Thursday, August 25, 2011

TBG (Quickly) Eats: NEW Fiery Fusion Doritos and Cheetos

I've been frequenting convenience stores long enough to remember when my dad used to send me to the mom-and-pop shop two blocks from our apartment. With the two dollars he gave me; I'd buy him a pack of Kool cigarettes and in exchange for my efforts, he'd let me buy myself a Chunky Bar. And, I still came home with change.*

* -- It goes without saying that these were the early 1980s. The store owner knew my dad (and, obviously, me), the packs of cigarettes were in FRONT of the counter and nobody thought there was anything wrong with an eight-year-old boy buying smokes for his old man.

Despite my liquor store legacy, I was surprised to learn it's been 20 years since Frito-Lay first introduced their "Flamin' Hot" flavor of snack chips to unsuspecting tongues everywhere.** The company has since released a wide array of their ubiquitous, delicious junk food spiced with varying degrees of heat. I can't claim to have tried them all, but off the top of my head, I recall loving the
Tapatio Doritos and loathing the "2nd Degree Burns" Fiery Buffalo Doritos.

** -- If our friends at are to be believed.

Earlier this month, Frito-Lay released two new entries onto convenience store snack racks. Their "Fiery Fusion" Doritos and Cheetos were -- according to the official press release -- "...inspired by the increasingly popular trend of pairing complex global flavors." The calories may be empty, kids, but the pretentiousness is plentiful!

Both the Doritos and Cheetos are flavored with "...cheese, herbs and spices with cayenne pepper, vinegar and paprika" and Frito-Lay promises "a unique flavor with slow-burning heat".

Given a choice between their regular flavors, I'll always choose Doritos over Cheetos. So, I was somewhat surprised to discover the Fiery Fusion flavor elements worked better with the Cheetos. Perhaps it was the denser texture, but the spices -- particularly the cayenne pepper -- seemed to penetrate each gnarled piece, blending with the corn components to create sweet notes up front and a kick of spice at the end.

The Doritos version reminded me of the
Last Call Jalapeño Popper-flavored Doritos, but got the spice balance all wrong. Those Last Call Doritos weren't overly peppery and carried a fantastic creamy mouthfeel that tied the different tastes together. The Fiery Fusion Doritos are all cayenne and lack the Cheetos' complexity -- relative to the standards of 99-cent snack foods. This is still a decent little chip and I'd absolutely buy another bag, but it misses the descriptive marketing target that Cheetos hits.

Grade (Fiery Fusion Cheetos): 4 (out of 5)

Grade (Fiery Fusion Doritos): 3 (out of 5)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Jalen's First Racial Incident

On Monday, my seven-year-old son Jalen began second grade.

Behaviorally, the previous three months have been a bit of a mixed bag for him. He withstood -- with surprisingly good maturity -- the temporary parental abandonment created by my June
vacation to New York and Mrs. Bootleg's New York-Rome-Paris jaunt in July.

Unfortunately, one day Jalen also came home from summer camp with a note from his swim instructor reprimanding his overly-competitive nature and dramatically negative attitude when he didn't win at one of the kid-friendly water games. The note was quite pointed and more than a little embarrassing to read as Jalen's parents. So, you can imagine the near aneurysm induced by the note that appeared in his folder the following day.

This correspondence, however, was extremely vague. It was a polite, but terse request to contact the teacher. I'll admit to being more focused on the final line: "Jalen didn't do anything wrong!"

Obviously, Jalen was involved in something, even if he did nothing wrong. On the ride home, Jalen seemed somewhat withdrawn, but I chalked it up to the punishment I'd dispensed the day before. In the hours that followed, both my curiosity and the urgency of the moment evaporated.

The following morning, as I drove Jalen to camp, the note crossed my mind again. For whatever reason, the thought that another child had said something insulting to my son seemed to be the obvious answer. I knew it couldn't be any kind of physical altercation, since that would've merited a more immediate response from the staff. And, no one sends home a note specifically exonerating one party unless there's a second party involved, somehow.*

* -- Only took me 16 hours to figure that out, or roughly 2/3 of an average season of Law & Order.

