Friday, February 25, 2011


First night sleeping with pleurisy. Felt like I'd been stabbed and left to die, writhing in the gutter. It's the medicinal equivalent to 1980s New York City. -- Me, paraphrased from Twitter this morning.

Wait. I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning.

And, as is sometimes the case with tales of pain and suffering, my story begins with a woman.

Thursday, February 24

10:45 AM -- I'd just gotten off my cell phone with Mrs. V -- a former colleague and longtime friend of my family. She was in town from the east coast on business and the two of us were working out the details on meeting up for dinner that evening. It's a clinically proven fact that one man and one woman can't reach a consensus on where to eat in the five short minutes we were on the phone together, so I promised to call her back after lunch with some suggestions.

10:50 AM -- Returning to my desk, my first thought as I sat down was the Oakland A's season preview/player profile blog post I'd started the night before. I needed a short, succinct YouTube clip that conveyed a cartoonish amount of power. I ended up
settling for this, but the 30 minute search ended up stalling me creatively and I was still bugged about it. Then, I coughed once before inhaling deeply in advance of the second cough. That's when I felt it.

10:55 AM -- For the past five minutes, whenever I tried to take a moderate-to-deep breath, I felt acute tightness in the center of my torso -- right where the bottom of my sternum and the top of my abdomen meet. It was as if an imaginary hand had reached through my emaciated, concave chest and methodically tugged on the musculature within. Here's a short, succinct
YouTube clip that cartoonishly conveys my point.

11:05 AM -- The tightness has become a stabbing pain whenever I inhale. I've commandeered a conference room -- locking the door behind me -- and immediately double over. I probably shouldn't admit that saving myself from embarrassment ranked a notch higher than, well...saving myself, but I glanced towards the lock on the door again to make sure my one-man episode of
Mystery Diagnosis couldn't become a public spectacle.

11:15 AM -- Sitting upright once again, but still behind the walls of my pirated conference room, I try to wait out the pain by pulling out my cell phone and checking in on the
Dr. Dre discussion from earlier in the week. I'm feeling a little better, so I attempted to analyze the root cause for my discomfort. I've been ill or recovering from an illness or on medication for much of 2011. Earlier in the week, I developed a weak cough that I hadn't been able to shake. In fact, it reminded me of this cough. Which, of course, reminded me of this condition, which reminded me of this night. And, now, I'm hyperventilating.

11:30 AM -- I've settled down to the point where I decide to drive myself to Urgent Care. I'm still feeling pain -- in wildly varying degrees -- when I inhale. As I'm walking to my car, I call Mrs. Bootleg. It rolls to her voice mail and I attempt to leave a message that won't unnecessarily alarm her:

Hey. DON'T get alarmed or anything, but I'm driving myself over to Urgent Care. My chest feels tight and I'm having trouble breathing. Wait...I mean...I can breathe, but it just hurts when I breathe. Just...I...I'm making this sound worse than it is. I'll call you when I know something.

There. That shouldn't unnecessarily alarm her at all.

11:40 AM -- Checking in at Urgent Care and the woman at the front desk asks how long I've been experiencing these symptoms. "About an hour", I replied. Her dismissive sideways glance and snotty response ("An hour?") leaves me wondering if my condition is too urgent or not urgent enough for Urgent Care.

11:55 AM -- I'm handed a hospital gown and told to take my dress shirt and undershirt off. I barely get the gown on when the doctor arrives. He puts me through several breathing tests before offering a preliminary diagnosis of
pleurisy. He still wants to take x-rays of my chest, so he asks me to wait for a technician to take me over.

12:00 PM -- I've had my share of x-rays over the years and the one constant is the x-ray technician: always male, at least two visible tattoos, unshaved for several days and possibly the least hygienic person within a five mile radius. Instead..."Hi, I'm Megan...I'll be walking you over to x-ray!" I wasn't expecting a petite brunette. I also wasn't expecting the back of my hospital gown to be wide open as I left the examining room and walked into a common area. My slacks were still on, but...take it, Megan:

"Oops...let's get you tied up back here. We don't need all my co-workers seeing the top of your striped silk drawers."

I lost it here, alternating laughter with agony. I regret that I didn't get the chance to commend Megan on her inexplicably accurate pronunciation of drawers. That's no small feat.

12:30 PM -- The doctor has reviewed my x-rays and can't find anything wrong with what he sees. He suggests Aleve -- the over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drug -- after I'd told him that ibuprofen wrecks havoc on my stomach.

12:40 PM -- While standing in line at the pharmacy, my cell phone starts buzzing and flashes a phone number that I don't recognize. I let it roll to voice mail. I finish my purchase and play back the message:

"Hi, Aaron, you just left my office. Do NOT take Aleve! I was going over your primary care physician's file and see that you're allergic to aspirin. You could have a violent reaction to Aleve. Call me as soon as you get this message. I'm going to call your home, work and emergency contact numbers on file, too! Call me when you get this!"

