Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Since No One Else is Talking About Michael Jackson…

ESPN.com columnist Bill Simmons recently had author Chuck Klosterman on his often-entertaining podcast. The two discussed Michael Jackson's passing for the first 20 minutes or so, before moving on to some sports topics. The Jackson talk is actually quite fascinating and a bit of a departure from the general public reaction to his death. M'man Movie Joe Reid and I had an email exchange about the podcast and since I'm all about the blog fodder, it's cut and pasted – with some minor edits – below. Without Joe's permission!

Aaron: Hope you've had a chance to listen to part one of the Chuck Klosterman interview. As always, the highlight is CK obliterating Simmons and his fragile ego. CK calls BS out on
his public slap fight with Mike Dunleavy and hits all the right notes. I'm torn on the Michael Jackson parts of the podcast, though. Klosterman seems to be offended by the hyperbolic reaction of Jackson's "fans", which I guess is understandable, but is also something that happens when EVERY celebrity dies. Everyone from Chris Farley to Tupac is deified for a few weeks, then reality sets in and their lives are placed in the proper context. (Note: not applicable to Tupac). Although, listening to Simmons butcher Jackson's sing-along gibberish lyrical catchphrases was high comedy.

Joe: I have really come to love Chuck Klosterman. So happy I can count on him to call Simmons on EXACTLY the thing I most need someone to call him on (that embarrassing Dunleavy Twitter-rant). Even Chuck's anti-Twitter stance comes across as much more reasonable than the kneejerk techno-phobic stance most would have. I love how irritated Bill gets whenever Chuck constantly turns the conversation to the subject of Bill's tremendous fame and influence. Just brilliant.

And yes, I definitely agree the low point was the Jackson talk -- that IS what happens with every celeb death. Also, I'm not sure I agree that this whitewashing of Jackson's personal life when praising his music is new. It's kind of always been that way, and it makes me wonder if Chuck has ever really spoken to a black person about MJ. (Not to presume or anything, but I've heard this kind of compartmentalizing of MJ's music from his life for YEARS.)

Aaron: Even Buddy "Fallout Boy" Hodges
didn't want to discuss Dirk Richter's bullet-riddled body nor the bordello in which his corpse was found. The thing about MJ is that any appreciation of him requires compartmentalizing. Has there ever been an entertainer whose career is so overtly delineated? The "Jackson 5" version is not the "Off the Wall" version which wasn't like the "Thriller" version. The "Bad" version could never live up to the commercialized expectations from the "Thriller" version, while the "Dangerous" version sowed the seeds for the MJ caricature he'd eventually become. Even conceding that I'm probably chopping up his career *too* finely, I think that still makes it easier for us to have a distinct memory of whichever version of "Michael the Entertainer" we want while (inexplicably) giving equal weight to "weird Michael" and the many allegedly darker aspects of his life.

I don't think I'm making any sense, so I'll agree with you and say that the first thing I thought as I was listening to Simmons and CK on the subject was: "do they know ANY black people"?

Joe: With 90% of "untimely" celebrity deaths, the death affects the way you view the artist's output thereafter (Brokeback Mountain takes on a tone after Heath Ledger's death; even something silly like Tommy Boy, you can't watch it quite the same now). But next Halloween, when "Thriller" comes on, will I view it any different than I did before? I kind of don't think so. We've so separated THAT Michael Jackson from the one who was alive a week ago. If "Thriller" MJ died, he died a loooong time ago, and we'd all accepted that.

TBG Eats: Kentucky Grilled Chicken

Current Weight: 168.6 lbs.

During my first semester at (the) San Diego State University, I signed up for the only student meal plan I could afford with my miniscule amount of financial aid. I was allotted two meals (breakfast OR lunch and dinner) Monday through Friday, with no weekend coverage.

This forced me to be quite creative in the three months between the start of school and the moment I met the future Mrs. Bootleg, who'd immediately take pity on me – and feed me – like an emaciated stray dog.

This was Fall 1995 and nationally-known fast food establishments were only just beginning their systematic takeover of traditional college campus cafeterias. KFC Express occupied a small corner within State's lone sprawling dining hall. It sold one-piece(!) box meals (breast, mashed potatoes and a biscuit) as well as a la carte items. (The a la carte menu included tater tots which, to the best of my knowledge, most KFCs have never had on its menu. I mention this only because these were the best tater tots I've ever eaten. I look forward to comparing them to Sonic's someday.)

On Friday afternoons, I'd have to buy enough grub to get me through two more days. It didn't take me long to learn that my $5.25 "dinner limit" could be stretched from Friday night to Monday morning, if I purchased intelligently. Biscuits were 49 cents each; tater tots were 79 cents and mashed potatoes were 99 cents. Since chicken only came with the meal, I'd buy, like, five biscuits, two orders of tots and a cup of mashed potatoes.

Somehow, I turned that snack into 48 hours of sustenance.

These days, my commercialized fried chicken of choice is sold by the good people at Popeye's. It's more flavorful than KFC's with infinitely better side dishes and has been unofficially endorsed by Black people everywhere. And, you KNOW we've never steered America wrong.

But, my hard-earned loyalties can be swayed by effective marketing.

KFC has rolled out an enormous ad campaign for their Kentucky Grilled Chicken product. The iconic fried chicken brand has had mixed success with these types of big budget promotions, realizing modest gains with their popcorn chicken and one of the most epic fast food failures of the 20th century with Rotisserie Gold.

After Jalen's soccer class last Saturday, I took That Bootleg Family to the closest KFC to see if Kentucky Grilled Chicken worth all the hype, hubbub and hoopla.

The chicken certainly looked good. It appeared to be grilled to a golden brown with a few superfluous grill marks on each piece. I went for the teeny wing first and was struck by how unexceptional the negligible bit of meat tasted. I turned my attention to the breast and found it to be equally bland. The chicken's skin appeared to be hit with the right amount of spices, but none of them really came through in my order. Oddly enough, I finished off Mrs. Bootleg's identical white meat meal and her chicken had incrementally more taste – and moistness – than mine.

Maybe my order came from the "heat lamp batch" and my wife's was fresh off the grill. On the TBG Eats-o-Meter, I'd give my bird a "2" and hers a "3" which means I'll have to split the difference and give Kentucky Grilled Chicken a second chance at some point.

Enjoy your reprieve, Colonel.

Grade: 2.5 (out of 5)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

TBG Eats: The 2009 San Diego Fair

I Can't Believe I Ate the Whole Thang III

2007 San Diego Fair

2008 San Diego Fair

I'd guess we were halfway between Stately Bootleg Manor and the Del Mar Fairgrounds when I casually glanced into the side mirror and noticed I was making
this face. Perhaps I was taking my own personal food Super Bowl a little too seriously. Did the anticipation of six hours of nonstop eating really deserve the infamous Kobe Bryant "accused-of-rape press conference" grimace?

The San Diego Fair is supposed to be about fun and frivolity. Yet, while riding shotgun in the Mrs. Bootleg-mobile, I was deep into the eighth or ninth draft of mental notes outlining my grand gastronomic attack.

"Will I be able to fit in the fried avocado for the first time? And, what about the funnel cake? I missed out on the funnel cake last year."