I called the camp and received a summarized confirmation: two kids had made a racial comment of some kind to Jalen. Before I continue, I should probably point out that I know most of the staff pretty well and, as a result, I received some additional context and perspective that I probably wouldn't have received over the phone, otherwise.

This put me in a different frame of mind than my wife, as I was tasked with filling her in on the incident.

Now, my wife is infinitely more inquisitive than me and my inability to answer her queries ("Who was involved?", "What'd they say to my baby?", "Why don't you EVER ask any follow-up questions, Aaron?!") probably had her thinking that a hate crime had been committed.

We drove to Jalen's summer camp to meet with his teacher. She's actually a very sweet, well-intended older woman who taught our son from preschool through kindergarten. And, every conversation with her -- about anything at all -- inevitably turns into
this. She sat us down -- in those accursed kid-sized chairs that wreck havoc on my back -- and read directly from her [dramatic pause] "Incident Report".

For the benefit of those of you who've read this far, here's the short version: two kids told Jalen he'd have to be last in line because he had black skin. An emotional Jalen informed a different teacher who -- in our estimation -- handled the situation phenomenally well. She did such a good job of talking it out with everyone involved that Jalen didn't even mention it to me when I picked him up that day.

In fact, the "awkward" and "uncomfortable" didn't really begin until our meeting with the teacher and her incident report...continued. Oh, there wasn't anything else of substance in the report. We were assured that the parents of the children involved would be brought in to discuss what happened. And, Mrs. Bootleg and I had plans of our own to talk about it with Jalen.

Before we could leave with our son, however, the teacher had gone off script with us and somehow segued into a lesson on the physiological reasons behind darker skin. And, she went all the way back to the dawn of man for this one, y'all. I am not making this up. We've known her for years, we know she adores Jalen and -- not to put too fine of a point on this -- but, we've known her for years. Mrs. Bootleg and I would've been disappointed if we didn't get the "Grandpa Simpson" bit from her.

A few days later, Jalen and I had the following conversation over breakfast:

Jalen: "Can I write a thank you note to my friend? He got me a race car."

Me: "Why did your friend get you a race car?"

Jalen: "Because, he was saying 'sorry' for saying a mean thing to me."

Me: "Wait...are you talking about the little boy from summer camp last week? He got you a race car?"

Jalen: "Yeah."

Me: "Did you SAY 'thank you'?"

Jalen: "Yeah."

Me: "Then, I think we can leave it at that, J."

Jalen: "But, he wrote ME a note."

Me: "He wrote YOU a note? Where is it?"

Jalen: "Here."

Me: "Y'know what, J. Let's leave it at that."

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The LL Chronicles #11: 2011 Rookies Red Sox Scouting Report

This past Saturday, I signed up my son Jalen for our Little League district's fall season. But, I can't move on to the next season without one last look at the previous season. These are YOUR Spring 2011 Rookies Red Sox, y'all.

Starting first row, far left
Andrew: One of our best three players on the team, despite his consistent ability to drive his coaches crazy. Personally, I could look past his unusually steady stream of groundouts to first base. (Early in the season, over a three-game stretch, he grounded out to first ten straight times.) I could not, however, accept the way he wore his baseball pants. Here is a
facsimile image of Andrew standing on base. And, here is a reenactment of a dugout conversation that might've happened between Andrew and one of his teammates. MLB Equivalent -- Denton True Young

Robert: Previously, I've coached kids who've never played baseball before. After our first practice, I wasn't sure if Robert had ever heard of the word. I gave him one of Jalen's old aluminum bats after he showed up carrying the equivalent of...
this.* All season long, his two-step pregame tradition was (1) examine the lineup card and (2) ask me, "Coach, where's centerfield (or shortstop or right field or second base, etc.) again?" While his swing had all the fluidity of a steel chair shot, I worked with him -- apart from the other kids -- before games and he turned himself into a decent little player. MLB Equivalent -- Michael Jordan

* -- Engraved, personalized novelty baseball bats were part of the gifts I gave the groomsmen in my wedding party. Mrs. Bootleg gave her bridesmaids cold and impersonal bracelets from Tiffany's. I think we know who won THIS marital round. Am I right, fellas?

