 PM: At last count, San Diego's population was about 1.2 million – so what are the odds that I run into a father I know standing in the same souvenir line as me with the same juxtaposed emotions of love for his child and hatred for himself after handing over $20 for a glow-in-the-dark Little Einsteins baton.

6:28 PM: We pass a concession stand and I briefly entertain the notion of a Sam Adams with my Mickey Mouse evening. I think better of it when I realize that Mrs. Bootleg could use it against me during our inevitable alimony hearing.

6:30 PM: Our seats are in the lower loge section (pronounced "lodge" by Mrs. Bootleg on more than one occasion). Not bad, actually. We're elevated one section above the floor seats and pretty much dead center with the stage. $25/each. (Sorry, but when you buy as many tickets to ballgames each year as me, you have to take pride in landing decent seats – even if it's for an indecent event.)

6:35 PM: The show still hasn't started.

6:40 PM: The show still hasn't started.

6:45 PM: The show still hasn't…ah, there we go. The arena lights are turned off and immediately half of the toddlers/preschoolers in the audience shriek in fright, which causes the infants in the crowd to cry in response. If you had told me that the adjective "bloodcurdling" would be used in this review, I doubt I'd have believed you.

Hey, it's a six foot tall Mickey Mouse! Historically, our son Jalen has been deathly afraid of lukewarm towards the costumed Disney characters, but he's giggling with unrestrained glee. I hope he remembers these moments when he's selecting my retirement home, someday.

6:50 PM: Mickey's doing a bit with our (relatively) non-costumed hostess for the evening. She's playing a mail carrier and the cardboard faux setting is the post office. The name of the non-costumed character? "The Postess". I would've gone with "Fe-mail man". ("Fe-mail carrier, Bart.")

(So, here's the plot: Mickey's having a music party and – via the magic of cross-promotional synergy and Playhouse Disney platform integration – all his "friends" from the other TV shows are invited.)

7:00 PM: The Postess is off to deliver the invitations with her first stop being the home of The Little Einsteins.

Little Einsteins is a cartoon featuring a multi-racial cast of four preschoolers – "Leo" (white); "Annie" (white); "Quincy" (brutha); "June" (ethnicity undetermined…it seems pretty clear to me she's a poorly-drawn Asian, but Mrs. Bootleg swears she's supposed to be white. These are the arguments you'll be having in your 30s, so screw you for judging me.)

The parts of the Little Einsteins are being played by their parents this evening. "Leo's" voice is actually lower than mine. Meanwhile, the "Quincy" character is reading his lines with an awful lot of "You go, girl" considering he's a 20-something man playing a 5-year-old boy.

7:05 PM: We're now off to the Hundred Acre Wood, home of Winnie the Pooh. This is probably my boy's favorite show (this week). It's the same Pooh/Tigger formula y'all remember, but with a little white girl named Darby thrown in to the mix. The three of them solve "mysteries", like the one where they couldn't figure out why duplicates of themselves were running around the forest. Turns out they were looking in a mirror.

Jalen has nearly lost his mind at this point, looking at me, then at his mom – still giggling uncontrollably – with that "this is the greatest day of my little life" look on his face.

I've just noticed that the Pooh and Tigger costumes can blink their "eyes", while their "mouths" move in reasonably close synchronicity with the overdubbed dialogue. Creepy or cool? Answer: creepy.

7:10 PM: A real, live Handy Manny is onstage now. I'm not as familiar with that show, as Jalen's only just recently started to watch, but here's the gist: Manny (voiced by Wilmer Valderrama) is a Hispanic handyman who peppers his lightly-accented English with Spanish words and phrases in a way that EVERY Hispanic since Ricky Ricardo has been portrayed on TV even though I've never known one to say, "I'm going to the biblioteca." He's helped out by a bunch of talking tools.

Hard to believe Valderrama didn't have time in his hectic schedule to play the part of Manny here. Topher Grace isn't walking through that door, Wilmer.

7:15 PM: Intermission? After 30 minutes?!

7:30 PM: We're back with the Little Einsteins, who've returned with samples of music from around the world. In what would be the most unintentionally offensive n' comedic moments of the evening, the Einsteins demonstrate several different dances.

First, an actor made up to look like Soda Popinski does an embarrassingly exaggerated version of this dance.

From there, a heavily-veiled, almost certainly non-Indian woman is out to a traditional Indian dance. We know it's an "Indian" dance because the "Leo" character is off to the side of the stage blowing a pungi and playing the role of snake charmer – complete with fake cobra rising from a basket.

I was not aware that Italy's tarantella dance had anything to do with a tarantula spider. So, to hammer the point home, a rubber spider is lowered from above on a string and jerked around by the stagehand while the characters dance under it.

Next, is a Chinese dance that's so bad and poorly choreographed that I can't help but think it was performed as an insulting retaliation for China's human rights violations and six-year-old gymnasts.

Their grand finale is an African dance. Simply put, it fell between this…and this on the ol' bojangle scale.

7:45 PM: Mickey Mouse is back out on stage and brings Minnie, Goofy and Donald Duck with him. Donald is pointing his tail feathers towards the audience when he dances, which is an immediate crowd pleaser with Jalen, who finds anything related to the butt inexplicably hilarious.

8:00 PM: The show ends with all the characters doing abbreviated versions of their respective dance numbers. Speaking of "abbreviated", I'd like to thank the Disney conglomerate for the hour of entertainment.

TBG Eats: Chick-fil-A

Current Weight: 167.0 lbs.

I don't want to say it's been a long, long time since I last ate at Chick-fil-A, but my most recent visit was at a location in a mall next to a place called The Space Station – the coolest video arcade to open in 1983.

In the 25 years since then, it seemed that Chick-fil-A and I were always playing a sort of gastrointestinal phone tag. Perhaps I'd drive past during one of my many short-lived attempts to eat better. Or, maybe Mrs. Bootleg bitchily didn't wanna spend her birthday dinner there (emphasis hers). And, if I had a nickel for all the times we ended up in the vicinity of a Chick-fil-A on a Sunday

So, it was quite the surprise when the planets aligned this past Friday.

The Bootleg Family had tickets for (sigh) Playhouse Disney Live on Tour at the San Diego Sports Arena. We arrived about 45 minutes early for the 6:30 PM show and within the dated, aging arena complex is a Red Lobster. And, a Chick-fil-A!

It took a lot for me to break Disney's hypnotic hold on my son ("I wanna see Mickey Mouse!"), but a quick yank of his fallen, crying carcass from the parking lot asphalt and we were off n' eatin'!

Back in the early 80s, I was decades ahead of today's childhood obesity craze. Like the rest of the fat and unloved, I substituted food for hugs and seemed to remember this place's teeny chicken sandwiches rarely satisfying my enormous eight-year-old appetite.

Today's original Chick-fil-A sandwich is a decent-sized piece of white meat, breaded and seasoned…with the tears of Jesus. I cannot overstate how delicious this simple lil' sammich was, kids. The golden bird is shoved into the same ol' toasted buttered bun and topped with two pickle slices. These innocuous ingredients merge to form an awesomely edible Devastator. Our son smoked his four chicken nuggets like crispy crack rocks, too.

I wish Chick-fil-A's waffle fries could catch up with their chicken, as mine were bland, dry and, most egregiously, practically salt-free. I shan't hold this against the kids working the counter at the Sports Arena location, though. Just, make way for the bird.