The only thing I was certain of was that my first stop – for the third straight year – would be Charlie's Chicken. In '07, they served me an 11:00 AM Krispy Kreme Chicken Sandwich for breakfast. Last year, I kicked things off with their deep-fried White Castle slider. Continuing the tradition of ridiculous sandwiches…

Oatmeal Cookie Chicken Sandwich - A great oatmeal cookie should be a bit dense, pleasingly chewy and not overly sweet. Admittedly, my expectations for the dessert standards at Charlie's Chicken weren't exactly off the charts. For $6.00, I was served a surprisingly well-seasoned grilled chicken fillet nestled between two oatmeal cookies with a light spread of cream cheese and a drizzling of raspberry sauce. After two bites, Mrs. Bootleg observed my reaction and wistfully stated, "That's how you used to look at me." Each ingredient complimented the others, never overwhelming the chicken. The sweetness was cut with the cream cheese and the oatmeal cookies were incredible. I so hate to give in to trite hyperbole, so we'll just let the modest grade stand alone. Grade: 5,000 (out of 5)

Fried Catfish - As we've previously covered, there are some dishes out there that African-Americans simply make better than white folk. This list includes, but is not limited to: macaroni and cheese, any fruit cobbler and catfish. [TBG Note: Don't look at me like that. Like rock and roll, white folk took barbecued ribs from us and made it better. Sociologically, it all evens out over time.] And, this was a basket of abomination. Served with cocktail sauce(!) and tartar sauce(!!), the catfish was batter(!!!) dipped and then cut into strips like fried calamari. I'm all out of indignant italics and exclamation points.
This is what catfish should look like. Is the state of California all out of corn meal?! Grade: 1

Chocolate Covered Bacon - The weather was a bit unusual on this afternoon. Although the skies were cloudy – typical for this time of year – the sun would occasionally poke out and reflect off of the solar panel that is my enormous forehead. By the time I found the one stand selling this confectionary cured pork, I was a sweaty mess. Thankfully, bacon makes everything better. I ordered three pieces. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but I was surprised to see the cashier just reach into a small refrigerator and hand me a small box with a thin metal handle. Think "take out Thai food".

The three pieces of bacon inside had been broken up into six or seven smaller shards. The bacon was coated in dark chocolate and was served with a packet of salt. My first bite was stiff and tough to chew. I'm not a huge fan of dark chocolate and it was overpowering the overcooked bacon. I sprinkled the salt on the remaining pieces and that made things a bit better by reducing the chocolate's bitterness. I took the rest back to Mrs. Bootleg and the boy, who were on the other side of the fairgrounds by now. The 10-minute walk took the chill off the bacon and softened the chocolate, making my final three pieces the best of the batch. An inoffensive food novelty. Grade: 2.5

Fried Macaroni & Cheese - This was on last year's short list of "must eats", but I couldn't find the stand that sold it. As a personal consolation prize, I reviewed the
deep-fried inedible bile that Jack in the Box briefly served. But, I wasn't about to write off fried mac n' cheese forever just because of one bad experience. This time around, I was handed a kabob stick with three breaded balls impaled upon it. It looked a lot like falafel and came with a cup of ranch dressing from a surplus drum. This was better than the JitB version, but still unexceptional. If you've had the standard grade-school cafeteria version of this ubiquitous side dish, you've had this. Anyone know why fried cheese = "phenomenal", but fried macaroni and cheese = "meh"…? I'm willing to fund a grant for the answer. Grade: 2

Zucchini Weeni - In hindsight, I'm not sure what I was
so damn excited about. Last year's 14-inch corn dog was a colossal disappointment – thanks to the 800 inches of batter and government-assistance quality of the hot dog. Not surprisingly, the addition of a hollowed-out zucchini can't save this one. The hot dog is crammed inside the middle of my favorite phallic squash and then given the standard corn dog treatment. After two bites, mine had devolved into a soggy mess of breading, zucchini seeds and assorted condiments. I am giving this the worst food score in the short-lived history of this lightly-read blog. -500 of those points are part of the TBG gimmick. The other -4,500 are for the absurd name. Grade: -5,000

Friday, June 26, 2009

AiAA: Boys & Girls Clubs of America

I watch a LOT of baseball.

In fact, you guys might not know this, but last summer I watched the local broadcasts of a few Major League teams and wrote
abbreviated reviews of each one. My favorite part of the series was the chance to scrutinize the regional commercials. And, by "scrutinize" I mean "add Jimmy John's, White Castle and Steak n' Shake to my list of 'must-do fast food' before I die".

The below spot is actually a national ad from The Boys & Girls Clubs of America. It earns its "Adventures in Awful Advertising (AiAA)" tag by being Mrs. Bootleg's least favorite commercial of all time.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I'm the one with the bachelor's degree in marketing (San Diego State, 1997). Advertising is what I did! Uh, 12 years ago. On the other hand, my wife's got a degree in criminal justice with an MBA in finance. Hardly the kind of background you'd want for reviewing 30-second YouTube clips.

This ad drives Mrs. Bootleg up the wall because of the young child cast alongside erstwhile Oakland A's pitcher Dan Haren. Y'see, Black women – regardless of age – have a bond like no other. They're also the most narcissistic species on the planet. If you don't believe me, then I assume you missed this week's broadcast of the NBA draft which featured dozens of 33-year-old mothers – freshly permed, weaved or wigged – anticipating their ten seconds of TV time immediately after their sons were selected.

I will call my wife downstairs when this ad airs if she's not around. She can seemingly find something new to hate about it every time.

"Haren's got more make-up on than she does!"

"They couldn't do NOTHING with her hair?!"

"If I was her mom, I'd have told them to make my baby look good!"

"No one brought a brush to the set? No one?!"

This one's for you, Mrs. Bootleg.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Remember the Time…

I spent the entire day at the San Diego Fair doing unforgivable things to my waistline. My cell phone was clinging to life for most of the afternoon, but before it finally ran out of juice, I received a handful of text messages from friends that seemed oddly cryptic:

"Guess you HAVE to write about music today."

"Holy sh*t. Just Holy sh*t."

"Pour out a little Pepsi…" [TBG Note: Props to Jon for referencing Michael Jackson AND Tupac's Thug Life group in the same text]

Finally, m'man Josh cut to the chase with a text informing me that Michael Jackson was dead at 50.

There is simply no way I could possibly articulate how f*cking HUGE Michael Jackson was at the peak of his popularity. In the last few hours, I've read comparisons to The Beatles, but I'm fairly certain the Fab Four never captured the hearts of the African-American demographic.

Sports had Michael Jordan who might've been the first human being to be marketed as a global brand, but he was no Michael Jackson. Forever protective of his image, Jordan still played second fiddle to Jackson
in the video to Jam and allowed himself to look the fool. That's something that Air Jordan just didn't do.

Author and sportswriter Jeff Pearlman
wrote a nice tribute to Jackson and echoes the approach I would've taken.

Michael Jackson was the biggest star of my lifetime. So, I guess it's odd that the first thing I thought of when his death was confirmed was the episode of the The Simpsons in which he provided a
guest voice-over. Much like my most lasting memory of the late Farrah Fawcett is her short-lived – and hilariously unwatchable – CBS sitcom Good Sports, these are the Michael Jackson moments that have inexplicably popped into my mind in the past several hours:

Stark Raving Dad - This would be the title of the aforementioned episode of The Simpsons. It's an absolutely brilliant 30 minutes as Jackson (credited as "John Jay Smith") plays a mental patient who crosses paths with a recently-institutionalized Homer. The "Happy Birthday, Lisa" payoff is one of the best moments of the entire series – even if Jackson didn't sing it. He's even willing to poke fun at himself which was a refreshing bit of humanization that belied the caricature he'd later become.

LA Gear - In the 1980s, Nike hadn't yet annihilated everyone in their path. Athletic shoes from Reebok, British Knights, Puma and Fila could still be found in stores with athletes and entertainers who'd actually endorse them. LA Gear came and went pretty quickly, but they were
pretty popular for a hot minute in my junior high school.

Captain EO - In September 1986, the Disney theme parks debuted a
3-D movie starring Jackson in a big budget space opera. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola and off the charts of unintentional comedy, this was a pretty big deal back in the day. Even more surprising is that it ran until 1997 at Disneyland (closing in 1994 at Disneyworld) which was a good three or four years after Jackson became pop culture Kryptonite.

Moonwalker – The Video Game - 20 years ago, the Sega Genesis was the greatest thing since the Atari 2600. With a few decades of hindsight,
this adaptation of Jackson's Moonwalker movie is…uhh, yeah.

Whatzupwitu - Eddie Murphy was the only entertainer who could've been mentioned in the same breath with Michael Jackson when it came to 1980s fame. Murphy's fall from superstardom was offhandedly mentioned on a recent Bill Simmons podcast and it's a subject I'd like to give the TBG treatment one of these days. I can't confirm it, but I'm reasonably sure that this video had its "world premiere" in prime time on the FOX network. Murphy was enjoying a bit of a
dead cat bounce thanks to Boomerang and Jackson was still an A-lister despite the distance of his 1991 album Dangerous in the rearview mirror. Worst video ever? Worst video ever.