Steven: The ubiquitous back-handed academic compliment ("If he only applied himself more.") is appropriate here. He was easily our team's best hitter, but was maddeningly disinterested in every other aspect of the game. His lethargic practice habits were positively
Iversonian. On defense, he often played with his hands behind his back and reacted to positioning suggestions from the coaches with a dismissive, disdainful roll of his eyes. And, while he was never appropriately admonished (save for a bad-hop groundball that popped him in the face), I think the coaches and I taught him a valuable life lesson. MLB Equivalent -- Manny Ramirez

Jack: My favorite non-Jalen player on the team and one of the most incessantly pleasant little boys I've ever known. During our very first practice, he ran right up to Jalen and declared, "We have the same haircut! We look exactly alike!" (All season long, the two of them periodically rubbed each other's heads while waiting their turn to bat.) I rooted for him to reach base -- knowing he'd blithely ignore my instructions as the first base coach -- just to hear how he'd respond to me. Once, after I explained the whole "two outs, run on anything" concept, Jack replied, "Did I tell you we got a goldfish? I named him 'Milo'!" And, while his teammates gulped bottles of water and sports drinks in the dugout; Jack politely sipped
Vanilla Bean Crème Frappuccinos. Every game. MLB Equivalent -- Nick Swisher

Starting second row, far left
Joseph: For most of the season, he swung the bat with a pronounced downward thrust -- as if he were
wielding a sledgehammer. We'd literally have to coach him from pitch-to-pitch on making level contact. Watching him run the bases is one of my favorite memories, as Joseph owned the longest, skinniest legs on the team. This artist's rendering isn't far off. Quiet and respectful, his commendable attitude was a Little League coaches' dream. And, at our end-of-season pizza party, he wore a child-sized hat identical to this one. What's not to love? MLB Equivalent -- 1986 Barry Bonds

Danica: The only girl in our entire district -- at any level. With the possible exception of her pink batting helmet, she carried herself like an established Major League player. For example, her batting stance was a perfect replication of longtime Houston Astros first baseman
Jeff Bagwell. And, sometimes, she was...uh, "emotional". Like, Carlos Zambrano emotional. She cried when she struck out...or grounded out...or popped out...or was forced out on the basepaths. From time to time, her tears turned into an absolute meltdown. I mean, when Jalen is playing the role of consoling teammate... Still, she was better than a LOT of the boys she played against. And, much more watchable than those embarrassing baseball scenes in A League of Their Own.** MLB Equivalent -- Milton Bradley

** -- It's been nearly 20 years since its theatrical release. When will it be OK for America to admit this wasn't a good film? If I can't convince you that Field of Dreams was meandering pap, then I'll refocus my retroactive critical campaign to A League of Their Own.

Johnny: His swing began in the very back of the batter's box. As the pitch approached, he'd take the equivalent of a "walking start" towards the ball before swinging from his heels. Wondering if I have a YouTube reenactment queued up?
Wonder no more.*** Johnny was also good for one or two inexplicable snits per game. For reasons that were only occasionally explained, he'd go to the end of the dugout bench and bury his head inside his batting helmet -- refusing to bat or play the field. When he did play, he was a crowd-pleasing kamikaze. He dove for EVERY groundball or fly ball hit in his vicinity. During warm-ups for a 9:00 AM Saturday morning start, he was sopping wet after unleashing his act on top of the dewy grass for 45 minutes. MLB Equivalent -- Eric Byrnes

*** -- I was at this taping of Monday Night Raw from the San Diego Sports Arena in May 1999. Half of the broken "bat" landed one row in front of me. It was clearly painted Styrofoam. I thought you should know.

