Sunday, May 30, 2010

That Boutonnière Deformity Guy

Nine months ago, I injured my finger while roughhousing with my six-year-old son.

(Most of you know this explanation isn't entirely true, but it's my new and improved and truncated account going forward. For the record: NO ONE loves to laugh at himself more than I do, but whenever I've gone
into greater detail, the reactions from friends and co-workers has been what can only be called a cross between "skeptical" and "litigious" -- Wait…what? You poked your son with your finger? How hard do you have to poke him to tear a tendon? So, it'll be "roughhousing" from here on out.)

Almost two months ago, I finally had an MRI. In keeping with my new brief, but borderline truth-obfuscating explanations,
the MRI went well.

Eleven days ago – some 260 days after the initial injury – a hand specialist spent 20 minutes with me and provided what four doctors before him couldn't: an accurate diagnosis.

(Admittedly, my medical expectations were tempered when my eye caught the unmistakable couch-sized sight of a dot matrix printer behind the desk of the specialist's receptionist. But, this doctor had obviously reallocated funds from 21st century administrative technology to extra night classes at
Hollywood Upstairs Medical College.)

I'm the proud owner of a left pinky finger with a
Boutonnière deformity – yes, like the flower a man wears on his lapel. And, I'd like to shout out everyone in my office who has brought back so many forced, unfunny floral jokes at my expense. It's been 25 years since Janet Wood last turned off the lights at her flower shop on Three's Company and equally as long since Hightower from Police Academy worked as a florist for strictly ironic reasons.

From the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) website:

Boutonnière deformity is an injury to the tendons in your fingers that usually prevents the finger from fully straightening. The result is that the middle joint of the injured finger bends down, while the fingertip bends back. Unless this injury is treated promptly, the deformity may progress, resulting in permanent deformity and impaired functioning.

Or, as my doctor succinctly stated:

"This is a complex injury. I wish we had treated you much sooner."

In fact, the AAOS website recommends treatment no later than three weeks after the injury or development of the deformity, ominously declaring it becomes "much more difficult to treat" after 21 days. I injured my finger in August 2009…am I still within the window?

The specialist didn't want to perform surgery before first sending me to 4-6 weeks of physical therapy. One thing I learned from last year's
Samter's Triad Storyline: doctors are determined to exhaust every possible co-pay before considering surgery.

Last Thursday, I went to my first physical therapy session.

Now, I know that I've got some readers in the industry, so try not to retroactively laugh at my ignorance here: I was mildly surprised to find myself sitting in such close proximity to other patients receiving physical therapy. No walls, no curtains, no privacy. I was filling out paperwork while a woman – not more than 15 feet from me – was in tears from the work being done on her neck and shoulder.

My physical therapist walked me through my issues and I appreciated his candor with regards to the previous months of medical missteps ("You were being treated for the wrong injury.") and the likelihood that physical therapy would help me avoid surgery ("At best, it's 50/50.")

One more thing I appreciated: I was required to dip my left hand in paraffin wax and then cover it with a hot towel for 10 minutes. Afterwards, even though my finger still looked rigidly mangled, it temporarily felt loose and free for the first time in forever. Mrs. Bootleg later told me that she pays "good money" (from her part-time job) for paraffin wax treatments. I'm this close to going with her next time, just to resurrect that tired
Chris Rock bit ("How much fo' one hand?!").

The physical therapist gave me a series of flexion/extension exercises to "stretch" the tendons and straighten out the finger. Friday morning, I performed these exercises for the first time. Initially, my finger turned purple – a "Black History Month" kind of accomplishment for an African-American – and then, my whole hand swelled like a latex glove filled with water.

The next few days haven't been nearly as bad, but tonight, Mrs. Bootleg had to turn away from the real-time color change that was occurring at the top of my injured digit.

I'm looking forward to holding my surgical scars just inches from her face in a few weeks months whenever.

Friday, May 28, 2010

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

Hoping my true m***af****s know...
This be the realest sh*t I ever wrote

--Makaveli, "Against All Odds"

Part I -- Part II -- Part III -- Part IV -- Part V -- Part VI

Monday, March 22

9:00 AM - It's been awhile since the last installment of this "7-Day Travel Diary" -- and it's been even longer since these trips actually happened -- so, I'll forgive you if you've forgotten that back in Part XXXIX (after we'd just touched down in Phoenix) my boss was frantically attempting to reach me on my cell phone. His voice mails included the standard "I'm your superior" intimidation-disguised-as-adjectives such as "critical", "imperative" and "urgent". I'm back in the office, so he and I can finally have the conversation I avoided for 48-72 hours.

Boss: "One of your customers was repeatedly trying to reach you while you were out last week."

Me: "I checked my phone. That customer called me FIVE times over a 30-minute period from 11:30 AM to 12:00 PM. As far as anyone knows, I could've been on my lunch hour. And, she was calling because SHE owed ME information. Her freaked-out response doesn't deserve this much attention."

Boss: "Just remember -- if you're going to be gone, make sure you have a delegate to work your desk, an out-of-office greeting on your phone and an auto-response set up on your email."

Me: "I did ALL of that! Why are you putting so much credence on a crazy woman's irrational ranting? She was trying to give me information and she could've left it on my voice mail."

9:30 AM - My boss and I went around and around on this for more than 15 minutes. I got back to my desk -- certain I wasn't in the wrong here -- and opened my email to find that in the time it took me to walk the 80 paces from my boss' office back to mine, he'd clicked "send" on an email that began:

"If you're going to be gone, make sure you have a delegate to work your desk, an out-of-office greeting on your phone and an auto-response set up on your email..."

And, he was courteous enough to send it to his entire staff.

Tuesday, March 23

12:00 PM - Back at the airport, flying to Las Vegas for a conference with my biggest customer. Layoff notices were issued earlier in the day and I was genuinely concerned. Unfortunately, one of my favorite people in the office was let go, while the only "change" in my employment status came in the form of a spot-on
Vince McMahon impersonation left on the voice mail of my cell phone from one of my co-workers.

12:30 PM - I've always been torn on the black guy who shines shoes at the airport. Yes, he offers a much-needed service to pretentious, image-conscious business travelers such as me. On the other hand, I feel more than a little uncomfortable supporting one of the last surviving 1930s Negro archetypes. It's the same reason why I can't listen to any rapper who came out after 2004.

1:30 PM - Mother Nature makes up for an otherwise uneventful flight by creating a violently aggressive crosswind that invisibly bludgeons the sides of the airplane upon our descent. Most of y'all know that I'm already a lousy flyer -- the curse of growing up in the 1980s when every fourth or fifth flight seemed to get hijacked, crashed or was
disintegrated by a vengeful Decepticon. It's a small miracle that I managed to keep my panic attack to myself. Someday soon, I will be forcibly sedated (NSFW!) on a flight.

2:30 PM - This is a map of the
MGM Grand resort, where I'll be spending the next 24 hours. I needed to know the location of several large conference rooms and a few smaller company-specific business suites. Two dozen men and women are working the front desk so, of course, I end up with the one who greets me in unintelligible, heavily-accented English. The LAST thing I'd ever want to do is offend some of my readers by attempting to transcribe our exchange. Instead, I'll offend all of you by offering up this reasonable facsimile.

2:45 PM - There's a four-pack of wine coolers right outside my room. I'm not a 16-year-old high school sophomore named "Meagan" (or, for that matter, Mrs. Bootleg) so I leave the booze behind. Two bottles would be gone by the time I left my room a few hours later and the other two disappeared by the time I'd returned. Amoral activity in Sin City? Welcome to Obama's America.

5:30 PM - I have a LOT of work to fit into this evening and tomorrow morning, but my primary objective is to find some face time with the new contracts leadership group of the largest contract I manage. We'd played phone tag in the days leading up to the conference, but still hadn't synced up our schedules. So, imagine my surprise pissed-off'ed-ness when a high-ranking official from my company approached me downstairs:

"We need to talk. I just came out of a meeting with [the new contracts leadership group]."

For those scoring at home, this is the same executive who -- a week earlier -- had directed me to meet with this customer. Now, I'm getting kneecapped off my own contract.