I am not having a very good day.

4:00 PM -- The doctor's office confirms the initial pleurisy diagnosis. And, since I just finished a 10-day supply of antibiotics, the doctor believes my condition is viral in nature. Consequently, there's not much they can do for me except let the bug work its way out of my system. NOW, he's recommending Tylenol, but warns, "It won't do much for the pain. You're going to be quite uncomfortable for two or three days." So, of course, I took to Twitter:

Just diagnosed with pleurisy. For those scoring at home, I've been healthy for roughly 5 of the first 55 days of 2011. .091 batting average.

In response, I received back-to-back Tweets from two of my favorite people:

"Sounds like someone's angling to be the Royals new left fielder." -- Sam

"I'm not liking this, dude... Not the dx nor the average. Don't turn all "Mets" on us, now. -- Michiewah

I mean this in the best way possible -- both comments caused me great pain.

8:00 PM -- Over the next four hours, the persistent pain in my chest has moved to the left side of my rib cage and then to my back. I try laying down, sitting up and the fetal position...nothing brings relief. The doctor clearly said I'd be uncomfortable for "two or three DAYS". Are the accompanying nights just implied?

Friday, February 25

5:00 AM -- After a fitful, erratic evening of sleep, I get up. My resultant "UNNNGHH!" wakes Mrs. Bootleg who, in years past, has been known to sleep through winter.

6:00 AM -- The bronze medal for unmitigated discomfort is awarded at the exact moment I bend slightly over so I can wash beneath my waist in the shower.

7:00 AM -- The silver medal for unmitigated discomfort is awarded at the exact moment I bend slightly forward so I can tie my shoes.

8:00 AM -- The gold, platinum and titanium medals for unmitigated discomfort are awarded at the exact moment I try to climb out of my car when I arrive at Jalen's school. Nearly fell to the ground on that one.

And, only 48 - 72 more hours of this!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

TBG Beats: "I Need a Doctor" -- Dr. Dre featuring Eminem and Skylar Grey

M'man Sean the Accountant writes:

"What do you think of the new Dr. Dre single? Has any musician in any genre achieved greater longevity by riding the coattails of so many more talented associates? Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, Tupac, Eminem, Jay-Z, Xzibit. Dre's barely on his own song!"

Yeah, I'm not feelin' it, either.

Skylar Grey's melancholy hook is very good, but too much of this track is covered with Eminem's egocentric fingerprints. Em gets the first two verses -- his familiar lyrical lamentation as the victimized white rapper -- before turning the mic over to his mentor, Dr. Dre.

Dre's enormous shortcomings as an MC are a matter of public record, but in the hands of a good ghostwriter, he carries enough charisma to make
someone else's words work. Eminem is the obvious ventriloquist for Dre's verse here, however the Doctor seems overtly uncomfortable as he lifts Em's staccato flow.

And, is Dre still calling out his doubters and threatening them with the "wrath of Aftermath"? He left Death Row Records in 1996! Tupac was still alive!

I think you won that war, Dre.

Monday, February 21, 2011

General Haberdashery III

Ms. Yvonne -- professionally known as "That Mexican Wife" -- writes:

OK - I haven't been reading you as long as most TBG aficionados so I hope you'll forgive my ignorance. I really do get most of your jokes (even the wrestling ones!) but for the life of me I can't figure out what "General Haberdashery" means. Little help?

Prepare to be disappointed, Yvonne. It means...nothing. I lifted it from an episode of King of the Hill. Chris Rock had a guest spot as the voice of a stand-up comedian who worked at a traffic school and used the line, "Now that's what I call 'general haberdashery'!" It was a ridiculous non sequitur that became my title for the weekly links section of my old Friday music news column and carried over to TBG.

Today, I use it to highlight the work of my former online colleagues -- especially when I'm busy working on a certain annual month-long feature that's scheduled to start in about a week.


It's Oscar season and Mrs. Bootleg's favorite blogger -- wait, what...? -- is cranking out the cinematic material. Movie Joe Reid walks you through the
best trailers of the year, his 30 most amazing movie moments of 2010 and an excellent look back -- in hindsight -- at Academy Awards handed out in 1990, 1995 and 2000. Would it be inappropriate to mention how much I hated Gladiator or that I've never seen The Usual Suspects or how I still get choked up during Ghost? It would? Well, then.

I'm a sucker for "travel diaries" and m'man Daniels
spins a terrific lil' tale of 34-ounce steaks, Atlantic City casinos and suffering through the Super standard definition.

My friends at 85% Sports have been quietly crafting one of the more intelligent and thorough sports blog you'll see. Their
NFL Offseason Series is terrific, as are their MLB Positional Rankings. And, check out the biggest St. Louis Cardinals fan on the planet as he's forced to deal with the Albert Pujols negotiations discussions stuff in real time.