Grade (Original Chicken Sandwich): 5 (out of 5)
Grade (Waffle Fries): 1

TBG's 2008 NFL Pickin' - Week #4

Last Week:
Aaron: 13-3 (0-1 vs. the spread)
Joe: 9-7 (0-1 vs. the spread)

Tom: 9-7 (0-1 vs. the spread)

Season To Date:
Aaron: 31-16 (0-3 vs. the spread)
Joe: 30-17 (2-1 vs. the spread)

Tom: 26-21 (1-2 vs. the spread)

Atlanta at Carolina
Aaron: The Falcons are 2-0 at home against teams with Charmin-soft defenses. Here the Panthers are at home with a defense more like motel toilet paper. Scratchy. Pick: Carolina

Joe: This is kind of cool. Usually it takes me half a season to find my pick them at home, avoid on the road team. Thanks, Atlanta! Though please fall behind early and throw the ball to Roddy White a lot. Thanks! Pick: Carolina

Arizona at N.Y. Jets
Aaron: The "big news" out of Monday night's Jets' loss was that Brett Favre sustained an ankle injury and was now walking with a slight limp. As opposed to the last several seasons when his gait was consistently sure and steady like any other 80-year-old. Pick: Arizona

Joe: Speaking of 80-year-olds and Arizona, here's where I should be crafting a tight, smart little joke involving Brett Favre and the words "suspend his campaign." But then yesterday I met a woman on the street who gave me a bracelet, and ... ah, hell. Never mind. Pick: Arizona

Cleveland at Cincinnati
Aaron: The Bengals played with some season-saving urgency last week vs. the Giants, while the Browns continued to prove me right regarding their fluky fluktitude from last season. You keep right on believing in 'em, Joe. Pick: Cincinnati

Joe: I don't have the first idea what you're talking about. Pick: Cincinnati

Minnesota at Tennessee
Aaron: Kerry Collins is a perfectly serviceable quarterback who is capable of keeping his team competitive in the early going. The Vikings D is known to kill serviceable QBs and eat their young. Pick: Minnesota

Joe: I love the idea that people are talking themselves into the Titans as a viable Super Bowl contender. Love that. I'm not saying the Bills are (because, you know, they're not), but it's weird that people think Tennessee isn't in the exact same boat. They are. Pick: Minnesota

Green Bay at Tampa Bay
Aaron: The Pack was certain for a brief in-season swoon at some point, so it might as well be now. With any luck the Mets will snatch the NL wildcard from the Brewers on the same day, sending Wisconsin into the kind of depression that Mets fans will feel a week from now. Pick: Tampa Bay

Joe: Brian Griese can throw 100 passes this week if he wants to, but that suddenly-crappy running game and a Packers team that can score enough on a tough Bucs D will add up to nothing good. Pick: Green Bay

San Francisco at New Orleans
Aaron: The Saints' defense is populated with more bloated, decomposing corpses than their wide receiver corps. Bet'cha thought I was going for the tired streets of New Orleans/Katrina reference there, eh? Wait, I guess I just did. Timely. Pick: New Orleans

Joe: I'm really tempted to go with the Niners here against a depleted Saints team. But 3-1 seems a bit much for JT O'Sullivan and the Little People (quake in fear, Berman), and Reggie Bush is suddenly looking scary again (I doubt it's a coincidence that Horseface Kardashian has been sequestered on Dancing with the Stars for the last few weeks). Pick: New Orleans

Houston at Jacksonville
Aaron: The primary difference between the Matt Schaub era and the David Carr era in Houston? There were never any red squiggly lines under Carr's last name when I typed it into MS Word over the years. Pick: Jacksonville

Joe: Really disappointed in this Texans team. I thought they had more self-respect than this. I really did. No, no, Matt Schaub, don't apologize to me. You're gonna have to apologize to yourself. Pick: Jacksonville

Denver at Kansas City
Aaron: It says a lot about how much Larry Johnson's skills have eroded that the Chiefs have more faith in the miserable arm of JV QB Tyler Thigpen, than LJ's decaying legs. Pick: Denver

Joe: Denver's a weird team, man. I can't remember the last team that was both legitimately frightening in a "crap, I see they're on the Bills' schedule" way and yet also have absolutely no business not being 1-2 instead of 3-0. Which means they'll only beat KC by, like 10. Pick: Denver

Buffalo at St. Louis
Aaron: In his ESPN.com column this week, Bill Simmons challenged Bills fans to prove the locals support their team in the face of relocations rumors. Mr. Reid, your move. Pick: Buffalo

Joe: Don't make Buffalonians spell out "Go Bills" in roast beef sandwiches along the 90, Bill. They'll do it, and it'll be crazy unsanitary. But seriously, I'm extremely biased, but that was the bullshittiest thing I've seen written on the internet in quite a while. The whole internet. First of all, Toronto is a terrible market for anything but hockey and Bill knows that but he's being disingenuous to suit his point. Second, since when has Mr. "I Write From the Fan's Perspective" decided to take up the cause of franchises moving for greener financial pastures and fucking over good and enthusiastic fans? And third of all, if he mentions Vincent Gallo in relation to Buffalo again, I'm going to fly out to L.A. and rip out his nasally vocal cords. Our signature local celebrity is Chad Michael Murray, okay? That shit was intra-divisional bitterness from a crybaby Pats fan, nothing more. Pick: Buffalo

San Diego at Oakland
Aaron: The Raiders got dismantled by a good Denver team, spanked the awful Chiefs and had the Bills on the ropes last week before the Oakland defense caught an earlier flight home with four minutes to go in the game. The thought of San Diego's offense against my team's D is…not finna be pretty. Pick: San Diego

Joe: I hear LT does well, historically, against the Raiders. Sounds like a good idea. Pick: San Diego

Washington at Dallas
Aaron: I don't happen to think Tony Romo is a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback yet, but I'm reasonably sure he's a "beat the Redskins at home-caliber" quarterback. Pick: Dallas

Joe: I don't mean, to harp, but if Tony Romo isn't a Super Bowl-caliber QB, then who is? Hell, Eli Manning is a Super Bowl-caliber QB. And I hear he's TERRIBLE. Look, I don't like the fact that Jerry Jones is positioned to get to another Super Bowl any better than anyone else (much less with Bubba Gump as his head coach), but the Cowboys are fuckin' good. They just are. Pick: Dallas

Philadelphia at Chicago
Aaron: Donovan McNabb has taken some ferocious hits in the first three weeks and now Brian Westbrook is nicked up, too. Looking back, I see that I've made a lot of screwy picks this week, so I'll take the Eagles, but this stinks of the Bears winning a field goal fest. Pick: Philadelphia

Joe: Don't think you can fool me into backing Kyle Orton that easily. Pick: Philadelphia

Baltimore at Pittsburgh
Aaron: An uninspired win against Cleveland and a loss to the Eagles has turned the Steelers from "AFC Champion" to "also-ran" in the eyes of the always-reputable sports media. Screw you, Mike Lupica… Pick: Pittsburgh

Joe: Losing Willie Parker hurts. Maybe while he's on the sidelines this week he can undertake an investigation as to the whereabouts of Santonio Holmes. Pick: Pittsburgh

The Sure Thing Suicide Spread

San Diego Chargers (-7) at Oakland Raiders

Buffalo at St. Louis (+8.5) (the spread last week was too much at home, and it's too much again on the road; we're still trying to be plucky underdogs, Vegas, damn!)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Baseball, Football & Gambling

I don't do this often enough, but if you can't be bothered to turn your eyes slightly to the right, allow me to offer up a link to m'man Tom Daniels' recent work. He's taken on the Herculean task of following his New York Mets (and their execrable bullpen) all week long in their quest for a postseason berth. Sure, we all know how this'll end (either this week or next), but if you're looking for something other than Blogger Cynicism™, Tom's doing a kick ass job.

Also, make sure you check out his Week #3 wrap-up of NFL picks. Tom absolutely tears apart the handsome Raiders fan who made quite the compelling case for Oakland failing to cover in Buffalo last Sunday. Unfortunately, the Raiders did cover. Whoops.

Finally, I received my annual invitation to the Internet Superstars Postseason Pool of Baseball Pickin'. Last year, I walked away with the bronze medal and 10% of the $200 pot. I hope I'm not overstepping my bounds here [Confidential to That Movie Guy: Let me know if I am…], but all you need is $10 and a Paypal account to enter. I've done it for two or three postseasons, it's all on the up and up and there are girls involved. Free money! If you're interested shoot me an email (see my profile page if you don't have it) and I'll send you the link to the homepage.



It works like this: you pick two teams, two position players, and two pitchers. You get points based on the performances of those teams and those players.

Team points come from wins:
each game won = 3 pts.
games won by blow-out (5 runs or more) = 2 pt.
games won in extra innings = 2 pt.

division series = 6 pts.
championship series = 10 pts.
World Series = 15 pts.

sweep/division = 2 pts.
sweep/championship = 5 pts.
sweep/World Series = 8 pts.

Player points come from RBI:
each RBI = 1 pt.
each home run = 1 pt.
walk-off hit = 3 pts.

Pitcher points come from strikeouts and/or other extraordinary performance:
each K = 1 pt.
throws a complete game = 3 pts.
throws a no-no/perfect game = 10 pts.

