Thursday, December 31, 2009
Two weeks ago, this lightly-read blog turned three-years-old. It's now run longer than my "Friday Music News Bootleg" weekly internet column, which I ended after exactly three years in 2006.
As y'all know, my primary writing weakness = succinctness (I was shocked to learn this is an actual word. It sounds...off.) and I didn't want to turn this into an overly-long acknowledgement. But, some of you might've picked up on the vibe that 2009 wasn't a year I'd like to remember: personally, professionally or sports-teamery.
That's true, for the most part, so imagine my surprise while fiddling with this blog's limited formatting options to see that I've thrown up 318 posts this year - nearly 50 more than last year.
I know it's trite, clichéd and corny, but I really wanted to thank y'all for checking in 'round here. I had an idea for this piece that would've named names and offered a few personalized words of appreciation, but I was worried I'd miss someone. I hope no one minds the form-letter approach.
Seriously, though, thank you. Thanks to the readers who've been around long enough to wonder if I'll ever make fun of Lil' Kim again. Thanks to the new readers who found TBG in the just the last few months through Facebook, Twitter or some other social network media that I bashed for years before being the last one on the bandwagon.
(Quick aside: If you find me on Facebook, could you let me know, like, who you are? Makes it infinitely more likely I'll accept your 'friend-vitation'. For what it's worth, I've got exclusive content on my FB page that you won't get here, such as one or two pictures of Jalen you HAVEN'T seen and a link to my blog!)
I've had variations of the following conversation with Mrs. Bootleg a handful of times in the past year:
Mrs. Bootleg: "How was work?"
Me: "I got a really nice email from someone who said how much they like the blog!"
Mrs. Bootleg: "So...nothing happened at work?"
Me: "Nothing this good!"
Those of you who know my wife are welcome to interrogate her on this. She can vouch for my misplaced priorities. She's also tremendously understanding and I should thank her and the boy for giving me ample time to pursue my blog folly.
Again, thanks to everyone who stopped by TBG in 2009. Here's to a happy and healthy 2010 for all y'all.
Ummm...see you tomorrow?
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
We lost our 18-year-old cat this year.
And, I mean that literally.
The little bastard up and left one morning and never came home.
After the events of 5/11, it was clear that 2009 would not be making the cut for my romanticized time capsule of dewy anecdotes. Exactly one week later, I let the cat out right before sunrise – as I'd done pretty much every morning since we found him 11 years earlier.
"Whiskers" already had a name and a home in 1998. To this day, I can't remember whether it was me or then-Girlfriend Bootleg that he first followed to our townhouse, but a few months later the cat's owner moved away and asked if wanted him.
For the next decade and change, the Cam Fam maintained a 95/5 love/hate relationship with our cat.
He snored – sometimes loudly – while he slept. And, he'd drool in his sleep, too. For some reason, this never got old for me. He was the feline equivalent of my college years.
There was NOTHING this cat wouldn't eat. We were certainly enablers by willfully feeding him table scraps. Later, on several occasions, we became accessories to petty theft as Whiskers would show up at our front door with an entire chicken breast or piece of steak in his mouth – pilfered from a neighbor's barbecue.
Of course, those moments were innocent shenanigans compared to the afternoon that our cat caught a bird and brought it inside…all while we were at work. We'd leave the sliding glass door on our second floor balcony open so Whiskers could come and go as he pleased.
At around 5:30 PM, I entered our second bedroom/office to find feathers covering almost every square inch. GF Bootleg and I were in shock over the mess for several minutes before it hit us: there's a dead bird in there. The memory of cleaning blood off the carpet, walls and ceiling still haunts me.
Whiskers brought home mice, too. In fact, the night Mrs. Bootleg came home from the hospital after giving birth to Jalen, the cat brought a mouse home that sent me to the doctor. I suppose this was only fitting, seeing as Whiskers' veterinarian visits were single-handedly subsidizing the animal-care industry.
I know I'm going to inadvertently omit a few of his ailments and maladies, but at various times Whiskers was diagnosed with high blood pressure, cataracts, anemia, heart murmurs, hyper-thyroidism and borderline symptomatic for kidney disease and diabetes.
And, did you know he was a cancer survivor? Diagnosed with skin cancer – on his nose – in 2004, he underwent surgery that basically removed his nose. For the rest of his days, there was a tiny divot in the shape of an inverted triangle where Whiskers' nose used to be. We adjusted to the freakish visage, but never got accustomed to his sneezes from point-blank range as he no longer had the front of his nose – or nostrils – to block dirt and dust from his nasal cavities.
We tried to make him an indoor cat after this, but gave up after awhile. He'd managed to elude cars, the occasional coyote and inclement weather. He was on his 900th round of nine lives. I once saw him go toe-to-toe with a raccoon and Mrs. Bootleg swears she saw him beat the sh** out of a yappy little novelty dog that got a bit too uppity. This cat could not be contained. Besides, he didn't use a litter box. Did all his business outside, somewhere. We didn't know and we didn't wanna know.
Whiskers had slowed down noticeably towards the end, though. The thyroid disease dropped him from 14 pounds to a very emaciated eight pounds. Sporadic bouts of arthritis hit his back legs pretty bad affecting everything from walking to grooming. But, he was moving around just fine at 5:00 AM on May 18.
Funny thing is, around this time I'd had an extensive allergy test that showed my response to cats was just about off the charts and, like the rest of my allergic reactions, almost certainly getting worse. Combine this with the long-held belief that cats instinctively seek out solitude when they're at death's door and it's possible – possible – that our cat simply knew, figuratively and literally, it was time to go.
And, couldn't nobody diss my n***a
Damn, I miss my n***a
Pour out a little liquor!
-Thug Life featuring 2Pac, "Pour Out a Little Liquor"
Monday, December 28, 2009
My wife's not that hard to shop for during the holidays.
While kicking around an angle for this post, I came across my 2007 gift-giving synopsis and realized my Christmas formula for Mrs. Bootleg has been the same for at least the last decade: gift cards to her favorite shops (Victoria's Secret, Ann Taylor Loft); a few things she specifically requests and a mix n' match of active wear (ladies sweats from the Nike store) and/or inactive wear (ladies sweats from Target).
I spent most of the month of December hubristically believing that I could knock out Mrs. Bootleg's Christmas list in a single session. Instead, the afternoons I'd earmarked for mall conquering turned into 700-word fast food mash notes.
On December 24, I was down to my last day. A few elements of the formula were easy to find. Mrs. Bootleg has recently taken over the top two dresser drawers for her spectacular collection of classy
With the gift equivalents of Glass Joe and Von Kaiser out of the way – and some assorted jewelry already in Mrs. Bootleg's stocking – it was time to auto-pilot the rest of the wife's gift list.
Then, a funny thing happened: I could NOT bring myself to half-ass it this year. Oh, my wallet was willing, but my conscience was not. I drove down to one of San Diego's higher-end malls and spent two hours talking myself in and out of buying the wife something at a place like The Coach Store. Mrs. Bootleg's got a few Coach bags already, so…what's one more?
I envisioned one of those little black purses that women use as a pretentious accessory to their little black evening dresses. "Little" + "black" = Mrs. Bootleg. What I naively failed to envision was (1) being completely ignored from the moment I walked through the doors of The Coach Store and (2) nary a price tag to be found on any of the items I was interested in. "If you have to ask…", as they say and I wasn't prepared to call their bluff with my credit card.
Less than five miles up the road is an All-American hood mall with shop names like "House of Flava", "Payless Shoes" and "Available to Lease". I'm not sure what I thought I was going to find here, but they didn't have it. I knew I could still pick up a few little things, but Mrs. Bootleg needed something that wasn't my usual paint-by-numbers approach. I tried another mall and that's when it hit me – Lucky Brand® Jeans.
And, for once I was grateful to be pounced on like prey when I entered the store. This was no time to be discreet:
"I'm looking for something for my wife, but I don't know her size. She's 4'8", about 105 lbs., short legs and a Black woman's butt."
As I'm sitting here at 10:35 PM typing this, those were my exact words. They seemed to momentarily stun the trust fund princess (this mall's near La Jolla, y'all) who was helping me. Fortunately, she gathered herself – but, not before becoming inexplicably defensive on my wife's behalf ("Hey, there's nothing wrong some butt!") as if I were insulting Mrs. Bootleg's backside. To her credit, the girl knew her jeans. I was out the door with a pair in less than 10 minutes.
I wanted one more relatively "nice" gift. I walked over to Crate & Barrel, but even though Mrs. Bootleg and I have talked about buying a new coffee pot, I couldn't bring myself to buy the "appliance as a gift". I headed home, but missed the freeway on-ramp, so I cut across town on surface streets until I hit the next freeway. At a red light, that's when it hit me (again) – The Ugg Boots Superstore.
Mrs. Boot(!)leg had mentioned Uggs off and on for years. I had no earthly idea if anyone still wears 'em, but by now it was almost 2:00 PM on Christmas Eve. She's getting Uggs.