Finally, the crew at Fish & Spaghetti revisit one of my all-time favorite TV shows with a
face-off of two former inmates at the Oswald State Correctional Facility. I'm with 'em on each and every point -- even though Ryan O'Reily's short-lived, ironic stint on Law & Order: SVU is completely ignored.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

On Judaism, Baseball and Beer...

Jalen was out of school this past Friday, so I took him with me on a few AM errands. Including a stop at the post office...

Jalen: [To a post office employee] "There's no mail delivered on holidays, right?"

Post Office Employee: "That's right. There's no delivery on most holidays."

Jalen: "Holidays like Yom Kippur, right?"


On Saturday, Jalen and Mrs. Bootleg accompanied me to BevMo -- an alcohol warehouse of sorts with stores throughout California and Arizona...

Jalen: "Where are we going?"

Me: "I wanna stop by BevMo and see if they've got any new beers to buy."

Jalen: [After a perfectly-timed comedic beat] "Are baseball and beer the only two things you care about?"

Mrs. Bootleg: "..."


The scene shifts to the BevMo checkout line. Mrs. Bootleg was there and can attest that the following unprompted conversation actually happened...

Jalen: [To the cashier] "Do you like beer?"

Cashier: "Yes, I like beer."

Jalen: "What kind of beer do you like?"

Cashier: [Nervously, but politely laughing] "Ummm...Sam Adams?"

Jalen: "Daddy, do you like Sam Adams?"

Me: [Laughing, but feeling Mrs. Bootleg piercing glare from behind] "Yeah, J, I like Sam Adams."

Jalen: [To the cashier] "Do you like Fat Tire?"

Cashier: [Laughing] "It's OK."

Jalen: "Do you like Coors Light?"

Cashier: [Still laughing] "Oh, NO!"

Me: "OK, Jalen..."

Jalen: "Do you like Bud Light?"

Cashier: [Positively dying by this point] "Oh, NO! And, how do you know SO much about beer?"

Jalen: "My daddy drinks a lot."

Me and Mrs. Bootleg: [Heads explode.]

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

TBG (Finally) Eats: Five Guys Burgers and Fries

Current Weight: 163.6 lbs.

"Once in a great while, we are privileged to experience [an] event so extraordinary, it becomes part of our shared heritage." --
Krusty the Clown, February 9, 1997

When I was a boy, pop culture was my unofficial stepparent. Back then, only two events (title fights in boxing and made-for-TV miniseries) regularly generated the kind of squealing media hype that now precedes even the least attractive
Armenian-American celebrity.*

* -- Oh, come on. Khloe Kardashian digs have been done to death. I assumed the universe had moved on to mocking Nicki Minaj, no?

Off the top of my head, I can think of three experiences -- one each in movies, sports and music -- when the hype was truly worth it.

Return of the Jedi -- Time has not been kind to much of the Star Wars franchise, but almost 30 years later, I still remember leaping off the couch when I saw the first Jedi TV spot -- on a Saturday night, in between new episodes of Diff'rent Strokes and Silver Spoons. Yes, the scatological nonsense and intrusive Ewoks have ruined the movie for me today; but in 1983, my brother and I saw Jedi at least 20 times -- back when sneaking into a movie was a cute and acceptable crime, like cocaine or hitchhiking.

1989 Oakland A's -- The '88 A's were the first baseball team I ever loved and the first one to break my heart. (A few years later, I was dumped twice by the same girl in a span of 10 days and it didn't hurt anywhere near as much as Oakland's stunning upset loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series.) In 1989, the A's were near-unanimous favorites to win it all. They withstood an array of early injuries, fought off a feisty Angels squad and re-acquired my
all-time favorite player on the way to winning the World Series. Thankfully, I'm still on my first marriage and only have one child, so the A's championship still fits into the top five favorite moments of my life.

Doggystyle -- Snoop Dogg's debut album was a big deal. Gangsta rap was at its apex and still popular enough to ward off conservative critics and threats of censorship. Snoop stole the show on Dr. Dre's The Chronic album and his mid-1993 murder charge arguably boosted his profile. I've told the story before, but I waited in line outside V.I.P. Records in Long Beach -- on Crips n' Bloods Martin Luther King Boulevard -- for the midnight release. Today, I might be the oldest man alive who still has this album in regular iPod rotation.

Conversely, these are three of my experiences when the hype greatly exceeded the end result.

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace -- After two hours of stilted dialogue about trade disputes and an endless parade of transparent, broadly-drawn aliens-as-ethnic caricatures, I swore off the franchise for good. My personal protest has even extended to the adult-friendly, kid-intended cartoon versions that currently air. Those who really know me know this isn't an insignificant snub.

1990 Oakland A's -- This squad was the first real "rock star" baseball team back in the early days of the "ESPN-ification" of sports. After winning it all the year before, the experts labeled the A's as a budding dynasty. They were swept right out of the World Series and spent most of the decade as one with the walking dead.