"Can both my teams be in the same league?" Yes.
"Do my players and pitchers have to be on one of the teams I picked?" No.
"Do my players and pitchers have to be on the same team as each other?" No.
"Can I duplicate other people's picks?" Yes. Pick whomever you like; you won't see everyone else's picks until all the picks are in. We didn't have any dupes the last two years.
"Can I play a half slate for half the money?" No. Too complicated.
"Can I play more than one slate?" You can play two slates; no more than that. Each slate is $10.
"Can I forward this to my friend/co-worker?" Sure! If s/he's got the ten clams, s/he's welcome to play. The more the merrier.
"What if the walkoff 'hit' is actually a hit-by-pitch or something?" Still counts. Ask Mookie Wilson.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Oakland A's 40th Anniversary Team – Infielders

Even in depressing, injury-filled seasons such as these, in which the hated Angels clinched the division in early September, my A's are doing what they can to keep things interesting. As you might suspect, "interesting" has nothing to do with watching this team limp to the finish. Instead, the A's are focusing their final few home games on the celebration of their 40th Anniversary Team.

Hello, blog fodder!

First Base: Mark McGwire – Growing up, it was maddening to watch McGwire's at bats: take strikes one and two, swing and miss wildly at a pitch three feet out of the zone or swing and miss at the first two pitches, take the third right down the middle. In truth, McGwire might've been underrated during his early A's days. His OBP/SLG were always terrific – save for his miserable 1991 campaign. Then, after two injury-filled seasons, he began his ascension to home run royalty in 1996-97. No argument from me.

Favorite A's Memory: In Game #3 of the 1988 ALCS, the A's trailed the Red Sox 5-0. McGwire led off the bottom of the 2nd with a home run, comforting a flat-topped That Bootleg Teen and kick-starting a four-run inning. Oakland would rally for a 10-6 win and sweep Boston out the next day.

Second Base: Mark Ellis – Nothing against Ellis, a fantastic defensive player with a solid league-average bat, but his selection here is more indicative of the dearth of long-term talent the team has featured here over the years. I grew up watching the decaying remains of Davey Lopes, Joe Morgan or Willie Randolph at second in Oakland. Occasionally, midgets like Tony Phillips or Mike Gallego would flash some fine leather or a 425-foot home run (hmmm…) And, then there was our mid-1990s savior, Brent Gates.

Favorite A's Memory: I'm drawing a pretty broad blank here. I guess I'd have to go with Ellis' three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth during Game #5 of the 2002 ALDS. I was driving back from my bachelor party weekend in L.A. on a Sunday afternoon and Ellis' shot would've been a dramatic walk-off into the ALCS (against the Angels!)…if RP Billy Koch hadn't given up a three-spot in the top of the ninth.

Shortstop: Bert Campaneris – Really? Campaneris was the A's starting shortstop for their final three seasons in Kansas City and continued to Oakland where he won three rings in the early 1970s. Probably a bit underrated for his defense and speed, but he was a mediocre hitter who didn't reach base much and got caught stealing an awful lot. ESPN's Rob Neyer – in his excellent, albeit a bit dated Big Book of Baseball Lineups – suggests Miguel Tejada. Tejada only spent six full seasons in Oakland and if you throw out his 2002 MVP campaign, his three best seasons are actually worse than Campy's relative to the league average.

Favorite A's Memory: Campy's A's tenure ended when I was still a toddler, so we'll have to go with two other shortstop moments. The first is a gimmie: Miguel Tejada's walk-off three-run home run during the 2002 season to extend the A's winning streak to 18 games. (Tejada would single home the winning run the following day, too.) The second is from the 1989 World Series. SS Walt Weiss homered, which led to Al Michaels' home run call that actually began with the words, "And, of all people…"

Third Base: Carney Lansford – He was one of those players who managed to be wildly underrated and overrated by us A's fans. Lansford was injured for a huge chunk of time in two of his first three seasons in Oakland, but from 1984-1987, he was a very good hitter. Then…not so much. Save for an insanely fluky 1989, Lansford was a league-average (or worse) hitter for remainder of his A's days. Carney was also not nearly as good a defensive player as most fans remember. I know it might be blasphemy, but I'd have voted for Eric Chavez – better hitter, WAY better fielder and bonus points for being homegrown.

Favorite A's Memory: After missing virtually all of the 1991 season due to a snowmobile(!) accident over the winter, Lansford returned for his final season in '92. I was in attendance at the old Oakland Coliseum when Lansford homered for his 2,000th career hit. Two years later, Lansford would return to the field to play the villainous, scar-faced slugger in Angels in the Outfield. Umm, or so I've been told.

Monday, September 22, 2008

TBG Eats: Jack in the Box's Cheesy Macaroni Bites

Current Weight: 168.8 lbs.

One of my greatest regrets of the year was not being able to locate the fried macaroni and cheese stand at this summer's San Diego Fair. How can you go wrong with any edible item that includes the words "fried" and "cheese"?

After my Saturday morning barbershop stop, I drove a few blocks west and pulled into a Jack in the Box drive-thru for some 11:00 AM pieces of grease. There were about five cars in front of me, which seemed unusual for that time of day, and after five minutes the line hadn't moved. Was the cashier getting robbed? Did the driver of the lead car have a heart attack? I can't be bothered to care as I pull out of the line and make a hasty, expletive-filled escape.

Thankfully, this is Southern California and there's another JitB about 10 minutes away.

I'm faced with choosing between the three-piece and six-piece Macaroni Bites. Remembering my initial orgy with Burger King's all-kinds-of-awesome Cheesy Tots, I jumped in with a six-pack and a Dr. Pepper.

I reached into the bag at the first red light and was mildly surprised to find two packets of ranch dressing. This seemed…weird. Sure, ranch dressing is the dipping sauce default for fast food establishments, but macaroni and cheese and…ranch? Even deep fried, I couldn't reconcile the two together in my mind.

Opening the container, I was taken aback by how brown my meal looked. Growing up in a family that ate fried chicken once a week, every week for 20 f'n years, I know how much neglect it takes to burn something in scalding hot oil. And, over time, I learned to be the first to the dinner table so I could avoid breasts blacker'n Bernie Mac's.

These Cheesy Macaroni Bites weren't burned, but they were certainly circling the ol' scorched runway. After my first bite, I knew I'd made a horrible, horrible mistake. It reminded me of old Crisco with semi-molten faux cheese innards that vaguely tasted like the Kraft box it came from.

It's been awhile since I'd tapped out to the rancid taste of any fast food, so I frantically reached for the ranch dressing in an attempt to salvage my $2.99. The dippin' took the harsh aftertaste down a bit, but after a few more bites it came right back.

I managed to gag down three of these bronzed turds, before tossing everything back into the bag, balling it all up and purging it…from my memory. There simply won't be a more disappointing new fast food menu item this year, kids. These hurt my heart in a way that had nothing to do with my usual arterial blockages. For shame, JitB, for shame.

Grade: -5 (out of 5)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Planning for the A's 2009 Schedule…or "Economic Crisis, Schmeconomic Crisis!"

In what I hope becomes a regular business practice, Major League Baseball released its entire 2009 schedule this week. In years past, each team's schedule was publicized one at a time and staggered throughout the offseason. The A's were usually one of the last teams ('round January) to announce their schedule, as my tightwad squad communicates with the commissioner's office via carrier pigeon. In defense of ol' Prudence, though, she's got one helluva VORP.

So, let's take a look at the A's slate of games for next season and try'n pinpoint the day that Mrs. Bootleg finally leaves me.

April 6-9, at Angels - Oakland opens its season on the road against the team I hate most. (More than the Red Sox, Aaron? Yes, more than the Red Sox.) My friend Smitty and I were at the last Angels' home opener against the A's back in 1991 and I'm hoping to find us tickets for the first game here. Angels tickets, however, have arguably become the most in-demand of any California ballclub. And, if the Halos go deep into October this year…no, no, no. This is a happy time for me. Happy time, damn it!

April 10-12, vs. Mariners - My son is on spring break from his preschool. Earlier this year, The Bootleg Family used this as an excuse to spend a week in San Francisco, see an A's game in Oakland and freeze our asses off in April. I have serious doubts that I'll be able to sway Mrs. Bootleg on this idea for two straight years. Shhh! Let's call this "tentative".

