Wednesday, April 28, 2010

"Damn. Damn. Damn."

On Tuesday, we were told that our six-year-old son Jalen had used some inappropriate language at school. I was torn on whether or not to post a transcript of the note that came home with him yesterday. You might not believe me after reading the first XXXIII parts of my desert travel diary, but there ARE a few family matters I don't blog about. That said, I sat on this note for 24 hours and I'm about to burst. Here it is.

Dear [Jalen's Parents]...

I am sad to say that the lunch time teacher is having a hard time getting Jalen to listen to her. He is saying "damn it" a lot or "damn". Jalen says he was in a race in the sand box to dig the deepest hole. But, whatever, he would not refrain from these words.

I told him later to use words such as "I am very frustrated..." or "I am really angry..." (at not digging the deepest hole) -- but, choose more intelligent [words] to describe his feelings.

Thank you,

[Jalen's Teacher]

PS: Maybe Jalen is too tired -- he says sometimes he doesn't sleep well!

And, we're back.

Obviously the "a lot" part caught my eye. Was the school planning to wait until Jalen busted out
Hit 'Em Up on the playground before calling me and Mrs. Bootleg in? When I asked Jalen about this, he replied: I didn't say it 'a lot'. I only said it twice!" Well, then.

The syntax of the note is all over the place. I read that "...he would not refrain from these words" line 50 times before I threw in the towel and moved on to the next sentence. I'm assuming there were some words inadvertently omitted after "whatever". This is still bugging me.

Finally...I assure y'all...Jalen sleeps well. From the first time he slept through the night, he's slept well. Mrs. Bootleg -- who chose to work part-time solely for the midday naps and has been known to spend more than 50% of her 48-72 weekend hours asleep -- is in awe of Jalen's slumber skillz.

So, Jalen wrote notes of apology to his teachers and promised not to emulate his old man's casual profanity. I suppose I should promise to watch my own mouth when traffic or work or yet another Rajai Davis brain cramp on the basepaths moves me to blue language.

Damn it, Jalen.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

TBG Travel Diary: The 7-Day (Desert) Theory - Part V

To alleviate the stress, spendin' time with you, I feel blessed
When you gone, feel this pain so strong, deep in my chest...

- - Makaveli, "Just Like Daddy"

Part I -- Part II -- Part III -- Part IV

Saturday, March 20

3:00 AM - It would appear that three hours in the swimming pool wasn't the best thing for our son's ear. After shrieking us awake an hour earlier, Jalen's finally fallen back asleep with the help of two teaspoons of children's Tylenol, lots of motherly love and my, umm...prescient decision to come back to the room at a decent hour from a night of drinking. I've been raising the bar for black fathers since 2004, yo.

5:30 AM - I've never been an especially heavy sleeper and when I wake up, I'm generally up for good. I spend a few hours tossing and turning while looking at the clock every few minutes silently reassuring myself with absurdities like, "OK, Aaron. If you fall asleep in the next 20 minutes, you can get three hours of sleep before the sun comes up. You can do this. Just clear your mind." The last time I looked at the clock, it was 5:15 AM. Not long after this, I fall asleep. My "just enough to function" sleep threshold is about four hours. At this point of the evening morning, I've slept for 45 minutes. And, there's no telling when Jalen will wake...

6:15 AM - "Daddy! Today we're going to the Indians' spring training stadium!" Well, look who's up...and with no lasting effects of his middle-of-the-night inner ear fright. If it's possible to be awake, alert and clinically deceased; then I've achieved the trifecta. As much as I want and need sleep, my body's simply not going to give it to me. I throw in the towel at 90 cumulative minutes of slumber, hoping that a scalding hot shower and a caffeine IV is enough to get me through the day.

10:30 AM - Only hibernating bears and corpses reach a deeper level of sleep than Jalen. He insists his ear is fine and has NO recollection of anything that happened eight hours earlier. We head out for the city of Goodyear -- spring training home to the Cleveland Indians (and Cincinnati Reds) -- to see the A's play the Tribe.

11:00 AM - You've heard about Arizona's controversial, recently-passed anti-illegal immigration laws, right? What you might not know is that the laws are intentionally inflammatory and designed to take attention away from the state's most heinous criminal activity. Believe it or not, on long stretches of the I-10 freeway, the speed limit is 55 mph. And, there are intermittent radar cameras set up along the shoulder to catch anyone who dares accelerate to 60.

11:30 AM - This is our second straight spring training trip to Goodyear. The ballpark is beyond awesome with smiling employees, a bunch of kid-friendly activities and a level of cleanliness only rivaled by Disneyland and heaven (if the
cream cheese commercials are to be believed). We arrive just as the gates open and Jalen leads us to the children's baseball diamond -- a miniature replica of a real ballfield with authentic bases and red clay on the infield. The adult equivalent for Jalen's current level of excitement is "lotto winner". He'd roll around in the red clay right now, if...

"Dammit, Jalen, quit rolling around in the red clay!"

12:15 PM - This long, blogging, lanky right-hander threw batting practice to more than a dozen kids for almost 45 minutes. Most of the ones who weren't hitting were in the field and despite their indifferent, often inning-extending defense; I was having a great time. Unfortunately, it was time to end my Satchel Paige impression. I had nothing left in my underdeveloped limb. Besides, Jalen was showing a genuine interest in autographs, so we walked towards our seats to see if anyone was signing.

12:25 PM - We reached the A's dugout just as an especially surly player (didn't recognize him and his uniform number didn't jibe with anyone in the A's media guide) was ignoring the balls, cards and pens extending out from the stands to less than 12 inches from him. Fortunately, things picked up.

Eric Chavez: [to Jalen] "Hey, buddy! Where are you from?"

Jalen: "San Diego!"

Chavez: "Really? I'm from San Diego, too!"

Jalen: "Really?!"

Chavez: "Yeah! May I sign your ball?"

Jalen: "Yeah!"

Michael Taylor: [to Jalen] "Hi, my name's Michael, what's yours?"

Jalen: "JALEN"!

Taylor: [signing J's ball] "Nice to meet you, Jalen. I like your wristbands."

Jalen: "Really?!"

Taylor: Here you go. Enjoy the game.

Jalen: "Wow."

A's utility infielder Adam Rosales (above) came by next. Mrs. Bootleg had been taking pictures of the players signing Jalen's ball (and simultaneously swooning over Eric Chavez's unshaven sexiness) when Rosales just shoved his mug next to J's and posed for a picture. This was the second attempt at a picture, as the first one features Rosales looking into the camera while Jalen's focused on Rosales with a "sign my damn ball" look on his face.

And, this is A's RF Ryan Sweeney. After he signed, Jalen had his fill of autographs for the day, but not before asking if he could sign the ball, too. Mrs. Bootleg's "well, it is HIS ball" shrug-in-response is actually grounds for divorce in most states.

1:30 PM - A's starter Jason Jennings is getting creamed by the Cleveland offense. He gives up eight runs in 1.2 innings before he's mercifully euthanized. I'm off to find food and stumble right into a "TBG Eats" feature:

These are from Goodyear Ballpark's "Hot Dog Nation" concession stand. It serves six different locally-famous hot dog styles from across the country. On the left is the "Cleveland Dog" (chipotle BBQ sauce, bacon, shredded cheese and onions). On the right is the "Cincinnati Dog" (chili, shredded cheese and onions).

I had the Cleveland Dog last year and it was as amazing as I remembered. The sweet smoky sauce couples well with the salty awesomeness of bacon and both sit atop the most flavorful all-beef ballpark hot dog I've ever had. The Cincinnati Dog can't keep up with its bland canned chili. I mean, it's hard to believe a city that puts chili on spaghetti can't figure out a simple chili dog.

Grades: Cleveland Dog--5, Cincinnati Dog--1.5

3:30 PM - We leave with the A's trailing 12-2. And, after another 30 minutes over on the kids' diamond, we're back on the road. I've never had more fun with Jalen at a game. Despite the debacle, he was way into it. We talked strategy and predicted outcomes. I tried to explain the "infield fly rule" and Jalen viciously booed Jennings off the mound ("Go back to (Triple-A) Sacramento!"). Even Mrs. Bootleg was only mildly mortified. My favorite father/son experience ever? Oh, yeah...I'm going there.

3:45 PM - "My ear is hurting."

Well, I got to bask in the afterglow of the afternoon for 15 minutes. Jalen's cupping his ear in the back seat, nearly asleep and, in the blink of an eye, Mrs. Bootleg's on her Blackberry researching the nearest Urgent Care. We join our conversation, already in progress.