RIP, Michael Jackson.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The 11th Thought on PETCO Park

Not sure how I overlooked this the first time 'round, but it probably deserved its own post anyway.

Y'know how baseball players have "theme music", right? In the three to five seconds from when their names are announced over the PA system to their first step into the batter's box, many players are briefly serenaded to the plate – often with tunes of their choosing.

This past weekend, Lilliputian San Diego Padre David Eckstein came to bat with
THIS as his theme song.

TBG Eats: Doritos® Last Call Tacos at Midnight Flavored Tortilla Chips

Current Weight: 165.6 lbs.

Last week, I reviewed the jalapeño popper flavor of Doritos' limited-time "Last Call" product line. I really shouldn't buy the large bags of chips, as they usually last just two – maybe three – days around my appetite. But, after intentionally avoiding the salted snack food aisle during an after-work trip to the supermarket, I came to the realization that this is what I do. I review junk food. Oh, and I also negotiate and administer multi-million dollar defense contracts. I do those things.

Anyways…"taco night" was always a big deal when I was growing up. My old man is an ex-Marine from Georgia and he didn't believe in eating anything that wasn't "fried, died and laid to the side". Consequently, "ethnic" foods like pizza and tacos were rare treats, served only when my pops was working overnight duty on base once a month.

Back then, I assumed all tacos were alike: processed hard shell filled full of hamburger meat flavored with a packet or two of Lawry's Taco Seasoning and topped with shredded cheese, lettuce and tomato. I'd even done some due diligence on the subject, as the tacos at Taco Bell and my grade-school cafeteria weren't that much different from the ones my mom used to make.

While in junior high school, I lived just up the hill from a tiny, hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant. The eatery was about the size of those old one-hour photo kiosks and featured a few ancient benches and tables for outdoor dining only. I don't remember the circumstances, but one night we ended up there for dinner. Imagine my surprise when my "three taco platter" came served in a Styrofoam box. Inside were a trio of uncooked corn tortillas topped with…steak of some kind. With onions and…cilantro?

I ate two "three taco platters" that night and had my heretofore sheltered eyes opened up to a whole new world of Mexican authenticity. In, of all places, Southern California. Who knew?!

Now, it's no secret that I haven't abandoned Taco Bell's eminently Americanized menu. But, if we're really talking "late night" or "last call", my first choice in alcohol absorption will always be the walk-up anonymous Mexican sh*thole that serves up glorious grub like this, and this and…this.

The Doritos version is reminiscent of the taco-flavored chips that Frito-Lay has sold before. These are liberally dusted with "taco seasoning" spices and kinda-sorta taste like any ubiquitous restaurant chain taco. Unfortunately, the Tacos at Midnight chips don't have the same flavor complexity as the jalapeño popper variety. The cheese taste is barely there, while the chip texture is same ol' Doritos, yo.

That's not to knock them, though. I blindly plowed through an entire bag in my usual two days and Mrs. Bootleg – thinking that meant I REALLY liked them – bought two more bags yesterday. Call 'em "acceptably edible, albeit unexceptional".

Probably could've saved nearly 500 words if I had called them that up front, no?

Grade: 2.5 (out of 5) 150 calories, 8g fat per 1 oz. serving

Monday, June 22, 2009

10 Thoughts: The PETCO Park Weekend

Ten things I learned while attending all three games of the Padres vs. A's series here in San Diego…

The A's should seriously considering moving their franchise to San Diego. I kid, I kid…but, for one weekend, it was the much-maligned A's fans who took over another team's ballpark instead of the other way around. Twenty years ago, the A's were baseball's most popular (and reviled) squad. Their road games often split crowds 50/50. I'm not sure where this weekend's green and gold horde came from (I never see anyone in A's gear 'round these parts, save for me and my son) but, for three days it felt like 1989 all over again. Canseco, McGwire…whatever happened to those guys?

Padres' fans could give Dodgers' fans a run for their money. During Friday night's game, I heard these three sentences from the stands: (1) In response to one of the many vendors walking up and down the aisle hawking his wares, an older guy asks: "How many times is he going to say 'peanuts…Cracker Jack' during the game?! This is ridiculous!" (2) From the same guy to an obviously embarrassed teenager (his grandson?) in his party: "Did you know [Tony Gwynn Jr's] dad played for the Padres, too?" (3) Finally, from the woman seated next to my son, who asked her why she called Padres' 2B David Eckstein "Sparky": "Because he's a little spark plug! He ignites the team!" My son then turned his attention back to the field and shouted "Strike 'Sparky' out!"

I found the ONE thing that can make me leave an A's game early. My son Jalen was insanely excited about this past weekend. It was just the two of us on Friday night and despite his usual 8:00 PM bedtime, Jalen fought off the sandman for as long as he could. Unfortunately, the A's turn EVERY game they play into a three-and-a-half hour station-to-station snoozefest. In the fifth inning, Jalen nodded off for a moment, before waking up with a glazed look in his eyes. And, then it happened. Despite showing NO overt signs of illness all day, Jalen proceeded to unleash an EPIC vomit e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e. The ridiculously greasy pizza he ate earlier in the evening, his lunch, his breakfast… And, 90% of it landed on, around and in the purse of the woman in front of him who'd left her bag under her seat. Yep, Jalen…time to go.

My ethnicity has a price tag. Saturday's game featured a promotional bit of pandering as it was "Salute to the Negro Leagues Night". The Padres gave away "Negro League Heritage" caps to all fans in attendance. I'm one of those fans who would never wear the colors or logo of a team that I don't root for. I suppose I could just politely decline the free swag at the gate…or I could hope that someone at the game wants to buy the caps from me. I hadn't been seated for five minutes when I was offered $10 for all three. Sold! Should it matter that it was a white guy who bought them? Had I sold out my heritage for beer money? Meh.

Jalen has inherited his daddy's way with the white women. M'man Smitty brought his wife and daughter down from LA to watch the game with my family on Saturday night. The original seating plan was for the men and women to be divided along gender lines. Early on, however, Jalen asked if he could sit "next to mommy". Before I knew it, he'd wedged his way into the seat next to Smitty's nine-year-old daughter and forced everyone else to move down one seat. When he wasn't "resting" with his head buried in the lap of Smitty's wife, he was showing Smitty's daughter how far he could stick his finger up his nose before putting it in his mouth. In his defense, that IS how I landed Mrs. Bootleg.

Women know. They just…know. After Saturday night's game, Mrs. Bootleg and the boy were fast asleep while I navigated the streets of downtown San Diego. While waiting at a red light, I silently and respectfully admired some of the scantily-clad molten hotness milling about outside a random club. I was interrupted when Mrs. Bootleg woke up and dropped my full name in admonishment of my wandering eye.

Proud parenting moments can be quite unexpected. As Mrs. Bootleg has discovered over the years, watching an A's game with me can be quite the assault on the eardrums. Much to my wife's chagrin, Jalen has adopted many of my in-game cheers and complaints. On Sunday afternoon, he had our section in stitches with an unprompted "KENNEDY~!" immediately after A's 2B Adam Kennedy's name was announced over the PA system. [TBG Note: I know that most of you won't get that, but trust me, it's funny.] Later, he shouted out "You're KILLING me, Dallas!" after A's starter Dallas Braden gave up a long home run. Not sure we're going to be topping this Father's Day anytime soon.

72 degrees isn't always 72 degrees. We had seats right next to the A's dugout on Sunday. After a mostly overcast month, San Diego was blessed with a cloudless sky for the finale of the three game series. Maybe it was the body heat of 28,000 fans in such close proximity…maybe it was the $6.75 chili-cheese nachos blanketed with two layers of jalapeños…maybe my enormous forehead/receding hairline really is a human solar panel. Whatever the reason, it felt a lot hotter than 72 degrees. Jalen had melted into a little brown pool of goo by the fifth inning.