Brandon: The best athlete on the team, he had two excruciating tics that -- at times -- overshadowed his physical skills. Brandon would not bat until he slipped on his batting gloves. Actually, "slipped on" implies that he did this quickly. He did not. He needed at least a two-batters-ahead-of-him warning from the coaches to start putting his batting gloves on. We lived in constant fear of Brandon leading off an inning. And, after each pitch, he'd fiddle with his gloves (Velcro strap on, Velcro strap off, make a fist, fan out fingers) even more. When he swung, he'd fall into these odd funks in which he'd
stop the bat just as it crossed the plate. He led all of Little League -- worldwide -- in check-swing infield singles. Look it up. MLB Equivalent -- Nomar Garciaparra

Peter: He had the prettiest swing on the team...and, yes, he was the only left-handed hitter in our lineup. Peter joined Steven and Jalen as the Red Sox representatives on the All Star team. His two huge defensive plays at second base in the bottom of the final inning preserved the win for the East All Stars. I...might've
already covered that. On Opening Day, Peter's mouth was the unfortunate recipient of an errant warm-up toss from Jalen. He played the entire game with a grotesquely swollen and bloodied bottom lip. But, his teammates will most remember the night Peter's parents brought sacks and sacks of McDonald's for the postgame "snack". Judging by the delirious enthusiasm, it was obvious their immature palates had not yet rejected McDonald's off-tasting, meat-flavored discs. They will, children. They will. MLB Equivalent -- Chase Utley

Nash: Never listened to the coaches. Never moved on defense. Terrified of the thrown or batted ball. His exasperated mother would sometimes parrot the coaches' instructions from the bleachers as Nash struck a statuesque pose in centerfield. He could hit a little and did contribute with the bat from time to time, but that's really all I've got on him. Oh, more thing. He'd come to the games absolutely slathered in sunblock -- most noticeably on his face. I can't lie. I thought of this
celebrity lookalike six months ago and I've been DYING to use it in this annual post ever since. MLB Equivalent -- Derek Bell

Thanks for a wonderful season, Red Sox.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Jalen Cameron -- The 7 Day Theory

On November 9, 2001 -- exactly one year before my wedding day -- I learned the secret to a long, successful marriage. The future Mrs. Bootleg and I were up in Long Beach for the wedding of one of my former co-workers. During the reception, we engaged in idle conversation with everyone else seated at our table and met a couple who'd been married for 16 years. At the time, this seemed like an eternity so we listened intently as they dispensed the advice I've never forgotten:

Maintain separate interests. Don't do everything together. It's OK to be away from each other.

Depending on your perspective, this either sounds obvious or absurd. The couple at our table added additional context as the evening wore on, explaining that the time apart -- due to their respective jobs or hobbies or even the occasional vacation -- made their time together that much better. Corny? Probably. But, my soon-to-be wife and I were intrigued by their ideas and wished to
subscribe to their newsletter.

I wisely decided NOT to enthusiastically endorse this couple's "separation proclamation" at the reception. It could've been a meticulously-planned trap set by my fiancée with reasonably-priced day players in the roles of wedding guests, baiting me from a script designed to test my commitment. Thankfully, on the 90-minute drive back to San Diego, future Mrs. Bootleg offered her own enthusiastic endorsement. (If it were a trap, she wouldn't have sold it so hard. "Let the mouse FIND the cheese". Right, ladies?)

To the surprise of no one reading this lightly-read blog, I've followed the above advice with far greater frequency than my wife. But, on July 14 -- on the heels of my four-day vacation in New York -- Mrs. Bootleg and one of her best friends left with their bags packed for a SEVEN day trip to New York. And, Rome. A-a-a-and, Paris.

I suppose I could pen a third-person travel diary about their adventures through Newark, New Jersey, The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway or the 14-hour train ride from Rome to Paris. Or, I could write about how Jalen and I spent our week as abandoned black men. Yeah, let's do that one.