6:30 PM - Still fuming, I lose my bearings long enough to stumble straight into the path of an Air Force Major who absolutely reams me (we work on the same program) as the two of us are pressed against a wall on the heavily-crowded concourse. He raises his voice above the din and, like any good military man, is loud enough for everyone to hear him, but scary enough for no one to dare look at him. We're off to a rip-roaring, rollicking start!

7:30 PM - Not to be outdone, I get verbally ambushed by a co-worker who cravenly waits until I'm out of my office and without any of his issue-specific files before he jumps all over me. Emboldened by his transparent attempt to look like a bad-ass at my expense, I get right into it with him. As far as business trips go, this one is slotting in right behind my excursion to Seattle in 1998. I spent a few hours in a bar, eating oysters, drinking scotch and smoking cigars. I spent the rest of that night doubled-over in full-spew, pelted by heavy rain in an alley behind the bar. For the rest of that business trip, I was alternating between various shades of green.

10:00 PM - Back to my room. In Las Vegas. BAC = 0.00, gambling losses = 0.00. And, I have to prepare for tomorrow's meetings. Your 11 1/2 year reign is over, 1998 Seattle. We have a new winner.

Wednesday, March 24

8:00 AM - The $13 room service breakfast burrito at the MGM Grand was, without hyperbole, the best thing about this trip. (Distant second = not getting fired.) It was as long as your arm and overstuffed with all the important parts of a pig (sausage, bacon and ham), hash browns, onions, green & red peppers, scrambled eggs, jalapeños and bucket-sized sides of guacamole, sour cream and fresh salsa. I obliterated every edible thing on that tray. (Grade: 500 (out of 5))

9:00 AM - I still haven't crossed paths with the contracts leadership group that I'm supposed to meet. Now, they're out-and-out ignoring my voice mails, so I break out Batman's deductive skill set. Based on previous discussions, I know I'm looking for three people: an older, more experienced hand and two younger contract administrators. Dozens of attendees are standing around sipping their morning coffee and lazily checking email on their laptops before the meetings commence.

9:30 AM - My hunch inexplicably pays off when I come across three people -- sitting together -- whose names on their Starbucks cups matches the names of my desired targets. I introduce myself and for the next hour -- by the relaxed standards of an informal, impromptu meeting -- blow their minds with my level of preparation and program knowledge. I haven't had this much job satisfaction since I could pour a perfect six-inch soft-serve cone when I managed that frozen yogurt shop in Long Beach, y'all.

7:00 PM - I'm back in San Diego when I realize I never picked up a gift for Mrs. Bootleg or the boy. Truth be told, I've driven 30 minutes north from the airport and I'm less than two miles from home when I realize this. Those of you who know my wife can follow-up if you wish, but I stopped at a drugstore and got Mrs. Bootleg
this and got Jalen this. I am not making this up.

Then again, if you've made it this far, you already knew that.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

TBG TV: Lost -- "The End"

It was one thing to be completely outclassed by the legions of more talented writers who had write-ups of the Lost finale completed almost as soon as the episode's end-credits were rolling last Sunday night. It was another to watch two bloggers who -- at different times -- have been my colleagues, co-pilots and inspiration completely knock it out of the park. If you haven't read the long-form Lost thoughts of Tom Daniels over at One New York Life and Joe Reid at Low Resolution, you're missing out.

Way to make my "Three Things..." format look like a sack of crap, by comparison. Jerks.

Three Things I Dug:

The Last 15 Minutes: By now, you've heard everyone else's criticism of the series-concluding church scene. It was either "too ambiguous", "not ambiguous enough" or -- my favorite "too sappy". There's a kernel of accuracy in all three points, I guess, but since the whole sequence was essentially an epilogue to the much, MUCH larger story, I felt free to appreciate it on its own (and without the context of the season-long flash-sideways machinations that ostensibly brought the viewers to this point). My real-time reaction, scene-by-scene: Locke forgives Ben (me: clenching jaw, won't allow myself to cry). Ben declines an invitation to join the rest of the cool island kids inside (me: shaking head, won't allow myself to cry). Ben and Hurley exchange contrived "you da man" platitudes (me: "meh"). Deceased Jack hugs his deceased father (me: not quite the emotional monsoon brought on by the Six Feet Under finale, but still a two-fisted shot to my tear ducts).

Dark Locke: Terry O'Quinn's performance this season was simply superb. He could've been played -- and written -- as a two-dimensional homicidal maniac and I doubt viewers would've blinked an eye. Instead, O'Quinn played the character with a burning fuse AND a nuanced, off-kilter code of honor. His threat to kill Rose and Bernard ("I'll make it hurt.") was blissfully cool and unemotional. I loved the look of silent paranoia in his eyes when Ben's walkie-talkie crackled with muffled static. And, the brilliant sadism in stabbing Jack just off the side of the abdomen -- ensuring a slow, painful bleeding out (as TV and movies have taught me over the years) -- was a pitch-perfect d*ck move in line with the character. I'm not gonna lie: I was rooting for him.

They Live: It was nice to see a handful of secondary characters make it off the island alive. Going into the finale, my fear was that the show would take one of two possible directions: (1) kill off everyone or (2) kill off everyone except Jack, Kate, Sawyer and Hurley. I suppose I could nitpick at the season-long underutilization of Miles or Lapidus' continued survival for convenience or Richard's motivation from self-loathing, but all three served a purpose in the endgame. And, in the "damning with faint praise" pantheon of television plot points, there's a window seat waiting for all three.

Three Things I Didn't Dig:

The Dialogue: Admittedly, I've beaten the dialogue point to death over the years. That said, I simply can't ignore groaners like Kate's "I saved one bullet for YOU!" declaration to Dark Locke after she popped one in his heart. And, while I've appreciated this show's wink-wink self-awareness at times, I thought Dark Locke's "You're the obvious choice!" quip in regards to Jack accepting the role of "new Jacob" was a little too cute for its own good.

The Running at Each Other Thing: Loved the Jack v. Dark Locke fight sequence. Hated seeing the two of them running right at each other just before the fight sequence started. It was a cheesy visual and eerily reminiscent of a
popular ad campaign from 15 years ago. That Lost cut to a commercial right before the irresistible force collided with the immovable object only added to the cornball quotient.

A Few Plot Holes for the Road: I'm not a doctor, but I'd think the contents of a tranquilizer dart mixed with whatever number Sideways Charlie was likely to blow into a Sideways Breathalyzer at any given time should've killed him. And, how did the castaways get that big-ass tree off of Ben? And, how was Ben upright and walking -- his sternum seemingly intact -- after that big-ass tree fell on him?

The Verdict: On the one hand, I could quibble with the shove-it-down-my-throat establishment of the mythological components this season (or the series-long elements of unsolved mysteries) that was rendered moot with the overt "it was the CHARACTERS that mattered" theme from the series finale. Instead, I'll offer that Lost was a fun -- sometimes flawed -- ride that ended in a satisfying place for me. Can't ask for more than that.

Monday, May 24, 2010

TBG Eats: The NEW Bacon & Blue Burger from Wendy's

Current Weight: 169.0 lbs.

Here are my five favorite salad dressings – in ascending order:

(5) – Trader Joe's Reduced Fat Cilantro: Even though this is (a) mass-produced salad dressing in a bottle; (b) reduced fat and (c) sans actual cilantro, Trader Joe's neon-green salad topping has been my infrequent lunch date for the past few years. Add this to any salad and mix in some cayenne-dusted chicken breast and tortilla strips. You'll thank me later. And, yes, I'm well aware that this salad dressing is actually a
25-year-old Canadian import.

(4) – Honey Mustard: You wouldn't know it from my emaciated frame, but I'm a big fan of those 2,000-calorie salads served at America's favorite casual dining restaurants. My favorite is pretty much any variation on the fried chicken salad. I think it's called "The Haystack" at Hard Rock Café and there are a few regional chains here on the west coast that call it a "country chicken salad". You're sure to be embarrassed if you're with me when I order one. I fork-dip each piece of deep-fried yard bird into the honey mustard dressing (which I always order on the side) and then drown my salad with the remaining dressing – that's now greasy and filled with breaded shrapnel. YUM!