And, this is the honest-to-goodness way it played out:

Mrs. Bootleg: "What do you think we should do?"

Me: "Whatever you want."

Mrs. Bootleg: "Can you at least TRY to offer a suggestion? I want you to be part of this decision."

Me: "You NEVER take my advice when it comes to Jalen's medical issues."

Mrs. Bootleg: "I wouldn't be asking if I didn't want your input. I don't know what to do."

Me: "Well, let's get him back to the room and see how he's doing. We can go from there."

Mrs. Bootleg: "He's asleep! Why would we want to take him all the way up to our room if we just have to carry him back down to the car to go to Urgent Care?!"

Me: [Head explodes].

Next: Urgent Care! (And, did I ever get my Dunkin' Donuts Waffle Breakfast Sandwich?)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

TBG Travel Diary: The 7-Day (Desert) Theory - Part IV

Extreme at times, blinded by my passion and fury
Look at me laugh at my competition, flashin' my jewelry

- - Makaveli, "Life of an Outlaw"

Part I -- Part II -- Part III

Friday, March 19

7:15 AM - The day begins with two morning news anchors who appear to be identical twins. I'd like to thank the good people at FOX-10 Phoenix for genetically constructing
Alexis DelChiaro and Andrea Robinson from discarded Barbie dolls, dark natural roots and recycled magazine toothpaste ads. While we're at it, let's credit the network for Cecily Tyson - Weekend Anchor! Her Twitter handle is the definition of professional Afrocentric credibility, n***a.

8:00 AM - I finally get around to my usual hotel routine of scrolling through every TV channel available. Sure, I could look for the "channel guide" card. In fact, that's probably it -- right under my foot -- on the coffee table in front of me. But, "remote control lotto" is infinitely more fun. Maybe we'll get the east coast feed of HBO or a trashy, borderline soft-core telenovela from Mexico. Who knows? But, after nearly 90(!) channels, I'm ready to throw in the towel and...NFL Network! In high-definition!

8:01 AM - Ah, of course. I come in just as the live studio show is ending and a re-airing of Super Bowl XXV is beginning. I don't get the NFL Network at home, but whenever it's on in a bar or down at my barbershop -- regardless of the time of day -- Super Bowl XXV always seems to be on. Even Mrs. Bootleg, after awakening from her hibernation, turned towards the TV and asked, "Is this Bills and Giants, again?" When oblivious little black women are picking up on your programming tics, it might be time to freshen things up, NFL Network.

10:00 AM - Mrs. Bootleg brings back breakfast from the resort's restaurant: an omelet as big as my head for her; pancakes for Jalen and a giant Styrofoam to-go box of oatmeal for me. The bottom half is filled to the brim with the most buttery, maple-y, brown sugar-y (and other made up words) oatmeal I've ever eaten. Think of homemade oatmeal cookies, but melted down into magma. Probably a good thing that Mrs. Bootleg still hasn't told me how much it cost, though.

11:00 AM - It's time for Mrs. Bootleg's traditional vacation routine: shopping. We're less than a mile away from a sprawling, high-end shopping district. Kierland Commons is 600,000 square feet of shops, restaurants, office space and condos. I park the rental car and unleash the 4'8" retail beast from the passenger's seat. (Yes, we drove the three-quarters of a mile. The entire state marks-up everything related to tourism during spring training. My response: some
Sweet Chin Music with my carbon footprint.

11:30 AM - I bought some books for Jalen and we soon found ourselves sitting alongside a large fountain. People-watching here in the upscale part of Scottsdale seems awfully...familiar. I see women with unnaturally platinum hair that falls just above their exposed Crayola orange shoulders. There are breast enhancements everywhere; each pair precariously perched atop a set of six-inch stilettos. Those big ol' Beyonce shades eclipse the top half of every trophy wife's face. As a native Californian, I'm entertaining the notion of filing a class action suit on the grounds of "gimmick infringement".

12:00 PM - Still no sign of Mrs. Bootleg. Jalen and I are walking around and I'm feeling slightly self-conscious in my faded, eight-year-old Duke University "CAMERON CRAZIES" t-shirt and XXL Nike Jordan shorts. Jalen, meanwhile, seems a bit bemused by all the small novelty dogs under everyone's arms and the
Salvador Dali dishes atop the rare, empty table at any of the assorted outdoor cafes.

12:30 PM - I'd promised myself that I wouldn't rush the wife along, but I'd reached the end of my rope. During large parts of my youth, I was bused into "better" schools and now I'd experienced the awkward adult version. Even sitting on a bench while sipping one of Starbucks' passion fruit lemonade iced teas (sweetened and with a little bit of extra ice, please!) didn't lend itself to blending in. I'm this close to sending Mrs. Bootleg the "we gots to go" text when she sends me one of her own. She's balancing five bags when we meet up with her. For Mrs. Bootleg, this was a good vacation.

1:15 PM - And, it was also the last vacation contribution Mrs. Bootleg would be making for a few hours. Since she can't swim, I was tasked with taking Jalen down to the resort's water slide and pool. The wife, however, was gracious enough to walk with us towards the water and lounge poolside under the mild desert sun while sipping a surprisingly steady stream of
Bahama Mamas. Hers was the parental equivalent of "temporary unemployment", while I put my bony little upper body to work in the water AND had to keep an eye on Jalen at all times.

2:15 PM - Jalen had taken around 2,000 turns down the enticingly twisty water slide and my curiosity finally got the best of me. There didn't appear to be any posted height or weight restrictions, so I v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y lifted myself from the pool and v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y climbed the surprisingly steep steps (the gaggle of sprinting kids behind me tried to cut in front, but as I reached the top, I had just enough breath left to gasp, "Wait your turn!" It took 2 1/2 decades, but NOW the "too cool" preteens are listening to me!).

Here now is a short film that accurately depicts what happens when a 167-pound man goes down an enticingly twisty water slide.

My butt literally bounced off the bottom of the pool like a SuperBall. Instinctively, I attempted to yelp in pain, but water filled my mouth. I've watched enough of my son watching NASCAR (new readers, don't ask) to realistically estimate my top speed was 200 mph. The thought of drowning, nearly a year after the events of 5/11, briefly appeared in my mind. Instead, I stood up and came to the realization that a six-foot-tall man should never water slide into 3 1/2 feet of water. I wish I'd paid attention in high school geometry or physics or whatever class taught that sh**.

4:00 PM - After nearly three hours, I could barely lift my arms. It was time to go, but Jalen -- God bless him -- sensed that I was in no physical condition to discipline him. After I finally pulled him out of the pool, he jumped right back in. Unwittingly, Jalen had briefly ascended to the alpha male of the family. If you'll allow me to roughly translate an ancient African fable, I was "Mufasa" and Jalen was "Scar". It took me another 15 minutes to drag him back to our room, but as much as he deserved a spanking, I could only applaud his exploitation of his exhausted father.

8:00 PM - After meeting one of my oldest friends and his family for dinner, Mrs. Bootleg issued the ultra-rare "vacation kitchen pass" so that I could go drinking with my boy, JP. He's on the short list of friends that my wife absolutely adores, so allowing me to take a vacation from our vacation was more about not disappointing him than making me happy. Pfft...whatever.

11:00 PM - Me and JP kill a few hours at Papago Brewing. He's turned into one of those beer aficionados (home brews, already on national liver transplant list, personalized license plate related to beer)*, so it's always a great time drinking with him. My three favorite discoveries of the evening: (1) the mocha porter I enjoyed at the bar; (2) the vanilla bean porter I took back to my room; (3) prime time television starts an hour earlier in Arizona. I still wouldn't watch Letterman and/or Leno at 10:30 PM (or 11:30 PM), but it was nice to know I was the last man out west to realize this.

*-- Only two of these things are true.

Saturday, March 20

2:00 AM - I stayed up late to edit my latest baseball post and finally crashed after 1:00 AM. I hadn't been asleep for an hour when I was awakened by Jalen's best bloodcurdling scream. This was one of those screams that, as a father, rip your heart out. At this point, Jalen's ailment was my family's only concern.

"My ear hurts!", Jalen whimpered.

His ear? But, we've gotta be in Goodyear in less than 10 hours for another spring training game! I've already bought the tickets! If this boy ruins my vacation...