Wife's out of town for next seven days. Getting chance to introduce son to new foods my wife wouldn't allow in house. Tonight: pizza rolls. -- from my Twitter feed; Thursday, July 14.

Whenever I play the stereotypical "man who can't cook" card, I feel obligated to point out that I can cook. I make a solid little lasagna, a respectable chicken jambalaya and the greatest tuna salad known to man. I can make a few other foods, but this paragraph is already guaranteed to garner a "why come you don't cook, then?" comment from my wife, so we'll leave it at this.

I've previously mentioned that my seven-year-old son is the pickiest of eaters. Despite allowing him to examine the pizza rolls box and the obvious smell of cheap frozen pizza permeating throughout Stately Bootleg Manor, Jalen was convinced I was trying to slip him something healthy.

Jalen: "What's in this?"

Me: "Pepperoni and cheese. It's a PIZZA roll, J."

Jalen: [pauses] "You eat it first."

Well played, Jalen.

Taking son to Giants v. Padres. Lincecum pitching. Wrong to leave during postgame fireworks show so I beat the crowd? No? Thanks! -- Twitter; Friday, July 15.

Since Jalen LOVES the kid-sized baseball diamond that's just beyond the left field wall at the Padres home ballpark, we're required to arrive moments after the gates open -- 90 minutes before first pitch. Jalen didn't seem fazed by his embarrassing performance with the bat -- hitting the ball roughly three feet from home plate -- and took the field where he chased down every groundball, fly ball and baserunner. Sometimes successfully!

The Padres didn't put up much of a fight that evening,
falling to the Giants, 6-1. And, I'm happy to report...we beat the crowd.

At my barbershop. Bootleg copy of "Cars 2" on TV. This sends several mixed messages to my son. I assume he's morally torn. On the inside. -- Twitter, Saturday, July 16.

The day after I got back from New York, I took Jalen to see Cars 2. He didn't seem to enjoy it, as his favorite parts from the original film (the NASCAR-esque racing sequences) were deemphasized in favor of a disposable Disney spy story. Three weeks later, Jalen was staring slack-jawed at the flat-screen TV that displayed the unmistakably grainy video of an illicitly-duplicated DVD.

After our haircuts, Jalen turned to me and sadly asked, "Can we go to the movies and see Cars 2, again?" Judging by Jalen's melodramatic tone, he wasn't asking for permission. He was asking if it was even possible to see the movie again. As of this writing, Jalen and I have seen the movie four times. I'm left wondering if it's possible to un-see it from here on out.

Sunday, July 17

Jalen and I met up with several other fathers and sons for a few hours of baseball practice. After we took the kids through the usual hitting, fielding and pitching drills; the afternoon ended with some good-natured competition: fathers vs. sons. I was stationed at shortstop when an especially uppity eight-year-old stepped to the plate. This little boy was obviously talented, but his incessant trash-talking turned all the adults against him. We were NOT letting him reach base.

Predictably, he smashed the first pitch towards me. I took two clumsy steps to my left, made a stumbling lunge into the infield dirt and watched the watched the ball rocket past my glove. On the play, I somehow managed to scrape and bloody BOTH of my elbows and BOTH of my knees. Jalen's unintentionally derisive response ("Don't worry, daddy. Mommy bought more Band-Aids.") was the most painful owie of them all.

Monday, July 18

Jalen: "What are you making?"

Me: "I thought I'd make you a peanut butter sandwich to take for lunch."

Jalen: [watching] "That's not how mommy makes it."

Me: "It's a peanut butter sandwich, Jalen. Peanut butter and bread. I make it the same way mommy makes it."