Get Rich or Die Tryin' -- For me, the 50 Cent phenomenon got as far as the
first single from his debut album. Get Rich… moved almost a million units in its first week of release in 2003 (and more than 15 million copies to date), but despite some decent beats, 50's uncharismatic mumbling lost me almost immediately.

So, which side of the hype will Five Guys fall?

Here in California,
In-N-Out Burger is considered the gold standard for fast food hamburgers. Most of y'all know my position: In-N-Out makes a perfectly acceptable double cheeseburger, but it doesn't belong in any "best of" discussion. This opinion is in direct conflict with tourists and locals alike who believe the ubiquitous Double-Double is a sacri-licious religious experience.

Thanks to the magic of social media, I've been able to eat vicariously through friends and strangers. I first heard of Five Guys from either a Facebook post of an acquaintance living in one of the Mid-Atlantic States or perhaps a random tweet from some national baseball beat writer who blissfully ignores four of MLB's six divisions.

It didn't take long for me to realize that the Five Guys hype rivaled In-N-Out's. It did, however, take a long time before I was able try Five Guys. There wasn't a location in San Diego County until about six months ago. And, apparently, I was one of the last San Diegans
made aware of this.

So, I brought That Bootleg Family down to Five Guys. After quickly familiarizing myself with the
limited menu, I ordered a bacon cheeseburger with lettuce, tomatoes, grilled onions, ketchup and mayo. Mrs. Bootleg -- in keeping with her long-standing tradition -- waited until I'd begun ordering before she took her very first look at the menu. She extended the palms of her hands and slowly shook her head -- pantomiming perfect confusion -- before hurriedly blurting out, "Little Hamburger with...grilled onions and...ketchup?" the form of a question. Two regular orders of fries and a plain Little Hamburger for Jalen finished the order.

After my first bite, I was a believer. The loosely-packed meat oozed juices down my chin and into my nattily-groomed goatee. Meanwhile, the texture of the hamburger -- nicely pebbled without any rigidity -- was homemade, hand-made quality. The smoky-sweet grilled onions contrasted nicely with the lettuce and tomatoes AND subtly accented the meat. Two minor nits: (1) the two slices of cheese might be one too many, as the flavors were suffocated by my last few bites and (2) there didn't seem to be much bacon on my burger (or the other toppings overwhelmed what was there). Jalen finished his hamburger in about six seconds, while Mrs. Bootleg -- in between bites that belied her diminutive stature -- was trying to decide if the Five Guys burger was the best or second-best she's ever had.

I've been sitting on a 4.5 score, steadfast in my refusal to go all in with a perfect five. But, I can't remember the last time I've wanted to return to a restaurant as much as I'm jonesing for an encore at Five Guys. I think that's worth an extra half-point. And, I won't even decrement them for their so-so fries.

The NEW gold standard for fast food hamburgers?

The NEW gold standard for fast food hamburgers.

Grade: 5 (out of 5) Calories: 1100 (approx.) Fat: 75g (approx.)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

When Animals Attack! (The Mouse Story)

It feels like I've been doing this a lot lately, but I apologize for the lack of activity on TBG. I covered my recent ill-health (that is NOT AT ALL correlated with the McRib sandwich, McDonald's lawyers!) in this post on the McRib Sandwich. I've also been working a large proposal effort at work since the start of the New Year.

How big is it?

Well, yesterday, I was supposed to meet m'man Smitty in Anaheim -- 100 miles north of San Diego -- for what could've been the greatest "TBG Eats" experience ever.
Slater's 50-50 makes their burgers with 50% ground beef and 50% ground bacon! They've got 30 beers on tap! And, their most famous dessert is the Bacon Brownie! Unfortunately, I had to pass on all of this awesome as I was called into the office on Saturday.

Since stories about "posts I almost wrote" are inherently unsatisfying, I'd like to offer up the next...uhh, best? thing. In the comments section of last week's
How Well Do You Know Jalen post, a friend of mine whom I've known since junior high school second grade asked about "The Mouse Story". I wrote about this in my old Friday Music News Bootleg column back in 2004 -- long before most of you were probably born.

I normally abhor most of my older material, but this one holds up well enough. I've made a few negligible edits from the original and slipped in some Posnanski/Simmons-inspired footnotes to freshen it up a bit. This originally ran on February 20, 2004:


We have something of a tradition in the Cameron Household. Every Friday morning, the wife asks me how long I was up working on this column the night before…and then she asks me what I wrote about her.

The answer to the first question usually falls between 9:00 and 11:00 PM, although I managed to set a personal record when I was still typing at 1:40 AM last Friday morning*. (If only I was this dedicated to my paying job.) Anyways, the wife usually finds out the answer to the second question on her own, as she'll scan my work for any embarrassing mention of her name.