The "superstore" was – ironically AND coincidentally – the size of a shoebox. For whatever reason, every one of its employees was ancient enough to have served as Old Hoss Radbourn's personal cobbler and cordwainer. But, with those centuries of life came an insight I could never quantify:
Me: "Do you have this in a 6 ½?"
Saleswoman: "I'm sorry, we don't carry half sizes."
Me: "Oh. Well, how 'bout in a 7?"
Saleswoman: "Young man, you NEVER go a half-size higher. Always go one half-size lower."
Anyways, Christmas Day came and Mrs. Bootleg seemed blown away by my break from the norm. Still, she's even better than me at faking appreciation for an especially crappy gift, so I made sure to arm her with the applicable gift receipts. All I really wanted was for the jeans and boots to fit and on that it was mission accomplished.
OK, OK…it would be cool if she kept them.
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Season to Date:
San Diego at Tennessee
Aaron: This Chargers team has a little something Apollo Creed once referred to as "Eye of the Tiger" and have spent the season rising up to the challenge of their rivals. The Titans are the scrappy, written-off-for-dead upstarts who've been resurrected. Not unlike a certain someone who's birthday is on Christmas. No, not Rickey Henderson. Close, though. Pick: Tennessee
Joe: Wow, that metaphor really went over the place. Let me try: San Diego will treat the Titans like the neighborhood dogs in A Christmas Story treated the Christmas turkey. Pick: San Diego
Denver at Philadelphia
Aaron: The same sports media that universally predicted Denver to go 4-12 this season now laments the team's "disappointing" second half. How could this happen under "Reliable" Kyle Orton's watch? Pick: Philadelphia
Joe: Philly fans will be a couple days late to pelt Santa with unmentionables. God help us from ever finding out what they'd do to Baby New Year. Pick: Denver
Kansas City at Cincinnati
Aaron: Instead of going with "the rest of the season", the Bengals might wanna pick and choose the remaining 2009 games they dedicate to the late Chris Henry. Here's a good one. Pick: Cincinnati
Joe: I believe Cedric Benson will dedicate this 160-yard rushing performance to the memory of the Chiefs' defense. Pick: Cincinnati
Buffalo at Atlanta
Aaron: The Falcons need a lot of help to make the playoffs, but I admire the gritty resolve of guys like Matt Ryan and Michael Turner: playing through injuries against the last three weeks of bottom feeders to pad their own stats. Pick: Atlanta
Joe: The Bills are set to maybe possibly start untested QB Brian Brohm in place of a Civil War battlefield worth of QBs. Doesn't mean they'll win, but QB hope springs eternal. Pick: Atlanta
Oakland at Cleveland
Aaron: More pathetic: the local media notion that JaMarcus Russell "saved" his career by coming off the bench (5 for 11, 47 yards) to upset Denver last week or that he can't unseat the 3rd string guy who suffered a concussion in the same game? Pick: Cleveland
Joe: And on the flip side, no Brady Quinn for the Browns almost made me want to pick the Raiders on the road. Until I realized how insane that whole sentence sounds. Pick: Cleveland
Carolina at N.Y. Giants
Aaron: I am reluctantly willing to consider that it's not over for the Giants yet. Pick: NY Giants
Joe: They're back in their comfort zone now -- beating up on crappy teams. Pick: NY Giants
Seattle at Green Bay
Aaron: How many times do these teams play against each other in a given season? I ask because I KNOW I've used some derivative of the "No Favre, no Holmgren...whatever will the national media overreport on?" joke in the past 12 months. Pick: Green Bay
Joe: I think this Packers team suckered me to their cause more in their loss to Pittsburgh than in some of their wins. Pick: Green Bay
Houston at Miami
Aaron: I think we can pretty much close the book on the Matt Schaub era, Houston. Pick: Miami
Joe: Hey, Matt Schaub wasn't the one fumbling the ball away every game. Well, wasn't the ONLY one fumbling the ball away. Pick: Miami
Tampa Bay at New Orleans
Aaron: I'm firmly in the camp of those who believe the Saints - while not tanking last week's loss to Dallas - may not have been inclined to empty their playbook against a potential playoff opponent like the Cowboys. Pick: New Orleans
Joe: I'm not sure tanking it would even do the trick here. Pick: New Orleans
Jacksonville at New England
Aaron: This feels like one of those games where the Pats kick the everlovin' sh** out of someone. Pick: New England
Joe: I keep thinking the same thing, Cam, but that hasn't happened in a while. Pick: New England
Baltimore at Pittsburgh
Aaron: Wait...how did one of their eight annual games against each other NOT end up on Monday Night Football? Does the Commissioner know about this? Pick: Pittsburgh
Joe: I love how it took five straight losses to get everybody to give up on the Steelers, and one miracle win to get everyone back onboard. Myself included. Pick: Pittsburgh
St. Louis at Arizona
Aaron: This feels like one of those games where the Rams lose. Pick: Arizona
Joe: Nothing on the Kurt Warner/Brenda Warner/religious angle? Somebody's feeling sluggish on Boxing Day. Pick: Arizona
Detroit at San Francisco
Aaron: The 49ers have alternated wins and losses for each of the past six weeks. I know the Lions suck, but the first rule of pickin' is to bet the trends. And, since San Francisco lost last week... Pick: San Francisco
Joe: Can't argue with science. Pick: San Francisco
N.Y. Jets at Indianapolis
Aaron: Well, hello, "upset win I'm force to predict since I'm a bazillion games behind Joe in the season standings"! Pick: NY Jets
Joe: So nice to be on this side of the fence for once. Pick: Indianapolis
Dallas at Washington
Aaron: The Redskins performance last Monday night vs. the Giants was as unwatchable as anything I've seen all season. As such, THIS will be the game that finally snuffs out Wade Phillips. (Plus, upset...forced to predict...bazillion games behind Joe). Pick: Washington
Joe: Much as I would never root against the cosmic undoing of Wade Phillips... Pick: Dallas
Minnesota at Chicago
Aaron: One of these years, Brett Favre will be playing in an outdoors game in December and keel over like a Taun-Taun before being hung upside down in an ice cave by a Wampa. (Google those references, new readers, I'll wait.) Pick: Chicago
Joe: I feel as weird being on the "Favre can still do it!" side of the fence as anyone, but the Bears are really, really, really bad. Pick: Minnesota
Confidence Pickin' (with current scores)
Joe (39): STEELERS (-3) over Ravens; Lions (+12) over NINERS; DOLPHINS (-3) over Texans
Aaron (39): GIANTS (-7) over Panthers; Saints (-14) over Bucs; PATRIOTS (-7.5) over Jags
Tom (31): Jets (+6) over COLTS; Redskins (+6.5) over COWBOYS; CARDINALS (-14) over Rams
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Current Weight: 168.0 lbs.
So, I spent last Saturday with my son Jalen in an ill-fated attempt to complete my Christmas shopping. Given a choice, I'd have left the boy at home, but he really needed a haircut and my barber is a 30 minute drive from my house. Sure, I could've doubled-back and dropped him off at the house, but Mrs. Bootleg was using her childless window of freedom to buy gifts for the last few names on her list.
There are only so many hours of "agreeable Jalen" in the day and I made the mistake of miscalculating the Black barbershop's inherent C.P.T. tendencies. This is to say, I showed up on time. Most Saturday mornings, my barber is running anywhere from 15-30 minutes behind. And, after arriving at 9:30 AM, I didn't get into the chair until 10:00 AM, with Jalen following immediately after. Thankfully, the boy takes his cuts like a champ.
Instead of knocking out my mall shopping, I opted to hunt down the next entry for my "TBG Eats" feature. I don't want to say that the requirements of this lightly-read blog officially outrank gift-giving to my friends and family, but let's be honest: f*** yeah, they do.
It came down to one of Subway's (relatively) new breakfast sandwiches or Sonic's Extra Long Chili Cheese Coney. Since I've made no less than a half-dozen failed attempts to get Jalen to finish ONE child-size Subway sandwich, I reluctantly cut my losses and head out for a second round with Sonic. The 10-minute drive is made eminently more enjoyable when I pass the front entrance of the palatial trailer park about a half-mile from the restaurant:
My first Sonic review prompted a few reader recommendations and the praise for the Chili Cheese Coney was enough to get me on board. Finding something for Jalen was a tad more challenging. Sonic's kids' menu included everything except what J wanted: a hot dog. Fortunately, I negotiate multi-million dollar defense contracts for a living, so I knew how to handle this.
Me: How 'bout a hamburger?
Jalen: No. YOU'RE having a hot dog!
Me: I'm having a chili dog, J.
Jalen: Can I have a plain chili dog?
Me: I'm not spending $3.29 for you to tell me 'This doesn't taste like mommy's hot dogs'.
Jalen: Then, I don't want ANYTHING.