Ice cream sandwiches can bring the dead back to life. Remember the scene in Terminator 2 where Robert Patrick is frozen, shattered and then slowly melts before coming back together? Same thing happened with my son after he inhaled a chocolate-chip cookie ice cream sandwich around the sixth inning. On a related note, I'd like to ask why this specific frozen treat isn't sold at ONE stadium concession stand. It'd be nice if my whining child didn't have to wait for the ice cream vendor's one and only mid-game visit.

Three straight baseball games might be a wee bit too much for a five-year-old.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

10 Thoughts: My Trip to Dodger Stadium

Ten years ago, I was motivated to leave for Los Angeles as early as I possibly could so that I would not get caught in the county's glacial-paced rush hour traffic. On Tuesday, my goal was to be out of the house before my son came home from preschool and bear-hugged my leg crying, "I wanna see the A's, too!" Odd that I look forward to spending the rest of my life with the boy, but the thought of a two-hour car ride with a 5-year-old is enough to make me run out of the house half-dressed – with the car's engine already running – dive through the window "Dukes of Hazard" style and peel away from the curb.

Dear, Sirius XM: I'm one of your 400 or so remaining subscribers. I'd like to thank your satellite service for providing the soundtrack during my drive up Interstate 5. Based on your current playlist, I would like to respectfully request the following songs be removed from the rotation of Backspin – your old-school hip hop channel: "King of Rock" by Run-DMC, "Walk This Way" by Run-DMC and anything else by Run-DMC. Look, I get it. They were insanely influential and – arguably – were the first rap act to bring the genre to the suburbs. They were also a product of the 1980s with a way dated sound that hasn't aged well. Why does no one remember that they were d-o-n-e just three years into their 10-year run and lived solely off their reputation before they faded away?

Los Angeles is the second largest city in America, in a state where everyone has – and needs – a car. Yet, getting to Dodger Stadium involves the absolute worst stretches of narrow freeways (three lanes, LA...?!) and surface streets imaginable. I'm fine with the city's rampant blight and crumbling infrastructure – after all, what would the west coast's five or six surviving rappers talk about without it? – but, I've got to believe that the team or the city could buy up the liquor stores, strip clubs and tenements that serve as landmarks leading into the Stadium and put in an Applebee's or something.

I went to the game with m'man Smitty and his kid brother, who actually had the ticket "connection" for the evening. Admittedly, I wasn't expecting much as many of my youthful summer days were spent at Smitty's house laughing as he made his brother cry after applying assorted WWF finishing moves. Today, however, Smitty's brother knows someone with the team who scored us seats just off home plate and a dozen or so rows back on the field level. Meanwhile, my top "connection" is the executive secretary upstairs who fills her candy dish with mini Twix bars. (And, if anyone reading this works within the walls of the Unnamed Defense Contractor, let me know. I got your hook-up!)

Dodger Stadium doesn't get mentioned in the pantheon of great baseball stadiums, for some reason. It's certainly an odd mix of old and new. The park's showing her age on the outside and in parts of the interior cement and supports. But, the concession stands and signage have been completely refurbished, while the concourse includes those season-ticket holder exclusive bars and restaurants that the Yankees have been getting killed on in the press since their new ballpark opened. I've never been to Wrigley Field or Fenway Park, but I did see a game at "historic" Yankee Stadium in 2007. While it was one of my all-time favorite baseball experiences, the place was a public toilet and couldn't compare to Dodger Stadium on its worst day.

One of the parks' too-enthusiastic ushers politely asked to check our tickets the moment we sat down. I don't know why this always p*sses me off, but it does. It's like legalized profiling – and, before you start rolling your eyes, I'm not playing "that card" as two-thirds of our party were of the Caucasian persuasion. Then, she gently chastised Smitty's brother for absent-mindedly dropping the "damn" word ("You're not allowed to say that word here."). Throughout the game, she came back to check on fans by making awkward small talk ("This guy [me, in an A's jersey] looks like trouble!"). By the end, I wanted subsidize an "usher exchange program" just to see how her act would play in a place like Philadelphia.

I bought a Dodger Dog and a large Budweiser American Ale. As always, I loaded my dog with a single line of mustard, a triple line of ketchup and one metric ton of onions. I got all the way back to my seat, before I realized that I only received $3.25 in change back from my $20 bill. Turns out the hot dog was $5.75 and beer was $11.00. Now, believe me…I never complain about the price of ballpark food. (M'man, Nicka went to new Yankee Stadium last weekend and dropped $23 for a chicken parmesan sandwich – which, according to him, came without sauce or breading – and a beer.) Still, though…damn.

Speaking of grub…if you're a fan of garlic fries, the stinky spuds at Dodger Stadium are the best I've ever had. Hot, crispy and loaded with clumps of chopped garlic cloves. Easily achieves my coveted "500 (out of 5)" score. And, the grilled Dodger Dog lived up to the hype. By the sixth inning, most of the concessionaires had sold out of them. Sold out of hot dogs at baseball game!

Dodger fans are something else. There were entire families still arriving at the ballpark, trickling into our section and trying to find their seats in the bottom of the fifth inning. Whenever ANY Dodger hit a ball to the outfield, the fans stood and cheered in anticipation of a certain home run. 250-foot cans-of-corn to centerfield and the idiots around me were losing their minds. Even their heckling was pathetic. Not ONE reference to Kirk Gibson and 1988? It was three hours of "A's suck" and "Gay Area". Stay classy, a-holes.

The A's lost in 10 innings and we left the ballpark around 10:15 PM. I didn't get home until 1:15 AM. I'd like to thank the good people at
CALTRANS for closing entire sections of assorted freeways and forcing those of us on the road to detour on congested, poorly lit neighborhood streets for miles on end. How does this happen under Governor Schwarzenegger's watchful eye and visionary leadership?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

TBG Drinks: New Belgium's Skinny Dip Beer

Brewed By: New Belgium Brewing
Brewed In: Fort Collins, Colorado
Type: American Blonde Ale
ABV: 4.2%

What They Say: "You can drop everything for New Belgium's Skinny Dip, a full-bodied beer that's designed for the summer dress code. Cascade hops frolic with a splash of kaffir(!!!) lime leaf creating a bright, citrusy palate that's as crisp as chilling in a mountain pond."

Website: I covered New Belgium's website in a previous review. Skinny Dip has its own area on the site, featuring several water advocacy links where you can play the tamest version of "truth or dare" ever or vote for the water advocacy group most deserving of a $10,000 grant. There's a "green beer" joke somewhere in here, but I'm going to take the high road.

Why I Picked It: This is my fourth or fifth (or possibly 600th) review from the New Belgium family of brews. I'm also one of those lonely souls who "becomes a fan" of brands on Facebook. All of New Belgium's Skinny Dip-related posts spawn the kind of hyperbolic reaction that merits an independent reality check…from New Belgium's biggest fan!


Presentation (5): I'm not really feeling the labeling here. New Belgium is usually pretty good at capturing a mood or relaying a theme with their label artwork, but the yellow-gold frame seems trite for a summer beer. The discarded clothes on the shore blend in too much with the background and even the name of the beer seems a little silly. 2

Originality (5): Far as I can tell, these are the
only three blondes older than the concept of American blonde ale. 1

Body (10): Pours a light golden color with a decent amount of carbonation and minimal head n' lacing. Obviously, we're on the thinner end of the spectrum but, Skinny Dip still fills out a pint glass better than, say, Budweiser. Damning with faint praise? Perhaps, but given the constraints of the rating system, it does look like a good beer. 6

Taste (10): Quite frankly, I was floored by the level of complexity. Again, I'll concede that I might be grading on a bit of a curve, but I can't remember the last blonde ale that had such a solid – albeit, non-invasive – hop flavor up front. It's immediately whisked away by a mild citrus follow-up and a refreshingly crisp finish that even Mrs. Bootleg mentioned. 9

Efficiency (10): You're not going to get anywhere with that ABV, unless you happen to be my 4'8", 100 lb. wife. Those goddam Bud Light commercials have forever ruined the word "drinkability" for me, so I'll just say that one would be able to drink several in a single sitting – as long as it's understood the buzz isn't immediately forthcoming. 3

Versatility (10): The wife whipped up some carne asada tri-tip tacos on Sunday and I've been washing them down for the last two nights with this. I don't want to start writing like those cookie-cutter advertisements, but Skinny Dip is the epitome of the seasonal summer beer: not too heavy, but still flavorful and accessible to most palates. 9

Grade: 30 (out of 50) – Good beer.