(3) – Thousand Island: Considering I spent most of my pre-teen years in a long embrace with obesity, it's not surprising that some of my earliest childhood memories of my grandparents include Sunday dinner and their homemade thousand island dressing. I had to be the only six-year-old who looked forward to the side order of salad. Theirs was incredibly flavorful, wonderfully chunky and – on occasion – loaded with crumbled bacon. Years later, I was raving about this dressing to my girlfriend at the time. She could barely stifle her laughter before she broke my heart: "Thousand island? That's just ketchup, mayonnaise and a hard-boiled egg." You forgot an ingredient, Kelli. It's called "love". THAT'S why we're no longer together.

(2) – Caesar: In the rambling, non-review part of a
previous food review, I mentioned that – at the behest of another then-girlfriend – I gave up red meat for a few years. At the time, the entrée-size Chicken Caesar salad became my restaurant fallback. Looking back, it's hard to believe I ever landed Mrs. Bootleg with the amount of garlic, parmesan, black pepper and – on occasion – anchovies that was on my breath. Fortunately, this was at the tail end of my college years and the not-so-subtle stank of Bud Ice or Rolling Rock usually cancelled out Caesar's scent.

(1) – Blue Cheese: I'd always been on good terms with blue cheese, but, growing up, we never really had it in my house. My dad was all about Italian dressing. Blue cheese was that fancy-dan condiment in the oddly-long jar with Bob's Big Boy and his checkerboard belly
on the front. Back in 2002, while on a business trip to Austin, Texas, I was served something called a "blue cheese wedge" salad. I'd never had one before and I've never forgotten it since. Now, I don't even need it to be dressing. Show me a salad with crumbled blue cheese and I'm on board.

Speaking of which, have you heard about Wendy's new Bacon and Blue burger? (Hey, it only took about 500 words to get here.) According to Wendy's website:

Fresh, never frozen beef covered in real blue cheese crumbles layered with four strips of thick, fresh-cooked Applewood Smoked Bacon. Topped off with sautéed onions, a creamy steakhouse sauce, lettuce and tomato.

Blue cheese, bacon, sautéed onions and a creamy sauce of some kind. Together, this should've been the easiest "5" score ever achieved. Instead, this burger never really came together for me.

As usual, I'd ordered at the drive-thru window and hoped like hell that the 10-minute drive back to Stately Bootleg Manor would give the ingredients a chance to blend together and meld flavors. Unfortunately, the onions remained stiffly positioned atop the bacon, which – tragically – had no effect on the dry bits of blue cheese. The creamy sauce of some kind couldn't even be bothered to absorb into the bun. Everything was just…there.

Separately, the ingredients were decent enough, but this might be the biggest missed opportunity in "TBG Eats'" lightly-read run. In my heart, I believe there's greatness buried within this burger. I'm inclined to give it a second chance to impress me, but for now…

Grade: 3 (out of 5) Calories: 690 Fat: 42g

Sunday, May 23, 2010

TBG TV: LOST -- Kinda-Sorta Series Finale Spoilers!

Because the above title sounds 10% sexier than "Some Random Guesses at What'll Happen on Lost Tonight". And, before any of you start rolling your eyes, I'd like y'all to remember that god-awful Mel Gibson/Julia Roberts thriller, Conspiracy Theory. Everyone thought Jerry Fletcher's wild-eyed accusations were no more than crazy-man ranting...until he was FINALLY right (about one thing out of, like, a bazillion).

Juliet = Sideways Jack's Ex-Wife -- Other than Entertainment Weekly's network-sanctioned post-episode write-ups of incessant positivity, I don't follow Lost all that closely on the interwebs. For all I know, this could be common knowledge. But, I first heard m'man
Daniels propose this plot twist after Sideways Jack's son was revealed earlier this season.

Jack is NOT the 'Ch-Ch-Chosen One' -- Last week's "passing of the torch Manischewitz" scene between Jack and Jacob seemed...too convenient. There should be more conflict -- internal AND external -- with a decision that ostensibly orbits the entire point of the show. Jack won't end up as protector of the island, but the writers will frame it in such a way that makes him look better than whoever ends up as island champion. (I believe it's been 20 years, since Hollywood
set the standard for this specific angle.)

Sideways Locke = New Jacob -- For you lemmings who don't believe this'll make a lick of sense, try to imagine it happening tonight on Lost and not as ill-informed conjecture from a lightly-read blogger looking to fill space on a Sunday morning. Hurley's my dark horse choice here. His "glad it wasn't me" line after losing out on last week's "new Jacob lottery" seemed like an obvious swerve set-up.

Ben = New Smokey -- This one's a stretch, I'll admit, but the "light v. dark" dynamic is the one constant surrounding the very existence of the island and someone's got to ascend (descend?) to the evil throne. I hesitate to commit fully to this idea, because Island Ben appears to be...up to something. I'm not sure his current motives are entirely evil...well, once you look past the whole "killing Widmore" thing. Ben seemed to intentionally wait to shoot Widmore until he (Widmore) told Dark Locke about Desmond -- thereby saving his daughter, Penny, in the process.

The Final Scene -- I read that the writers had mapped out the series' final scene not long after negotiating the end date with ABC. Would I put it past them to lift the opening sequence from the season five finale? The one that showed Jacob and The Man in Black having a pleasant conversation on the beach while politely establishing their immortal "Road Runner v. Wile E. Coyote" relationship? Just put Locke and Ben in those roles and quick-cut to black. There ya go.

Friday, May 21, 2010

TBG Travel Diary: 10 Things I Learned Last Weekend

I Don't Hate Disneyland Anymore -- In late December 2006, just before Jalen's third birthday, Mrs. Bootleg and I took the boy to Disneyland. You... might've read about the experience. This time, we didn't go during any of the standard "California-kids-are-out-of-school" stretches like Christmas vacation, spring break or my home state's three-dozen randomly scheduled and ill-defined "teacher workshop" days. In addition, Jalen's watched enough National League baseball while living in San Diego and better appreciates extended waits for something -- anything -- to happen. As a result, he was much more accepting of an occasionally moderate line for a ride. Most importantly, Mrs. Bootleg took her figurative foot off the gas pedal and refrained from her usual attempts to force "family fun, fun, FUN!" down our throats.

Disneyland is Infinitely MORE Fun with Two Families -- Mrs. Bootleg intentionally scheduled this trip on the same weekend that my Oakland A's were playing the hated Angels just a few miles from The Happiest Place on Earth. She even pre-stamped my kitchen pass and OK'd two evening outings to Angel Stadium, including a Friday night game that started at 7:05 PM. This posed a problem, as I felt a tinge of guilt over abandoning my family to meet m'man Smitty. Thankfully, one of Mrs. Bootleg's girlfriends drove up from San Diego that afternoon with her twin boys (and Disneyland season passes) in tow. I got my baseball game and the wife got her all-day (and most of the night) theme park excursion. Win-win (assuming one throws out the final score of the baseball game).

Disneyland's Coffee is Crazy Good -- I didn't have a chance to make a pot before we hit the road last Friday; so I ordered a cup of coffee with my lunch at an island-themed restaurant called "Pizza Oom Mow Mow" over on the California Adventure side of the park. (This was authentic island cuisine that included descriptive words such as "cowabunga", "tubular" and "Big Kahuna" on the menu. And, served pizza.) The coffee was richly roasted, strong but not bitter and hotter than Hades. I'd put it amongst my top five coffees, alongside the dark roast from Dunkin' Donuts, the Pike's from Starbucks and "the coffee from that one place that no one knows about that's SO much better than the 'corporate coffee' running all the independent brewers out of business!" That about cover it, coffee snobs?

I'll Soon be Blogging about my Bad Back -- There's a ride at California Adventure called
Mulholland Madness. On the 10-point roller coaster scale of crazy, it's a solid "5": no loops, a few dips, some crazy-sharp turns and very kid-friendly. We rode it twice. Here's the face that Mrs. Bootleg was making during the first fall. Here's what Jalen had to say after our second ride: "It made my penis feel funny." It's been a week and my back is still barking a bit. A weekend filled with long car rides and cramped ballpark seats didn't help, so for those of you who continue to respectfully inquire "what ailment are you going to incessantly b*tch about THIS year, p***y?", now you know. Wait a minute...that's not respectful at all!