Me: I'll let you sit in the front seat with me.
Sonic's Extra-Long Chili Cheese Coney isn't quite a foot-long, but it's still fabulously phallic. Topped with a respectable pour of chili, shredded cheese and onions (optional), this had the look of the million or so "homemade" microwave chili dogs – canned chili, American cheese – that sustained me through college.
The quality of the hot dog was solid – slight, pleasant saltiness with a wee bit of snap. The chili was better than I thought and featured a mild smoky flavor that made up for its thin consistency and granules of meat. I could've gone for another fist full of onions, though and the cheese had an odd gummy texture. These are comically served with a plastic fork, as if one can't just pick it up and plow on through. Somehow, the final product managed to exceed the sum of its parts.
Jalen, meanwhile, annihilated his hamburger. I asked him to give it a score between one and five, with five being the best and… Before I could finish explaining my grade-school review system, J jumped in, "FIVE!" In addition, I ordered my first strawberry limeade. Without a hint of hyperbole, I'm certain that if Jesus had known of these, he'd have turned water into strawberry limeade, instead of wine. By the end, I was ready to eat the cup it came in.
Oh, yeah…Christmas shopping. After two hours at the mall, I left with one gift for Mrs. Bootleg and a race car for Jalen. Not a good sign when fast food is the day's family highlight.
Grade: 3.5 (out of 5) Calories: 660 Fat: 39g
Monday, December 21, 2009
Stop me if you've heard this one before: having a child changes everything. This is especially so during the holiday season. For instance, I have lots of memories from lots of Christmases, but only three of 'em remain crystal-clear right down to the year:
1982 – Atari 2600
1987 – The original Nintendo Entertainment System
1991 – The first time I was able to buy decent gifts with my own paycheck, instead of whatever I could afford on my meager teenager allowance.
Honorable mention: drinking a beer with my dad in the backyard on a warm Christmas morning. Unfortunately, I can't remember if it was 1995 or 1996.
That's not to say I haven't enjoyed every other Christmas of my life (well, maybe not in 1981…everyone should experience at least one "poor, forced to do without" Christmas…if that doesn't motivate you to NOT be poor, nothing will).
It's just that, after awhile, there's a formulaic sameness to the proceedings causing the memories to melt together.
And, then my son Jalen was born.
This will be his sixth Christmas and each one hasn't been nearly as much fun for him as it was for me. There was his first one in 2004, when Mrs. Bootleg took the boy to get his picture taken with Mall Santa. Defying all laws of human physiology, Jalen screamed so loud and so long that – for a moment – his mouth was bigger than his head.
In 2007-08, J was really into Disney-Pixar's Cars movie. I scoured every Wal-Mart, Target and toy store within a 20-mile radius in search of every die-cast replica of every character in the movie. Here is a short film depicting my reaction after an especially obscure find.
That's not to say I've enjoyed every aspect of Christmas since Jalen arrived. I've maintained a lifelong loathing for some of these things, while others are more recent arrivals to my personal bah humbug collection. These are eight things I hate about the holiday season:
Shopping on Christmas Eve - Every year I say I'm NOT going to be among the cavalcade of procrastinators out and about on December 24 and every year – this one included – I can be found recklessly killing off my credit cards in a one-day all-out assault to save commercialism in this country. I've even outdone myself this year as, for the most part, I've covered everyone on my list – except my wife. Why can she get away with giving me a picture of Jalen as a gift, but if I even dared to do the same thing…
Candy Canes - I don't like mint. Whether it's peppermint or Pep-O-Mint™, it all tastes like toothpaste to me.
Egg Nog - Once upon a time, the taste of egg nog was not unlike creamy melted angels mixed with nutmeg. My mom couldn't keep it in the house. Every year around this time, she reminds me that I once poured it over cereal – and ate the whole bowl. Today, my body has changed. Even blended with a surplus drum full of rum, a few drops of nog would keep me tied to an entirely different "bowl".
The Unnamed Defense Contractor - At the beginning of every year, my company establishes goals tied to revenues, cash receipts, etc. Around September or October, like clockwork, the company announces that we're on track to meet said goals. Somewhere between Halloween and Thanksgiving, everything changes. On or around December 1, we're in dire straits and the Contracts Department (me) is tasked with panhandling to the Federal Government for an advance on the following year's funds so our shareholders can have a very Merry Christmas.
Robbing the future to pay for the present? Sounds an awful lot like the origins of a certain worldwide economic catastrophe I've been reading about.
Ham - Weird. I love sausage, bacon (Canadian and domestic), pork chops, baby back ribs, pulled pork, pork roast, tenderloin…pretty much every part of the pig except for chitlins, pig's feet and head cheese. Ham just doesn't do it for me. Never has. This year, Mrs. Bootleg is throwing ribeyes on the grill. Last year, she made her phenomenal three-meat meatloaf. Christmas should be a red meat holiday. The Bootlegs aim to keep it that way.
12 Days of Christmas - What is it about this interminable ditty that makes it SO easy to memorize for children? It's a crap shoot for Jalen to remember to wash his hands after using the bathroom, but he knew every word of this auditory ordeal when he was three. It's like the holiday version of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Freebird", where you have to sit through 10 minutes of uphill singing to get to the final 12 days countdown/no-vocals guitar part.
Gingerbread Cookies - Cookies should be sweet. Each one should be a decadent, guilty pleasure that gets you closer and closer to the doorstep of diabetes. Ginger is such an overpowering spice that it ends up cancelling out the brown sugar, corn syrup and cinnamon in most recipes. Unfortunately, my grass-roots campaign to replace gingerbread men with "oatmeal-raisin-walnut cookie men" hasn't caught on. Yet.
Summer on Christmas Day - Full disclosure: it was in the high 70s all weekend here in San Diego. I'm not asking for the east coast's recent Arctic conditions, but Christmas Day should feel like…well, Christmas Day. In 2006, we reached 80 degrees on Christmas. I could barely enjoy our grilled-outdoors dinner of bacon-wrapped filet mignon and bourbon. This year, I'd gladly trade in my usual holiday ensemble – shorts, t-shirt, no shoes – for a scarf and a scratchy sweater. A quick check of our city's extended forecast predicts a Christmas Day temperature of…64 degrees! Now, THAT'S Christmas climate!
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Season to Date:
Indianapolis at Jacksonville (Thurs.)
Aaron: I daresay the Colts might be the blandest juggernaut since the six year championship reign of former pro wrestler Bob Backlund in the late '70s/early '80s. Hey, the embarassment is worth it for the five of you who get the reference. Pick: Indianapolis
Joe: As a Yankee fan, I've grown to appreciate the charms of a bland juggernaut. Plus I do enjoy seeing so many people continue to eat crow on Peyton Manning. Pick: Indianapolis
Dallas at New Orleans (Sat.)