Next: My greatest moment as a parent! And (in the eyes of Mrs. Bootleg) my worst moment as a parent!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

TBG TV: FOX's Animation Domination – 04/11/2010

Sunday's Rankings (5-3-2-1 scoring)

(1) American Dad ("Cops & Roger") - According to my archives, this is just the second "win" of the season for American Dad. And, even with
my write-up, I can't remember anything about this show's other first place episode. Here, two tired sitcom clichés ("emasculated male" and "fish out of water") set up an awesome barrage of 1980s references. The beach sprinting scenes from Rocky III have been asking to be skewered for almost 30 years. Roger's flippant dismissal of Police Academy was a nice wink-and-nod, but ANY show that incorporates this song into a training montage will win the week…every week.

(2) The Simpsons ("American History X-cellent") - It was a fairly steep drop-off from the top. An episode focused on an imprisoned Mr. Burns paired up with an intentional satire of the unintentionally satirical "John Coffey" character from The Green Mile should've been a lot better. While the jailhouse tomfoolery had its moments (The Book of Charles Manson, for example), nothing else could find its footing. The plot development for Smithers seemed…not quite right and contrary to his passive loyalist roots (hell, even the character's voice work seemed off). And, the Bart and Lisa "ant farm" stuff was transparent filler.

(3) Family Guy ("April in Quahog") - This was one of those episodes that really exposes the show as a loose hodgepodge of nonsense stuck together with Scotch tape made of flashbacks and sidebars. There were three different plots clumsily stumbling across my screen (Peter sits on a jury, the end of the world is nigh, Peter must reconcile with his kids), each one quarantined into its own eight-minute act and none of them more than just barely watchable. A few gags worked, though: the Orion Pictures dig, the Muttley laugh and the closing credits X-Box sequence ("I'm not a douchebag, I'm new.")

(4) The Cleveland Show ("Gone with the Wind") - Fart jokes. Almost every 30 seconds. If I could place this episode fifth in a four-show week, I would.

MVP: Roger (American Dad) as a corrupt cop with a haircut not unlike Chet's in Weird Science takes the fake trophy for the week.

Quote of the Night: "When it comes to hitting people in the head with a baseball bat…I'm 'The Natural'. LAUGH!" - Roger

Current Standings

The Simpsons – 63
The Cleveland Show – 50
Family Guy – 40
American Dad! – 35

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

TBG TV: Lost -- "The Last Recruit"

Three Things I Dug:

Stratego!: The energy was popping off the screen during the frenetically-paced sequence after Dark Locke's camp was bombed. Watching Locke move his human chess pieces and plan his offensive gave some much-needed momentum down the path towards the end game. Of course, watching Sawyer almost immediately sabotage Locke's plan with one of his own was an even bigger kick. Sawyer's short-lived stint as the leader of the castaways was one of my favorite things about the show's solid fifth season. Even though Sawyer's once again leading his team towards catastrophe, dude makes for a convincing commander-in-chief.

Darker Locke!: I mentioned it earlier this season, but I'm really loving the slow, deliberate progression from polite evil Locke to evil evil Locke. His smarmy, disingenuous opening line ("It's so good to have everyone back together!") was a fine way to start things off and it was nice to see him squirm a little while waiting for Sayid to kill off Desmond. His annoyed interrogation of Sayid exposed a few more cracks in Dark Locke's increasingly tenuous grip on civility.

I...Got...Hose!: The sideways-reality Sawyer/Miles team-up has played out like a pastiche of bad buddy cop clichés, but their capture of Sayid somehow managed to be brilliant in its absurdity. Miles loudly announces himself at the front door before inviting himself inside the house that's harboring Sayid. This forces Sayid to slip out the back door where he's tripped up by Sawyer (hiding in the bushes) and a common garden hose. All that was missing was the Law & Order "duhn-duhn!" scene-change music.

Three Things I Didn't Dig:

He Ain't THAT Charming: I'm not sure I'm buying Desmond in his sideways-reality role as "Oceanic reunion coordinator". His attempts to get in good with Claire were pretty creepy. I mean, who offers free services on behalf of a lawyer? And, who shoehorns himself into someone else's adoption process? What part of the man who follows the pregnant women up to the 15th floor screams "trust me"?

D.T.C.: Y'know what, Kate? Fine. Go ahead and trust Claire. She tried to kill you earlier this season and is obviously not all there, but sure, invite her on to the boat. Hey, while you're at it, why not promise to reunite this entry-level lunatic with her child? True, it's not all your fault. Jack's grand plan to separate the castaways from Claire's paranoid eye was to walk away...right in front of her. Promise me this, though: you and the rest of the castaways have to act all shocked and sh*t when she tries to kill you again, Kate. Deal?

Putting the 'Yawn' in 'Reunion': Am I the only one who thought the Sun/Jin reunion fell flat? I wasn't expecting it to touch the Desmond/Penny stuff from a few seasons back, but with the Sawyer vs. Dark Locke vs. Widmore triple threat match in full effect, the Sun and Jin scene felt more than a little tacked on. But, it cured Sun of that ridiculous language storyline she was forced to carry around for a few weeks. And, Lapidus' "Look who got their voice back!" groaner is on the short list for worst Lost lines ever.

The Verdict: This had the look and feel of the last "set up" episode before the four-week sprint to the finish. Let's call it "watchable" and agree to take next week off.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

TBG Travel Diary: The 7-Day (Desert) Theory - Part III

It seemed a little unimportant; when he told me, I smiled
Picture jewels being handed to an innocent child...

Promised if I have a seed, I'mma guide him right
Dear Lord, don't let me die tonight...

--Makaveli, "Blasphemy"

Part I -- Part II

1:05 PM - We've walked through the auxiliary parking lot and made it halfway through the regular parking lot when I hear the first Diamondbacks batter introduced from what seems like five miles away. Right on cue, Jalen reminds me, "You said we wouldn't miss the first pitch!" Fatherhood is a lot like having two wives, guys.

1:08 PM - We reach the overpass and Jalen acts as if he's just laid eyes on Mount Everest. "My legs are too little to walk all that way!" (In Jalen's defense, that might've been my 4'8" wife whining. My focus was solely on getting inside the stadium and to my seat. Quite frankly, the rest of the family's attendance was optional at this point.)

1:10 PM - Against my better judgment -- and my bony legs and
that asthma thing -- I offer Jalen a ride on my shoulders across the overpass. Not surprisingly, this endorsement of Jalen's laziness is met with his all-of-a-sudden energetic approval. My emaciated frame holds around 167 lbs. depending on what I've eaten during any given day. Jalen is 55 lbs. I'm not sure I'm built to absorb a sudden 33% increase in my body mass. Hell, I'd have to drop Jalen to even reach my inhaler. I'm interpreting those last two points from the sideways look Mrs. Bootleg is giving me.

1:13 PM - Considering I had to put up with my son's immature antics and my wife's indifference, we made pretty good time to the main stadium entrance. It'd be nice if there were NO MORE distractions of selfishness on their parts, though. I've been able to maintain my focus throughout this...hey, it's the 2010 Oakland A's
media guide! Ten dollars for career biographies on every A's player and franchise factoids like every Opening Day lineup since 1968 and the name of every player who's suited up for the A's and Giants? Sold!

1:15 PM - And, we've reached our seats. Just in time for the bottom of the first inning to begin. This is the third year I've done spring training and I finally realized that seats in the shade, right above first base are just as good as the seats behind home plate that I usually, they're in the shade. If 2011 Aaron is reading this in an attempt to remember where these seats were -- upper box, $18.

1:35 PM - A typically uneventful exhibition game is unfolding in front of us. A's starter pitcher Gio Gonzalez -- at the time, fighting for a spot in the Oakland rotation -- is already in midseason form: walking too many hitters, flashing infrequent moments of filthy brilliance and getting overtly worked up over a few ball/strike calls that didn't go his way. This kid's "Oliver Perez" antics never get old.

1:45 PM - Mrs. Bootleg sends me on the first food run of the afternoon. She's been seeing a holistic practitioner in recent weeks to address her assortment of psychosomatic symptoms and acute hypochondria. Consequently, she's been put on an odd elimination diet. This leads to the following food order from her: "See if you can find some fries. But, ask them if they coat the fries in flour first. I can't eat flour." The wife's also given up alcohol, caffeine and wheat; among other things. In summary, flour is out, but recycled week-old frying oil is perfectly acceptable.

1:55 PM - I bring back one of those Super Big Gulp-sized cup o' fries that the morbidly obese, adolescent version of me would have sold his Transformers for. The classic Generation One Transformers line. This would've been a BIG deal in 1985, people!
Grimlock! Remember the Dinobots? They preceded Jurassic Park and the dinosaur renaissance by almost TEN years! Megatron! Back then, kids could have toys that looked like real guns! This would've been a BIG deal! BIG!