June 16-18, at Dodgers - Sweet Christmas! A rematch of the 1974 World Series AND the meaningless five-game exhibition they played in 1988! I haven't been to Dodger Stadium since the A's last played there in 2000. The only thing more painful than watching that Omar Olivares start for Oakland might be watching That Bootleg Guy fighting weekday L.A. traffic for the first time since 1995 – when, on a hot August day, right before I moved to San Diego, my '86 Ford Tempo died on the 110 freeway. In the middle lane. You haven't lived until you've been cursed out and flipped the bird in 10 different languages.

June 19-21, at Padres - AIEEEEEEEEEEEEE! For the second time since 2006, my A's are playing the Padres within the confines of bland, antiseptic Petco Park. In San Diego! I live in San Diego! In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I hate interleague play. It's inherently unfair in terms of scheduling and roster construction, while its original "purpose" (allowing fans to see teams they otherwise couldn't) has been rendered moot in an age when digital cable and the internet bring every team into every fan's face at any time. With that out of the way, I'd like to also note that this is a weekend series. Confidential to Smitty: let's ditch the families for the rest of our lives at least one game.

June 22-24, vs. Giants - I'm not going to this series. I just wanted to point out that the A's are playing their fiercest interleague rival in a weekday series. Oakland reportedly protested to the league in an attempt to move this three-game set to its usual weekend slot, but I can smell the bull-plop from here. The A's get to double their usual Monday-Wednesday attendance without taking too much of a hit on their slightly more populated weekend games. I'm on to you, Billy Beane.

July 24-26, at Yankees - Memo to Mrs. Nicka: I'll bring my own body wash. This is also the weekend that Rickey Henderson will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Since Mrs. Bootleg is already planning that trip for me, this could potentially be the greatest TBG travel diary in the short-lived history of my lightly-read blog.

August 28-30, at Angels - This is awfully late in the year for the second road trip to Anaheim. If the A's are as far out of the race at this point in 2009 as they were this year, it's conceivable that I'll only attend one game at Angel Stadium next season. Gee, I hope there are enough A's games for me to attend elsewhere next year.

September 25-27, at Angels - At the end of the 2006 season, Smitty and I attended a game in Anaheim immediately after the A's had won the American League West. Some free advice: when your team is resting its starters and readying its rotation for the postseason…save your money.

Go to Hell, Joe Reid

Bills 24, Raiders 23

Saturday, September 20, 2008

TBG's 2008 NFL Pickin' - Week #3

Season To Date:
Joe: 21-10 (2-0 vs. the spread)

Aaron: 18-13 (0-2 vs. the spread)
Tom: 17-14 (1-1 vs. the spread)

Last Week:
Aaron: 9-6 (0-1 vs. the spread)
Joe: 11-4 (1-0 vs. the spread)
Tom: 9-6 (0-1 vs. the spread)

Arizona at Washington
Aaron: Damned if I'm not (shhh) rooting for Kurt Warner. And, considering I'm heading for that place "where my soul will be chopped into confetti and strewn upon a parade of murderers and single mothers" that's high praise. Pick: Arizona

Joe: Oh, big deal, I've been drinking naught but burning hot cola for years. And much as Warner's continued success is hindering the professional development of Matty Angel Face, I've started to root for him too. Of course, it helps that both he and Anquan Boldin are on my fantasy team. On a related note: can they play the Dolphins every week? ...Damn. Pick: Arizona

Kansas City at Atlanta
Aaron: Last week, the Raiders ran for eleventy billion yards against KC and this week, one of my money-league fantasy backs gets that same Chiefs D-line. Excuse me for a moment...hot cha cha cha! Pick: Atlanta

Joe: It'd be nice if I could get a handle on this Atlanta team. Maybe they can help me out this week by being either really great (like they were against Detroit) or utterly inept (like they were against the Bucs). They can further help me out by getting the damn ball to Roddy White already. Pick: Atlanta

Oakland at Buffalo
Aaron: The Raiders' one strength is negated as RBs Justin Fargas and Darren McFadden sustained injuries last week. On a personal note, I'd like to point out that the Raiders are 19-15 lifetime vs. the Bills, so kiss my Black ass, Joe Reid. Pick: Buffalo

Joe: I'm not saying anything. This giant smile on my face is for completely unrelated reasons, likely to do with gas. (And if I'm being honest, a loss to the Raiders now that everybody's gotten their hopes up would be way more devastating than if the Raiders were any good, so you should be able to hang your hat on that, Cam.) Pick: Buffalo

Tampa Bay at Chicago
Aaron: The Bucs run defense ensures that Bears QB Kyle Orton will have to throw the ball to win this game. I remain floored that he's fooled so many people into thinking he's a competent quarterback. Pick: Tampa Bay

Joe: My first inclination was to scoff at your West Coast Jaworski brand of analysis, but...yeah, pretty much. The Bucs D guarantees them 8-8 at worst this season. Pick: Tampa Bay

Carolina at Minnesota
Aaron: I welcome the Gus Frerotte era because (1) he's older than me and (2) he made a Pro Bowl?! I mean, I know that's not an exclusive honor, but...really?! Pick: Minnesota

Joe: I'm starting to think this Minnesota team is kinda crappy. Kinda really crappy. (And thus fulfills my contractual obligation to call the Vikings garbage at least once per season.) Pick: Carolina

Houston at Tennessee
Aaron: Even though I expected it, I am LOVING the media and talk-show callers framing the fragile emotional state of Vince Young and his possible thoughts of suicide in the context of "is this the guy we want leading our team?" Pick: Tennessee

Joe: Am I being overly optimistic in thinking that unexpected bye week might give the Texans a chance to re-boot their ill-begun season? ...On the road? Whatever, Tennessee's not THAT good. Pick: Houston

Cincinnati at N.Y. Giants
Aaron: Increasingly sh*tty Bengals QB Carson Palmer called out some of his teammates after last season, in which he led the league in interceptions. No one dared assign any of the blame to Palmer for this mess. Quit copying, Brett Favre! Pick: NY Giants

Joe: I think it's become crystal clear what happened here. After Palmer made those vicious/awesome anti-Ohio State comments on the radio in the offseason, Buckeye fans en masse employed The Secret to destroy his athletic ability. ...And then their teams got their asses heinously kicked last week. Aw. Pick: NY Giants

Miami at New England
Aaron: The Pats beat a mediocre Jets team by nine points and only outgained them by four yards. Thankfully, the parade of creampuffs continues as I eagerly await another week of "Matt Cassel has Arrived" stories online. Didya know he never started a game in college or the pros before last week? Pick: New England

Joe: Well at least ONE other person has last week's Pats win in the right perspective. Of course, he goes and ruins it all by (SPOILER) picking them to win by two touchdowns this week. ...Dude. You're breakin' my balls here. Pick: New England (...by, like, six)

St. Louis at Seattle
Aaron: Will the Seahawks be the first team St. Louis keeps under 38 points this season? Will the Rams score more than their 8 points per game average? Oh, hurry up and play already, fellas! Pick: Seattle

Joe: Don't worry, Seattle fans. Every single one of your receivers may be out for extended periods of time, your QB may be banged up, and you may have just lost at home to the 49ers, but John McCain said this morning that the fundamentals of your team is sound. Feel better now? Pick: Seattle

Detroit at San Francisco
Aaron: For a league that proudly trumpets its parity, the Lions have sucked ass for a long, long time. Has anyone else noticed this? Pick: San Francisco

Joe: Two very similar teams, right? No defense to speak of, pass-happy offenses, and sporadic ground games. Not good football, but it won't be boring. By the way, I'm breaking every one of my Detroit guidelines here, picking them 1) on the road, 2) on grass, and 3) to a team that isn't the Rams, Chiefs, or Bengals. Consider this a belated birthday present to Mrs. Bootleg. Pick: Detroit

New Orleans at Denver
Aaron: With apologies and condolences to the friends, family and former teammates of late Broncos DB Darrent Williams, this one's going to be a f*cking shoot-out, yo. Pick: Denver

Joe: The first time you haven't blurbed the word "Katrina" in a Saints-related write-up and this is what you come up with? Looks like LaDanian's not the only classy guy in San Diddy. Pick: Denver

Jacksonville at Indianapolis
Aaron: Why does every story about the early struggles of Peyton Manning have to include how "sick" he feels about Tom Brady's injury? In MY day, Kenny Stabler didn't give a damn about Terry Bradshaw. Pick: Jacksonville