The above format has been lifted with permission from That Beer Snob Guy.

Monday, June 15, 2009

TBG Eats: Doritos® Last Call Jalapeño Popper Flavored Tortilla Chips

Current Weight: 166.6 lbs.

Fellow junk food aficionados know that the Doritos brand is good for one or two new flavors each month. Some of these flavors are regionally test marketed and never heard from again after their trial run. Other times, Doritos will just throw something ridiculously gimmicky out there with no regard to how it tastes (I couldn't have been the only one to nearly gag on a bag of Mountain Dew-Flavored Doritos, right?)

The fine folks at Frito-Lay have gotten caught up in the odd late night eating fad that has gripped the fast food industry for the past few months. (They do know this is NOT a new concept, right?) Doritos has released two new flavors under the "Late Night" sub-brand: "Tacos at Midnight" (too early!) and "Last Call Jalapeño Popper".

For the uninitiated, a jalapeño popper is a deep-fried, breaded jalapeño pepper stuffed with (usually) cream cheese. I've seen variants like cheddar cheese and bacon bits added to the artery-hardening equation, as well.

Doritos' take is surprisingly tasty. While the flavor is nothing like jalapeño, the chips are dusted with a good amount of spice and have more kick than you'd think from a mass-produced conglomerate-brand snack. Additionally, these chips have a toasted quality that's not unlike an evenly-coated and cooked bit of breading. My favorite part, though, is the awesomely creamy aftertaste that certainly isn't reminiscent of cream cheese, but lends a terrific texture from one handful to the next.

These won't knock the extinct Jumpin' Jack Cheese Doritos out of the snack food pantheon, but if you see the 99-cent bag in your local liquor store, take a chance on 'em. For some of us, it's the closest we'll get to 4:00 AM Friday night (well, Saturday morning) eatin' ever again.


Grade 4 (out of 5) 150 calories, 8g of fat per 1 oz. serving

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Guest Post: Kelly Clarkson is a Crazy Biiatch

We have quite the colorful cast of characters around the offices of the Unnamed Defense Contractor. There's "The Intern", who works about eight hours per week yet makes more than everyone who isn't a manager. "Coach" is a middle-aged, egg-shaped ex-jock who condescendingly micromanages his "players" so he can feel better about himself. And, don't get me started on "Juggs", "End Table" or "Mud Butt".

Anyways, m'man Austin is one of my co-workers, as well. He's the last of the ambitious dreamers and helped motivate my Black ass to start pursuing real writing opportunities. Consequently, I'm up to three real rejections in my pursuit of a real writing job.

So, to say "thank you" to Austin, I'm running his guest post on that former American Idol champion…

Kelly Clarkson…what can we say? America made you number one as millions of tweens asked their parents for permission to call up and vote you in. I can almost remember that day – September 4th, 2002 – I'd been home about an hour, having inhaled a Whopper (as in Burger King, no reference to the size of
Jessica Simpson's thighs intended). I made that Whopper disappear faster than Brian Dunkleman's career.

Now, we all know where Kelly and her two zip code ass came from, but what we don't know, is where she's going. If her fourth album, All I Ever Wanted, is any indication, she may well shave her head and pop out a few with an illiterate dancer before too long.

We need only look at
the song titles for a glimpse of the penicillin shot that is her life.

Track #1: "My Life Would Suck Without You" – Well, we are certainly off to a good start. Kind of a John Hinckley moment there and Jodie Foster isn't even lukewarm yet.

Track #2: "I Do Not Hook Up" – I don't want you? Are you kidding me? She's already unapproachable, obsessed, talking about how life would suck without him… but she can't give up the happy town?

Track # 3: "Cry" – I'm not sure where to go from here. Life sucks – but, I don't – and now I'm crying. If you had put out, neither of our lives would suck and you wouldn't be crying (provided you kept the ice pack on it).

Track #4: "Don't Let Me Stop You" – Whoa…don't let me stop you. This is the kind of girl your mom warned you about. Get the scissors out of her hand.

Track #5: "All I Ever Wanted" – Let's recap these first five tracks: she's obsessed and doesn't want him to leave; she doesn't want to put out; there's a lot of crying and self-pity followed by a hefty portion of guilt, and now she's back to all I ever wanted.

Track #6: "Already Gone" - As in the man she thought she had. After I'd heard the first five, I would be out, too. All I can picture is what life must have been like back at home after explaining that the cigar wasn't sex.

Track #7: "If I Can't Have You" – She's come full circle. Now, she's plotting some serious revenge. "Justin 4 Eva" may be carved in to her chest at this point,

Track #8: "Save You" – Get your CDs out of her car dude, she's a stage 1 clinger.

Track #9: "Whyyouwannabringmedown" (that's how it's spelled…I kid you not): This story has taken a turn for the worse. She's hammered, locked in a closet and listening to
Burt Bacharach. Dude, run.

Track # 10: "Long Shot" – Her prospects of dating or the A's chance of post season play in 2009. [TBG Note: F*** you.]

Track #11: "Impossible" – Now, she's just messing with us on the off chance we're still listening. Believe it or not, she's got 14 songs on this manifesto…

Track #12: "Ready" - Pack your bags fellas, she's up to something.

Track # 13: "I Want You" - After all we've been through on this wild and crazy ride… she became obsessed, refused to host a party in "Valley City," started crying, planned and executed your demise. It's like a 2009 version of Eraser. By the time you reach this song on the album, you're already dead if you haven't escaped, son.

Track #14: "If No One Will Listen" – I made it to the last song. This was clearly intended to be hummed to herself quietly as she hung herself with a shoelace in her cell as she awaits her sentencing for taking out the one man she loved. Yes, your life does suck without him, and mine sucks for having purchased this album.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

TBG Eats: Subway's Tuscan Chicken Melt

Current Weight: 167.0 lbs.

As a lifelong Californian, I've gone to war with visiting or transplanted New Yorkers over the West Coast interpretations of their favorite foods.

To them, our pizza toppings are an abomination; our bagels are the equivalent of dinner rolls and our chicken wings make Baby Jesus cry.

But, there is NOTHING on the menu more divisive than our sandwiches.

Let's be clear: There are some excellent delis in Southern California. Before I moved to San Diego,
Jerry' Deli in Hollywood was my favorite 4:00 AM hangout. They serve sandwiches as big as Mrs. Bootleg and a German potato salad that would've had me rooting against Jesse Owens if the Führer had put a scoop on my plate in 1936.

Here in San Diego,
D.Z. Akins is insanely popular, although I personally prefer the City Delicatessen in Hillcrest. So, how has the Subway chain won the San Diego Union-Tribune's "best sandwich" readers' poll for nine straight years?

I can think of three reasons: (1) Due to the runaway urban sprawl, the locals out here aren't likely to be blessed with a neighborhood to identify with, much less a neighborhood deli. (2) Subway's ads speak to Californians by focusing on health-consciousness. I mean, have you ever noticed how the chain goes on and on about its fresh veggie toppings, but doesn't say two words about the quality of its meat? (3) Shhh…Subway's not that bad.

Look, I get it. I should be supporting the mom n' pop coffee shop, instead of Starbucks. The small, family-owned bookstore has been decimated by Borders and Barnes & Noble. Independent, undiscovered musicians are the voice that big radio and the mainstream record industry don't want you to hear.

So sue me…sometimes I want a cheap meal I can carry out in three minutes or less. Oh, hell, let me quit beating around the bush…Subway has some good-ass sandwiches on their menu. The Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki is one of my weekly staples. The tuna fish is passable when I need a change of pace and almost every other sandwich they serve increases in quality with the words "extra chipotle southwest sauce".