* -- My Friday Music News Bootleg column ran from February 2003 through February 2006. By the end of its run, I was writing 10-12 pages in MS Word per week and often finishing after 2:00 AM on Friday morning. Immediately after Jalen left the hospital, it was a race against the clock to be in bed before one of his nighttime feedings or else I'd be on bottle duty. Today, Mrs. Bootleg and I joke about how awful my fathering was during our son's first six months. I think she's joking.

She's been such a good sport throughout the last year** that I thought I'd repay her loyalty as my punching bag with a shameful tale of my own.

** -- During Mrs. Bootleg's pregnancy, I took near-weekly digs at everything from her emotional swings to her cravings to her physical changes. Looking back, I think most of it was harmless. Some of the material, however, seems more than a little mean-spirited. It would top the list of early column material I most regret along with my overuse of casual profanity; lazily picking the low-hanging fruit (e.g. fat jokes) and inadvertently inciting the maniacal wrath of Elvis Presley's and ICP's respective fanbases.

Last Saturday, Mrs. Bootleg was discharged from the hospital. It was her first day outdoors in two weeks so, of course, she spent most of it inside Stately Bootleg Manor. In the evening, we drove down to the hospital to visit Baby Jalen in the ICU, grabbed dinner and came back home.

I ended up crashing in bed, while the wife jumped on the computer and began to upload dozens of baby pictures from the kid's first week on earth. Around 2:00 AM, she comes running into the bedroom to inform me that our cat had brought yet another mouse into the house.

This wasn't the first rodent he had invited home, so I fetched my mouse-hunting gloves*** and went downstairs. After 15 minutes of back-and-forth,
triple threat action between mouse vs. cat vs. Aaron; I snagged the mouse by his tail. On my way to the front door, the lil' critter shanked me with its razor-sharp teeth.

*** -- Don't laugh. In his 11 years with us, Mrs. Bootleg and I witnessed our cat feuding indoors and/or outdoors with mice, lizards, dogs, rabbits, raccoons, coyotes and birds. The thick novelty gloves really were a necessity when I had to remove a specific vermin from our home. REALLY!

Mrs. Bootleg, who is swimming in postpartum hormones, demanded that I go to Urgent Care and get a tetanus shot, immediately. I held off until the sun came up, but at 8:00 AM, there I was, amongst a phalanx of phlegm-filled kids and their unshaven mothers in the waiting room.

I filled out the necessary forms and squeezed out my last remaining molecules of manhood when I filled in "bit by a mouse" in the space marked "What's your emergency?" Then, as if to punish me for wasting doctor's valuable time****, I was led back to a small little patient room and made to wait nearly two hours before I received my shot.

**** -- This is one of the more subversive Simpsons references I've ever written. I imagine one -- MAYBE two -- TBG readers actually "getting" it. I don't care. The obscure source material makes me smile nearly 20 years after it originally aired.

Oh, and I discovered a new regulation on California's books. It seems that whenever you receive medical care for an animal bite, you have to fill out and submit an "Animal Attack Report". Imagine my pride, as I answered questions like:

Animal: mouse
Animal's Weight (approx): less than one pound
Location Where Attack Took Place: my living room

That form is now on file with the state of California's Department of Animal Control, while I wonder if a neutered male such as myself can still be a positive role model for my son.

Monday, February 7, 2011

How Well Do You Know Jalen?

February 7th is/was my son's seventh birthday. I thought I'd commemorate the occasion on this lightly-read blog by dusting off my "quiz" crutch infrequent feature.

The concept worked well when I asked
How Well Do You Remember My Wedding? and How Well Do You Know Mrs. Bootleg? The obvious problem with a Jalen quiz -- one that I inexplicably didn't realize until I was two hours and just a few questions into writing it -- is that all of you know Jalen.

And, I cannot articulate how awesome that is.

That's also why I couldn't get this post up on the day of Jalen's actual birthday. I originally intended for 20 questions. But, when I couldn't come up with enough moments/anecdotes that I'd never shared with TBG readers; I dropped the bar to 15 questions...then, 12 questions...and finally settled on 10 questions just before midnight.


(1) Jalen's middle name is:

(a) Henderson -- after his dad's all-time favorite Oakland A's player, Rickey Henderson.
(b) Stewart -- after his dad's all-time favorite Oakland A's pitcher, Dave Stewart.
(c) Hayes -- after his dad's all-time favorite Oakland Raiders defensive player, Lester Hayes.
(d) Marcus -- after his dad's all-time favorite Oakland Los Angeles Raiders offensive player, Marcus Allen.
(e) Wait...where's "none of the above"? Does Mrs. Bootleg know about this?

(2) How much did Jalen weigh when he was born?

(a) Three pounds, one ounce.
(b) Five pounds, two ounces.
(c) Seven pounds, three ounces.
(d) Nine pounds, four ounces.
(e) Eleven...oh, come on. His mom is 4'8".