Joe: The frantic optimism of Jaguars backers (not just fans but everyone who staked their reputation on the Jags being the trendy dark horse Super Bowl pick) insisting that Jacksonville has the NFL right where they want them reminds me of a certain father and son, racing to catch up to an airborne pig. It's still good! It's still good! Pick: Indianapolis

Cleveland at Baltimore
Aaron: When did Braylon Edwards turn into this ubiquitous league-wide sex symbol whose image haunts every page load on Yahoo fantasy football? Is he still with the Browns? Pick: Cleveland

Joe: Before everyone shovels that last bit of dirt on the '08 Browns' season, let's remember that they opened against Dallas and Pittsburgh. Let's maybe hold off and see what they do against a team they actually should beat. Pick: Cleveland

Pittsburgh at Philadelphia
Aaron: Lost in all the hubbub over Desean Jackson's preening non-touchdown last week was the equally hilarious Andrea Kramer interview with Ben Roethlisberger after the Steelers game on NBC. He ignored every question about his shoulder from the bug-eyed, expired eye-candy. Pick: Philadelphia

Joe: Wow, athlete gives evasive, platitude-laden interview? I'm scandalized. Back to Jackson, though: this is why I feel that Leon Lett, Chuck Knobloauch, and Manny Ramirez should be kept in a booth somewhere and forced to watch along with all of these games just so we can get reaction shots from them when someone like DeSean Jackson joins their exclusive society. Pick: Philadelphia

Dallas at Green Bay
Aaron: Hmmm...do I watch this or the ESPN2 coverage of the last game at a historic ballpark that was essentially torn down and completely rebuilt in the mid-1970s? Tough call. Will Pat Kelly stop by the booth for an inning with Jon Miller and Joe Morgan? If so, I'm in. Pick: Dallas

Joe: You talk like Yankee fans are ashamed of Pat Kelly or something. Sure he sucked, but it was what made him interesting. If only they could round up Pat and Roberto Kelly. That would be worth ditching this game for. And, hey, at least this one's on a channel everybody gets, not like last year's NFL Network travesty. Pick: Dallas

[Ed. Note: And, with that, Joe Reid makes his 100th snarky jab in three years of predicting games with me, about how he doesn't get the NFL Network. Apparently that two minute walk to ANY BAR IN THE FIVE BOUROUGHS to see the damn network is just too wrought with pimps and C.H.U.D.s.]

N.Y. Jets at San Diego
Aaron: I've lived in San Diego for more than 13 years. Best Week Ever. Pick: San Diego

Joe: I'd almost rather LT take a month off and rehab the goddamn toe than literally limp along at 20 yards per game. I can't complain, because I had him on my fantasy team 2 years ago when he was awesome for a full season, but damn. This sucks. Pick: San Diego

The Sure Thing Suicide Spread:

Aaron: Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots (-13)

Joe: Carolina (+3.5) at Minnesota

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Mrs. Bootleg's Birfday Weekend

Saturday, September 13

10:45 AM - If two major motion pictures and a recurring skit on In Living Color haven't convinced America that the Black barbershop is the home for hilarity, here's an actual conversation between my barber and one of the stylists:

Barber: "You gonna see that new movie with (Al) Pacino and (Robert) DeNiro?"

Stylist: "Which one is that? Oh, wait, is that one with 50 Cent?! All I know is that he's in the one I really wanna see."

11:30 AM - Order ice cream cake for the wife at Baskin-Robbins. The unattended child behind the counter writes "Happy Birthday Missus Bootleg" in the place on the form that says, "message". I respectfully ask if she can change that to "Mrs.", in an attempt to keep the cake from using formally-written feminine titles not seen since 18th century slave trade invitations.

12:15 PM - Stop by flower shop for an obscenely overpriced bouquet. I actually don't mind handing over the Discover Card as this purchase not only gets me some coveted "cash back" points, but it also puts me right around my unwritten, unspoken, wife-knows-nothing-about-it dollar threshold for her gifts this year. (Don't look at me like that. I'd bought her some gifts earlier in the month. Besides, it's not my fault that women classify flowers as "gifts".)

6:15 PM - Smokin' hot 23-year-old babysitter arrives to watch the boy so Mrs. Bootleg and I can go out to dinner. I'm always forced to make awkward conversation with the sitter as it takes my wife two hours to put on jeans, boots and a blouse. I harmlessly ask, "How's every little thing?" She tells me she joined e-Harmony, because she's tired of dating losers. It pretty much goes downhill from there.

6:30 PM - The wife is silently pissed because I "made her drive" to her own birthday dinner. My reasons were threefold: (1) I didn't want to drive. (2) The restaurant is in a part of San Diego (Old Town) that I'm not at all familiar with. (3) The wife always forgets her car has a navigation system, so when I play the "I don't know how to get there" card, she ends up buying that line every time.

7:00 PM - Our reservations are at 7:00, but the wife can't find a parking space. It never fails to amuse me how often she gets on me for my lack of patience with her, the boy, traffic, etc, while after five minutes of traversing packed residential streets, she's turned into the Republican Party's perception of Michelle Obama.

7:05 PM - Good thing we made reservations at Café Pacifica. We're five minutes late and, by my count, only the second seated party in the entire establishment. The host even tells us to "sit anywhere". Awesome. At these prices, not even an escort to our table? Well, whaddaya know – looks like Applebee's finally has a restaurant beat in one quality. I would've lost a few bets on that ever happening.

7:10 PM - My Maker's Mark Manhattan, on the rocks, no cherry arrives with more ice than a sno-cone and a cherry. And, at first sip, apparently not a bit of bourbon. I'm too flustered to drop that classic Simpsons line ("What did I do to deserve such a flat, tasteless Manhattan?") on Mrs. Bootleg.

7:11 PM - I've recovered enough to drop the line on Mrs. Bootleg.

7:15 PM - Mrs. Bootleg's choice of birthday appetizer? Popcorn shrimp. Popcorn shrimp. If I'd known she wanted Long John Silver's, I would've took her to Long John Silver's.

7:25 PM - This is some good-ass popcorn shrimp. It was served with a pretentious "chipotle sauce" (isn't everything served with chipotle sauce these days?) and a second side of plain ol' cocktail sauce – the most underrated condiment ever created.

7:30 PM - Our soups (clam chowder for her, tomatillo for me) are soo-poib! This evening out has rebounded nicely…and, look! Another couple has come inside to eat! Only 98% of capacity to go before the fire marshal shuts this b*tch down.

7:45 PM - How do you know you're paying too much for a meal? When the entrée is served stacked on top of the sides like some "leaning tower of eat-sa". (I can't remember where I'm stealing that from so, for now, I'll claim credit.) My seared salmon was served with this creamy little soy sauce…fusion…of…something. While I couldn't identify it, I'm sure my stomach will know what to do with it. Mrs. Bootleg saved some of her sea bass to make room for…

8:10 PM - …crème brulee. Good ol' predictable Mrs. Bootleg. Crème brulee or tiramisu. If her next husband is out there reading this, there's no quicker way to her heart.

9:00 PM - We're now at a bar about a mile from Stately Bootleg Manor. Just can't take the chance that the boy is still awake. We figure another hour or so should seal the deal.

10:00 PM - After pounding a couple of pints – with even Mrs. Bootleg sucking down a daiquiri – we take our leave. For the first time all evening, I notice the wife is wearing some sexy, big girl boots. I casually (casually) comment on her "f*** me" footwear, to which she immediately responds, "I'll have to take a rain check, tonight." I wasn't even angling for sex this evening and she still shoots me down? Only when you're married, kids.

Sunday, September 14

2:45 AM - I wake up in a cold sweat, as my stomach appears to be having issues with the fish from a few hours earlier.

2:46 AM - I make it to the bathroom and quickly deduce that my intestinal escape plan is proceeding through, umm…the opposite direction of my mouth.

2:51 AM - Hey, now it's both!

3:10 AM - From downstairs, sprawled out on the couch, my body temperature fluctuates from 110 to "corpse" over the next couple of hours.

5:15 AM - Drifting, drifting, drifting….sleep.

6:00 AM - "DADDY, WAKE UP!"

6:00 AM - (What I'm thinking): "G*d dammit, boy, what the hell is wrong with you! It's six o' clock in the g*ddam morning!" (What I actually say): same.

6:30 AM - With only 30 minutes to go until my mother-in-law's annual "no-concept-of-different-time-zones" birthday call, I put the finishing touches on Mrs. Bootleg's birthday gifts.