There is Nothing "Live" About Seeing the Oakland A's Offense Live -- On
Friday night, our cleanup hitter entered the game with two home runs. Our number three hitter was slugging .402. Our designated hitter was a 24-year-old rookie with just 24 career plate appearances under his belt. Joe Saunders and his 6.19 ERA took the mound for the Angels. In just a tick over two hours, Saunders -- whose ERA was 8.31(!) in his previous four starts -- shutout the A's on four hits. Smitty and I weren't entirely sure the sun had completely set as we left the stadium.

We Can't Let 'Sick Jalen' Infect Another Vacation -- I inexplicably beat Mrs. Bootleg and the boy back to our room on Friday night. Jalen was exhibiting all of his usual "'bout to catch a cold" symptoms: machine-gun sneezes, dazed lethargy and quarts of congestion. Mrs. Bootleg doesn't always like to fill Jalen full of drugs, but...well, y'see...I'd already paid for two tickets to Saturday night's A's/Angels game. I needed a reasonably-healthy Jalen to at least give me five innings (an official game!) so that Mrs. Bootleg could get a break and so I could realize some return on my sleep-inducing investment. In summary, we drugged Jalen up pretty good on Friday and then bought more meds at a CVS on Saturday morning.

The Cheesecake Factory Should Only Serve Cheesecake -- I've probably eaten a half-dozen meals at The Cheesecake Factory and I've never once been impressed. The food's eminently edible, but it's not worth the crazy-long wait for a table (usually more than 60 minutes here in San Diego). We stayed within walking distance of a Cheesecake Factory in Anaheim, so we did Saturday lunch there with no wait. The picture above is all that remained from my 10-inch breakfast burrito. On my "TBG Eats" scale, it was probably a 2 or 2.5 -- filled with an unexceptional chicken chorizo that had the look and texture of

I was starving, though, so I swallowed it whole. The Key Lime cheesecake remains my go-to dessert here: creamy green in color, tangy and tart in taste. It might sound like I'm describing an infectious disease, but...y'know, I really have no retort here.

I'm a Good Father! -- Jalen was about 80% when we left for the ballpark late Saturday afternoon. When we arrived, we stood alongside the first base line as A's third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff warmed up by running in short bursts back and forth from foul to fair territory. He came over to sign for the small crowd of fans and Jalen gently pushed and shoved his way to the front of the group. Kouzmanoff not only brushed off the usher's "tut-tutting" of Jalen's exuberance, but he happily complied with Jalen's freaked-out request to sign the ball in ballpoint, not Sharpie ("Use MY pen!"). As Jalen turned to leave, I gave him the standard "now, what do you say?" prompting, to which Kouzmanoff responded, "Oh, he said 'thank you'. Don't worry, you're a good dad. You taught him well." AIEEEEEEEEEEEE! (After the game, another dad who'd brought his kids to the game and sat right in front of us, walked up to me and said, "You did a great job with your son, tonight." Since he's not playing for my favorite team, his words meant a little bit less to me.)

I Can Predict the Apocalypse -- The A's starting pitcher for the evening was supposed to be Justin Duchscherer -- fresh from the disabled list after injuring his left hip in late April. I watched him play long-toss with catcher Landon Powell before the game and noticed that his long-tosses were coming up a few feet short. I didn't think much of it and Duchscherer was introduced during the pre-game with the rest of the A's starters. Then, as the A's took the field in the bottom of the first, rookie reliever Tyson Ross took the mound -- Duchscherer had been scratched with a flare-up of his hip injury. I'd never, ever, ever been more certain of a
blowout loss and said as much to Jalen. Sure enough, A's manager Bob Geren left Ross in for an inning too long and Chad Gaudin was tasked with "taking one for the team" in a long-relief appearance so bad that he was DFA'd the next day. 12-3, Angels. But, I did a great job with my son, tonight. Can I trade that for 10 more runs?

Don't Schedule "Little League Day" during a Dodgers v. Padres Game -- After two ballgames in Anaheim and a trip to Disneyland, Mrs. Bootleg was convinced that we could drive back down to San Diego in the morning and make the 11:30 AM Little League parade around the field at the Padres' Petco Park (which would precede my third game in three days). Players from every Little League team from every Little League district in San Diego County comingled with the usual 30,000+ that a Dodgers v. Padres game brings. When we were told that no more teams could march; Mrs. Bootleg threw our group into the moving queue of kids, practically daring security to stop her. The scene inside was equal parts family picnic and prison riot (Dodgers fans, represent!). I still managed to grab one good mug shot, though.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

TBG TV: Lost -- "What They Died For"

Three Things I Dug:

A Glass of Lemonade: The brief scene with Dark Locke and Ben sitting on the front porch of a home smack dab in the middle of the former Dharma Initiative community was wonderfully performed. On the one hand, there was Locke -- now the embodiment of evil -- offering up the island to Ben if he agreed to kill "some people" as casually as one would broker a trade of baseball cards. On the other hand, watching the manipulative, self-serving wheels turning in Ben's head was like seeing an old homicidal friend again. The dialogue was sparse, but succinct and it's good to know that the endgame -- to some degree -- will feature more of the complex Locke/Ben dynamic.

Welcome Back, Ben: My favorite Ben moment of the week had nothing to do with killing, betrayal or any of his other defining characteristics. Early on, as Richard is helpfully filling in the plot gaps for Widmore and Zoe, Ben shoots his former right-hand man this sideways look of incredulity. Ben's always been about holding the upper hand and it was good to see Widmore bring out the worst in him. Oh, and the killing and betrayal! Glorious! Not since the climactic scene of Superman II -- when Lex Luthor realigned with General Zod after a brief, whispering allegiance with the Man of Steel -- has a backstabbing been more instantaneous. Take that, Widmore! And, goodbye, Zoe! I'm sure the writers would've kept your annoying character around longer, but they ran out of objects for you to pop out from behind.

Sideways: While I'm still not entirely on board with one man (Desmond) serving as the Oceanic class reunion coordinator, I'm appreciative of the monumental leap forward in plot. Weird, though, that for all the "Oceanic character connections" that were established via flashbacks in the first few seasons, almost all of them were red herrings.

Three Things I Didn't Dig:

Desmond Beats Ben: It wasn't so much the particular scene, as it was the reason behind it. Desmond's trying to get all the sideways characters to remember their respective island experiences. But, what's with the...randomness of Desmond's methods? He plays love connection with Hurley and Libby; he runs over Locke in a parking lot; he nags Claire in a law office lobby. I dunno. Overthinking? Probably.

Creepy Boy Jacob: Yeah...the fewer reminders of last week's episode, the better.

Last Week's Episode: With a week's worth of hindsight, I'm having a harder time even understanding the point of "Across the Sea". During this week's fireside chat (where Jacob's terrifically d*ckish "your lives sucked, you were all flawed" exposition was delivered) everything about the light at the center of the island and the sketchy origin of the smoke monster was revealed. Even with the extra bit of background on both points -- and these are the MAIN points as we careen towards the climax -- I still don't think most of last week was even necessary. Jacob's speech this week could've easily stood alone.

The Verdict: I didn't have room to mention the sideways return of Rousseau, which had me smiling from ear-to-ear. Just a hell of an episode and the right amount of momentum has been generated for EVERYONE to be bitching about the series finale on Monday morning. I kid. See y'all, Sunday night!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

TBG Eats: The Original Bacon Explosion™

Current Weight: 168.8 lbs.

Here are the top three birthday gifts I've ever received (listed in chronological order):

My First 10-Speed Bike -- On a superficial level, growing up poor kind of sucked. My brother and I never owned name-brand clothes. My mother would add water to anything in hopes of getting a few more days worth of use out of a bottle of shampoo or a pot of chicken soup. And, I remain convinced that we were the last family on earth to own a microwave (1987), a VCR (1990) and an answering machine (1991). Of course, I love my parents. My brother and I never went hungry and always had a roof over our heads. For my 10th birthday, my parents bought me a fire-engine red 10-speed that instantly became the best-looking ride in our entire family. (Our family car at the time was a gold
1982 Subaru hatchback, be the judge.)