1:56 PM - With a disgusted suck of her of teeth, Mrs. Bootleg b*tches, "You put ketchup on my fries. You know I can eat ketchup." With a delicious sip of my beer, I reply, "I didn't 'know' that. Besides, you've been violating the rules of your 'life-diet' about five times a week, since you started." Mrs. Bootleg silently eats her ketchup-covered fries...that may have been coated in flour. I forgot to ask.

2:15 PM - On our way back from the restrooms, Jalen and I notice an area set up on the concourse called "The Kids' Zone Radar Gun Station". Three throws for one dollar, with recognition of the top throwers by age group crudely scrawled on an old whiteboard. The speed to beat in Jalen's six-year-old category: 35 mph. The speed to beat in Aaron's "13 and over" category: 73 mph. One of these records is in no very little danger of being broken. In fact, let's skip over the boring details of how much money I dropped on this flim-flam game of graft (or how the lack of an immaculately-manicured pitching mound kept me from maximizing my fastball with the proper release point). Jalen topped out at 29-30 mph, but with a level of enthusiasm that had me half-seriously considering the obliteration of the standard for
least appropriate gift in the categories of "African-American", "child" and "African-American child".

3:40 PM - On the strength of a sixth-inning, three-run double by Eric Patterson, the A's cruise to a 7-3 win. 22-year-old pitcher Tyson Ross -- who'd never pitched above Double-A -- stamped his ticket to the opening day roster by striking out seven D'Backs in three innings of relief. Jalen imitated the A's subdued postgame handshakes with the fans around us -- 90% of whom were rooting for Arizona. This boy's unintentional trash talk is better than any of the overtly obnoxious behavior regularly on display anywhere on the east coast. Eat it, Montpelier.

5:00 PM - It takes an unexpectedly long time to get from Phoenix Municipal Stadium to our room in Scottsdale. Mrs. Bootleg used her cell phone's GPS application to take us on a scenic tour of surface streets and red lights. As a result, I'm wound nice and tight for the return call to my boss. Here's a synopsis of the office crisis: my single worst nonresponsive Government customer was irate because she couldn't reach me, for a change. My boss suggested I call her back on Friday -- while still on my vacation. Hope I don't forget.

6:15 PM - It had already been a very long day for That Bootleg Family. Admittedly, I was probably pushing my luck by insisting we roll out to a soul food spot called
Lo Lo's Chicken & Waffles after an early-morning flight, a glacial drive to the ballpark, a spring training game and an even lengthier drive to our hotel. But, my family has always supported my blog folly and has no problem playing the pawns in one of my "TBG Eats" features.

6:45 PM - Christ, I could've killed both Mrs. Bootleg and the boy. Jalen complained the whole way, most of the time as his torso was parallel to the bottom of the back seat. Meanwhile, Mrs. Bootleg's non-responsiveness to Jalen's whining was a tacit "I told you so" to me for trying to squeeze one more adventure into the first day of our vacation. Thankfully, for everyone involved, we finally reached the restaurant.

Lo Lo's is an unapologetic knockoff of the iconic Roscoe's Chicken & Waffles brand. The Scottsdale location is part of an otherwise uninteresting strip mall with a wide-open seating area that belies the compact appearance of its exterior. I ordered the "Sheedah's Special" with sides of collard greens and macaroni and cheese. You know the drill:

Fried Chicken: Overcooked and overbreaded. It was like biting through the Earth's crust to get to the meat. Turns out we got there 15 minutes before closing time, so I'll give 'em a hall pass for the expedited fry job and measly seasonings. Grade: 2 (out of 5)

Waffle: Wonderful. While it looks like an Eggo, it's much more substantial with a flavor that hinted at buckwheat flour in the recipe. Yup...I brought a "buckwheat" reference to a soul food restaurant review. This is like "blog Yahtzee" for those of us over the age of 35. Grade: 4.5

Macaroni and Cheese: How could something that looked so tasty...taste like nothing? I've been spoiled by my mom's and Mrs. Bootleg's macaroni, but that's no excuse for the invisible side dish I was served. Jalen ate my entire order, but considering Kraft is his mac & cheese standard... Grade: 1

Collard Greens: Firm, wet and spicy...I don't ask for much from my greens and these delivered. They lacked the smokiness that a big ol' ham hock in the pot provides, but that's only a half-point demerit in the grand scheme of my plate. Grade: 4

Red Beans and Rice: I didn't have any, but Mrs. Bootleg put a pretty good dent in the bowl. There's not much middle ground with her (she either likes it or she doesn't), but I'll hedge a bit on her behalf. Grade: 4

Kool-Aid: Red, naturally. I grew up on this stuff, but like most tasty beverages from my youth, I'd forgotten how sickeningly sweet Kool-Aid could be. Grade: 2

Next: Swimming! Drinking! Shrieking?!

Friday, April 16, 2010

TBG Travel Diary: The 7-Day (Desert) Theory - Part II

Penitentiaries is packed with promise makers
Never realize the precious time the b**** n***** is wastin'

-- Makaveli, "Hail Mary"

Part I

11:10 AM - We're in Phoenix with almost two hours to go until first pitch of the A's v. Diamondbacks game just up the road. We still have to (1) walk down to baggage claim; (2) pick up our rental car and (3) drive to the stadium. The "TBG Travel Diary Deities" must have heard when I confidently proclaimed to Mrs. Bootleg, "We've got plenty of time."

11:25 AM - I stupidly use my bad hand to reach for one of our suitcases on the carousel. On the short list of "great shame for men", I'd like to nominate having to wait for your bag to come back around after failing to retrieve it on the first try. Half the people in the terminal saw my initial fumble and have told their travelling companions who might've missed it to keep an eye out for attempt #2.

11:26 AM - "Do you want ME to get the bags?", asks a well-meaning (and unnecessarily LOUD) Mrs. Bootleg.

11:27 AM - With the pressure from a packed airport looking on, I execute a successful one-arm dead lift of Mrs. Bootleg's 50-lb. suitcase. The degree of difficulty for this feat of strength hopefully obscured my Olympic weightlifter-esque grunt and/or the surprisingly high bounce of Mrs. Bootleg's bag after I dropped it on the ground, six inches from the carousel.

11:35 AM - We've retrieved all our bags and we're off to procure the rental car. This means a meandering shuttle bus ride to the car rental agency. This is one of the few remaining opportunities to play "overprotective parent" to my six-year-old son. Since the shuttles aren't equipped with seat belts, I place my seat belt-wide arms across Jalen's body and envelope him within a scrawny mocha cocoon.

11:50 AM - During the obligatory, forgettable banter with the clerk at the rental car place, he (good-naturedly) needles us about staying in Scottsdale. "Around here, we call it 'Snots-dale'", he scoffs. I covered the
derision towards Scottsdale in last year's desert travel diary, so I'll only add that there are three purchases in which it's socially acceptable to overpay a little: (1) wedding photographer, (2) child's birthday party and (3) vacation lodging. Anyone who justifies their cheapskate ways with "I'm never going to be in my room, so I don't care where I stay" is less than one step removed from sleeping eight to a room during a seedy weekend in Vegas.

12:10 PM - It takes a little longer than it should for That Bootleg Family to hit the road. Mrs. Bootleg can't seem to get Jalen's booster seat secured into the car's back seat. This is an annual vacation tradition, as the wife straps it in and then tests it out by putting all of her 101 lbs.* into seeing how far it moves forward when she violently attempts to pull it out. If it budges an inch, she takes it out and straps it in again.

*--That counts as one of your Mother's Day gifts, Mrs. Bootleg.

12:15 PM - We're just pulling out on to the road when my cell phone buzzes. It's my boss. The internet deservedly gets all the "greatest invention of my generation" love, but caller ID is unquestionably the most underrated technological creation. Sure, I would've let my boss' call roll to voice mail even if I didn't know who it was. But, knowing it was him meant I didn't have to check my voice mail until after the game. Does YOUR cell phone plan give you piece of mind? Mine does.

12:20 PM - Less than five miles outside the airport and things have gotten awfully ghetto. Hourly motels, liquor stores, track suits and khakis abound. If the sun were down, Clark Griswold might be doing unmentionable things
to his momma. I should be giving this a LOT more thought, but I'm going to put Phoenix in second place, right behind San Diego, in the category of "most unexpectedly sketchy wrong side of the tracks that never gets mentioned amongst obvious locales like Detroit, Oakland and New Orleans".