6:31 AM - Finally! The last present is crammed into the Oakland A's gift bag that Mrs. Bootleg used for my birthday back in March.

11:50 AM - I arrive at Baskin-Robbins to pick up the cake, but find out it's not ready. The ninth-grader tells me to "come back later". I tell her that it was supposed to be ready at noon and then I nonverbally threaten her by crossing my arms over my chest, flashing a militant scowl behind my Ray-Bans. (Yeah, yeah…you know and I know, but she doesn't know…)

11:51 AM - An older child – possibly a high school sophomore or junior – magically appears and begins the cake-making process.

12:01 PM - It's not the prettiest cake in the world, but it's completed and now Mrs. Bootleg's birthday party can commence!

1:00 PM - My wife and son simultaneously pass out on the boy's bed.

My wife. The opposite of this.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

"Could you spell that last name for me, sir?"

TBG's 2008 NFL Pickin' - Week #2

Current Standings

Joe: 10-6 (1-0, vs. the spread)
Aaron: 9-7 (0-1)
Tom: 8-8 (1-0)

Buffalo at Jacksonville
Aaron: Was the Bills' week #1 win over Seattle meaningful or just the by-product of facing a Seahawks team that only suited up six men on offense, including a quarterback that played with a fractured spine? Discuss. Pick: Jacksonville

Joe: The pragmatist in me wants to take it easy and not go overboard. Because, yes, Seattle looked pretty dismal and depleted last week. But Cam's cockiness in dismissing the Bills' win as a fluke has my dander up just enough to do something foolish. Pick: Buffalo

Chicago at Carolina
Aaron: Listening to John Madden play up the merits of Bears QB Kyle Orton last Sunday night should leave no doubt the old man died years ago and all we've been hearing the past few seasons are the dormant gasses leaving his decomposing body. Pick: Carolina

Joe: These would be the Week 1 poster teams for why the NFC might not be the AFC's doormat anymore. Chicago may not need to depend on the dubious merits of their fratty QB if Matt Forte has anything to say about it. Look for Rosario Dawson to continue to play well for the Panthers, though, in the most stunningly successful career-swapping since Alex Karras adopted an adorable black kid. Pick: Chicago

Tennessee at Cincinnati
Aaron: Vince Young's apparent emotional breakdown is one of those serious real-life events that everyone concludes "puts things in perspective". That is until it becomes an online punchline and anonymous teammates start whispering to the media behind his back. I love sports. Pick: Tennessee

Joe: You know, between Vince Young going off the reservation and Jeff Garcia getting benched for highly dubious reasons in Tampa Bay, this might be the worst week for gay NFL QBs in history. Not bad enough to make me wish Kordell Stewart was still playing, though. Pick: Tennessee

New Orleans at Washington
Aaron: If the Saints were 100% healthy, they'd ethnically cleanse the field of Redskins (hey, I didn't name 'em). While I buy every argument for a step forward for Reggie Bush this season, the 'Skins gotta win sometime. Pick: Washington

Joe: Oh, do they? This won't be pretty, but no Redskins game this season will be. Pick: New Orleans

Green Bay at Detroit
Aaron: At this point, the Lions, Rams and Raiders should just secede from the league. But, that would leave an odd number of teams and someone would have to have a bye every week and then it gets really messy. Aaron Rodgers' STFU Tour rolls on. Pick: Green Bay

Joe: Did you see Jon Kitna screaming at his teammates on the sideline last week? Guess someone forgot to consult his Who Would Jesus Berate? bracelet that day. Pick: Green Bay

N.Y. Giants at St. Louis
Aaron: The Giants have the Rams, Bengals, bye week, Seattle and Cleveland before a late October showdown with the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Can a 5-0 start steal some of the thunder from Saint Favre's arrival in New York? Please? Pick: NY Giants

Joe: So, help me out here, national sports media: does Eli Manning still suck? ...Really? Okay. Because he just won a...no, okay. You seem pretty certain. Can I check back again next week? Just to satisfy my own curiosity? Thanks. Pick: NY Giants

Oakland at Kansas City
Aaron: I'm officially pulling for my Raiders to go 0-16 this year. Maybe then - at rock bottom - management will finally realize what a Knicks-sized lampoon they've become. We're the Suge Knight of once-scary teams. Pick: Kansas City

Joe: You know, I made a number of decent calls last week. San Diego and the Colts being on shaky ground. Jacksonville not being all that. Buffalo winning. Pittsburgh looking like a Super Bowl contender. None of that makes up for my faith in the Raiders as a possible sleeper team. Forget that they're in no way a sleeper -- they're barely a team. Pick: Kansas City

Indianapolis at Minnesota
Aaron: Every year there's a supposed Super Bowl contender that starts off September slowly. If that's not justification enough for this pick, I'll say that Peyton Manning - after watching him vs. the Bears last week - is either (1) hurt or (2) aging quicker'n Kathleen Turner after her shapely middle-aged legs were the selling point of V.I. Warshawski. What? I don't know anyone more recent. Pick: Minnesota

Joe: I am speechless. I can't keep up with a V.I. Warshawski line. Not even if I mention how Vikings coach Brad Childress bears an uncanny resemblance to one of Kirstie Alley's loser blind dates in Look Who's Talking. This guy knows what I'm talking about. Pick: Indianapolis

San Francisco at Seattle
Aaron: That's...umm...quite the collection of talent in the NFC West this year. Pick: Seattle

Joe: Everybody's making the "Call up Steve Largent!" jokes with regard to the Seahawks' dire WR situation, but nobody's making the equally compelling Brian Blades jokes. Or Robb Thomas. Or Ricky Prohel...wait, that's a good idea! Pick: San Francisco

Atlanta at Tampa Bay
Aaron: I'm nowhere near convinced that last week's Atlanta Wrecking Machine is legit. But, the Bucs have benched QB Jeff Garcia in favor of Brian Griese? Little early to be thinking about 2009 draft position, don'cha think Tampa Bay? Pick: Atlanta

Joe: Cam's thinking with the QBs, while my mind is on the RBs. Earnest Graham vs. Michael Turner. Since my understanding is that the Bucs, unlike other Atlanta opponents this year, are actually in possession of a defensive line, they may have a shot here. Pick: Tampa Bay

Miami at Arizona
Aaron: The Dolphins were essentially beaten by two Brett Favre lollipops last week. I'd argue that Cards QB Kurt Warner is at least as good as Favre, but with unquestionably better receivers. You had your chance, Miami. Pick: Arizona

Joe: It's been articulated elsewhere, but it bears repeating: if Arizona can't win the NFC West this year, they might as well just call it a franchise and pack it in. Pick: Arizona

New England at N.Y. Jets
Aaron: More talented team? Patriots. More talented quarterback? Push. More talented team? Patriots. Home field advantage? Jets. More talented team...well, you get the idea. Pick: New England

Joe: Stupid rock and a hard place. Either the Jets beat the defending AFC champs under the blinding halo of Our Lord and Savior Brett Favre and the national sports media start engraving his name on the MVP trophy or else the Pats continue to win under the new QB, inflating the hopes and egos of Boston sports fans and making them think they've found their next unheralded all-star even though this can't end in anything but heartbre-- Hey now! Liking that hard place! Pick: New England

San Diego at Denver
Aaron: The Chargers have owned the Broncos recently and Denver isn’t nearly as good as they looked against the JV squad last week. Seems simple enough to me. Pick: San Diego

Joe: If this is going to be the season LaDanian Tomlinson finally succumbs to nagging injuries, I will not be a pleasant person to be around this year. Pick: San Diego

Pittsburgh at Cleveland
Aaron: It seems like only two weeks ago when people were using the word “playoffs” in the same sentence with “Cleveland Browns”. Did everyone forget their QB Derek Anderson’s month-long bed-wetting in December of last year and preseason concussion this year? Everyone? Idiots. Pick: Pittsburgh

Joe: Now it's gotten to the point where people are underrating the Browns, though. A lot of teams are gonna look inept against the Cowboys. Unfortunately for Romeo "Field Goal When Down Three Touchdowns" Crennel, a lot of teams are gonna look inept against the Steelers too. Pick: Pittsburgh

Philadelphia at Dallas
Aaron: This has the offensive makings of one of those MNF games that pulls victory out of the jaws of certain defeat for fantasy owners who happen to start one of these two QBs. On an unrelated note, come onnnnnnnn, Romo! Pick: Dallas

Joe: Did I not tell you Jessica Simpson was gonna be a problem? Somebody needs to do something about that bitch. ...No, no, I can use that word. I'm reclaiming it for guys who want to talk about women they're showing no respect for. Pick: Dallas

The Sure Thing Suicide Spread

Aaron: Oakland at Kansas City (-2.5)
Joe: San Francisco (+7) at Seattle

Thursday, September 11, 2008

TBG TV: Do Not Disturb

The 10-Word Premise: Wacky ensemble cast works at New York hotel. Stereotypes a'poppin'.