Optimus Prime -- My birthday is in late March, but it was during the Christmas before my 11th birthday when I absolutely begged my parents for an Optimus Prime Transformers action figure. He was ONLY the "
largest, wisest and strongest of ALL Autobots". So, it was no surprise to learn that he'd easily defeated my mom -- who has always been able to seamlessly transform into a procrastinating black woman during the holiday season. She told me before Christmas that every store in the city was sold out of Optimus Prime. That wasn't nearly as bad as watching my brother unwrap the ONE transformer that he wanted come Christmas morning. (And, THAT wasn't nearly as bad as unwrapping the consolation Xmas Transformer my mother ended up buying for me that year.) Prime finally arrived, roughly three months later, for my 11th birthday.

My Own Apartment -- On my 22nd birthday, I signed the papers for my first apartment. No roommates, no bed, no cable, no air conditioning. Let's call it a mixed blessing. I'd also just broken up with my girlfriend at the time, as life had handed me a double dose of freedom. (Oh, don't look at me like that. That girl was clinically batsh*t insane -- the kind that would leave voice mails saying, "You didn't call me to say 'good night'." See? Crazy.)

TBG reader and friend of That Bootleg Family, Mr. Brooks, is looking to crack my personal top three b-day gifts. A few weeks ago, a package arrived in the mail containing a bag of dry ice and a vacuum-sealed, fully-cooked product called the Original Bacon Explosion. It's basically a bacon-wrapped, bacon-stuffed Italian sausage loaf. Here, now, is a short film (featuring a member of the hair-band RATT) that better
articulates my emotions.

I could
read the recipe all day. It includes glorious words and phrases such as "thick cut", "yardbird" and "5 x 5 bacon weave". The pre-packaged finished product is indeed an aesthetically-pleasing image -- a freshly-knitted bacon blanket wrapped snugly around a beautiful biracial sausage n' bacon baby.

Per the instructions, I reheated it at 350 degrees for 40 minutes -- slathered it with most of a bottle of Jack Daniels honey barbecue sauce after the first 30 minutes and lightly drizzled the finished product with honey. The comingled scents of Italian sausage and bacon filled the downstairs of Stately Bootleg Manor. I couldn't help but think of our late cat Whiskers who, at the 20 minute mark, might've tried to climb into the oven. All that remained was the cooling and the cutting. Oh, and the eating.

If you've ever wondered what the clipped, profane phrase "F*** YEAH" translates to in flavor form; it's the salt n' fennel seed combination within the Bacon Explosion. The bacon used here isn't the pretentious high-end pig that gives bacon a bad name. This is good ol' "crispy in some parts, fatty in others" slices of piggy goodness. The bacon weave keeps the loose Italian sausage together as the smokiness of the bacon melds with the light spice of the sausage which nicely holds the sweetness of the barbecue sauce and honey.

This is one of those food items that'll unnecessarily spook all the nutritional prudes out there (I mean, it's not like it's ALL bacon), but if that means more for me, then I'll kindly ask Ezekiel and Ishmael (in accordance with their parents' wishes) to step out into the hall and
pray for our souls.

Grade: 5 (out of 5)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

TBG Eats: The NEW Whiplash Whopper from Burger King

Current Weight: 168.8 lbs.

Last weekend, my mom and my grandfather came down from Long Beach to Stately Bootleg Manor in San Diego for Mother's Day. It's an indescribable blessing to see my six-year-old son and his 84-year-old great-grandfather craft a relationship. In fact, my mom and grandfather made it down just in time for Jalen's final Little League game.

I was about Jalen's age when my grandfather introduced me to the game with a plastic pitching machine one Christmas. Thirty years later, here he is watching Jalen's insufferable showboating at the plate and on the basepaths while exclaiming to the complete strangers in the stands around him, "That's my great-grandson!"

Speaking of "indescribable blessings", the arrival of my mother and grandfather meant movie night (of the Jalen-free variety) for me and Mrs. Bootleg. And, yes, in MY house, "movie night" is a comparable "indescribable blessing" to the multi-generational span of my family's bloodlines.

Unfortunately, I couldn't convince Mrs. Bootleg to see Iron Man 2. Remember, this is a woman who's willingly gone along with
family vacations built around baseball games that don't count. Back when we were dating, I didn't exactly have to twist her arm to see this guy perform live. Hell, I wore her down to the point where she gleefully acknowledges Black History Month icon Booker Taliaferro Washington is only the second most recognizable Booker T. in our lives.

But, she wouldn't budge on her anti-Iron Man stance, so we saw The Losers, instead. (Terrific flick, by the way. Absolutely exhilarating…y'all should see it before I remember I'm supposed to be writing a fast food review here.)

Back in the day, I would've had additional firepower in my attempts to change my wife's mind. For decades, the fast food industry's standard summer movie crossover promotion was…glassware.

How could Mrs. Bootleg say "no" to Batman Forever after I presented her with the grotesque visage of Tommy Lee Jones (and the similarly unattractive half of his head that's all made-up like
Two-Face) chiseled out of molten glass? And, is there any doubt that she'd have been my date if I'd known her when The Great Muppet Caper was released?

Sadly, most of today's fast food movie tie-ins and giveaways are limited to the kids' menu. But, for the past several years, our friends at Burger King have served a modified version of their ubiquitous Whopper sandwich influenced by one of cinema's summer blockbusters.

In 2007, I reviewed BK's
Ultimate Double Whopper (The Simpsons Movie). In 2009, I covered the Angry Whopper (a re-released favorite originally tied-in to Ed Norton's Incredible Hulk). There was also a Whopper inspired by the fourth Indiana Jones movie, but we're all going to pretend that flick (and anything associated with it) never happened. Cool?

With Iron Man 2 in theaters (in case anyone reading this would like to go with me) Burger King has unleashed the Whiplash Whopper – named after the film's primary antagonist, ably played by the resuscitated Mickey Rourke. The burger is topped with [from the BK website]: "melted pepper jack cheese, crispy red peppers and spicy mayonnaise" along with lettuce and two slices of tomato.

The red peppers give off a decent amount of heat – and I'm not referencing the usually tepid fast food standard of "spicy", either. Their texture and "bite" work well with the meat and mayo (which, on the other hand, isn't all that spicy). Pepper jack cheese – even the processed variety here – is akin to bacon's dairy-based doppelganger: it simply makes everything better. In fact, a few strips of bacon would've positioned the Whiplash Whopper as 2010's fast food item to beat with roughly six months remaining.

Without the bacon, this is still a must-eat item before BK bounces it from the menu. I hope I can hold on to the memories until Iron Man 2 is released on DVD…or HBO or whenever I end up seeing it for the first time.

Grade: 5 (out of 5) Calories: 890 Fat: 59g

Friday, May 14, 2010

TBG Travel Diary: Disneyland Debacle!

We're off to Disneyland this weekend -- with a pair of wife-less side trips to Friday and Saturday's Angels vs. A's games thrown in for MY enjoyment. Hope y'all will indulge me on this ultra-rare, lazy-as-hell re-post from one of the first things I ever wrote for this lightly-read blog. From January 2007...

It's been exactly one week since The Bootlegs decided to spend the day at Disneyland.

For those of you who might not know, I'm a married father with a son who'll turn three next month. I would've written about this sooner, but it took until today for me to force all of the rage, hate and irritability out of my insides.

Try to imagine a kidney stone shaped like my wife n' son.

Mrs. Bootleg and I were both off last week, as was our son's daycare provider. This, in turn, forced us to dust off our daytime parenting tactics. And, unlike those 17-year-old single mothers, we don't have "high school" and "the mall" to fall back on.

Let the record show that what would come to be forever known as "The Disneyland Debacle" was my idea. The wife and child were merely willing participants who, over the course of the ensuing afternoon and evening, became Exhibits "A" and "B" in why the Black man abandons his family.

Things started out strongly as the boy slept for almost the entire ride up Interstate 5.

He woke up just as we were entering Anaheim and navigating the lunchtime traffic on the crowded city streets. The first sign, literally, of my impending apocalypse appeared about a mile from The Magic Kingdom:

Disneyland Park: SOLD OUT

Think about this for a moment…a theme park that specializes in 200% mark-ups for food, souvenirs and ticket prices has no more room for anyone else's money.