(3) Which of these events DIDN'T happen on the day Mrs. Bootleg came home from the hospital?

(a) Mrs. Bootleg went outdoors for the first time in two weeks.
(b) Mrs. Bootleg openly wept when someone inadvertently cut in front of her while in line at the pharmacy.
(c) Mrs. Bootleg sobbed uncontrollably at her Valentine's Day card "from Jalen".
(d) Aaron was bitten in the hand by a small mouse that the family cat brought into the house.

(4) Which one of these harmless accidents happened on daddy's vigilant watch?

(a) Three-month-old Jalen was riding my shoulders when the top of his head clipped the top of the open garage door.
(b) Six-month-old Jalen rolled off the couch and through a glass panel on our coffee table while I was changing his diaper.
(c) Five-year-old Jalen split his forehead on the open front door during a spontaneous game of "living room dodge ball"...with me.
(d) All of the above.

(5) Mrs. Bootleg religiously watches all of the following TV shows. Which one does she regularly watch with an excited Jalen?

(a) Grey's Anatomy
(b) Desperate Housewives
(c) Mystery Diagnosis
(d) The Real Housewives of Atlanta
(e) Any music video featuring Drake

(6) For years, I was able to elicit uncontrollable laughter from Jalen -- and the stink-eye from my wife -- by singing some of the hook from which one of these children's songs?

My Name Is -- Eminem
Ms. New Booty -- Bubba Sparxxx feat. The Ying-Yang Twins
Shake It Fast -- Mystikal
Drop It Like It's Hot -- Snoop Dogg feat. Pharrell
Make 'Em Say Uhh -- Master P

(7) Which live-action comic book movie gave Jalen his first legitimate "wake up at 1:00 AM" nightmare?

(a) Spider-Man 3
(b) Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
(c) The Dark Knight
(d) Batman Begins

(8) Recently, while watching the 1989 comedy Major League (on edited, commercial television...I swear!), Jalen asked me which one of the following questions?

(a) "Why are [the Cleveland Indians] wearing throwback uniforms?"
(b) "Is that his mom?" (In the final scene where Tom Berenger and Rene Russo embrace on field.)
(c) "How come [the Cleveland Indians] have so many brown players?"
(d) "Who do you think is going to win the game?" (

(9) Until recently, how did Jalen regularly refer to his favorite salty snack -- Doritos?

(a) "Burritos"
(b) "Triangle Chips"
(c) "Nacho Cheez-Its"
(d) "Taco Crackers"

(10) Last year, Jalen was the only African-American in his kindergarten class. What role did he perform in their Martin Luther King, Jr. play?

(a) Martin Luther King
(b) Malcolm X
(c) Jesse Jackson
(d) The director of the play

Happy birthday, Jalen! If you're reading this, it's time for the "they grow up SO fast" photo inserts.

Answers: 1(a); 2(a); 3(c); 4(d); 5(c); 6(b); 7(b); 8(b); 9(c); 10(d)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

2011 Playoff Pickery -- Super Bowl XLV

Playoff Picks Straight-Up

Joe: 6-4
Aaron: 5-5
Tom: 5-5

Playoff Picks Against the Spread

Tom: 5-5
Aaron: 4-6
Joe: 3-7

Green Bay (-2.5) v. Pittsburgh

Joe: I'm actually really fond of this Packers team -- and I'm really REALLY fond of Aaron Rodgers picking up a Super Bowl ring less than three years removed from when the "legitimate" sporting press positively excoriated Packers management for being foolhardy enough to bet on him over Brett Favre. Schadenfreude like that doesn't come along every day. So why am I not more excited about the game, then? Has the massive interest vacuum that is the 2010 Pittsburgh Steelers made it THAT hard for me to care? Has my overreliance on hating the Patriots left me unable to root for anything after they've been vanquished? Here's what it comes down to: that vaunted Steelers defense has actually been downright lenient at times (first half against Baltimore, second half against New York), and I think the Packers will be able to make them pay. Now wake me up next seas-- aw, DAMN IT!

Pick: Packers 31, Steelers 20

Aaron: And, on the flip side of the coin, I'm really turned off by this Steelers team. Maybe it's the Ben Roethlisberger "(alleged) rapist-to-redemption" storyline which was brilliantly lampooned
here. Maybe it's the ridiculous -- and oft-repeated -- idea that "character" matters more inside the Steelers organization than anywhere else in the NFL. As if morality would even be mentioned if this team was 3-13. Maybe it's the tired narrative equating the Steelers success as some sort of salve for the economically-ravaged residents of working-class western Pennsylvania. Would even the most die-hard fan trade a steady job and financial security for a Steelers win on Sunday? Hell, maybe it's because of Wiz Khalifa. I can't remember the last Super Bowl in which I couldn't make a pick -- right or wrong -- with a lick of conviction. Either team could win close, in a blowout or in a shootout. The Steelers defense has made the stops when they've needed to in the postseason and since Joe's got Green Bay...