12:30 PM - Property values have just started to move forward, but we've...stopped moving. This is a damn fine facsimile of Los Angeles traffic at its most ungodly moments. I can see traffic lights cycling through entire green-yellow-red routines as the cars immediately in front of me remain stationary. Gridlock...on a city street in Phoenix, Arizona?! We're heading to a meaningless spring training game on a Thursday afternoon between the mostly anonymous Oakland A's and the Arizona Dia...oh.

12:40 PM - For those who don't know, the D'Backs play their regular season home games in Phoenix while their spring training home is in Tucson -- roughly 90 minutes away. Friends of mine in the Phoenix area have told me that no one drives all the way out to Tucson. The locals just wait for the D'Backs to play road games closer to home before taking in a game. I explain this to Mrs. Bootleg and she takes it in stride. Jalen, less so.

12:50 PM - We can see the parking lot of Phoenix Municipal Stadium off to the right, but we've been sitting at the same stoplight for two or three changes. Jalen is currently decomposing into a bowl of brown whine. His "Are we there, yet?" grades grates a 99 out of 100. And, kudos to the boy for managing to stay just out of range of the back of my hand. The only way to end this misery is to channel my inner Tijuana taxicab driver -- I steer sharply to the right, against the pedestrian "WALK" light, nearly clipping an elderly white couple crossing the street. If they're reading this, can we agree to consider that illegal, near-fatal turn my "reparations" and call it even? Cool.

1:00 PM - The parking lot is so packed that we were directed to park in an auxiliary area in the opposite direction of the ballpark. Really beginning to regret my promise to Jalen that we wouldn't miss the first pitch. We'd have to literally sprint across the auxiliary lot, through the main parking lot, traverse cars that were still coming in, cross an overpass, have our tickets scanned and find our seats within the next five minutes. Still, we might be able to pull it off if...

1:05 PM - Nope.

Next: So-so soul food, a near-death experience for two of the three people in our rental car and why you should NEVER call your boss back!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

TBG TV: Lost -- "Everybody Loves Hugo"

Three Things I Dug:

La Misma Madre: I've never been a fan of the Hurley character, but I've always gotten a kick out of the infrequent appearances of his parents. There was no Cheech Marin this week, but Lillian Hurst returned for a cameo as Hurley's mom in the sideways-reality. She was only onscreen for a few moments, but struck a tone of acerbic condescension that only a well-meaning, matchmaking mother could reach. Aside from the Puerto Rican accent, she sounded a lot like my mother during the assorted awkward, obese or baseball card collecting chapters of my life.

Equipo de Ricardo: I'm not all that attached to this new "red-ass Richard" character and his half-baked "blow it up" plan to protect planet Earth from the threatening ambiguity of ol' Smoky. But, I did appreciate his passionate refusal to hitch his wagon with Hurley's ghost-whisperer brigade. In an especially nice touch, Ben and Miles -- both of whom have seen Dark Locke at his murderous worst -- aligned with Richard, as well. Sometimes, the most sensible choices can be the most entertaining.

Happy Gilmore: [groaning] "Volkswagen...": Obviously, I'm reaching for Lost love this week, but the final sequence of this week's episode was terrific. Sideways Ben Linus is so endearingly charismatic that I actually have mixed feelings about his eventual island epiphany. His pointed -- but polite -- interrogation of Desmond outside the school was appropriately tense. It built towards a great payoff with Sideways Locke on the business end of a hit and run. And, so ends the things I dug about this week's episode.

Three Things I Didn't Dig:

Ilana Goes Boom: Two years ago, the mysterious "Rousseau" character was killed off by means that didn't fit the way the she'd been written (an island-smart survivalist whose paranoia was only exceeded by her intelligence). Ilana met a similarly inexplicable fate this week. Since the moment she debuted, her résumé includes (but, is not limited to): kicking Sayid's ass, leading the Flight 316 survivors and running right into the belly of the beast as the Smoke Monster's destroying the temple. THIS icily confident character is now a skittish, sloppy spitfire who treats 100-year-old dynamite like a sack of trash? And, she goes out like Arzt in season one?! Boo. BOO! There aren't enough "boos" in the world.

Not Everybody Loves Hugo: Hurley's been positioned as obese comic relief for so long that it's nearly impossible to take him seriously as the voice of reason. And, Jorge Garcia is r-e-a-l-l-y stretched when asked to do more than "dude". He was so over-the-top in his attempts to convey his secretly scheming ways (think: immediately after Hurley changed course and professed approval of Richard's plan to procure more dynamite from the Black Rock ship) that he was shifting his eyes back and forth in an unintentional imitation of
this dog. Meanwhile the sideways Hurley/Libby stuff was groaningly unwatchable at times with its magical kisses and helpfully marked minivans ("MENTAL HEALTH INSTITUTE").

Sayid: I think I'll mention how the writers have ruined this character every week until he's finally killed off. Cool? Cool.

The Verdict: M'man
Movie Joe summed it up perfectly -- "Lost is back to season one form. Meandering episodes filled with frustrating characters capped by a corker of an ending to keep you running back".

Oh, the meandering.

Monday, April 12, 2010

TBG Eats: The NEW Double Down Sandwich from KFC

Current Weight: 167.0 lbs.

For the sake of argument, can we agree that every disappointment in life can be neatly filed into one of three categories?

The most soul-crushing of these is the "recurring disappointment" – the ones that might haunt you, off and on, for the rest of your life. For example, as most of you know, I went to San Diego State University. I had a great time in college as I met the future Mrs. Bootleg, discovered beers other than Bud Ice and attended parties at one of the top party schools on the planet.

As I type this, though, my college diploma sits less than a foot away from me at the bottom of a drawer – a fittingly symbolic location considering that my degree in marketing bought me a seven-week post-college career cold-calling businesses for a data warehouse firm. I've worked inside the rigid world of contracts in the dozen years since then. My mid-90s dreams of creative thinking and outside-the-box problem solving have been neutered, domesticated and confined to a cubicle.

Significantly less dramatic are the "disappointments of the moment". Way back when record stores were still around, the release of a new album was a really big deal. In all the years I've known Mrs. Bootleg, her and I have been equally excited about just TWO albums: Snoop Dogg's 1996 release Tha Doggfather and 50 Cent's 2003 debut Get Rich or Die Trying.

The two of us loathed Snoop's mumbling Mafioso flow (to say nothing of DJ Pooh's rushed, rudimentary beats) and Mrs. Bootleg never forgave him – save for 1999's "
B*tch Please" single. As for Get Rich…, I suspected my wife would jump ship when she discovered that every song wasn't "In Da Club". Meanwhile, I lamented the album-length absence of any of the wit and creativity that was in 50's four-minute underground classic "How to Rob". A short while later, we were over it.

Finally, there are the "pretend disappointments". My son Jalen has several unique skills. He knows the jersey numbers of every player on the Opening Day lineup of the 2010 Oakland A's. He knows how to work the television, the DVR and the DVD player. And, he can rip off a five-second fart almost on command.

Think about that. 1…2…3…4…5. Who else under the age of 80 can pass that five-second threshold? I'd seriously love to show him off, but when Old Lady Bootleg is around, I have to play "strict disciplinarian" and act like his ass isn't one of his most awesome qualities.

So, where will KFC's new Double Down sandwich fall on the disappointment-o-meter?

Sure, on the surface, it sounds like the greatest menu item in the 80 years since Colonel Harland Sanders first stole sold fried chicken from the Black man:

"This one-of-a-kind sandwich features two thick and juicy boneless white meat chicken filets (Original Recipe® or Grilled), two pieces of bacon, two melted slices of Monterey Jack and pepper jack cheese and Colonel's Sauce."

It's a sandwich so enormous that there's no room for bread! But, bigger isn't always better. I'm still trying to identify the assortment of animal entrails that went into the awful
14-inch corn dog I ordered at the San Diego Fair a few years ago. More recently, there was the rubbery gray-meat mess called the Baconator.

Still, I left work early on Monday simply because my time to surrender to unfounded, unbridled hype grows shorter with each asthmatic breath I take (without the aid of my inhaler).

I pulled up to KFC with good gastronomic intentions – JUST the Double Down sandwich. No sides, no soda. But, I'm a sucker for almost any up-sell and the child behind the counter out-negotiated the contract negotiator with an airtight position:

"You know you want the combo!"

She's right, I did!

Visually, the Double Down is picture-perfect. It's on the ridiculously short list of fast food menu items that look just like its
ad copy when served. The blending of scents from the seasoned, breaded chicken and the bacon and the sauce had me almost ready to believe that this sandwich could live up to my lofty expectations. But, I wasn't going to be so easily won over.