Aaron: Did every team in the NFC east simply secede from their own secondaries? Thankfully for the Cowboys, the Saints don't have much of a passing game. Wait. Oh, sh*t, Dallas. Pick: New Orleans
Joe: You would think, given the Saints' tendency to play down to every team not based in New England these last several weeks, Dallas would be a prime candidate to upset them. The problem is, New Orleans, like SkyNet, becomes most dangerous when self-aware. I'm saying, this is either where the Saints take their loss, or it's Judgment Day for Wade Phillips. Pick: New Orleans
Arizona at Detroit
Aaron: Should we be sadder that these might be the final three games of Daunte Culpepper's Lions career or that he'll be competing for a starting job in Oakland in 2010? Pick: Arizona
Joe: I, for one, have more faith in Bruce Gradkowski's healing abilities. Pick: Arizona
Cleveland at Kansas City
Aaron: Perhaps if the Browns borrowed COBRA's "Weather Dominator" (last seen in the seminal 1984 animated miniseries G.I. Joe: The Revenge of COBRA) and played their games in blizzards every week... Pick: Cleveland
Joe: Can't top that analysis. Won't try. Pick: Kansas City
San Francisco at Philadelphia
Aaron: Sweet dreams, flickering San Francisco 49er playoff hopes. Here, let me tuck you in. Pick: Philadelphia
Joe: So the Eagles have everybody buying into them, on some "unstoppable offense" theory? ...Huh. All right. Pick: Philadelphia
Chicago at Baltimore
Aaron: Chicago fans won't have the Cubs' Milton Bradley to kick around anymore, as the angry Black OF was sent packing this week. Jay Cutler has petulantly agreed to accept Bradley's "kick around" bookings. Pick: Baltimore
Joe: Aw. Remember when Ray Lewis and the Ravens' D was fearsome enough that we could count on them to pound on snot-nosed QBs? Pick: Baltimore
New England at Buffalo
Aaron: The Bills might have a shot in these lousy weather conditions. Wait, it's going to be sunny in Buffalo on Sunday? In the high 20s, you say? Shot rescinded. Pick: New England
Joe: Hey, the fact that I'm moved on from hoping the Bills lose to better their draft pick to hoping they pull off the upset and ruin the Pats' season for good speaks volumes. Pick: New England
Miami at Tennessee
Aaron: What it really boils down to is this: Do I trust Vince Young to help me close the gap between me and Joe? Yes. But, only if Joe picks Tennessee. Pick: Miami
Joe: Oh, fine. Pick: Tennessee
Houston at St. Louis
Aaron: Fortunately for the Texans, this one's on the road. The remains of former Houston QB David Carr - buried under Reliant Stadium, deep in his own territory - can't haunt the team in St. Louis. Pick: Houston
Joe: So which college QB should start prepping to arrange a trade out of St. Louis come April. Pick: Houston
Atlanta at N.Y. Jets
Aaron: Falcons' QB Matt Ryan and RB Michael Turner are listed as "game-time decisions". I admire each man's desire to take the field in their valiant attempt to finish six games behind the Saints. Pick: NY Jets
Joe: The AFC Wild Card team is destined to be 9-7, so the Jets' loss here won't knock them out. Pick: Atlanta
Oakland at Denver
Aaron: NOW will you stop picking the Raiders to beat any team, America? Pick: Denver
Joe: Yes. Pick: Denver
Cincinnati at San Diego
Aaron: Any suggestions on what I should do with all these "Chris Henry/Avatar" jokes? Pick: San Diego
Joe: Oh man, why did you never tell me?? This tragedy just keeps getting worse. Pick: San Diego
Green Bay at Pittsburgh
Aaron: The Packers have reclaimed their "pretty good team" appellation. Maybe when the Vikings beat 'em in the second round of the playoffs - for the third time this season - we'll remember their flaws. Pick: Green Bay
Joe: Meanwhile, Mike Tomlin is about one more
Tampa Bay at Seattle
Aaron: I know how I feel after a 3,000-mile flight across three time zones: tired. I assume the 1-12 Bucs will feel the same way. Pick: Seattle
Joe: Poor Josh Freeman. He's like Mark Sanchez but with many, many fewer wins. Pick: Seattle
Minnesota at Carolina
Aaron: Brett Favre...outdoors...December...? I'd feel a lot better about this if the immortal Matt Moore wasn't quarterbacking the Panthers. Pick: Carolina
Joe: You seem incredibly confident and/or foolhardy. I like that. Pick: Minnesota
N.Y. Giants at Washington
Aaron:Even Giants fans know it's over, right? Right? Pick: Washington
Joe: Not as over as it is for Jim Zorn. Pick: NY Giants
Confidence Pickin' (with current scores)
Joe (38): BRONCOS (-14) over Raiders; SEAHAWKS (-6.5) over Bucs; Falcons (+6) over JETS
Aaron (37): SEAHAWKS (-6.5) over Bucs; RAMS (+12.5) over Texans; CHARGERS (-6.5) over Bengals
Tom (29): JETS( -6) over Falcons; Giants( -3) over REDSKINS; Bears (+10.5) over RAVENS
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Sunday's Rankings (5-3-2-1 scoring)
(1) The Cleveland Show ("A Cleveland Brown Christmas") - First things first: the first nine episodes have been wildly uneven as this show still isn't sure what it wants to be. I would humbly suggest that it be…this. A 22-minute tour-de-force of riotously raunchy comedy, I watched it twice just so I could expose Mrs. Bootleg to lines like "…bushy in the front" and Rallo's "letter to Santa". The writers have aped the entire Family Guy formula (loosely tied mini-scenes and sequences in place of a real plot) but, damned if it didn't all click this week. And, the reindeer running gag – especially the climactic Santa scene – killed me.
(2) The Simpsons ("O Brother, Where Bart Thou?") - Those of you who abandoned this show over the past decade – and, really, I can't say I blame you – should hunt this episode down. Bart's dream sequence in which he longed for a baby brother – featuring The Smothers Brothers, The Smith Brothers (of ancient cough drop fame), The Super Mario Brothers and Peyton, Eli AND Cooper Manning was off-the-charts awesome. A terrific, heartfelt outing that indirectly highlighted the Lisa/Maggie sisterly dynamic, it could've claimed the top spot if it hadn't blatantly lifted Homer and Marge's "complicated sex" sequence from this.
(3) Family Guy ("Business Guy") - Loved some of the more subversive stuff (the "Lacey Chabert" line and the Billy Joel goof), but hated the unfunny low-hanging fruit (jokes/riffs on Bill Cosby and Scooby-Doo). And, isn't FOX's House already an unintentional parody of itself? Exhuming Hugh Laurie for a voiceover – and nonexistent laughs at his expense – didn't make much sense.
(4) American Dad! ("Rapture's Delight") - Yeah…see, here's the thing: With rare exception, most of these attempts to tweak the nose of organized religion don't work. The Simpsons found the right formula a few years ago with one or two episodes filled with twisted renditions of well-known Stories from the Bible ™. This episode's whole Mad Max meets Christ's second coming simply didn't do it for me – with the SOLE exception of the Antichrist/Riddler. HEE-larious.
MVP: Even though I made the mistake of watching this episode with Mrs. Bootleg, Bart Simpson's push for a kid brother was really well done. I could feel my wife making mental notes in preparation for another "why our son needs a sibling" debate.
Quote of the Night: "God pays twice as much attention on Christmas. Like the media whenever a white kid disappears." – Stan Smith (American Dad!)
The Cleveland Show – 29
The Simpsons – 27
American Dad! – 21
Family Guy – 21
Monday, December 14, 2009
As I sit here in the dining room of Stately Bootleg Manor -- home with a sick Jalen as he reasserts his position as "world's worst patient" -- non-violent children's programming is babysitting the boy, while I fish around for a Monday blog topic.
Our local PBS affiliate is airing Curious George. I've been meaning to write up reviews of J's preferred cartoons for years. The unintentional comedy is off the charts for my son's reactions to shows like Little Bill ("He looks like me!") and Handy Manny ("Why does he ALWAYS speak Spanish?!") I'll get around to it.
Our local FOX station is currently running their version of the morning news featuring resident weather-bunny, Chrissy Russo. Her choice of outfit for the morning is certainly TBG-worthy, but I already wrote about her earlier this year.
I turn my head from the right -- away from the TV hanging on our wall -- to the left and towards the Christmas cards hanging on one of our other walls. Hey, there's an idea! (And, for those of you who've asked, THAT'S how I come up with most of my blog topics. Now you know how the lightly-read sausage is made.)
With less than two weeks until Christmas, I can't wait another day. Here are five unsolicited suggestions for those of you who still haven't gotten around to sending out Christmas cards.
The Christmas Letter: "Dear friends of the Simpsons family. We had some sadness and some gladness this year. First, the sadness: our little cat Snowball was unexpectedly run over and went to kitty heaven. But we bought a new little cat, Snowball II, so I guess life goes on." Near as I can tell, that was the last entertaining Christmas letter ever written. If you insist, though, I respectfully request you omit the phrases "grateful to be employed" and "in THIS economy" from this year's self-serving opus. If you're looking for tired 2009 clichés, just make this the front of your Christmas card and move on.
The Teenage Daughter(s) Card: Those of you with young daughters don't need me to reinforce this fact -- your girls will eventually grow up. Feature them on your Christmas cards at your own risk. A few years ago, my old boss sent us a card that featured his two girls (17 and 19-years-old, at the time) striking a playfully contrived pose in their kitchen. One of the girls was licking frosting off a wooden spoon, with the other leaning over to put cookies in the oven. Otherwise harmless, innocuous cards like this WILL find their way into the wrong hands which, in most cases, is at least 80% of your Christmas card list.
The Card that Introduces Your New Spouse: I've got a friend whom I've known for nearly 20 years. He married a phenomenal woman -- smart, supportive, funny and attractive. Unfortunately, we fell out of contact with this couple. They got new jobs, moved to the Bay Area and -- before you knew it -- we became those friends that only communicate via Christmas cards. Last week, I received their "family" card. In the span of 365 days, my friend has apparently divorced and remarried as his once-striking wife has been replaced by...well, someone that's not her. I mean, is REALLY not her (and, we'll leave it at that). Can we all agree that the responsibility for passing along new spousal information is on the man/woman with the new spouse? Christmas cards can't double as marriage announcements.
The Card Signed by Your Pet: Stop it. I'll grudgingly accept your Christmas card's insincere holiday wishes from the six-month-old child who cries whenever he/she is in the vicinity of the only African-American it knows. (And, believe me, those infant tears always cut me like a knife.) But, your cat and dog's name don't belong at the bottom of a Christmas card. On December 25, they'll be eating from the same can of entrails and licking themselves in the same nether regions as every other day of the year.