Jalen: "No, you don't. Mommy makes it with love." [casually walks off]

Tuesday, July 19

Five minutes before leaving the house to drop off Jalen at summer camp, he doesn't even look up from tying his shoes when he says to me, "I need fabric because we're making backpacks today." As his father, I'm obligated to run through the usual parental interrogation: "What do you mean you need fabric TODAY?!" "How long have you known about this?" "Are you SURE you need it today?" "Do you REALLY think there's a fabric store open at 8:00 AM, Jalen?!"

Thankfully, I was able to procure a 24-hour arts-and-crafts rain check from Jalen's camp. Now, all I had to do was find a fabric shop somewhere in San Diego and buy a half-yard of material. After explaining my plight to a co-worker, she recommended a shop called Jo-Ann's -- just 10 minutes from my office. I expected a quaint, old-timey storefront with "Jo-Ann" greeting customers at the door and offering a plate of freshly-baked ladyfingers. Instead, Jalen and I entered a sterile airplane hangar filled floor-to-ceiling with fabrics. It had been 15 years since a more intense fish-out-of-water story
had been told.

After 15 minutes, we'd completed three laps of the building's interior and still hadn't found anyone on the floor to assist us. Jalen hastened the incineration of my increasingly short fuse by asking "Are you sure this is the fabric shop?" over and we were surrounded by nothing BUT fabric. Finally, we came across some blue fabric with baseballs all over it -- and, I had no idea what to do with it. Do I buy the whole thing or just tear off what I need?

We figured it all out. Eventually.

Wednesday, July 20

Our last full day without Mrs. Bootleg and Jalen gets in trouble at summer camp. His swim instructor sent home a page-long "note" stating that Jalen was overly competitive, only concerned with winning and reacted extremely negatively to losing during their spirited rounds of "sharks and minnows".

Good to see that a week without his mother had no impact on Jalen's behavior.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

TBG Eats: The CUSTOMIZED Peanut Butter and Jellousy Burger from Slater's 50/50

Current Weight: 164.4 lbs.

I first reviewed Slater's 50/50
back in April after driving nearly 90 miles (one way) for their famous "50/50" burger -- made from 50% ground beef and 50% ground bacon. That day, my friends Smitty and Thai joined me at the Anaheim Hills location where we ordered a combination plate of four different deep-fried appetizers, 50/50 burgers all around and three bacon brownies for dessert.

Less than a month ago, Slater's opened a second restaurant in Huntington Beach. I hadn't seen Smitty or Thai since our first Slater's sojourn. When I told them I was planning on another visit up north from San Diego, Smitty suggested Slater's--Huntington Beach faster than it took you to finish this sentence.

Oddly enough, I was born and raised in Long Beach -- roughly 15 miles away from Huntington Beach -- but, I can only remember visiting the city once before.
For this. Before you pass judgment, let me remind you that I'm now driving 85 miles for a burger and beers with two of my oldest friends. Again. Now, you may judge me.

This past Saturday, I valiantly -- occasionally profanely -- fought the traffic driving north on Interstate 5, arriving at Slater's more than two hours after leaving San Diego. The Huntington Beach location is brighter and more open than the Anaheim Hills site (although the parking lot is matchbox-small with valet service available -- and necessary -- once it fills up). The restaurant's spacious interior provides ideal sightlines for the eye-popping array of 80 beers on tap behind the bar.

I opted for the
Palomino Pale Ale from...Bootlegger's Brewery! Like my blog! Kind of! This was a lighter, well-crafted balance of mild sweetness, acidity and citrus notes. Smitty was accompanied by his lovely wife -- a blatant, brazen violation of our by-laws -- and she ordered a bacon Bloody Mary. This is a real thing. Her glass was rimmed with bacon salt and garnished with a bacon strip protruding out of the vodka and towards the heavens from where it originated. She offered me a taste. Soo-POIB!

For our appetizers, we stuck with the fried dill pickle chips -- the breakout star of April's appetizer platter -- and added beer-battered onion strings and French fries. THIS is the correct Slater's snackin' combination with a delicious mix of textures and (salted, zesty, tangy) flavors.