Starring: Jerry O'Connell as "Neil", the hotel's general manager and Nicey Nash as "Rhonda", the sassy (natch) H.R. director.

The Best Thang: Donnie Darko's Jolene Purdy is terrific as the receptionist/top model for Indiana's second-largest plus-size women's clothing chain.

The Worst Thang: Here's a quick description of the rest of the cast – libidinous pretty boy, beautiful blonde b*tch, gay guy, sarcastic twerp and sista-girl. Is there such a thing as less than one-dimensional?

The Verdict: On the one hand, I'm glad to see the usually entertaining Nash (Reno 911!) get a network gig. On the other…well, the show isn't as terrible as every critic in America would have you believe, but it's still pretty bad. O'Connell's just cashing a paycheck and everyone else will be running from this blip on their résumés in four to six weeks.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

That Spirometry Guy

So, I've been having some upper respiratory issues – off and on – for the past six months. For the life of me, I can't seem to shake this dry, raspy cough. In addition, I've found that my breathing has gotten increasingly audible, sounding a lot like an asthmatic smoker blowing a whistle. There's been sporadic tightness in my chest, shortness of breath and fatigue to complete my own little medical mystery.

On Monday, I saw the doctor. In his expert, uhh...guess, he narrowed it down to asthma or acid reflux. Keep in mind that I'm 6'0" and have shaved my weight down to 168 lbs. At the start of 7th grade, I was almost a foot shorter and nearly 180 lbs. If my fat ass didn't have asthma then, there's no way I'd contracted it now. Reflux was a possibility, as everything seems to give me heartburn these days. But, my whole "insides afire" is a recent phenomenon, not six months worth of misery.

I had chest x-rays taken, which supplied the comic relief for the morning. The elderly technician couldn't get a "clean" picture until the sixth radioactive snapshot my upper body. "Sometimes it's hard to get a good image of guys who are so skinny. You're lucky", she explained. Tell that to the eventual side effects of all these x-rays, Mabel.

Anyways, on Tuesday, I went down for a spirometry test. This convenient link will help you understand what I went through:

"Since the test involves some forced breathing and rapid breathing, you may have some temporary shortness of breath or light-headedness."

The test couldn't have taken more than five minutes, but it kicked my ass for the rest of the day. All of the rapid breathing confused my usually lazy lungs, which then simultaneously collapsed within my scrawny chest cavity. And, the light-headedness led to full-on disorientation as the attending nurse has just one role throughout this ordeal: cheerleader.

"C'mon, Aaron! Blow! Blow! Blow! You're almost there! Through the chest! Tighten your stomach! 3! 2! 1! Good job! Good job! Let's do it again."

On the plus side, I was told I didn't have asthma.


Sunday, September 7, 2008

Some More Sunday Words...

Memo to CBS: Your shameless, incessant plugging of the CBS Scene Restaurant & Bar – a joint venture with the ownership of the New England Patriots – is pretty despicable. From the fawning food testimonials of your on-air personalities to the repeated cut-ins of live shots from the eatery…enough.

Please let me get killed on my Week #1 picks in peace. Thanks.

Why College Football Can Kiss My Black Ass

I transferred to San Diego State University in August 1995 and graduated in December 1997.

SDSU has a Division I football program, but I got there a couple of years after the Marshall Faulk Experience. Since his departure, the Aztecs' relevancy in this town (and on campus) has been inversely proportional to the sheer ineptitude of the program.

This is why yesterday's nationally televised afternoon game against Notre Dame might've been the most important game for SDSU in the 13 years I've lived in this conservative cesspool of temperate sunshine and reasonably priced seafood restaurants.

Last weekend, the Aztecs lost to Division I-AA Cal Poly San Luis Obispo – the second time in three seasons that SLO came to San Diego and beat SDSU. Yesterday, the Aztecs had a chance to punch the Fighting Irish square in their sanctimonious mugs.

SDSU took a 13-7 lead into the fourth quarter, but an inexcusable fumble by Aztec RB Brandon Sullivan at Notre Dame's 1-yard line – which capped an incompetent afternoon that featured a missed FG and extra point – turned the momentum back to the Irish. Notre Dame scored on the next possession (made their extra point) and never looked back.

Just three questions from me: (1) NBC doesn't really believe the Irish "mystique" is still alive do they? The notion that a win over Notre Dame would "put the Aztecs on the map" was floated over the airwaves a few times. This sounded more like a damning indictment on the inherent conflict of interest between the network and their multimillion dollar deal with Notre Dame than anything else. (2) Can everyone admit that Ty Willingham's firing after three seasons (21-15) in Notre Dame was driven in large part by the color of his skin? Current coach Charlie Weis has been comically inept since his own recruiting classes started playing for him and an 8-point win (at home) against one of the worst five D-1 teams in the country is…not a good sign. (3) How can the Aztecs be outfitted by Nike, yet have such ugly unis? (Sorry, kids, but I love the Oregon jerseys). Really!

TBG's 2008 NFL Pickin' - Week #1

Seattle at Buffalo
Aaron: Lots of talk about the Bills being one of the obligatory "surprise teams" in '08. Is QB Trent Edwards still on salary? Does Buffalo still feature the teeniest linebackers in the business? Yes to both, you say? Pick: Seattle

Joe: My pick-against-the-Bills reverse-jinx strategy proved to be too inconsistent to sustain (kind of like the 7-9 Bills). But I'm also not confident to play the homer each week. Which leaves me having to pick each week's game on its own merits. Let me tell you, that shit is for the birds. Pick: Buffalo

Detroit at Atlanta
Aaron: New Falcons QB Matt Ryan is being asked to revive an entire franchise, win over an indifferent fan base and, someday, bring the first ever Super Bowl championship to the ATL. Notre Dame ain't on your schedule this year, yo. Pick: Detroit

Joe: The Falcons in the midst of a whole lot of restructuring, with the new QB, RB, coach, and now having to compete for hometown attention with the Real Housewives of Atlanta. But I have picking Detroit on the road. Pick: Atlanta

Cincinnati at Baltimore
Aaron: When did Chad Johnson Ocho Cinco go from entertaining and relevant to overrated, attention-seeking minstrel? And, why can't Bengals management hire Big Rick and Deelishis to complete my analogy? Pick: Cincinnati

Joe: And for the third season in a row, I remain mystified at your lack of appreciation for the one-man carnival of joy that is the Ocho Cinco experience. Props to the VH1 references, though. Pick: Cincinnati

St. Louis at Philadelphia
Aaron: Hey, it's Week #1. This means it's time for the Eagles to unrealistically raise expectations of Philly fans in advance of the team's eventual season-deflating loss which spirals them into oblivion. On an unrelated note, good luck in Dallas next week, Mr. McNabb. Pick: Philadelphia

Joe: Everybody keeps saying the Rams can't possibly be as bad as they were last season. I guess that's the difference with me. I look at the 2008 Rams and say "Why not?" Pick: Philadelphia

Houston at Pittsburgh
Aaron: Is Ben Roethlisberger the least attractive good quarterback since John Elway? Seriously, his head looks like a loaf of bread that needs 15 more minutes in the oven. What? This is a blog! You expect me to be catty. Pick: Pittsburgh

Joe: Yeah, but if he were any more attractive, he'd be getting shit for doing beer bongs with college girls. That's right, people: Matt Leinart is being unfairly persecuted for his good looks. You know it's true. (By the way, I'm pretty sure I'm picking the Steelers to make the Super Bowl.) Pick: Pittsburgh

Jacksonville at Tennessee
Aaron: Is it my imagination or has everyone abandoned the Vince Young bandwagon? There weren't even that many preseason stories on how Young's "more confident than ever", including adjectives like "pivotal" and nouns like "crossroads". Heaven help us if the liberal media loses a Black QB to champion. Pick: Jacksonville