Then, I took a bite.

Thick, but not overly dense. Meaty, but not overwhelming for my mouth. The ubiquitous KFC flavor retains its gloriously guilty pleasure salt n' pepper taste. The bacon, cheese and Colonel's sauce starts off strong, but begins retreating into the background after the first few bites. Halfway through, their subtle(!) notes lent the chicken a smoky, peppery kick that brought the Double Down across the finish line and into "5 out of 5" territory.

By the time I finished my sandwich, however, the chicken had managed to overpower the other ingredients. I could still taste what was inside the sandwich, but not before the outside had completed several brief takeovers of my tongue.

I've gone back and forth on whether to drop a half-point from the Double Down's score because of this, but even if I did, I'd just give it right back for the balls-out gall it took to bring this mouth-watering monstrosity to an increasingly health-conscious country.

Thank you, KFC. Thank you.

Grade: 5 (out of 5) Calories: 540 Fat: 32g Sodium: 1,380mg

Saturday, April 10, 2010

100 Miles and Runnin' Stoppin'

We're 100 days into 2010 and there's been a TBG post on each day of the year. If you count the last day of 2009, there have been 101 straight days of lightly-read blog for y'all. (But, let's not count it. This post is self-serving enough as it is...)

Thanks to my readers - old and new - for taking a few minutes out of your days to spend time with my family, my appetite or my asthma. Starting Sunday, I'm going back to the traditional bloggers' schedule: sporadic.

Friday, April 9, 2010

This will be a Challenging Weekend

I'm driving up to Anaheim (almost 100 miles north of San Diego) for tonight's game between the A's and the hated Angels. I get to hang out with m'man (and fellow A's fan) Smitty. We've got seats behind the Oakland dugout. Should be a great time.

Tomorrow morning, my son Jalen and I have haircuts scheduled at my barber's new location in Mission Valley (approximately 20 miles south of Stately Bootleg Manor). Later in the day, against my better judgment, I'm driving back up to Anaheim for Saturday night's A's v. Angels tilt. This time…with Jalen. The (current) plan is to drive back to San Diego after the game.

We're at over 400 freeway miles, people.

On Sunday, a friend and I are taking our boys bowling. Jalen has developed a ferocious competitive spirit and doesn't like to lose. Conversely, I'll be damned if any six-year-old beats me at bowling. The awkward end result is usually Jalen in tears with me offering only slightly sincere consolation.

Pizza and ice cream will follow.

This all came about because Mrs. Bootleg has been home all week with Jalen, who's on spring break. Yes, I did go out to happy hour on Thursday night and I've got another responsibility-free Friday evening forthcoming…but, I think my Saturday and Sunday activities have crossed into overcompensation.

I mean…a baseball game, bowling and junk food. I hope Mrs. Bootleg remembers this.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

"Coming Attractions"? More Like "Coming EAT-tractions"! Eh?!

My lightly-read blog's fast food reviews have taken on a life of their own. I'm not complaining, since they're my favorite bit of blog fodder to write up. However, I've picked a bad time to get WAY behind. According to my cell phone camera, I still need to share my experiences with Wendy's Bacon & Blue Cheese Burger, Lo-Lo's Chicken & Waffles in Arizona, the "Cleveland Dog" vs. "Cincinnati Dog" debate from the Indians spring training complex and the sad ending to my quest for the Dunkin' Donuts waffle breakfast sandwich.

But, it's hard to find quality time with my laptop when America's expedient grease peddlers keep reaching out to me. Here are three more fast food meals coming soon to my stomach:

Taco Bell's Tortadas -- The 3:00 AM Mexican takeout purist in me wants to call "shenanigans" on Taco Bell for the name of this
new menu item. Isn't a "tortada" actually a cake? And, this sure as hell isn't a "torta" which is a delicious Mexican sandwich served on a bolillo. Snobbery aside, Taco Bell's Salsa Roja Tortada is filled with grilled chicken, red sauce and a three-cheese blend. Their Bacon Ranch Tortada includes bacon, bacon and a bacon-bacon blend. Sold.

Burger King's XT Burgers -- It's been awhile since I've been to Burger King, but I'm intrigued by their "XT"
line of burgers. I've heard good things about the limited-time-only Smoky Cheddar version, so now might be as good a time as any to partake. Also, I appreciate the fact that BK didn't douche-out and label these burgers as "XTreme" -- which they totally would've done ten years earlier. Don't deny it, Burger King.

KFC's Double-Down Sandwich -- The Colonel goes nationwide with this
caloric apocalypse on April 12, y'all. The Double-Down is made with two breaded Original Recipe white meat chicken filets (grilled chicken is also available, but what's the point?), two slices of bacon, Monterey Jack and pepper jack cheese, and something called "Colonel's Sauce" -- everything, but a bun. There is no way this sandwich could live up to hype. There is also no way I won't be at KFC sometime next week.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

TBG TV: Lost -- "Happily Ever After"

Three Things I Dug:

Desmond!: Another Desmond-centric episode, another knock-it-outta-the-park performance from Henry Ian Cusick. I'm willing to overlook the slapdash explanation of how Desmond ended up back on the island ("Remember that time Ben shot you? Yeah, we kidnapped you after that. Fortunately, Mr. Widmore's got a submarine stocked like a state-of-the-art medical facility with personnel to match!") in exchange for the assortment of believable layers to his character this week. The rage he displayed in the opening towards Widmore was pitch-perfect given their history together. The flash-sideways "right-hand man" Desmond was appropriately a point. And, the Desmond that brought reality and bizarro-reality together was equal parts skeptical, accepting and -- of course -- mysterious. If this were 1996, America would be comparing his performance to the assortment of Eddie Murphy characters during the dinner table scene in The Nutty Professor. Maybe.

Desmond & Penny, 4ever!: To put it mildly, Lost has been a bit...inconsistent when it comes to relationship development. The Jack-Kate-Sawyer triangle often devolved into soap opera pap. The Sun/Jin chemistry has been all over the map, with the path of their current storyline serving as mostly an inevitable annoyance. The writers backed into believable love interests when Elizabeth Mitchell's performance carried the Juliet/Sawyer plot of season five. But, all parties (the writers, the actors, the guy who drives the catering truck) NAILED the Penny/Desmond dynamic from day one. Put it this way: I was almost rooting as hard for Penny and Desmond to be together in the flash-sideways world (They shook hands! They're getting coffee later!) as I was the first time they reunited.

The Inside Bits!: The boat on the wall of "Sideways Widmore's" office -- with Desmond staring at it intently -- was nicely done, but the scene where Desmond (finally!) gets to sip some of that 60-year-old scotch had me gleefully exclaiming to my empty living room: "He got the scotch!" You're such a dork, Aaron.

Three Things I Didn't Dig:

Charlie?: He was an odd choice for "ground zero" of the forthcoming flash-sideways disintegration. During his four seasons as a regular character, Charlie never carried the kind of sway that would make you believe ANY version of him could conceivably be the voice of reason. I mean, of all the Oceanic passengers who are going to be scared straight by a's the smack-addict?

Daniel?: I'm nitpicking now, but I could've done without the contrived shots of Daniel Faraday-Widmore lurking in the shadows, back to the camera, ironic d-bag hat cocked to one side. He just happened to be within earshot of every conversation that Desmond was having, but far enough away not to be noticed?

George?: An omnipotent limo driver, huh? Deus ex machina much, Lost writers?

The Verdict: This was like the Richard episode from two weeks ago, except the near-universal praise was actually deserved.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

That MRI Guy

Yesterday morning, I endured my first MRI. Why? Well, if you're new to the goings-on of this lightly-read blog, you might not know that I tore the tendon in my left pinky finger last August. In the months that followed, I received some questionable medical treatment that became self-deprecating TBG fodder. In February, several weeks after the splint on my finger was removed for good, I injured my left hand in a tragic condiment accident.

It was three more weeks before I could get in to see a rheumatologist and an additional four weeks after that before I could get in for an MRI.

The funny thing is that I came this close to cancelling my appointment. The acute pain in my hand subsided almost a month ago. And, while I still have just 50% strength in my left hand (and next to no mobility in my left pinky)...I'm livin' with it. But, at 8:30AM, I showed up at the same facility that hosted
my disastrous CT scan last summer.