It's not even noon and my mood has turned. Not even the absolutely obligatory reference to "Wally World" at the end of National Lampoon's Vacation could calm me down and I'm pretty sure that I'm the one who made said reference.

At this point, we should've cut our losses and drove home. Instead, the wife insisted that we not "disappoint" our son. Keep in mind, this is the same child who enjoys gagging himself on ballpoint pens and old green pennies.

Let's just say he hasn't set the bar too high for "excitement".

We found a ticket broker amongst all the strip malls and seedy motels that surround the suburbs of "The Happiest Place on Earth". Think of it as the "Magic Kingdom's Moat". And, now, with tickets in hand we proceeded to park in the Pinocchio lot (for only eleven more dollars) and make the l-o-n-g walk to the shuttle, which was inexplicably slower than actually walking.

It took another 20 minutes just to get inside. Every bag, purse and pocket was searched, as those who didn't have at least $200 to spend were promptly turned towards the ATM.

Once inside, Mrs. Bootleg steered us towards what I only remember as "The Main Street Train". It's not really a "ride", so much as it's the train-shaped equivalent of those "people mover" ramps at the airport. Y'know…the ones where you pass on the left, stand on the right and no one who uses them can comprehend either of the two rules.

"Waiting" is the only rule for the train and it appears to be a concept our son hasn't quite captured.

Y'know those parents out in public who stand idly by while their kids completely lose their minds? Trust us…we want to kick our kid's ass. It's just that the 99% of you rooting for us to do so are outweighed by the one percent
CPS snitch ratio.

So, Jalen is wailing bloody murder until we actually get on the train, which turned the 10 minute wait into an eternity. As the train commenced with its snail-like circuitous route, I silently stewed and knew that I would rue this day.

After the train, we walked what had to be the equivalent of 70 city blocks and ended up at the carousel. Yes…the most famous theme park on earth and we're in line for the merry-go-round. True to form, it was 10 more minutes of Jalen throwing himself on the ground and incomprehensibly lamenting the fact that he had to wait his turn.

So, what's next? The famous spinning tea cups? Maybe, "It's a Small World?

Pfft…you fools.

How can one experience the uniqueness of Disneyland without first stopping by "Santa's Secret Village"? And, yes, I did make the observation that we could've seen Santa and a carousel at the mall that's 10 minutes from our townhouse.

Somehow…somehow…these three stops took more than three hours to make. It was almost sundown before we decided to head over to the especially kid-friendly
Toon Town section.

Now, I have a nice cross-section of readers, so let me say, without any exaggeration, that the walk from Santa to Toon Town was the equivalent of navigating a multi-ethnic mosh pit of fanny packs and Kodak cameras.

Upon our arrival in Toon Town, the sun had set and it was then that the temperature dropped about 80 degrees. My San Diego winter wear (baggy shorts, long-sleeve t-shirt) was no match for the dark side of the moon that Toon Town was built on.

The wife and child opted to visit Mickey Mouse in his "house" (expected wait: one hour) while I attempted to avoid the onset of frostbite. Considering Disneyland is the place "where dreams come true", there's surprisingly little to do when you're bitter and by yourself.

At around 6:30, the two of them emerged from the mouse trap. Not surprisingly, Jalen wanted nothing to do with a six-foot "Mickey Mouse" when it came time to take a picture with him. My son's history with costumed characters will someday result in several years of intense psychotherapy.

Here he is at eight months:

Six hours in hell became seven when the wife wanted a $24 dinner, so she could wash down her churro dessert from an hour earlier. By this time, I was numb to it all (seriously, I could no longer feel my face, hands or feet) and only wanted the magic kingdom of a heated car.

"The Happiest Place on Earth"?

My black ass.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

TBG TV: Lost -- "Across the Sea"

There's really no point in adding my voice to the cacophony of critical negativity that's swallowed this episode like few others during its six-year run.

Don't get me wrong: I'd spent part of my lunch hour plotting my "piling on Lost" strategy. I was especially looking forward to pointing out how I didn't have an issue with the episode's all-out immersion in mythology and biblical allegories. "Across the Sea" was, simply put, an unwatchable hour of awful acting (even by "Hurley tries to cry" standards), poor production and uneven "reveals".

Instead, m'man Hansen posted
this link to his Twitter feed, which pretty much…yeah.

Speaking of Twitter, I posted the following to my own feed last night:

If tonight's Lost had been the very FIRST episode of the entire series, would you have come back for the following week? Me neither.

This prompted replies from frequently unwitting TBG contributor
Joe Reid and my former colleague over at Inside Pulse, Michaelangelo McCullar.

Right, but it wasn't the first episode. It had 6 seasons worth of show to reflect on and show in a different light. - Joe

That's a ludicrous question. - Michaelangelo

From where I sit, mine was a perfectly cromulent question. "Across the Sea" was THE prequel episode that everything we've been watching for the past six seasons has ostensibly been built upon. I concede the obvious point that the writers and producers couldn't have possibly envisioned an "origin" story back in 2004, but this episode – WITH those six years of history – was positioned as "chapter one" and it was an absolute mess.

This [episode] was a litmus test. People who have enjoyed the season, like me, dug it. People who are down on the season hated it. - Michaelangelo

On this point, I couldn't possibly disagree more. I'm far from "down" on this season. And, the litmus test was last season's time-travelling storyline. That was the point where the show's writers gleefully released their tenuous grasp on "reality" and went all-in on fantasy. For the record, I
freaking LOVED last season.

While I was leery of the potential for a time warp "reboot" with a dash of deus ex machina, I appreciated the writers essentially telling the fans that they could no longer dictate the direction of the show (Nikki and Paulo). Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof would be doing their show from then on, so like it or lump it, America.

Hey, it's the proprietor of my favorite
New York-centric blog and one of 300 people still watching V, Tom Daniels…! Chime in, won't you?

"Knew you'd hate it. I didn't love it either. I wish it had been earlier in the season but they had to do it eventually."

Did they? I mean, sure, the viewers needed the background, but the suggestion from the "42-Inch Television" blog linked above has merit: tighten it up and air it as flashbacks during the series finale. Save for the birth of the boys and the subsequent clubberin' of their natural momma, how much of this episode's first 30 minutes were really needed?

"I figured you'd hate it because of too many child actors." - Tom

I do hate them so, Tom. None of them act. They just take direction. They're like bipedal
Benjis from Benji the Hunted.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Pitch That Saved Oakland?

"[Dallas] Braden finally LOOKS like he belongs in bigs. Dude's always carried himself with a false swagger, but now said swagger appears sincere."

wrote those words back in mid-March 2009 as part of my annual A's season preview. My doubts about his 2010 performance stemmed from the reported lingering effects of the bizarre foot injury that ended his 2009 season. And, as most of you know, it's barely been a week since my most recent Braden bashing.

This past Sunday afternoon, my six-year-old son, Jalen, and I watched the first three innings of the A's vs. Rays game. With the A's leading 2-0, I turned off the game and grabbed Jalen's bat bag. Since he was old enough to wear a glove, we've spent a few hours almost every Sunday under San Diego's chronically cloudless sky.

We were about 60 minutes into our simulated baseball experience (Jalen, as always, was the A's, while I was stuck being the Padres) when I checked Twitter from my phone during a Gatorade break. Once I learned what was happening in Oakland, I gathered up the few relatively expensive pieces of Jalen's equipment in my arms, left the rest behind and dragged my son back inside the house. We caught the last three outs of Dallas Braden's perfect game.

It cannot be understated: the Oakland A's franchise needed this performance. On the analogical scale, it ranks somewhere between a thirsty man receiving water and a death row inmate obtaining a governor's reprieve.

The former four-time world champions of baseball have become anonymous in their own community and irrelevant across the national sports landscape.
Attendance figures for A's games continue to circle the proverbial drain – and if you've ever been to a game at the Oakland Coliseum, you'll see that I'm being kind with my choice of bathroom appliance comparison.

The dreaded
c-word is being whispered in some circles, again.