Christmas Card Politics: Late last week, word began circulating around the offices of the Unnamed Defense Contractor that the Bootleg Family Christmas card had begun appearing in the mailboxes of some of my co-workers. "Some" being the operative word. Mrs. Bootleg orders a finite amount of cards -- usually between 75-80 -- and unless someone has died or failed to send us a forwarding address, once you're on our Xmas card list it's impossible to come off -- or put new names on. This means that some of my relatively-new co-workers in the office won't be receiving a card from us. Nothing personal. This didn't stop two of my co-workers from approaching me directly and asking why I hadn't sent Christmas cards to them.
Turns out "Because my wife doesn't like you" didn't make things any less awkward.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Season to Date:
Pittsburgh at Cleveland
Aaron: Thursday's forecast in Cleveland calls for snow, high winds and temps in the teens. A rare blackout AND whiteout for those of us who don't get the NFL Network. Pick: Pittsburgh
Joe: Cleveland would seem to be the ideal venue for Pittsburgh to get well. But with that forecast you've so helpfully provided, Cam, I'd be awfully interested in Cleveland plus a point spread. Not enough to make a contrarian pick here a good idea, though. Pick: Pittsburgh
Green Bay at Chicago
Aaron: The sure-to-be-lousy conditions has me thinking the Bears could keep it close enough to win. Then, again, the Bears are even worse than the expected weather. Pick: Green Bay
Joe Reid: Actually, so many Murphy's Law type principles say the Bears could indeed win here. Road games within the division are upset-magnets, the Bears are now settling into "spoiler" mode for the rest of the season, and the Packers aren't quite good enough to be 9-4 yet. Pick: Chicago
New Orleans at Atlanta
Aaron: Another home 'dog that's poised to put up a fight. I'd pick the Falcons, too, if only their offense were 100% and the defense was allowed to use brass knucks and steel chairs. Pick: New Orleans
Joe Reid: The Falcons will be lucky to field a whole team come the end of this season. Pick: New Orleans
Detroit at Baltimore
Aaron: Baltimore had "The Wire" and "Homicide". Detroit had "Mr. Mom" and Gung Ho". Easy call here. Pick: Baltimore
Joe Reid: Let's all enjoy Daunte Culpepper for a week, before he wanders off into the cornfield to see where Shoeless Joe and the other guys go. Pick: Baltimore
Denver at Indianapolis
Aaron: With regards to squeaky clean sports icons, who are we left with? Peyton Manning and Derek Jeter? Who'll be Sports Illustrated's "Sportsman of the Year" in 2010? Who?! Pick: Indianapolis
Joe Reid: Your omission of 4-time Lady Byng Trophy-winner Pavel Datsyuk sickens me. Pick: Indianapolis
Seattle at Houston
Aaron: The Matt Schaub backlash amuses me. Do his critics remember that Schaub was the back-up to Mike Vick - 1/3 quarterback, 2/3 novelty act - in Atlanta? Pick: Houston
Joe Reid: Houston's commitment to near-.500 seasons year after year is positively Buffalo-esque. Pick: Houston
N.Y. Jets at Tampa Bay
Aaron: This won't amuse me as much as the way 2008 ended for the Jets, but it'll do. Pick: Tampa Bay
Joe Reid: Watching Kellen Clemens last week was like watching a ten-year-old girl sitting on her dad's lap in the car as he "lets her drive." Still, you figure that, given a week, the Jets can successfully plan to run all over the Bucs. Pick: NY Jets
Carolina at New England
Aaron: Can't get enough of the talking heads on ESPNESN (see what I did there?) proclaiming that the Pats "might be struggling", but "they're STILL in first place and STILL going to the playoffs". That makes it all better. Pick: New England
Joe Reid: If they win this week, count on Mark Schlereth chastising sports fans for counting the Pats out. YEAH! Pick: New England
Miami at Jacksonville
Aaron: As the tears streamed down Tim Tebow's face last weekend, I officially stopped caring about football in Florida for the season. I got what I wanted. Pick: Miami
Joe Reid: Here's how you can tell I haven't followed college football closely enough in the last four years: I have NO IDEA why everybody hates Tim Tebow. I mean, beyond all the winning. And I'm too embarrassed to ask. Pick: Miami
Buffalo at Kansas City
Aaron: Considering the current direction of both teams, I think it's safe to say the Chiefs "upset" of the Steelers three weeks ago didn't mean much. Pick: Buffalo
Joe Reid: Stupid Bills are on an upswing. But on the road, in Kansas City, has historically been their Waterloo. Those early-'90s blowout losses made gods of Christian Okoye and Barry Word, for shit's sake. Pick: Kansas City
Cincinnati at Minnesota
Aaron: With 14 weeks of hindsight, check the Bengals schedule and tell me how many very good teams they've beaten on their way to 9-3. Green Bay? Baltimore (twice)? None? Pick: Minnesota
Joe Reid: Not to continue to stick up for the Bengals, because I too think they're one-and-done in the playoffs, but by these standards (Green Bay is 8-4,
Baltimore 6-6), how many teams would count as "very good"? Four? Ruling out anyone who hasn't beaten the Colts or Saints or Vikes or the Chargers leaves a shallow pool indeed. Pick: Minnesota
St. Louis at Tennessee
Aaron: If there's any spillover from the current Vince Young overcompensatory lovefest, please forward it to Titans' RB Chris Johnson. He's been...pretty OK this season. Pick: Tennessee
Joe Reid: It's gonna be SUPER pretty OK after this week. Pick: Tennessee
Washington at Oakland
Aaron: 23-3, 38-0 and 24-7...those were the scores the following week after each of the Raiders' three wins this season. Pick: Washington
Joe Reid: Hey, gettin' closer! Pick: Oakland
San Diego at Dallas
Aaron: Don't pick Dallas in December, don't pick San Diego in January. They should print t-shirts with that on it. Pick: San Diego
Joe Reid: Chargers win this game in San Diego, not underneath the withering glare of Big Brother Scoreboard. Pick: Dallas
Philadelphia at N.Y. Giants
Aaron: A Giants win could leave the NFC East with three 8-5 teams. Which least flawed team will make the playoffs and lose in the first round? Only three more weeks to find out! Pick: NY Giants
Joe Reid: Good news, Philly fans! Brian Westbrook is close to returning to the field and ending his career any week now! Y'all can finish what you started with Eric Lindros. Pick: Philadelphia
Arizona at San Francisco
Aaron: I hope the Cards are wearing those snazzy all-red uniforms. I haven't gouged my own eyes out in awhile. Pick: Arizona
Joe Reid: Ooh, symmetry. This is another road game within the division, where the better team isn't quite good enough to go 9-4. And yet...can't do it. Pick: Arizona
Confidence Pickin' (with current scores)
Joe (33): COLTS (-7) over Broncos; Dolphins (+3) over JAGUARS; Panthers (+13) over PATRIOTS
Aaron (31): Redskins (-1) over RAIDERS; Dolphins (+3) over JAGUARS; VIKINGS (-6.5) over Bengals
Tom (25): Dolphins (+3) over JAGUARS; Bengals (+6.5) over VIKINGS; Jets (-4.5) over BUCS
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
During a three-week span in the fall of 1994, I was dumped by the same girl twice. After the first break-up, we kinda-sorta got back together. We went to see A Low Down Dirty Shame and, shortly thereafter, the second break-up occurred. Coincidence?
No f*****g way.
Now, this will come as a shock to those of you too young to remember, but there was a time when the Wayans surname was synonymous with cutting edge entertainment. FOX debuted the raucous sketch comedy In Living Color in 1990 and for a few years, Keenan Ivory Wayans was making money and winning Emmys.
Wayans walked away from the show in 1992 over numerous disputes with the network. I've often referred to the late '80s/early '90s as the entertainment industry's "Last Black Renaissance" and with its collapse, several African-American performers ended up overplaying their hand on vanity projects – relying heavily on loyalty from a
0:01 - Aaaaaand, we're off n' running with our first "Whatever Happened To" of the evening – the "walking off into the sunset" Caravan Pictures intro. I've always thought this music would be more appropriate to play over it.
0:01 - With the opening credits rolling, Shame (Wayans) flips through newspaper clippings of his accolades AND the failure that would kill his career as a police officer. Two things: (1) there's a shot of Shame looking at a picture of him posing with former Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley. If there's another Negro that went from "nationally recognizable" to "anonymous" faster than the late Bradley, I'd like to meet him. (2) Who saves clippings of their highly-publicized f***-ups?
0:03 - Jada Pinkett – fresh off the extremely preachy last three seasons of A Different World - plays "Peaches", Shame's sassy (natch) sidekick. She's working undercover as a hotel housekeeper, which gives the film's writer/director (Wayans) a chance to drop in that urban comedy staple – the foul bowel movement. Never gets old, Black filmmakers…never gets old.
0:04 - Shame breaks up an illegal jewel ring. Guns blaze and a room full of bad guys can't hit one Black man hiding behind a wet bar. Meanwhile, I'm mesmerized by every villains' $59 double-breasted suit and Shame's dated Dionne Warwick/Psychic Friends Network reference. Warwick's wide nostrils got more comedic mileage than you might think.