Joe: I'd like to know how Jacksonville is supposed to ascend to Super Bowl contender status with Jerry Porter as the class of their WR crop. I ask you! That being said, there's a reason nobody's picking Tennessee to return to the playoffs. Pick: Jacksonville

Tampa Bay at New Orleans
Aaron: Wait...Saints QB Drew Brees threw for more than 4,000 yards last year? When did this happen? It sure as hell wasn't during any of the ten weeks he killed my '07 fantasy team. How did I miss the headlines of his six straight 660 yard games to end the season? Pick: New Orleans

Joe: Well Drew and his shape-shifting birthmark are my fantasy team's problem now. In other news, with Warrick Dunn, Joey Galloway, Ike Hilliard, Derrick Brooks, and Jeff Garcia, Tampa Bay takes the mantle as the NFL's oldest team. On the bright side, I think that means they're qualified to be President. Pick: New Orleans

Kansas City at New England
Aaron: Guess who has the easiest schedule in the league this season? OK, I get that the Pats can't be blamed for the AFC East, but why do they get the same dregs of the West Coast as even the worst teams in their division? And, is anyone else shocked that the networks haven't started the hype for Week #2's Favre/Brady match-up yet? Pick: New England

Joe: In case you were curious, the humiliating and wholly satisfying defeat of the Patriots in the Super Bowl hasn't dulled my hatred any. Pick: New England

N.Y. Jets at Miami
Aaron: I know who's lining up under center for the Jets. I know that their flawed erstwhile QB Chad Pennington is only a Miami stopgap for a season or two. And, I know that any team depending on RB Ricky Williams is going to lose three of every four. Meh. Joe always kills me in Week #1, anyway. Pick: Miami

Joe: Cam makes the pick I wanted to here. Instead, looks like I'll be erring on the side of pessimism. Pick: NY Jets

Arizona at San Francisco
Aaron: Call me crazy, but I think the Kurt Warner to Boldin/Fitzgerald combo will win more games than people think. OK, well, they'll win games against teams as awful as San Francisco. Pick: Arizona

Joe: Even though I mentioned The Passion of Matt Leinart's Pretty Face up there, I do think the Cards are probably better off with Warner in the short term. Good thing they were only a game or two away from the Super Bowl last year, right? Pick: Arizona

Carolina at San Diego
Aaron: For a supposed Super Bowl contender, the Chargers have a lot of question marks. There are injuries on both sides of the ball and the '07 team relied on a TON of career years from players not likely to repeat them. You stay classy, LaDanian. Pick: San Diego

Joe: Aw, I missed the rabid Charger-hating in these columns. I really did. That being said, I'm with Cam: the Chargers are a better bet for a letdown season than a Super Bowl trip. Pick: San Diego

Dallas at Cleveland
Aaron: As good as I think the Cowboys will be this year, they can't hold a candle to those hookers-n-coke fueled teams of 10-15 years ago. That there are still people up in arms about the 'Boys bringing in Pac-Man, Tank, and TO is just some damn fine amnesia. Pick: Dallas

Joe: I keep wanting to pick Dallas to win the Super Bowl, but as long as Wade Phillips and Jessica Simpson are within a hundred miles of Texas Stadium's famed half-assed dome, I won't be able to feel good about it. Pick: Dallas

Chicago at Indianapolis
Aaron: Hey, two Black head coaches! On Opening Weekend! You don't care? Racist. Pick: Indianapolis

Joe: The fall from Super Bowl to Game I Could Give a Shit ABout is a precipitous one indeed. Pick: Indianapolis

Minnesota at Green Bay
Aaron: Just to recap: Packers QB Aaron Rodgers survived Brett Favre's petulant attempts to sabotage him AND has told Packers fans to get behind him or STFU. Looks like I've found this year's "team to root for until Al Davis dies". Pick: Green Bay

Joe: I'm with you in spirit, Cam, but I think the growing pains will last a bit longer for Job Aaron Rodgers. Pick: Minnesota

Denver at Oakland
Aaron: The Raiders always play the Broncos tough. I'm pretty sure they covered the spread in both of their meetings last year. Sadly, the Broncos are just three point favorites, so Oakland ain't winning and ain't covering. Pick: Denver

Joe: Call me crazy, but I think Oakland's resurgence comes this season. Too bad their so-called fans are so faithless. Are the other face-painting weirdos this fickle? Pick: Oakland

The Sure Thing Suicide Spread
Aaron: Seattle (-1) at Buffalo. This one stinks of last year's Bills opener, when a plucky and precious Buffalo squad lost on a last second FG to Denver. 22-20, Seattle.

Joe: Dallas (-5.5) at Cleveland. I'm pulling for Cleveland to buck the predictions of a letdown season, but Dallas has them outgunned, badly.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Chicken Soup for the Black Woman's Soul

My son Jalen is the pickiest eater alive. Mrs. Bootleg is always attempting to introduce the boy to new foods, but given the choice between a loud, tearful test of wills between these two midgets (new readers: my wife is 4'8"…seriously) or a peaceful dinner after 10 hours in the catacombs of the Unnamed Defense Contractor, I'm inclined to acquiesce to the kid and heat up some leftover pizza.

Wednesday night, I came home to find our kitchen in ruins and Jessica Seinfeld's Deceptively Delicious cookbook on the counter. For those that don't know, this is the book that takes dozens of quick, simple All-American dishes and adds two hours of prep time to each one through the use of fresh fruit and vegetable purees. These healthy ingredients are ostensibly "hidden" within the cookies, cakes and quesadillas – while the kids can't tell they're really eating crap like beets and butternut squash.

On the menu for this evening was some kind of fresh chicken alphabet soup. Instead of the "one can and a saucepan" version that I grew up with, Mrs. Bootleg had pulled out every pot in the house for this inevitable failure. She'd boiled the pasta in one, cooked the chicken in another and combined the two in still another. The recipe called for pureed sweet potatoes and since they have to be boiled before you can blend them…well, you get the idea. A delicious whip of liquefied cauliflower completed the meal.

Mrs. Bootleg meticulously combined all the ingredients and brought the boy to the dinner table, but she made the critical mistake of promising him "something new". Predictably, this led to Jalen quickly latching on to one of the few things he will eat and repeating the request over and over. For those scoring at home, "hot dogs" topped his short list here. We went back and forth with the boy – even sent him to his room for a spell – before he finally emerged and made the declaration, "I don't WANT healthy food, I want REAL food!"

My wife is livid, I'm unable to stifle my laugh and 20 minutes later Jalen's enjoying a steaming bowl of Kraft Easy Mac.

That was MY idea.

Three minutes prep time.

He finished every bite.

TBG's 2008 NFL Pickin' – Week #1 (Thursday)

For the third straight year, Joe Reid and I have decided to settle our differences by watching others play football and guessing the outcome. Joe, for those of you who don't know, is originally from Buffalo, New York and a die-hard fan of the Toronto Bills. His gridiron experience includes a scathing review of Any Given Sunday for his high school newspaper (headline: "More Like 'Any Given Sun-DULL'") and ownership of the only men's, adult-sized #7 Bills jersey.

Meanwhile, somewhere else in New York state, sits Tom Daniels. His recent sports-related accomplishments include the one millionth published mash note to Mike and the Mad Dog and an uncommon courage in the face of being a Mets fan, knowing that their bullpen will break his heart and end his team's season within the next six weeks. He's thrown down the gauntlet and has obviously forgotten what happened the LAST time a middle-aged Black guy from Long Beach took on NYC.

Washington at N.Y. Giants

Joe: So the Redskins are betting the season on the arm of Jason Campbell, while the defending Super Bowl champs have a defense so depleted by free agency, retirement, and injury that they'll soon be looking to Rick Moranis for depth. Look it up. I'd bet on a Super Bowl hangover for the G-Men, but Washington's going to have one of those 7-9, "once these guys learn the West Coast Offense business is sure gonna pick up!" seasons. Pick: NY Giants

Aaron: Seven months after winning the greatest Super Bowl of all time, the Giants are still playing the no respect card? Really? Their plucky underdog schtick was only adorable when lined up across from the Brady/Belichick Axis of Evil. Now, with a $25,000 championship ring on their fingers and the eternal gratitude of 44 out of 50 states, they think they're going to sneak up on someone? Pick: NY Giants