Pick: Steelers 28, Packers 27

Friday, February 4, 2011

TBG Eats: McDonald's McRib

Current Weight: 166.2 lbs.

On January 3rd, I stepped on the scale for the first time in several days. The six weeks or so between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day had been filled with enormous home-cooked holiday meals, a nonstop conga line of seasonal confections and That Bootleg Family's annual escape-the-leftovers, end-of-the-year spike in casual-dining restaurant patronage.

I wasn't surprised to see that I now weighed a little over 175 lbs.

The armchair psychiatrist might opine that I'm still carrying around deep-seated "fat kid" issues from my morbidly obese adolescence. In truth, it's the seat of my 34-inch-waist work slacks that are considerably less deep when I'm carrying more than 170 lbs. In my mind, I could drop five pounds with relative ease. In the morning, I'd wash down a granola bar with my usual two quarts of coffee. I'd spend the rest of the work day grazing on my omnipresent plastic bowl of fresh fruit. For dinner, I'd limit myself to one serving -- the only hard part of my dietary adventure -- and cut out craft beers.

By the end of that week, I'd dropped down to 171.2 lbs. and was back to filling my stomach with
deep-fried chicken biscuits. On Friday, January 7, I woke up with a sore throat. My immune system usually isn't all that hospitable to the common cold and after 48-72 hours; I've returned to the picture of perfect health.

Instead, this bug lingered for a full week before mutating into full-blown "feeling like absolute crap" over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend. MLK Day is not a day off at my job, so I honored the memory of arguably the greatest American of the 20th century by keeping my black ass at home.

(I briefly entertained the notion of going into work and leaving at lunchtime, just so I could tweet: "In honor of Dr. King, I'm leaving before my work is done." But, the list of black guys who could get away with that admittedly offensive line is limited to Chris Rock (1996-2002), Dave Chappelle (2003-04) and maybe Tracy Morgan (2010-present).)

The next day, I called my doctor's office and...
this happened.

I finally got in to see my doctor on Thursday, January 20. He prescribed five days worth of antibiotics and by Sunday the 23rd, I felt noticeably better. Two days after that, the sore throat and congestion came back. I had honestly gotten back to nearly 90% of normal before sliding back into sick. By the end of January, I'd beaten back infirmity's second act.

Then, on February 2nd, I sent out the following tweet:

I've either caught my third cold since New Year's or I've been sick for 33 straight days. Not sure which scenario I should be rooting for.

And, I'm still carrying this week's ick as of this writing. I've lost nearly ten pounds since the start of the year, but I'd take back every one -- and the accompanying slacks-related snugness -- for one solid week of good health. Now, I don't know how many of those pounds can be attributed to McDonald's McRib sandwich, but I did order one late last year just so I could give it the "TBG Eats" treatment.

Every review of the McRib is required to reference the oft-told history of the sandwich. Here's what I remember: I first heard of the McRib in 1987 or 1988. These were the early years of America's ten-year run (1985-1994) of food and drink gimmicks that polarized our populace, including -- but, not limited to -- the
McDLT, New Coke, Crystal Pepsi and Stuffed Crust Pizza.

When the McRib was removed from McDonald's menu, it lived on as a national punch-line for years. I vividly remember Arsenio Hall, of all people, killing with a stand-up bit that cited a failure to connect with "McNegroes" as the reason for the McRib's demise. Killing! Arsenio!

Thanks to some especially deft marketing -- a few years ago, McDonald's poured millions into simultaneous "McRib Farewell Tour" AND "Bring Back the McRib" campaigns -- the sandwich has developed a cult following like few other nationally known fast food items. Now, it randomly returns once a year or so for a few weeks at a time. Everyone caught up? Cool.

The McRib is created by molding boneless pork into the shape of an ersatz rack of ribs. It's then drenched in barbecue sauce and topped with onions and pickles and nestled into a six-inch corn-dusted roll.

This sandwich's most memorable characteristics won't find their way into the 2011 promotional plan. The spongy texture of the meat has to be eaten to be believed. It actually "squishes" with the first few chews, but without any of the jagged texture of real ribs. Between my teeth, it reminded me of those Brown & Serve-brand processed breakfast sausages. And, for obvious reasons, the meat is drowning in sauce. I haven't seen this much gratuitous crimson since
Suge Knight was still alive.

The flavor of the meat barely registers a bit of pork essence; so what you're left with is the kind of barbecue sauce sandwich I might've eaten back in the day, because barbecue sauce and bread were the only items in my refrigerator. On that level, it's actually edible. The sauce has that high fructose corn syrup quality straight from the bottle and the chewiness of the roll seems more appropriate than with the Superball-inspired spare ribs inside.