0:09 - Shame escapes with the bad guys' loot by running across the tops of tables in the hotel's customer-filled restaurant – located somewhere between the hotel's second and 22nd floors. He then shoots out the window, blindly leaps from said window and crashes through the roof of his client's waiting limousine conveniently located a few miles below. An overtly armed Black man shooting with impunity in Los Angeles – less than two years after the riots – and he's not caught on ONE surveillance camera? I'll buy the lucky limo leap before I'll buy that.
0:13 - Charles S. Dutton is introduced as Shame's former partner on the police force who's graduated to DEA agent. Dutton and Wayans were Sunday night network neighbors for awhile as Dutton's Roc followed In Living Color. Dutton's delivery, demeanor and appearance have always reminded me a shaved Captain Caveman.
0:16 - Here is DEA Agent Rothmiller explaining to Shame how his archenemy has managed to elude capture: "What if he's NOT dead? What if he changed his face and laid low for a couple of years?" This theory is still only slightly more implausible than the last seven seasons of Law & Order: SVU.
0:19 - Sexual tension is teased between Shame and Peaches with the script actually calling for Shame to say "We're from two different worlds." Even with Pinkett ramping up the vamp factor to 10, she's acting rings around the wooden Wayans, who looks like the most uncomfortable person in this film.
0:21 - Two more Wayans favorites: a handicap riff and a Gary Coleman gag. The jokes were old in 1994. Even Rowdy Roddy Piper would appreciate it if Keenan could freshen up the references a bit.
0:26 - Shame's threatening "I'mma be wrecking sh*t like a 7.0" line might one of my favorite things about this awful, awful movie. Mrs. Bootleg turned to me with an incredulous look on her face and said, "I've heard you use that before." G*ddam right I have. And, I will again.
0:28 - A Rodney King/Reginald Denny reference. I won't even link to them. You have no idea who these people are and neither do I.
0:31 - During a discussion of who is the greatest heavyweight fighter of all time – Shame: "Tyson? Mike Tyson?! Mike Tyson can't even SPELL 'Muhammad Ali'." Peaches: "Wait a minute…Muhammad Ali can't even spell 'Muhammad Ali'. Can't lie, I laughed.
0:33 - Jeers for the insulting, offensive over-the-top gay caricature, but cheers for the silk scarf around Peaches' head while she sleeps. This is what Black women do, y'all and Mrs. Bootleg was pleased with what she called the "authenticity" – a word synonymous with new-age Blaxploitation flicks like this.
0:34 - References to Arsenio Hall and Arsenio Hall's butt. See, both were kinda big back in the day.
0:37 - A mailman with a stone-cold, Soul-Glo jheri curl hits on Peaches. This was obviously before the world learned that jheri curls kill.
0:38 - Another Wayans tradition: putting the family's less-talented siblings on camera at every opportunity. Keenan's Sasquatch sister, Kim, has a bit part here. Before this film, it had been more than ten years since Kim's last cinematic appearance.
0:41 - It's the slow-motion introduction of the film's femme fatale, Angela – played by Salli Richardson. She even closes her eyes and tosses her hair around for us. That's some subtle-ass cinematography, Mr. Director. And, like any respectable Black woman would, Mrs. Bootleg immediately attacks, sneering in the actress' direction: "She had a long career."
0:46 - And, with lines like "You made me break ALL my rules" (stilted emphasis hers) it's easy to see why Richardson came crawling back to television. Lela Rochon, Theresa Randle…what was it with the mid-1990s and attractive Black women who couldn't act?
0:56 - Shame gets all serious n' sh**. He shaves his head, grabs a pair of sunglasses (At night?! Outrageous!) and slips into his midnight-blue trench coat – a color that was only slightly less threatening than the most dangerous shade of the era: teal.
1:00 - Mendoza – the lead villain, played by Venezuelan-born Andrew Divoff – actually says "cock-a-roashes" in a threatening and non-ironic fashion. Sixty minutes in and this movie's managed to offend every ethnicity and sexual orientation. You're slippin', Keenan Ivory.
1:05 - It's the ubiquitous "shootout at the club" scene. The best parts occur before the bullets as we're treated to a "sex on the beach" double-entendre and this song playing in the background. Couldn't land the rights to "Here Comes the Hotstepper"?
1:13 - Wait…the DEA agent is working for Mendoza! He kills the three feds tasked with protecting Peaches and, after a short chase, the 300-pound turncoat catches the 90-pound Peaches. She's literally the size of his left leg, but she still can't outrun him.
1:18 - Shame and Angela are interrupted in bed by a taunting phone call from the bad guys. When Shame learns they have Peaches, he forcefully rejects the advances of the half-naked woman under the sheets that he was five seconds from having sex with. "I gotta save Peaches!" Again, I paid to see this fifteen years ago.
1:19 - Angela: "Promise me you'll smoke his ass." Shame: "Like a muthaf*ckin' pack of Kools."
1:27 - An earlier plot point pays off as Shame fends off an attack by a pack of frothing dogs…through the music of James Brown. If my insanely long review leads to any of you renting this movie, just fast-forward through the dog scene. Trust me. It's as preposterously superfluous as the "Jeopardy!" sequence in White Men Can't Jump.
1:29 - The turncoat DEA agent has the diabolical Angela at gunpoint. She takes off her top in an attempt to seduce him, but he's not picking up what she's throwing down. Angela then pulls a .22 from her bra strap and kills the DEA agent. Hovering over his corpse, she hisses, "Stupid muthaf*cka. You could've had some p***y."
1:32 - Finally…after all this (in both cinematic and lightly-read blog review form) it's the final showdown between Shame and Mendoza. Their fist fight lasts less than 30 seconds…and, it's over. He's…taken into custody? Sure, there's a predictable little twist and another blink-and-you-missed-it fistfight between two other characters, but…that's it?
In hindsight, I should've took that girl to see Junior.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Current Weight: 166.4 lbs.
December marks the seventh anniversary of my internet writing debut. Throughout my long, winding road of CD reviews, weekly music news columns, infrequent sports features and this lightly-read blog, I've been known to reference The Simpsons once or twice.
Remember the 1998 episode that opened up with Homer chauffeuring his brood to a post-church, free sample brunch at "Eatie Gourmet's"? Homer famously proclaims "If it has a toothpick in it, it's free!" He then eats whatever he can impale with his thin, one-inch piece of wood.
The fast food "bowl" phenomenon can be similarly – and ignorantly – generalized. If I remember correctly, Jack in the Box was the first national burger-centric chain to roll out chicken bowls. I vividly remember the smell of surplus teriyaki sauce from a drum filling the back of the frozen yogurt shop I
And, if you ignored the grotesque sodium content in pretty much anything "teriyaki", I wouldn't argue the point.
Other fast food spots soon brought out their own bowls. But, while JitB's steak and chicken teriyaki bowls contained just 11 and six grams of fat, respectively, other restaurants' offerings were a bit more bad for you. Regional chain El Pollo Loco – a company whose entire business model is based on healthier eating – features a chicken Caesar salad bowl (22 grams of fat) and the "Ultimate Pollo Bowl" (1,047 calories, 34 grams of fat, 2,516 grams of sodium).
While the above nutritional information is readily available on El Pollo Loco's website and within their restaurants, the chain has wisely positioned these fat
All of which brings us back to Jack. And, yes, I have been trying to work in that transition for years, thank you. JitB unveiled their new Southwest Chicken Bowl last month with their usual offbeat 30-second spot. The first is kinda comical, but the last shot of the Black guy ruined it for me. Exaggerated afro humor in 2009? It wasn't funny in 1988.
Oddly enough, the Spanish version has a much better payoff:
JitB's Southwest Chicken Bowl is made with fajita-seasoned chicken, rice, beans, veggies and topped with shredded cheddar, salsa and cilantro-lime sauce. To the untrained eye, this might be one of the least appetizing fast food menu items in a long time. The milky-green cilantro-lime sauce was everywhere and the obviously artificial flavor was overwhelming.
The chicken sits on top of the rice. It's a round(!) skinless piece of meat with pre-cut indentations that don't quite go all the way through. I'm not a fan of having to do more work on my meal than the kitchen plebes who prepared it, but there I was cutting, stirring and mixing.
Within a few bites, I was staring down at a bowl where the only remaining residents were rice and beans – intensely flavored with fake lime. In a dynamic bit of synergy, it seems Jack in the Box's Southwestern Chicken Bowl ends as weakly as their commercial.
Grade: 2 (out of 5) Calories: 713, Fat: 19g
Monday, December 7, 2009
Current Weight: 166.4 lbs.
Earlier this year – on April 6, to be exact – Sonic opened up a restaurant here in San Diego County. A few days after it opened – on April 11, to be exact – I readied my tongue for a taste of the Sonic Experience.