The Tuscan Chicken Melt was previously released as part of that insipid dinner theatre ad campaign featuring
this guy, three years ago. It comes with white meat chicken strips seasoned with basil, oregano, sun-dried tomatoes and olive vinaigrette drizzled on top.

I'm not a big fan of the toasted sandwiches, as they tend to shred the roof of my mouth in ways only a bowl of Cap'n Crunch could. This one's not too painful on my palate, though. I had my sandwich served on white (natch) with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, provolone and salt & pepper.

The seasonings overpowered everything else within the Tuscan Chicken Melt, save for the onions and the dry, tasteless toast. I did like the vinaigrette and I'm tempted to taste the end result of this sandwich with the explicit order for it to be "swimming in vinaigrette".

There's some potential here, but it would take two or three more iterations for me to find it. Perhaps if it was not toasted, but the meat was heated and then topped with cheese and extra oil? What if I went with Subway's ersatz Swiss cheese instead of provolone?

Do real delis foster this much indecision?

Grade: 2 (out 5) Calories: 370, Fat: 9g (six-inch sub)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Aaron's iFAQ #6: What the F Does "Bootleg" Mean?

J writes:

Hey Aaron! You have no idea how much time I've spent reading your archives since I first found your blog. I have to confess that I don't get the "Bootleg" nickname. For as long as I've known you I've never heard it and I've heard you refer to yourself by at least two dozen nicknames that you've given yourself over the years :) Give my love to [Mrs. Bootleg] and Jalen!

HA~! By printing your e-mail, I'm opening myself up to a small wave of verbal abuse from those who've known me longest. Sadly, none of my own nicknames ever stuck and you people simply fell back on "Cam" (fine); "AC" (meh…) or "AJ" (which I hate…).

Anyways, there's been a bit of an uptick in new readers 'round these parts and I've gotten a few variations of this same question, so why not dust off the "iFAQ" tag?

"Bootleg" was simply the shortened title of my weekly music column that first ran on 411mania.com and then moved to Inside Pulse.com. I've told the story so much that even I'm sick of it, so here's the short version:

I started writing CD reviews for 411 in December 2002. A few months later, the Friday music column opened up and I jumped at the chance. The first Friday Music News Bootleg ran in February 2003. I've linked to it before, but it's such an awful, awful piece of pandering dreck, that I'll leave to you to find it on your own.

(Fun fact: The original concept for the column was to feature the top five music news stories of the week – countdown style. The original column title was to be "I Got 5 on It". Of course, "original" is probably not the right word to use there.)

Back in the "caveman days" of this decade, AOL was the most popular IM vehicle and one night a random reader started a conversation with me – even though he had no idea who I was:

Reader: Why do I have you on my buddy list?

Me: Uh…

Reader: Do you write for 411?

Me: Yep.

Reader: You're that bootleg guy, right?

For some reason, that tickled me to no end and I immediately lifted it – and capitalized it – for my own use.

Hey, whaddaya want from me? I never said the "i" in "iFAQ" stood for "interesting".

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Handicapping the San Diego Fair Food – 2009

In 2007, I took my stomach on its first gourmand tour of the San Diego Fair. It still fondly remembers the fried rattlesnake bites and funnel cake, while continuing to lament the disappointing Krispy Kreme chicken sandwich.

In 2008, I ate so damn much that I began to question the greasy abuse I was heaping upon my arteries. The deep-fried White Castle slider for breakfast was better than an ol' bowl of cereal. But, 14-inch corn dogs? Fried Oreos? Frog legs? The lasting imagery was the "185 pounds" staring back at me from the scale the next morning.

One year later, I'm about 20 pounds lighter and still eating like crap. So, let's dispense with all this introspective nonsense and take a look at the tentative 2009 menu for the San Diego Fair. That Bootleg Family has already targeted June 25 for our annual visit. This leaves me less than three weeks to figure out what I need to eat.

Grilled Asparagus: Mrs. Bootleg will throw some fresh asparagus on the grill from time to time. It chars nicely and goes great with a well-marbled steak. That said, I'm not paying Fair prices for something I can occasionally get at home. [TBG Note: I will reconsider my stance if the Fair ever opens up a brothel exhibit.]

Caribbean Jerk Chicken: Intriguing. Although, I'm not sure how I feel about eating something at the Fair that – by comparison – is practically health food. Is it wrong to manipulate a woman's sense of self-image? With a few weeks of well-placed weight barbs towards Mrs. Bootleg ("Do you really NEED dessert, tonight?"), she might opt for the roasted chicken on her own and give me a few bites. After further thought, I see nothing wrong with this plan.

BBQ Spaghetti: "Barbecue sauce over spaghetti in a grilled bun". Umm…what? Admittedly, I'm a bit of a pasta purist. There are dozens of appropriate sauces to top a plate of pasta and barbecue sauce is not one of them. [TBG Note: Neither is chili, Cincinnati. Only you guys could make a "three-way" sound unappetizing. And, yes, I HAVE been sitting on that one for awhile now.]

Deep-Fried Bread Pudding: My mother frequently made bread pudding when I was growing up. I'm not a fan. When I mention this to people, they often respond, "You haven't had GOOD bread pudding". Maybe not, but am I willing to risk valuable esophageal real estate on something I'm reasonably sure I don't like to eat? Pass.

Deep-Fried Green Beans: Meh. Can we all agree that mankind reached the zenith of fried vegetables the moment zucchini took its first swim in a skillet full of Crisco? Besides, my mother made hers with sautéed bacon and onions. I'm pretty sure the deep-fried version ain't topping that.

Zucchini Weeni: "Hot dog inside a zucchini, then deep fried in a special batter". SOLD! I'm conflicted on the proper condiment, though. Ketchup? Mustard? Ranch dressing (which, I'd probably have to smuggle from home inside Mrs. Bootleg's purse – unbeknownst to her)? I can't decide!

Deep-Fried S'mores: I need to write a post on "foods I just don't 'get'". Graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate should be segregated like 1950s Mississippi. Deep frying them together won't make S'mores more appealing to me. Black people don't go camping, so I was well into my 20s before I had one for the first time. All kinds of awful.

Zucchini Fries: My zucchini quota has already been filled, guys, thanks.

Oatmeal Cookie Chicken Sandwich: OMG, OMG, OMG! You guys! It's my all-time favorite kind of cookie making sweet, sweet love to my first choice in edible animal carcass! Now, you might be asking "Didn't you learn anything from your Krispy Kreme chicken sandwich experience"? "Nope!", I retort.

Deep-Fried Cheese Curds: M'man Smitty swears that these are quite tasty and a surprisingly good beer compliment. I'm torn. He's a former high school and collegiate offensive lineman, so you KNOW he knows eatin'. On the other hand, dairy products are akin to a round of Russian roulette with my own intestines. You've been warned fellow fairgoers.

Catfish/Crawfish: I've had enough of both to fill my belly for three lifetimes. Chalk it up to the benefits of being Black with a father from Georgia.

Deep-Fried Mexican Ice Cream: I usually save room for dessert, but the last couple of years at the Fair have produced some very underwhelming sweet treats. Also, I've had this before and while it's tasty, combining ice cream with the other possible contents of my stomach that day could be…tragic.

Chocolate Covered Bacon Strips: AIEEEEEEEEEE! Dessert found! Dessert found!

Big-T Texas Tenderloin: Hyped as a "giant breaded pork sandwich", a promotional ad for this is featured at the bottom of the Fair's food link. I'm a sucker for great advertising and any pork-product featuring a cartoon pig hold a smoldering slab of his own ancestor aloft… Aw, geez, I'm drooling. WANT.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

More Jalen Speak

Actual conversations with my five-year-old son, Jalen…

Watching A's/Orioles Saturday night on MASN, when that Smirnoff Ice "water slide" commercial pops up…

Jalen: "She's pointing her bra!"

Me: "She sure is!"

Jalen "[Gasps] And, HE'S showing his privacy!"

Watching A's/Orioles Sunday afternoon…

Jalen: [Calling me from our downstairs bathroom] "Daddy, I need you."

Me: J, whaddaya need?

Jalen: "Come see how big my penis is!"