The McRib didn't entirely connect with this McNegro, either.


Grade: 1.5 (out of 5) Calories: 500 Fat: 26g

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

2010 Final A'ssessment: The Offense

About a month ago, I was talking to a friend of mine who also subscribes to the MLB Extra Innings cable TV package every spring. "After six straight months of Yankees games", he said, "I'm completely burned out on baseball." During the season, my best guess is that I watch all or part of 130-140 A's games. Over the past few years -- when the playoffs rolled around -- I was DONE. I cannot remember the last time I watched an entire postseason game from beginning to end, as I use October through February to recharge my proverbial baseball batteries.

Consequently, pitchers and catchers report in two weeks and I still haven't found the motivation to finish the 2010 grades for my beloved A's. I covered our
starting rotation and bullpen in detail, but for the hitters it's gotta be quick n' dirty or this'll never get done.

Kurt Suzuki -- C: Injured a rib cage muscle in late April and never seemed quite right after returning from the disabled list in mid-May. Spent months expanding the strike zone and swinging for the fences, but woefully miscast as a middle-of-the-order hitter. He slugged .294 in nearly 60 starts in the three-hole. Defense and game-calling remain top-notch. Grade: C

Daric Barton -- 1B: By pretty much every metric -- traditional and esoteric -- he was the A's best player in 2010. Posted a .393 OBP with 33 doubles while playing nearly top-tier defense at first base. The latter accomplishment is no small feat as Barton was brutal with the glove when he debuted full time just three seasons ago. Only hit 10 home runs, but half of those came over the season's final five weeks. Grade: B+

Mark Ellis -- 2B: In last year's "30 A's in 30 Days" feature, I predicted the A's dearth of MLB-ready second base prospects and Ellis' unspectacular efficiency would force the team to pick up his 2011 option...and, that's what happened. He posted his best numbers (.291/.358/.381) since 2007 and played his usual awesomely anonymous defense. As always, he missed several weeks with an injury. Grade: B

Cliff Pennington -- SS: His arm is just one superfluous first-name vowel from being mentioned alongside Shawon Dunston's. Posted respectable first half numbers at the plate (.264/.333/.392), but really struggled in the second half (.232/.300/.336). By virtue of him not being Bobby Crosby, I'm willing to wait and see how he adjusts to the grind in 2011. Grade: C+

Kevin Kouzmanoff -- 3B: For the third straight year, his OPS continued its gradual slide towards the replacement-level abyss. Since a solid 2007 season in San Diego, his OPS has been .732, .722 and .679. In his defense, Kouzmanoff battled a bad back at times. The A's still spent most of this offseason attempting to sign or trade for his immediate replacement. Grade: D+

Rajai Davis -- LF: From 2009 to 2010, Davis lost 40 points in OBP and almost 50 points in SLG. The most likely explanation -- his unsustainable .361 BABIP in '09 fell to .322 last year. Davis was traded to Toronto shortly after the season and while I'll miss the skills he brought to the A's lineup, I won't miss his occasional lapses in concentration both in the field and on the basepaths. Grade: B-

Coco Crisp -- CF: Crisp broke his left pinky finger while sliding into second base during the A's final spring training game. He didn't play in his first regular season game until May 21 and then he went back to the DL a few days later with a strain in his rib cage. Crisp was having a strong finish to his abbreviated 2010 campaign (.304/.360/.446 in August and September) when he broke the same finger on September 18. His defense is a joy to behold. Grade: B-

Ryan Sweeney -- RF: In a make-or-break season, the 25-year-old broke. Surgery on one of his long-problematic knees ended Sweeney's season in mid-July. His 2010 slash line (.284/.341/.387) was almost identical to his career numbers at the start of last season -- including the unacceptable power output for a corner outfielder. Grade: C

Jack Cust -- DH: One of my favorite A's of recent vintage, the team really shouldn't have brought him back last season. That said, Cust deserved better than the two-days-before-Opening Day demotion to the minor leagues followed by six weeks in triple-A limbo. He ended up with 425 plate appearances in Oakland, but he can't catch up to decent fastballs anymore. His power continued to slowly erode, while his uncharacteristically high batting average (.272) was due in no small part to his fluky .387 BABIP. Grade: B-

And, the two sentences or less.

Landon Powell -- C: After a respectable rookie campaign as the A's back-up catcher, Powell spent the first six weeks of the season see-sawing between Oakland and AAA-Sacramento. Never really got going at the plate.

Adam Rosales -- IF: Known for his goofy 100-meter dash home run trot, he was a capable fill-in when Mark Ellis went down with a leg injury in the early going. Solid against LHP all season.

Gabe Gross -- OF:
He'll always have this.

Chris Carter -- OF: Entered the season as the A's top prospect, he was called up to Oakland in early August -- and started his career
0 for 33. These Canseco-ian clouts give me hope, though.