I finished up at my barbershop on a rainy Saturday morning and made the 10 mile drive into Santee. Sonic's main entrance was cordoned off but I could make out enough of the hand-scrawled, rain-washed sign to know that the temporary entrance was in the back.
With a single right turn, I was teleported into an amazingly accurate replica of the worst rush hour traffic imaginable.
A single line of cars stretched down this lonely side street as far as my eyes could see – and I've had LASIK, people. There was one poor Sonic-employed soul stationed at the entrance who was assigned the Herculean task of traffic control. I pulled up next to her, rolled my window down and before I could ask the question she'd surely been asked about a bazillion times to that point, she cheerfully told me, "The wait's about 45 minutes, but the line moves pretty fast!"
I made the mistake of spending a few precious seconds trying to wrap my mind around her statement, but was brought back to reality by the honking sound of several cars queued up behind me, eager to drive the length of the line – which formed on the opposite side of the street – to assume their place at the very, very end. I counted an even 50 cars, single file and idle, before I made like Starscream and retreated.
My fast food reviews are probably the most popular read here at TBG, but I wouldn't wait 45 minutes for a table in a restaurant with a bar and an HD big-screen. It sure as hell ain't happening within the confines of my four-door sedan and only the six listenable satellite radio stations at my disposal.
It took me 7 ½ months to make another attempt. Two weeks ago, I fully intended to hit 'em up, but my most recently-completed steroid regimen had turned my stomach into a square knot. So, almost eight months to the day they opened, I successfully added Sonic to the list of accomplices for my eventual angioplasty.
Even though, I knew what I wanted before I pulled in, I still admired the menu like an out-of-town rube touring Times Square.
I pushed the call button with a childlike anticipation and ordered the "number 12" – a SuperSonic Breakfast Burrito with tater tots and a coffee. Blasphemy? Perhaps, but isn't 11:30 AM a little early for lunch? My "cheeseburger window" was established in college (12 noon until 6:00 AM the following morning) with the only other remaining hours all about breakfast.
My meal came out in about three minutes. I opened the nondescript brown paper sack in much the same way Jalen will be opening much more colorful wrapping paper later this month. There was a small mountain of "medium" tots and the burrito – wrapped nice n' tight – was a decent size for a fast food chain.
The tater tots were OK – just barely lukewarm and surprisingly chewy. My lack of Sonic etiquette was obvious, though, as customers are apparently supposed to ask for ketchup while the car-hop is handing over your food. Once he's gone, you’re a** is without ketchup. The breakfast burrito – according to Sonic's website – is: a medley of savory sausage, scrambled egg, melty [sic] cheese, tater tots, diced onions, ripe tomatoes and spicy jalapeños all wrapped up in a warm flour tortilla.
Points for the tots (which were crispier than my side order) and the peppers, but the sausage had an odd, bitter aftertaste, the onions aren't sautéed and the "melty" cheese is actually a small slice of American. Absolutely edible, but not among the fast food chain breakfast burrito elite like Carl's Jr.'s Loaded Breakfast Burrito or any of Jack in the Box's offerings.
Sonic's coffee, however, was crazy good. Of course, I'm grading on a curve, but considering the loose stool that passes for java in some fast food restaurants, Sonic's strong, flavorful blend was the best thing about my meal.
There's a new Sonic that opened up much closer to Stately Bootleg Manor in late October, so I'll give it another go with my family in tow.
Just as long as there ain't no wait.
Grade – SuperSonic Breakfast Burrito: 2.5 (out of 5)
Calories: 570; Fat: 36 g
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Season to Date:
N.Y. Jets at Buffalo
Aaron: Hey, it's a sure-to-be-sloppy game between two teams on short rest playing in front of an indifferent Thursday night crowd in Toronto. And, who the hell scheduled this one for the same night the NHL's Maple Leafs are on TV at the same time? Pick: NY Jets
Joe: Living in NYC gets me around the NFL Network blackout, but after the miserable experience of watching a terrible Bills team get a worthless win over a Jets team I stupidly picked in my suicide pool, making me actively hate my own football team for the first time ever, I'm not sure how much I'm looking forward to this one. Additionally, I've gone 3-for-3 picking against Cam on these NFL Network Thursday games, which is about to make me do something stupid. Pick: Buffalo
Tampa Bay at Carolina
Aaron: Somewhere up in Heaven, Art Shell, Romeo Crennel and Ray Rhodes are looking down on Bucs head coach Raheem Morris and collectively exclaiming, "Damn, son." Pick: Carolina
Joe: Are the Bucs the fun bad team? The Browns are the bad bad team, the Chiefs are the kinda-dangerous bad team, the Raiders are the bad non-team, the Lions are the bad team with a glimmer of hope, and the Redskins are the bad team that could win ugly. We need a fun bad team. Help us out, Josh Freeman. Pick: Carolina
St. Louis at Chicago
Aaron: Since the start of October, the Bears have beaten just two teams: Detroit and Cleveland. Chicago's sporadic cavalcade of cupcake annihilation continues unabated. Pick: Chicago
Joe: Last chance, Bears offense. Pick: Chicago
Tennessee at Indianapolis
Aaron: Soooo...we're all just gonna give Vince Young the win here despite the fact he hasn't beaten ONE very good-to-great team since that rarely-mentioned, long-forgotten Rose Bowl game? Pick: Indianapolis
Joe: I let Cam take the Colts-loyalist mantle from me last week, to me detriment. Not again. Pick: Indianapolis
Philadelphia at Atlanta
Aaron: Michael Vick returns to Atlanta and America is supposed to care about the crowd's reaction. The same crowd that single-handedly crafted Vick's overrated reputation when he wasn't a felon. Yes, the opinion of that crowd is vital to the national Vick discourse. Pick: Atlanta
Joe: Vick is one Annual Donovan McNabb injury away from being the only name player on the field this week. Pick: Philadelphia
Oakland at Pittsburgh
Aaron: Ben Roethlisberger still isn't 100%, but he's starting for the Steelers here. Just how low can a QBs health be before the Raiders actually have a chance? Could Oakland win if Big Ben was only 50% healthy? 25%? Dead? Pick: Pittsburgh
Joe: Don't give those Raider fans/convicts any ideas. Pick: Pittsburgh
Detroit at Cincinnati
Aaron: If I had to pick one team most likely to lose a first round playoff game at home, it's the Bengals. Hope those "2009 AFC North Champions" t-shirts keep you warm this winter, Cincy. Pick: Cincinnati
Joe: Warmer than the threadbare Top 10 Draft Pick shirts you and I will be sporting. I'd kill for a first-round home playoff loss. Pick: Cincinnati
New Orleans at Washington
Aaron: Good to know that last Monday night's home win over an aging Patriots team that's woefully short on defense and missing its once fearsome mystique PROVES that the Saints are for real. Pick: New Orleans
Joe: ...Wow, really? Pick: New Orleans
New England at Miami
Aaron: Just how many eulogies will be written about the Pats this season? Isn't there some way the media can just consolidate the "Belichick has lost it; Brady's skittish in the pocket; the defense sucks" storylines into one column and be done with it? Pick: New England
Joe: After seven years of expertly choreographed fellatio on the Pats, their players, their coach, and their fan base, I can take an extended remix on their decline. Pick: New England
Houston at Jacksonville
Aaron: The Texans have been slammed all week for gagging away last week's big lead to the Colts. Deserved criticism, considering the Texans long legacy of excellence. A win over mediocre J'ville should fix everything. Pick: Houston
Joe: I'm not about to go back through the archives here or anything, but I bet I haven't gotten more than ten Jacksonville games right over three years. Pick: Houston
Denver at Kansas City
Aaron: One win at home over the Steelers and the Chiefs are "headed in the right direction"? In the last month, KC beat the Raiders by just six and was bludgeoned to death by the Chargers. Just sayin'. Pick: Denver
Joe: But I really WANT to pick a Chiefs upset! Pick: Kansas City
San Diego at Cleveland
Aaron: We're already starting to hear the same tired "no one will want to play the Chargers in the playoffs" refrain. Just gonna ignore the fact that their running game is abysmal and they're still coached by Norv Turner? OK, then. Pick: San Diego
Joe: I'm not even gonna say anything. Cam seems very certain of how this Chargers season will play out, and he has the advantage of irrationally hating them. Pick: San Diego
San Francisco at Seattle
Aaron: The 49ers still haven't lost a game within their division this season. "Small sample size", you say? "Meh", I retort. Pick: San Francisco
Joe: Looks like we're ready for this yo-yo Niners season to experience a yo. The second yo. The yo that means you lose. Pick: Seattle
Dallas at N.Y. Giants
Aaron: I gotta say...this NFC East hair-pulling slap-fight to the playoffs makes for some compelling TV. Thank God ESPN is here to breakdown the mediocrity minute-by-minute. Pick: NY Giants
Joe: Yeah, these teams are pretty much destined to knock each other around until one, maybe two limps into the playoffs. Pick: NY Giants
Minnesota at Arizona
Aaron: Kurt Warner...Matt Leinart...hard to believe Brett Favre might actually be the most likeable QB in the stadium on Sunday, but there ya go. Pick: Minnesota
Joe: Your anti-Christian, anti-handsome stance disgusts me. Pick: Arizona
Baltimore at Green Bay
Aaron: When Aaron Rodgers stops wetting himself in the face of a good defense, I'll pick him against a good defense. Pick: Baltimore
Joe: Aaron Rodgers has earned my enduring loyalty. That's all I'll say. Pick: Green Bay
Confidence Pickin' (with current scores)
Joe (33): Pats (-4) over DOLPHINS; Chargers (-13.5) over BROWNS; CHIEFS (+5) over Broncos
Aaron (30): FALCONS (+5.5) over Eagles; Chargers (-13.5) over BROWNS; Giants (+2.5) over Cowboys
Tom (24): Ravens (+3) over PACKERS; Saints (-9.5) over REDSKINS; Eagles (-5.5) over FALCONS
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Synopsis: Nintendo's venerable Italian stereotypes compete with the ubiquitous brand's other cartoonish icons in a series of cra-a-a-zay races.