Me: "…"

Preparing to toss Jalen in the shower…

Jalen: "Daddy, I know what 'teasing' is?"

Me: "What is it, J?"

Jalen: "It's like in that movie where the one guy beat the other guy and he was teasing him."

Me: "What movie…?"

Jalen: "The one with the racing! The yellow guy teased the other yellow guy."

Me: "What the hell are…oh, wait. You mean that Simpsons episode with Bart and
the soap box racer?"

Jalen: "Yeah!"

While watching the end of Sunday's Lakers/Magic game…

Jalen: "Dad, why are all the players Black?"

Me: "Uhhh…"

Mrs. Bootleg: "Jalen, there are some white players, too."

Jalen: "Those are the coaches."

Me: [Head explodes.]

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Tee-Ball Chronicles #6

Second from left: "Kid Capri"; third from right: Popeye the Sailor Boy; far right: KIMO~!

Wait, There's a Book About Billy Beane?

M'man Jon P. writes:

I'm in the midst of reading Moneyball for the first time (just finished the chapter about the 2002 draft day), and it definitely strikes me as a "follow the cult leader and fall under his spell" sort of a book. While Beane's approach may have some pieces of merit, going all the way with it seems like a route to nowhere. His wishlist for that draft looks like a horrible team overall seven years later.

I was wondering what sort of an opinion has arisen towards the book by now, and by extension, Beane himself. I remember the kafuffle back then about the book, how it was supposed to be about "the wave of the future", but clearly, it wasn't, not completely. Being a huge A's fan and a bigger baseball fan than I am, I figured you would have a better knowledge about it's retroactive reception than I. Do Lewis and Beane now get as rough a ride generally as you give them, especially in the wake of the last three seasons?

I remember when Moneyball was released, it was universally hailed in the same sabermetric circles that unfailingly praise A's GM Billy Beane, anyway. A writer at the Baseball Prospectus website referred to it as this generation's Ball Four - a comparison to Jim Bouton's groundbreaking opus that seems…a little much today.

There really are two schools of thought on the book today and, at the risk of grossly oversimplifying the argument, people either loved it or hated it.

Those who loved the book reflexively defend it. They point out that Moneyball wasn't a baseball book, but instead a business book that relied on a baseball narrative. And, since Michael Lewis' mash note to Beane validated their own analytical philosophies and approach to the game, then all the better.

Those who hated the book myopically crucify its new-school approach. The crusted-over critics harrumph at Beane's apparent disdain for the traditional scouting approach to player analysis. They've also taken great pride in watching the A's fail to make it to a World Series – much less win one – since Beane's been the GM (dating back to the late '90s).

Billy Beane has mostly been unscathed from "The Great Moneyball Debate". It doesn't hurt that he oversees a team with arguably the smallest fan base in the Major Leagues. Meanwhile, the miniscule local media that covers the team continues to swallow and regurgitate the plucky, small-market storyline that ceased being cute around 2002.

In Beane's defense, the A's have won 815 regular season games this decade which places them behind only the Yankees and Red Sox. But, five years after Moneyball, I think Beane's legacy is still kind of cloudy.

As an A's fan, I give Beane credit for helping to bring the franchise back to relevance after the A's spent most of the 1990s in anonymous obscurity. But, how much credit should the lightning-in-a-bottle drafting of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito receive? Or, as this article posits…
what did Moneyball miss?

Now, I happen to be one of those who buy into Beane's infamous "crap shoot" appellation to baseball's playoffs. But, it's gotta be some kind of karma that White Sox GM Ken Williams – who Lewis and Beane absolutely annihilate in the book – actually has a World Series win on his resume.

I don't think he's got a book out there.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

TBG Eats Reads: Joey Garlic's Pizzeria

A couple of days ago, m'man Nicka sent me a link to Joey Garlic's website. One of the highlights of my epic 2007 visit to Connecticut was Nick and me destroying a 30 wing platter at the Bidwell Tavern Café, followed by a giant order of quesadillas. A few hours later, Mrs. Nicka grilled steaks for us. (Confidential to Mrs. Bootleg: I'm still waiting for you to correspond with Mrs. Nicka to find out how I like my steak prepared. She got it right on the first try. At this point, I can only assume you KNOW I like it medium-rare and you're just overcooking mine out of spite. Moving on.)

In the span of five hours, we consumed close to 20,000 calories roughly. So, when Nick sends me a menu with only the words "Heaven is thy name" in the body of the email, you can bet it was worth the hour of company time I spent pouring over each and every word.

For the sake of simplicity, I'm reviewing the menu from the Farmington, CT location. Dedicated to the memory of FJM.


Now remember, these are ITALIAN appetizers, nothing small about them, capisce?

Pretentious, but we'll let it pass. Still, I can't imagine "…these are BLACK appetizers…" at the top of a soul food menu. The use of " capisce " seems like pandering, too. Reminds me of those lowbrow men's magazines that throw around words like "muy caliente" to describe the sex appeal of this month's swimsuit model if she happens to be Hispanic.

Crispy Fried Ribs $9.95

Any menu description that begins "My Mom was friends with a Vietnamese woman…" is worth an order on the grounds of unintentional hilarity alone. If fried chicken is on their menu, I demand the description start out with "Hey, wait a minute, I've got LOTS of Black friends…"

Calamari Fritti $8.95

When the menu invokes the name of God, himself, to sell deep fried squid, I think it's safe to say we're all on board. Great calamari IS a religious experience and the description here has me hoping for a greasy, sun-dried tomato pesto sauce-leaking Fed Ex package from That Nicka Family in the near future.

Fried Dough $5.95

Wait, wait, wait…I've eaten "elephant ears" and "buñelos", but "fried dough"? Where's the cutesy food euphemism? If we're going to get all dull and descriptive, start calling hot dogs by their actual content ("beef anus") and get it over with.


Meatball Salad $8.95

Oh. My. God. There is no bigger fan of those enormous "80 grams of fat" salads served in every fast food chain across America than me. And, I am floored that none of them has thought of this before. All this time, I thought blackened chicken was the meat zenith of the nine-dollar, casual-dining salad. I'm now left to wonder what other under-utilized – but, obvious – animal parts are right there, waiting to caress a bed of lettuce.

Crispy Calamari Salad $8.95

Of course! I mean…it's right there!

Sicilian Orange Salad $8.95

"Siggies"? Does that fall under the "n-word" rule in which only Sicilians can use it? And, how come I never heard it used during any of Sophia Petrillo's "Picture it, Sicily: 1898…" anecdotes?

Brick Oven Pizza, New Haven Style

OK, I can't lie…I had to Google "EVOO". In all my years of eatin', I've never seen that acronym. I'm not the restaurateur, Joey, but that sounds a lot less appetizing that "extra-virgin olive oil". What is that…just 15 more keystrokes?

Onion Lovers' Pie $12.95/$18.95

Caramelized onions AND crispy bacon? I found my order. I'm not exaggerating when I say a pizza like this would cost twice as much in California. The server would have to go to the back and "see if the cook could make it", since it's not on any menus out here.

Hawaiian Pineapple Pizza $12.95/$18.95

Pfft…Hawaiian pizzas have long since been passé on the West Coast, Connecticut. If you're going to lift our awesomely edible ideas, put fish tacos on the menu.

Old Fashioned, Fresh Ground Hamburgers

French fries are $1.50 extra WITH a burger?! Several years ago, I took an east coast-based customer to lunch at a local chain out here called Pat & Oscar's. They're famous for their breadsticks. But, when That East Coast Guy found out the breadsticks were sold a la carte, he wanted to get up and leave on principle. Same thing here for me with the fries.

Free Toppings: Fried onions, fried peppers, fried mushrooms, fried egg, chipotle-BBQ sauce, horseradish mayo, gorgonzola dressing, Buffalo sauce, hot pepper relish


Italian Sandwiches

Famous New York "Spiedie" Sandwich $8.95

Can't say I've ever even heard of a "Spiedie". Is it pronounced "speedy"? "Spay-DIE"? "SPUH-Eddie"? And, I'm not quite convinced that Binghamton is famous for anything. First thing that comes to mind when I think of the city? The Mets' minor league affiliate. Probably says more about me than the fine people of Binghamton, though. The sandwich sounds kind of pedestrian, so what am I missing?