By itself, Dallas Braden's historic start won't have any long-term positive effects for the franchise. But, the A's can still use it as a model to rebuild much of the goodwill with the fans that's been lost in recent seasons due to a steady stream of bad, boring teams and the organization's lame duck status in Oakland stemming from flirtations with Fremont and San Jose.

Here's my hastily conceived three-step plan to win back a few fans.

History - I'm not suggesting that the A's retire every number ever worn like the Yankees (Ron Guidry?) or market their martyrdom like the Cubs. But, Braden's feat is one of many memorable moments for the Oakland A's organization and it should be celebrated again and again. The Kansas City Royals – of all teams – got this one right. They have a Royals Hall of Fame onsite at their home ballpark (which I visited in 2007) and former Royals make frequent appearances at Kauffman Stadium and in the community.

Geography - Think of it as 21st century barnstorming. The A's have already built a marketing plan around Braden and his
hometown of Stockton (about 90 minutes east of Oakland). Don't stop there. Offer similar "area code" discounts and perks for select weekend games, focusing on larger metropolitan areas such as greater Sacramento (90 minutes from Oakland) and San Jose (60 minutes).

Personality - Let's be clear: Braden's one-man war with Alex Rodriguez was/is downright embarrassing. But, most A's fans – and a nation of A-Rod/Yankee haters – ate it up with a spoon. This year's A's ad campaign featured too much scripted irreverence, but it's not too late to change course. A 30-second spot with fan favorite Brad Ziegler describing his fascinating road to the show? Instant appeal to the old-school fans. Another ad can spotlight 1B Daric Barton, who I assume is
the life of the party. Let the kids be kids on the field and let 'em act like they enjoy the game.

Trust me…it's contagious.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

TBG Eats: Bacon Pancakes from The Original Pancake House

Current Weight: 169.0 lbs.

I'm aware how this is going to sound coming from me, but the members of my family know their way around some unusual, unappetizing food unions.

When I was growing up, my dad put hot sauce on everything. He hit his dinner plate of steak, chicken or fish with a torrential downpour of
Tabasco, Texas Pete's or Red Rooster. He did the same with side items like salads, dill pickles and potato chips. However, he achieved his greatest infamy on the rare occasions when pizza was our meal for the evening.

My father was born and raised in 1950s-60s Georgia and spent 20 years in the Marine Corps. His was a hardscrabble upbringing in which dinnertime was often the highlight. He even had his own "supper philosophy" which, to him, meant something that was once alive – preferably fried – along with two sides. Since pizza didn't meet his animal flesh-in-Crisco criteria, we only had it when my dad was "on duty" (the military equivalent of the graveyard shift) or when my mom was mad at him.

My dad would grab five slices out of the box, saturate every inch in hot sauce and then remember he hates pizza after a few bites. He'd put the uneaten remains back in the box, forcing my brother and me to intently smell the leftovers. What if one of us overlooked the slices with the equivalent of molten-hot magma comingled with mozzarella cheese? Remember, these were only eight-year-old taste buds, y'all.

Around the same time, my aunt was our primary babysitter. An evening with her meant dinner at McDonald's or Burger King, if we were there during the week. On weekends, she might upgrade our entrees to Sizzler or Bob's Big Boy. If she was between jobs, she'd save money by cooking for us. It wasn't hard to tell if Aunt Sue had recently joined the ranks of the unemployed, because she only knew how to cook one "meal".

I'm still not convinced that it's too late to pursue child endangerment charges for being served her fried bologna topped with Heinz 57 sauce.

Mrs. Bootleg is not without her own sin of ridiculous sustenance, as she reflexively tops those ubiquitous fast food crispy chicken sandwiches with ketchup. I mock this – and the other examples above – knowing that I'm the same guy who looked forward to
the Krispy Kreme chicken sandwich, the deep-fried White Castle and chocolate-covered bacon at the past three San Diego Fairs.

I'm also the same guy who's failed in two attempts to take down the
enormous apple pancake at The Original Pancake House. Not wanting the weight of a whole cinnamon-dusted orchard nestling in my small intestine all day, I've gone in a different direction during my last two breakfast visits.

This is the description of the Bacon Pancakes straight from The Original Pancake House's menu:

Buttermilk pancakes filled with real bits of bacon. Served with whipped butter and hot syrup.

These are the actual Bacon Pancakes straight from The Original Pancake House's kitchen:

"…filled with real bits of bacon"? Six light, spongy buttermilk moons absolutely SMOTHERED in bacon. It's bacon asphyxiation – which, I assume, has roughly the same mortality rate as any other erotic asphyxiation technique.

The bacon "bits" were thick, chewy and salted perfectly. There was more than enough crumbled on top to ensure a forkful in every bite, but there's even bacon blended in with the pancake batter. The quart of maple syrup that I poured atop this porcine masterpiece catapulted my order into the breakfast stratosphere.

Somehow, the sweetness from the syrup intensified the saltiness from the bacon and vice versa. The pancakes withstood my maple assault and maintained most of their texture despite a level of grease, sugar and salt content that's almost certainly been assassinating most of my inner organs since my first bites a few weeks ago.

And, if I had to pick a food to be found, face down, 50 years from now…it's this one.

Grade: 500 (out of 5)

Friday, May 7, 2010

TBG TV: FOX's Animation Domination -- 05/02/2010

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

(1) The Cleveland Show ("Brotherly Love") -- This show's been one of my favorite sitcom piñatas, but everything clicked this week. Cleveland's side gig as a stripper-cum-pimp? The wink n' nod self-awareness over the Cyrano de Bergerac bit? The Bea Arthur/Maude catchphrase from beyond the grave? Clicked, clicked and clicked. But, it was guest star Kanye West -- in a parody of himself -- who took this episode over the top. His character's two-minute rap battle with Cleveland, Jr. is
worth a look if you missed in the first time around. Sure, the Zac Efron and John Edwards references already feel dated, but any satire of Auto-Tune gets my stamp of approval.

(2) The Simpsons ("To Surveil with Love") -- So, that Ke$ha "Tik Tok" couch gag was supposed to be a big deal, huh? Huh. I liked Eddie Izzard's guest voiceover work and...that was about it. I'm not sure where all this nonsensical "best episode in years" jibber-jabber is coming from, but I'd like to believe the bar for The Simpsons hasn't fallen this low in recent seasons. The brief "17 Incredible Hulks and a Spider-Man" sight gag generated most of the guffaws from my gullet this week.

(3) Family Guy ("Brian & Stewie") -- I get what the writers were trying to do (win an Emmy), but the interminably repugnant poop stuff during the first 10 minutes turned me off almost immediately. The super serious stuff about suicide and love simply didn't work with characters that have been written as one-note caricatures for eight seasons. I appreciated the obvious nod to one of my favorite episodes of All in the Family and this was an EPIC bit of voiceover work from Seth MacFarlane (who voices both Brian and Stewie...the only characters to appear in the episode), but the effort and intentions were greater than the results.

MVP: Kanye West's "Kenny West" spoof was proof-positive that he'd be negligibly more likeable if he didn't take himself so damn seriously all the time.

Quote of the Night: "Tell me little man: how the HELL do you support that big-ass afro with that tiny-ass neck? You're like a ?uestlove bobblehead!" -- Kenny West (The Cleveland Show)

Current Standings

The Simpsons -- 74
The Cleveland Show -- 55
American Dad! -- 43
Family Guy -- 42

I never got around to writing reviews for the April 18 and April 25 "Animation Domination" that only featured The Simpsons and American Dad. I had American Dad in first place on the 18th and The Simpsons on the 25th. And, kudos to The Simpsons for the Dr. Dre "Let Me Ride (Remix)"-inspired reference to "gas, grass or ass". Eight points total for both.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

TBG TV: Lost -- "The Candidate"

Three Things I Dug:

(End) Game On!: Dark Locke's meticulously despicable plot to kill off the remaining Oceanic survivors was just the kind of storyline acceleration I've been waiting 13 weeks for. It wasn't the most airtight piece of storytelling (Sawyer's comically unconvincing declaration of loyalty to Dark Locke; the first wave of the submarine capture effort being led by the mortal characters, instead of the immortal one), but I can't complain too much about the path down any road that ends with Dark Locke's campy "I'm gonna finish what I started!" exclamation. You've only got three weeks to follow through on your comic book quality bombast!