'80s Game It Most Resembles: R.C. Pro-Am
Retail Price: $49.99 (comes with one Wii Wheel controller; additional Wheels sell for $14.99)
Father & Son Experience: I purchased this game in July 2008 with a Target gift card. At the time, Jalen was smack-dab in the middle of a race-car phase that…he's still in. Fortunately, Mario Kart Wii didn't involve watching Disney/Pixar's Cars movie for the one millionth time or watching one minute of NASCAR on a Sunday afternoon.
The game moves rapidly – even grading on the racing game curve – and initially overwhelmed Jalen to the point where he'd gleefully watch me play, but wanted nothing to do with it, himself. He reluctantly took the virtual wheel, but insisted I "help". This meant I'd do all the work (steering, tossing ridiculous comical weapons, etc.) while Jalen loosely held the wheel under my hands.
Today, he plays by himself and takes slightly less obnoxious pride in his first place finishes than I do.
Best Thing for Adults: The game's pretty easy to pick-up after a just a few plays – a welcome relief for those of us who grew up in an age when $20 "strategy guides" weren't required to play video games.
Best Thing for Kids: Affords children the opportunity to get behind the wheel while bumping, crashing and throwing things at other cars. As a Californian, these are skills that Jalen will need later in life.
Worst Thing for Everyone: The multi-player features may induce seizures. The split-screen for the two-person race is almost un-playable if your eyes happen to drift up or down to the other driver. You'll be turning left, but you might see the other car turning right…only that's not your car…or, is it? See what I mean?! Similarly, the 2-4 player "coin" and "balloon" challenges brought on nausea with all the driving in circles. This concept was a LOT less painful in National Lampoon's European Vacation.
Buy, Rent or Pass: The Nintendo Wii doesn't have the best selection of games, so if you're going to spend $50, you might as well invest in one of the few fun, re-playable games in the Wii's catalog. And, if you happen to have a five-year-old African-American son, make sure no one sees him doing Donkey Kong's exaggerated first-place gorilla celebration in a public place. Just…trust me on this.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Sunday's Rankings (5-3-2-1 scoring)
(1) The Cleveland Show ("From Bed to Worse") - Perhaps I'm the last one to notice, but this show is much more watchable when it puts its own stank on tired sitcom formulas instead of playing up the bad, Black satire. The Rallo/Cleveland static was borderline believable – in an over-the-top, computer-animated way – with a series of zings that repeatedly hit the target ("He called me the 'N' word!"…"Hey, I'm allowed to, aren't I?") The side stories with the bears ("She looks like a beautiful Edward James Olmos!") and Cleveland Jr.'s flame-retardant one-piece yellow PJs were winners, too.
(2) The Simpsons ("Rednecks & Broomsticks") - Solid episode that showed both how good this show can be and why it'll never be great again. For those of us who can appreciate 30 minutes of fun, but forgettable television, the car ride from the ski resort (with the kids playing a knockoff of "Bop It!") was worth some laughs – as were some of Homer's interactions with the hillbillies and the Springfield Witch Trial (…the city's first witch trial in 12 years!") The cynic might ask how many more times will the plot revolve around Homer's new job, Lisa's attempt to fit in/find a religion and an absurd courtroom conclusion.
(3) American Dad! ("G-String Circus") - Meh. The Stan/Hayley conflict does nothing for me as they're essentially mirror-image unlikeable caricatures of each other. They'll always play to a draw. Things didn't pick up until the final five minutes with the "Make It Rain" homage and Steve's crew finally reaching his bedroom – then getting all gross with a previously worn g-string.
(4) Family Guy ("Dog Gone") - What was the "potential-to-execution" ratio here: 20:1? 200:1? Brian kills another dog while drinking and driving, but the episode spirals down the drain at a breakneck pace. Korean dog eating jokes? "Peter vs. PETA"? (And, I don't care how self-aware that one was, it still didn't work.) And, the "Consuela" storyline… M'man Sam made the point last week about the FG writers reveling in stereotypes, rather than lampooning them. "Consuela" was…that.
MVP: I'm kinda-sorta loving the Rallo character when he's given something substantial to do. The Cleveland Show has run hot and cold, but as long as Seth MacFarlane doesn't rewrite Rallo's motivation mid-stream (where have you gone, evil Stewie?) he could have quite the marketing opportunity on his hands.
Quote of the Night: "They say there isn't a sport he hasn't lettered in or a girl who hasn't let him in." – Some random, unnamed character (The Cleveland Show)
The Simpsons – 24
The Cleveland Show – 24
American Dad! – 20
Family Guy – 19
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Contrary to the celebratory reaction shots during ESPN's annual coverage of the NBA draft, not every Negro is blessed with a big family.
This might be why we continue to invite my side of the family over to Stately Bootleg Manor every Thanksgiving. My mother, my aunt and my grandfather don't take up much space -- yet after a few hours...I want my house back. But, since they DID come down from LA, we invited them to stay overnight.
My Mother: I've mentioned -- on more than one occasion -- my obese adolescence and the delicious, often deep-fried role my mother played in it. I took Jalen out to pick up some ice around lunchtime on Thanksgiving Day. We made a separate, somewhat out-of-the-way side trip, but couldn't have been gone for more than 45 minutes. In the time we were gone, my mom had prepared an assortment of appetizers, including spinach-artichoke dip, deviled eggs and a blue cheese dip with crackers and veggies.
Years ago, I stopped taking my mom up on her offer to "make me a plate". She believes in enormous portions and takes great offense to an unfinished meal (and slightly less offense if you don't go back for seconds). To this day, my greatest regret is that I didn't have this lightly-read blog when the future Mrs. Bootleg was obligated to eat her weight in my mom's meat loaf when she met my parents for the first time. Unfortunately, my 83-year-old grandfather allowed my mom to make his plates. Plural, yo. And, despite having twice as much food in front of him as anyone else, he gamely -- albeit glacially -- ate more in one sitting than HIS grandparents ate during the entirety of the 1800s.
My Grandfather: You know how those long cross-country flights require varying degrees of recovery time for your body? Several years ago, I flew -- terrifically hungover -- from Washington DC back home to San Diego. I landed on a Friday night, but didn't wake up until Sunday afternoon. That's how my grandfather's body seemed to react to the 90 minute drive down Interstate 5.
Now, after more than 3 1/2 decades as a grandfather, he was able to auto-pilot some sincere interaction with his great-grandson, Jalen. He brought J $100(!) and then watched him throw a soft baseball around the living room. He listened as Jalen meticulously explained the intricate details of his hastily-scrawled drawings ("It's a baseball team!"). Hell, my grandfather and I even had a chance to compare recent medical histories (and, depending on your perspective, I'm either winning or losing). But, after a few hours, he was literally sliding down our couch. I'm convinced he finished the last two pounds of his meal while in R.E.M.
My Aunt: I've written about my aunt before. She'll always be the first lesbian I ever knew. I've been blessed to know many more gays and lesbians in my lifetime -- friends, acquaintances, co-workers and lightly-read blog readers. So, I hope those of you whom I know and love will forgive this bit of generalization, but I have never met a member of the gay community who wasn't incredible with kids -- mine, in particular. I really hope that doesn't sound like "Blacks sure run fast!" platitudes.
My aunt will be 60-years-old next March. She's shuffling around on bad knees and an even worse hip, but she absolutely ran Jalen ragged well into the evening. She pitched to him. She threw the football with him. She limped around the living room after him as part of the worst game of tag in the recorded history of humanity. She did the same stuff with me 30 years ago and...aw, crap. I'm getting choked up. Time to remember the TBG tone and point out she needed half a bottle of Tums to get through the evening and has a proclivity for early morning peein' with the door not-quite-closed.
Can't wait until Christmas.