Banana, Caramel Cinnamon, Coffee, Hazelnut $4.95


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

AiAA: Southwest Airlines – "It's On!"

Once or twice, within the confines of this lightly-read blog, I might've mentioned that I earned a degree in marketing from San Diego State University.

Similarly, you might've heard that I'm an African-American.

As a result, I am eminently qualified to recognize dated Black slang in an ad campaign.

This pains me to write, Southwest Airlines. From 1996 through 2006, you were my official airline provider for multiple trips into Oakland where I hung out with m'man Vig, caught a Saturday afternoon A's game and spent the evenings in assorted San Francisco speakeasies.

Really, though…"It's on"? Does Will Smith still hold the copyright to "jiggy"?

I'm not sure when "It's on" fell off [see what I did there?], but I vividly remember that it was the tagline for this movie AND a cut off of this album – both released in 1994!

C'mon, Southwest…do you really want to align your brand with references from the same year that gave us pogs, OJ jokes, Newt Gingrich and soccer's World Cup on American soil?

No…you don't.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

TBG Eats: Paula Deen's Italian Sausage Soup

Current Weight: 165.8 lbs.

The Recipe

If any of you ever make it out to San Diego, feel free to invite yourself over to Stately Bootleg Manor.

Y'see, I live in what's called "North County", which means my house is the single farthest point from anywhere else in the city. On the plus side, you'll get to see all of San Diego on your 30-60 minute drive from the airport to my place.

Our house isn't really anything special. I mean, it's quiet, comfortable…a little small…but, it's home. My biggest beef is with the abject lack of character that infuses every room. Sure, the boy's room looks like a five-year-old sleeps there and the garage – like every other garage in California – serves as our de facto attic, basement and storage shed. But, there's really just ONE room in the entire house that clearly represents my family: the master bathroom.

Every night, the boy takes his baths up there while one of his parents stand watch/wash his ass. Jalen's been playing with the same sack of bath toys for years. They provide a nostalgic snapshot of his assorted phases, like the "Curious George" phase (culminating in a rare head-of-the-household veto from me when Mrs. Bootleg wanted to dress up our African-American son as this cartoon monkey for Halloween a few years back).

For the record, I dropped a similar veto when Mrs. Bootleg wanted to buy Jalen several NASCAR-related t-shirts, recently. As I told my wife, "I'll play with him and his cars, I'll watch the ridiculous Sunday races on TV with him, but I'm not willing to advertise my kid's enjoyment of the [here I made the air-quotes pantomime] 'sport'. Between this and my love of baseball and craft beers, we're losing enough 'Black points' as it is."

And, while Jalen is bathing, the national pastime for the grown-ups is reading. Between Mrs. Bootleg and myself, we have over a half-dozen magazine subscriptions and our master bathroom is one of the only places in America where you'll see Essence and Oprah commingled with Maxim and Consumer Reports.

Mrs. Bootleg also subscribes to Cooking with Paula Deen. I don't mind saying that this old broad – Paula Deen, not Mrs. Bootleg – creeps me out. I don't know what it is about her, either.

Maybe it's the way she poses the exact same way (head tilted, repeatable plastic smile) in every publicity photo. The late Missy Elliott had the same affliction.

Maybe it's how her handlers always have enough make-up to completely cake her face, but run out before her septuagenarian hands, chest and neck can be Avon'd over.

Maybe I'm just jealous of her spot-on Joker impersonation.

Now, for those of you who don't know, Black women are extremely prideful of three things – in this order: (1) their hair; (2) their butts and (3) their kitchen skills. And, when it comes to Paula Deen, even Mrs. Bootleg concedes, "that b*tch can burn". ("Burn" being an old Negro euphemism for "cook really well".)

The wife whipped out this recipe last Sunday and…it was good. Can we all agree that anything with Italian sausage is going to be delicious? Bacon deservedly gets all the mainstream man-love, but in the "pig meat Olympics", Italian sausage is the perennial silver medalist. (Does breakfast sausage get the bronze? Baby back ribs? I can't decide!)

I loved the contrast in textures between the beans and the pasta, too. This is very much one of those "stick to yo' ribs" kind of soups that's thick enough to be an entrée all its own. Even better, the measurements for the vegetables (carrot, celery, onion) are just enough to keep from impeding on the meat and turning this into a "girl's soup", like lentil or "________ with wild rice".

As a rule, Mrs. Bootleg always ignores the recommended seasonings and comes up with her own spice combination. Much like the backyard "chef" who adds one or two things to a bottle of KC Masterpiece, Mrs. Bootleg believes this artistic license now makes the recipe her own.

Tonight will make night #3 for Paula Deen's Mrs. Bootleg's Italian Sausage Soup. It reheats very well and, according to my tongue, tastes better than the first night. Hell, even Jalen – he of the pizza, hot dog and hamburger wheel of three dinner options – finished his bowls. More or less.

Grade: 4.5 (out of 5)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Proposition? What Proposition?

I seem to be experiencing a small – but, very much appreciated – uptick in new readers lately. To that end, I received a handful of emails from people asking me what I thought about last week's California Supreme Court decision upholding Proposition 8.

Well, seeing as how I carry about as much credibility on the subject as Miss California – and, really, you can probably infer my feelings just from reading
what I've already written – I'd prefer to point y'all to better writers than me.

There were three pieces that stuck out. The first is
the legal assessment of the court's ruling. This is a dense, but surprisingly nuanced review that keeps the emotional arguments in the background. The second, from San Francisco Chronicle columnist Mark Morford, brings the emotion to the forefront. Finally, in the interest of equal time, is a post from – of all places – SI.com writer Jeff Pearlman's personal blog.

An Actual Conversation with my Five-Year-Old Son…

Does casual profanity count?

From Sunday morning, May 30

Jalen: [Interrupting his own one-man imaginary adventure, bringing random action figure over to me] "He said a bad word."

Me: [Absent-mindedly sipping coffee, not even looking up from my magazine] "What'd he say?"

Jalen: "He said, 'damn it'."

Note: I'm still not sure if I should've reprimanded him or commended the boy for bringing this to my attention.


He's objectifying women at an 8th grade level!

From Sunday afternoon, May 30

Me: [Taking a tinkle in our downstairs bathroom.]

Jalen: [In living room – watching the Giants/Cardinals baseball game on the Comcast Bay Area feed.] "Those girls pointed their bras at the TV!"

Me: [Finishes bathroom business – more or less – races through kitchen and dining room in 0.6 seconds.] "What? Where?"

Jalen: "On TV!"

The boy is watching a local Bay Area spot for this scantily-clad contest…that was actually held two weeks ago.

Mrs. Bootleg: "AARON!"

Jalen: "Let's watch it again!"


Where Black-on-Black Violence Begins…

An actual conversation with my five-year-old son, yesterday morning…

Jalen: "What're you looking at?"

Aaron (typing on laptop computer) "Oh, that's someone (Jemile Weeks) the A's drafted last year. It's not a very good picture, though."

Jalen: (with his face an inch from the screen) "What color is his skin?"

Aaron: "Uh, well, it's brown like yours and mine."

Jalen: "NO! Not like yours! Yours is LIGHT brown and his is dark brown like me and mommy's."

Aaron: "…"


Mammy, the Sequel

An actual conversation with my five-year-old-son during breakfast, about a week ago…

Aaron: "Ready for your pancakes?"

Jalen: "YEAH!"

Aaron: "These just need another minute on the griddle, can you get the syrup?"

Jalen: (staring intently at the bottle of syrup) "This looks like mommy!"


Heaven Ain't Hard 2 Find

An actual conversation with my five-year-old son and another gentleman during our last haircut…

Jalen: "That's my daddy [sitting in the barber's chair, getting hair cut]."

Gentleman: "Oh, I see him. And, how old are you?"

Jalen: "I'm five. How old are you?"

Gentleman: "I'm 63-years-old."

Jalen: "Wow. You're almost going to heaven!"

Aaron: [Head explodes.]