8:30 AM - I remove all metals from my person. Normally, this wouldn't be worth mentioning, but I manage to nearly fill the little locker with my wallet, cell phone, car keys, wedding band, inhaler, umbrella (it was a drizzly Monday morning in San Diego, y'all) and PSP portable gaming system. Oh, shut up...I forgot when my appointment was, so I brought it just in case I had to sit around the waiting room for an hour or so. SHUT UP!

8:40 AM - The MRI technician -- in her sternest schoolmarm monotone -- explains how I must lay perfectly still during the process. Remember, I'm here because of an injury to the least-needed digit on my non-dominant hand. I confidently assure
Nurse Ratched that I can keep it rigid.

8:45 AM - I'm handed a pair of earplugs ("This thing gets loud", I'm told) which I really wasn't expecting. I had to fill out three different forms certifying that I'm not bothered by claustrophobia before they'd let me show up for the MRI, but the notion of noise leaves me ill-at-ease for some reason.

8:50 AM - I lay down on my stomach with my left arm extended past my head and at a very slight angle. The technician shoves a "panic button" in my right hand which is positioned parallel to my prone body. The machine lifts me up and

9:00 AM - Keeping my work clothes on was mistake #1. Most patients are given a hospital gown, but since it was "just for a finger", I was told to keep my slacks and collared shirt on. Work clothes are inherently uncomfortable. They're full of starch and even the cleaning process is "dry" by definition. But, I managed to keep my one-man freeze tag act going despite all the whirring (and occasional roaring) all around me.

9:05 AM - "OK, we're getting a LOT of movement from you, Aaron." The disembodied voice is apparently bleeding through speakers from inside the MRI machine. I'm told they need to re-position me, so the technician starts pulling me out. Like an absolute fool, I start to lift my torso -- before I'd been pulled from inside -- and bang the back of my head on the top of the coffin.

9:15 AM - I'm back inside the machine with my body contorted into what the technician called "the Superman pose". Although, with the earplugs, it sounded like she was repeating the hook of that obnoxious Soulja Boy song from a few years ago. My left arm is completely extended while my right arm is bent and resting comfortably right above my butt. Drink in the imagery, ladies.

9:20 AM - "We're still getting all kinds of movement from you, Aaron. We haven't gotten one good reading yet." Honestly, y'all...I'm NOT moving. I certainly don't feel like I'm moving, at least. But, from the tone of the technician, you'd think I took a couple of hours off from work and drove 15 miles in stop-and-go traffic just to sabotage my own MRI. I explain that the only time I might be moving is when I'm breathing, which leads to this gem from the technician: "I know you HAVE to breathe, but if you could find a way to slow down your breathing that'd be a big help." This is the asthmatic's equivalent to yelling "DON'T LOOK DOWN" at the man on the rickety bridge.

9:30 AM - I've been literally holding my breath for short spurts in a desperate attempt to get this over with. In doing so, I begin feeling short of breath and just a wee bit of panic begins to set in. My eyes inexplicably open for a split second and...
holy sh*t.

9:35 AM - "OK, Aaron, that last one was pretty good. I just need you to hold still for about 3 1/2 more minutes."

9:45 AM - Turns out "3 1/2 more minutes" is on the same clock I utilize to tell Mrs. Bootleg "I'll be home at midnight".

A few hours later, I get a phone call from my doctor's office telling me that a ligament in my finger is completely torn. I'm told, "This is what we thought."

Who thought this? Why was this doctor hypothesis ("doc-pothesis"?) never once relayed to me? I've made between 6-8 visits to rheumatologists, sports medicine specialists and Urgent Care since last August -- all in response to pain in my left finger/hand, not once did ANYONE mention a torn ligament.

I was told the next step is consulting with a surgeon.

I'm kinda-sorta hoping the surgeon's gonna be slightly more thorough and accurate than everyone else has been, so far.

Monday, April 5, 2010

TBG Travel Diary: The 7-Day (Desert) Theory - Part I

In every city you'll find me/
Look for trouble right behind me...

- - Makaveli, "Bomb First (My Second Reply)"

Thursday, March 18

7:15 AM - Had to issue one of my rare head-of-the-household vetoes on Mrs. Bootleg. The family plan was to go straight from the airport to the Oakland A's game in Phoenix and the wife wanted to wear an A's shirt on the plane just like Jalen and me. Besides the inherent absurdity of an entire family in team gear, black women need to be especially vigilant. There's a fine line between "supportive mother" and "
Allen Iverson's mother".

7:30 AM - Quite possibly the most stress-free pre-vacation departure from Stately Bootleg Manor ever. We left the house on time AND with the peace of mind that comes from realizing anything we might've forgotten to pack could simply be purchased after we reached our destination in Arizona.

7:40 AM - We're one-third of the way to the airport when the possibility that I might've forgotten to bring the Spring Training tickets enters my mind. For those who don't know, I'm the kind of guy who checks the alarm clock throughout the night just to make sure the alarm is set to "ON". While I'm sure I packed the tickets, I'm worried that I didn't check once or twice to make sure the tickets were packed. (Wow. That reasoning sounds a LOT less crazy in my mind.)

7:55 AM - Off the freeway and just a few miles from the airport, I miss the right-hand turn onto Pacific Highway. I've been driving to this airport for nearly 15 years and this is the first time I've missed this turn. Of course, the first thought that crosses my mind: "maybe this is a sign!" On the plus side, I was stress-free for almost 40 minutes.

8:05 AM - Downtown San Diego is a mismatched maze of one-way streets and "No U-Turn" signs. Consequently, I have to drive several blocks in the opposite direction before I can double-back to make the turn I missed. After all this, I discover that my usual offsite "park n' ride" lot is out of business. Have you ever noticed how "part one" of all my travel diaries is filled with the drama and nonsense that occurs before I even board my flight?

8:06 AM - And, for the second time in ten minutes, I'm inadvertently headed towards downtown -- on a street that's all of a sudden become "one-way".

8:15 AM - Like gas stations or ATM machines, it's impossible to find a "park n' ride" shuttle facility when you really need it. We're two miles from the airport, but it takes ten more minutes to find one. Oh, and shout out to Mrs. Bootleg for taking the time to reaffirm why she's the world's worst navigator. No one -- NO ONE -- can tell the driver to make a right turn back at the intersection I just drove through better than Mrs. Bootleg.

9:15 AM - Our plane is boarding and we make our way towards "Row 12, Seats A, B and C"...only to find a little old lady sitting in one of our seats and a flight attendant standing next to her. "You three have been moved to Row 13", the flight attendant said. I take note of the odd timing for this seating assignment shell game before my brain inexplicably starts processing the superstitious implications of "Row 13". Have I ever mentioned that
I'm not a good flyer?

9:20 AM - As the plane slowly fills up, the flight attendant turns to us and says, "I have to go, but if anyone tries to sit in your seats could you tell them they've been relocated?" She seems awfully confident that one of the many well-to-do business travelers on this flight is going to take the word of a black guy in baggy Jordan shorts, his midget wife and six-year-old son.

9:25 AM - Who had "frazzled young mother and hyperactive child" in the pool of those whose seats we'd stolen been assigned? She reacted about as well as you'd expect the last person to board the plane would when told they weren't sitting where they thought they'd be sitting. This is to say she didn't believe the word of a black guy in baggy Jordan shorts. Shocking.

9:50 AM - We're finally in the air and -- right on cue -- my sinuses explode to the point where I'm convinced they're trying to escape from my skull. My ear canals close, my nose plugs up and my eyeballs are being shoved right out of their sockets. I've found a short film that better
articulates my agony.

11:05 AM - If there's a silver lining, at least it was a short flight. By the time we reach baggage claim, my sinuses had returned to their usual level of unpleasantness that passes for "normal" by my infirmed standards. Besides, the number of socks, sandals and fanny-pack bumpkins posing for pictures under the giant "Phoenix Welcomes Wrestlemania XXVI" banners could put a derisive smile on anyone's mug.

Next: A's v. Diamondbacks! Aaron v. his boss! And, the longest car ride of my life!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

30 A's in 30 Days: 2010 Oakland A's Prediction

Offense: Less than 24 hours ago, the A's future endeavored DFA'd starting DH Caveman Jack Cust and handed the job to erstwhile third baseman Eric Chavez. (I'm not sure what's more disheartening: watching Cust -- who I like -- burn his bridges or reading that Chavez first learned of the move from the media, not his manager). Anyways, scoring runs was already going to be this team's Achilles heel and now the middle of the order has fallen from "American League shaky" to "National League capable". C Kurt Suzuki (career SLG: .398) is the team's projected #3 hitter. 1B Daric Barton and SS Cliff Pennington are unproven at the plate over an entire big league season. The A's opening day OF (Ryan Sweeney, Rajai Davis and Travis Buck) has 36 career home runs, combined. This team will be more fun to watch than the exhumed corpses that started the 2009 season, but unless MLB has started counting entertainment moral victories as real wins...