Trust Me!: The interaction between Jack and Sawyer -- while immersed in a terse debate over the pros and cons of bomb disarmament -- was predictable, but still well done. Matthew Fox conveyed the proper "I know you've got NO reason to trust me, me!" sense of urgency and restrained panic, while Sawyer's exasperated reaction to his failed bomb-stopping stunt wasn't so much "I've doomed us all" as it was, "Dammit, Jack was right".

Sideways Locke!: This is another storyline that I'm not entirely enamored with, but of all the flash-sideways "survivors", Locke is easily the most interesting. Setting aside the silliness of "miracle paralysis-reversing surgeries" and a sedated "sideways Locke" muttering "island Locke" lines from three seasons ago; I'm digging the role-reversal here with Locke as the self-loathing martyr and Jack as the self-righteous man of faith.

Three Things I Didn't Dig:

Don't Shoot! (Seriously.): I know that the viewers are more familiar with the smoke monster than its assortment of victims who are seeing it for the first -- and, often, last -- time. That said...stop having people shoot at the smoke monster, Lost writers! We know it's not going to work even if the characters don't know this. It's as tired as the climactic scene of EVERY episode of
The Adventures of Superman from the 1950s: three guys in bad suits and fedoras firing pistols right at Superman's chest. And, then Superman wins. Again. Like always.

RIP, Sayid: Soooo...Sayid was "infected" by the same darkness that corrupted (Killah) Claire. This was established. Sayid was, in fact, SO evil that he scared off an amoral monster like Ben with just a knowing glance and one line of dialogue ("It's too late for me...") earlier this season. But, after a talk with Desmond down at the ol' wishing well, Sayid is, what...cured? His sacrifice seemed especially contrived to me, at least without any explanation for his motivation. I'd been counting the days until Sayid was killed off, yet this still made no sense.

RIP, Everyone Else: The demise of Sun and Jin did nothing for me. Their relationship had gone as far as it could (from kinda-sorta abusive to Hallmark card effusive) three seasons ago and their separation/reunion felt like 10% of the powerful Desmond/Penny storyline. And, I don't wanna be that guy, but not ONE mention of their daughter -- by either Sun or Jin -- as the sub's filling up with water? If Mrs. Bootleg was in Sun's position and I was in Jin's, she'd beat my ass in the afterlife if I'd left our child alone. Of course, the one death that did resonate with me (Lapidus) came off as an afterthought. Did none of the survivors have any tears, sobs or overacting moans left for Lapidus as they congregated on the shore?

The Verdict: Can we agree that the significant plot movement here makes up for what's been, at times, a nonsensical and unsatisfying season? OK, then.

Monday, May 3, 2010

10 Thoughts: Oakland A's – April 2010

April Record: 12-12
Overall Record: 12-12
Standings: 1st Place (Tied)

(1) Plenty of Good Seats Still Available: On Opening Night, the A's fell about 5,000 tickets short of a sellout. Hard to believe a team with such a rapidly vanishing fanbase would intentionally minimize walk-up ticket sales by (a) scheduling their Opening Night opposite the NCAA college basketball championship game and (b) scheduling their Opening Day at night. The A's are averaging 17,641 fans through their first 14 home dates, but without a mid-week appearance from the New York Yankees (April 20-22) that number would be even more embarrassing than it already is. Then, again…in the first game of that series, the Yankees played in front of less than 20,000 fans for the first time since April 2008.

(2) Dear Eric Chavez…: You're done as a Major League hitter. Thanks for signing my son's baseball during spring training and know that I appreciated your phenomenal five-year run (2000-2004) as the best all-around third baseman in the game – even if few other A's fans did. It hurts to watch your swing, today. You're practically immobile at home plate – like an old lumberjack waving a dull ax against a petrified tree. Your swing is all arms without any torque from your legs or torso. Here's your April slash line: .221/.276/.309 (zero home runs). I'd ask for you to retire, but it appears you already did.

(3) Death of the Duke?: SP Justin Duchscherer is 2-1 with an ERA under 3.00. Just don't ask me how he's doing it. If you're into the esoteric, Duke's
FIP is a mediocre 4.58. If you can't wrap your head around that, just know that his velocity has fallen a long way from his peak seasons as a middle reliever. The average velocity of Duke's slider this year is 80.4 mph (down 4 mph from 2007), while the average velocity of his two-seam fastball has fallen from 90 mph to 84.7 mph over the same period of time. He left his last start (April 29, vs. Toronto) with a hip injury. I'm not sure I'd be trying to rush him back.

(4) Be Gone, Ben Sheets: In five April starts, Sheets posted an ERA of 5.00. He kept the symmetry going with 14 walks and 14 strikeouts in his 27 innings pitched. Sheets is still sitting in the low 90s with his fastball, but when he's missed – and he's missed a LOT this year – his pitches sit right out over the plate. I was fortunate enough to be in attendance on April 10 when Sheets threw batting practice (10 hits in six innings) to an Angels team that hadn't hit a lick to that point in the season. The good news? I can't bring up his most recent start, since it happened in May. I find new ways to
hate this acquisition every day.

(5) Kurt Suzuki, Truth & Fiction: Through the first month of the season, C Kurt Suzuki has been the team's best all-around player. His .852 OPS is currently third among AL catchers and, defensively, he's as good as anyone in the game. Unfortunately, he's been on the disabled list since April 30 with an intercostal strain. He's not expected to miss more than the minimum 15 days and he can't get back fast enough. A's broadcasters and beat writers have programmed fans to believe that Suzuki's game-calling skills – like erstwhile Athletic Jason Kendall's before him – is THE reason for the pitching staff's recent history of effectiveness. For the last time: a catcher has NO measurable effect on a pitcher's numbers. Is there some effect? Sure. But, don't act like you know what it is.

(6) Settle Down, Dallas: Amongst A's fans, I'm part of an infinitesimal minority who believes Dallas Braden's "I must protect my mound" bombast was a transparent attempt to fire up a scuffling team by going after Alex Rodriguez – baseball's universally loathed, low-hanging fruit. If it had been anyone else in baseball (save for fan and media-approved punching bags like Milton Bradley, Vincente Padilla or AJ Pierzynski) Braden would've been rightfully branded as batsh*t insane for his demonstrative in-game diatribe and embarrassing postgame professional wrestling-esque promo directed at A-Rod. America's Best Sportswriter™ nailed it
in this piece. Dallas, I love ya. Now, shut up and pitch.

(7) Leading Off for the A's…: SS Cliff Pennington rewarded
my preseason faith in him with a terrific first month. His .808 OPS is fifth (fiiiff!) among all Major League shortstops and with CF Rajai Davis slumping, Pennington was moved into the leadoff spot on April 25. Counting the first few days of May, he's hit .379/.438/.552 during his seven days in the top spot. He's also got the strongest SS throwing arm since Shawon Dunston's first few seasons in the north side of Chicago. 100 years ago, he'd have an obvious alliterative nickname like "Cannon" or "POP!" That's the sound the first baseman's glove makes when…ah, let's move on.

(8) The Second Coming: What's not to love about 1B Daric Barton's April slash line (.299/.444/.429)? He walked 20 times and hit just one home run. A's fans talked themselves into names like Mark Grace and Hal Morris (gap-hitting first baseman who racked up doubles and walks, instead of home runs) as Barton's best-case comp. At his current pace, he's a LOT closer to
Dave Magadan. Depressing.

(9) What's it Like to be an A's Fan?: SP Brett Anderson – who's been the A's best starter since last summer – signed a four-year contract extension on April 16 worth $12.5 million (and, potentially, worth $31 million over six seasons). 11 days later, he landed on the disabled list with a left forearm strain and elbow inflammation. In his first four starts, he posted a 2.35 ERA and didn't give up a home run. Now, he could be out up to two months. Damn it. (It's OK for daddy to use it here, Jalen.)

(10) A Few Words to CF Rajai Davis…: …from Lou Brown, manager of the Cleveland Indians in Major League - "Well, you might run like Mays, but you hit like sh*t. With your speed, you should be hitting the ball on the ground and legging them out. Every time I see you hit one in the air, you owe me 20 push-ups."