Defense: The free agent signing of OF Coco Crisp (expected to miss up to the season's first eight weeks with a fractured finger) and the acquisition of 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff were made with an emphasis on run prevention. The A's are solid up the middle with Suzuki behind the plate, the eternally underrated glove work of Mark Ellis at second base and Crisp or Davis in CF. Thankfully, the comedic defensive stylings of Jason Giambi, Bobby Crosby and Adam Kennedy on the infield corners in 2009 is no more.

Starting Pitching: The A's will open with a rotation of Ben Sheets, Justin Duchscherer, Dallas Braden, Brett Anderson and Gio Gonzalez. If everyone's healthy (Sheets, Duke and Braden are all coming off of injuries) and has their head on straight (Gonzalez is wound pretty tight and can be temperamental on the field) this could be a strong set of arms. It's foolish, though, to count on universal health for a team that's had so much trouble keeping guys on the field in recent years. And, when the best case scenario for the A's $10 million ace is dealing him at the trade deadline, it's hard to get my hopes up.

Bullpen: AL Rookie of the Year Andrew Bailey is the closer, but after that, every relievers' role will be up in the air for the season's first few weeks. 22-year-old Tyson Ross (a top 10 A's prospect, according to most accounts) breaks camp as a set-up man and Brad Ziegler's "groundballosity" will be back in the middle innings. They'll be better when Michael Wuertz (opening the season on the DL) returns and pushes one of the current bullpen question marks (Edwar Ramirez, Chad Gaudin) off the roster.

Prediction: 73-89, 4th place.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

TBG TV: FOX's Animation Domination – 03/28/2010

Sunday's Rankings (5-3-2-1 scoring)

(1) Family Guy ("Brian Griffin's House of Payne") - I've bashed a fair amount of Family Guy episodes this season, so I should point out that it isn't faint praise when I call this the best episode in some time. I can't remember when everything clicked this effectively. The Stewie/spaceship intro – and its terrific finish involving Peter's "real" head – reminded me of how good the Stewie character was before the writers decided to drop the "evil genius" bit. The main story with Brian and his dealings with TV executives was funny from start to finish. Laughs came from everywhere, including a cameo from "pre-gone-crazy" Charlie Sheen and Officer Joe's attempt to assault Brian after watching the CBS-ized version of Brian's pilot.

(2) The Cleveland Show ("The Brown Knight") - It's one of the oldest sitcom plots out there (man and woman go out, man is physically threatened by another guy, woman inexplicably kicks other guy's ass, man now feels like less of a man until he somehow gets his manhood back) but, the writers managed to put a watchable spin on it. The opening sequence with Cleveland's cash-grab machine felt a little too much like Peter Griffin's Family Guy shenanigans, though. Things picked up after the first few minutes with an entertaining Tila Tequila cameo, some Dan Rather mocking and a frantic debate about the technological limits of YouTube.

(3) The Simpsons ("The Greatest Story Ever D'ohed") - There was only ONE thing I didn't like about this episode. I enjoyed Krusty's realization that Jews don't believe in hell. I dug the brief "Veggie Tales" hallucination scene. I was even pulled in by the done-to-death "Homer angers Marge to the point where Marge comes this close to finally leaving Homer before everything's worked out in the end (with Ned Flanders gamely substituting for Marge this week)" storyline. All that kept The Simpsons out of the top spot was the grating guest spot from Sacha Baron Cohen. In just one 30-minute episode, I can better appreciate how white people feel about Stuart Scott and Chris Tucker and how African-Americans feel towards white people they've never before heard of until they say something kinda-sorta derogatory towards black people. We'll never forgive you, Fuzzy Zoeller.

MVP: Brian Griffin wins the pretend trophy. He remains the best written character on Family Guy from week to week. I'm sure Seth MacFarlane is plotting a spin-off as part of his mad quest to add an eighth day of televised programming to the FOX schedule.

Quote of the Night: "Let's see: take my family to a war zone, on a bus filled with religious lame-ohs, in a country with no pork and in a desert with no casinos. Oooh, where do I sign up?!" - Homer Simpson (The Simpsons)

Current Standings

The Simpsons – 60
The Cleveland Show – 49
Family Guy – 38
American Dad! – 30

Friday, April 2, 2010

TBG Eats: The (Test-Marketed) Breakfast Pita from Jack in the Box

Current Weight: 166.8 lbs.

Y'know, for a guy who claims he's
no longer a big breakfast guy, I sure eat a lot of big breakfasts.

But, there are a couple of attractive variables in play with Jack in the Box's new Breakfast Pita that make it hard to resist its high-sodium siren song.

Y'see, me and JitB have some pita history together. 25 years ago, America was immersed in dozens of newfangled food n' drink fads. The mid-1980s were an all-out gastronomical marketing assault on the senses. Most folks remember the high-profile failures (
New Coke, McDLT). Others don't remember the brief, inexplicable pop culture impact of items from the era that are still hanging around today (rice cakes, Jolt Cola, frozen yogurt).

Here in 2010, fajitas are one of the most ubiquitous casual dining menu options out there. A generation ago, the concept of being served a still-sizzling skillet of meat was mind-blowing. Customers weren't privy to the preparation process at establishments like Bob's Big Boy, Sizzler or Friendly's. For all we knew, their meals might've been pre-prepared and then warmed under heat lamps. They might've been someone else's erroneous order turned around and sent to your table.

But, fajitas were proof that your meal was freshly-prepared and piping hot! And, if you ordered fajitas, every head in the restaurant would turn towards your table when they arrived – skirt steak was practically a status symbol. I am not making this up.

The fast food industry was falling over themselves in attempts to profit from fajitas. Tex-Mex-ploitation, if you will. The Naugles/Del Taco chain actually beat Taco Bell to the punch with their introduction of fajita burritos and salads. Meanwhile, Jack in the Box rolled out the Chicken Fajita Pita. It was just chicken strips topped with Americanized taco condiments (lettuce, tomatoes, cheese) and crammed into a pita pocket, but JitB struck gold with the corny/catchy name and low calorie content.

In junior high and high school, I lived less than a block away from a Jack in the Box and put away more Chicken Fajita Pitas than I care to remember. So, of course, I'm on board for the breakfast version. And, then I find out that San Diego is part of a
limited test market for the new Breakfast Pita…? I live in San Diego! I majored in marketing at San Diego State University! I must eat this pita!

The Breakfast Pita is the definition of "no-frills food" – scrambled eggs, ham, bacon and cheese stuffed in a pita. It didn't look "unappetizing" as much as it looked "uninteresting". All the ingredients just…sitting there.

Picking up the irksome tradition of most fast food breakfast burritos, the eggs were 85-90% of the pita population. If these were Mrs. Bootleg's cheesy, buttery, Tabasco-y scrambled eggs, I wouldn't be complaining, but I doubt there were three cracked eggs, a fork and a bowl back behind the Jack in the Box counter.

There's simply not enough breakfast meat in the Breakfast Pita to make it any more substantial than a snack. The pita pocket, however, wipes out any positive points I might've issued for JitB pita nostalgia alone. I know that "cardboard" is one of the most overused food critiques, but it'll never be more appropriate than now. The taste, the texture, the Simpsons

"Hey, that's my lucky red hat sitting on top of a double-corrugated, eight-fold, fourteen-gauge box!"

Namesake breakfast items are a bad idea, Jack in the Box.

Grade: 1 (out of 5)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

After 30 Days, Even *I'm* Getting Sick of Baseball

Thanks to everyone for indulging me with last month's all-baseball, all-the-time TBG theme. I promise to minimize the national pastime talk for awhile -- while maintaining my Cal Ripken-esque "consecutive days with a post" streak.

Starting tomorrow.

With a brief return on Sunday, when I post my A's win-loss prediction piece.

For now, be sure to check out the exhaustive team-by-team 2010 baseball preview over at Inside Pulse. I wouldn't be endorsing it if I hadn't contributed write-ups for Los Angeles Angels, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, San Diego Padres and... a MYSTERY team.

Here's the deal: if y'all read that, I'll start working on my Arizona/Las Vegas travel diaries and the half-dozen or so food reviews I've been sitting on for the last few weeks. Cool? Cool.