I needed a
customization menu to build my burger. My stomach was set on Slater's "Peanut Butter and Jellousy" (Sterling Silver (brand) ground beef topped with thick cut bacon, creamy peanut butter and strawberry jelly). Previously, I was pleasantly surprised by the PB&J "Dee Snider" burger from the Grill 'Em All food truck, so I went all in on this one.

Meat: 50/50

Size: 2/3 lb.

Bread: white brioche

(Over the) Toppings: peanut butter & jelly, jalapeño relish, thick-cut bacon.


I attacked this by cutting it in half, watching in awe as the ground bacon/ground beef juices pooled onto my plate. The salty, cured components of the thick cut bacon paired perfectly with the roasted sweetness from the peanut butter and the more prominent sugars from the strawberry jelly.

My burger came topped with pepper jack cheese -- which I didn't order -- but, it worked phenomenally well. It provided the subtlest of spice on the finish of each bite and an ooey-gooey factor that balanced out the thick meats.

The MVP of my creation was, of all things, the jalapeño relish -- a savory union of sweet n' heat that complimented every other ingredient between my bun. One of my former co-workers makes a similar jalapeño jelly every Christmas and she graciously sets aside a jar or two for me. It would appear that festive holiday jalapeño jelly hamburgers will be on the Cameron family's Christmas menu this year.

My five-point food review scale is a reflection of my critical credibility. So, out of five, my "peanut butter and jellousy, thick-cut bacon and jalapeño relish-y" burger gets...

Grade: 5,000 (out of 5)


Epilogue: I tapped out after finishing my monstrosity, but Smitty and Thai opted for dessert milkshakes. Smitty and his wife split a chocolate-maple bacon(!) milkshake and Thai went with the more conservative Heath Bar. Mrs. Smitty took a few tastes before recoiling in horror with one of those "my God, what have I done?!" grimaces.

From there, I don't know what was more entertaining: watching Smitty enthusiastically uncover the big bacon pieces blended within the milk and ice cream or the sight of him trying to fit his face into the metal milkshake canister in search of that elusive last drop.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

TBG Sees: Green Lantern

Off to see Green Lantern. The comic book geek in me is REALLY rooting for this to be good. Every critic in the country can be wrong, right? -- from my Twitter feed, July 8

I'll admit it...I'm biased.

I grew up reading DC Comics and watching the Saturday morning and syndicated cartoons featuring their superhero characters. As far back as I can remember, Batman was always my favorite with Green Lantern firmly established as the silver medalist. Superficially, it was easy to understand Green Lantern's appeal to us comic book kids. He could fly (fantasy!), he could create anything with his ubiquitous power ring (imagination!) and...well, we didn't need much else in the early 1980s.

Of course, I'm oversimplifying the guy. The Green Lantern character was part of a seminal
sociopolitical story arc in the 1970s and written in ways throughout the 1980s/1990s that mined many more mature plots. The character's inherent problem, however, is that ALL comic book superheroes are oversimplified to some degree. Superman? He's the guy with all those powers. Flash? He runs really fast. Spider-Man? Spider, man. Green Lantern? He's got...a ring.

In the build-up to the theatrical release of Green Lantern, non-fans who'd never heard of this admittedly second-tier superhero derided the character's obvious absurdities such as the ring thing and the "Green Lantern" appellation. Oh, and
the oath. My favorite diss came from my friend Joe Reid who wrote at his Low Resolution blog:

"... the more I see about the mythology and the aliens and Ryan Reynolds intensely reciting that 'neither rain nor sleet nor glowing-green snow' credo -- I guess I'm really drawn to un-gritty comic book movies this summer."

The film was released on June 17 and despite pulling in more than $150 million in worldwide box office receipts, the critical consensus was "meh". And, that's probably being kind.

But, as I said, I'm biased. I liked it.

Many of the reviews I read appeared to have an
ax to grind with Ryan Reynolds -- for his past sins on Two Guys, A Girl and a Pizza Place, I presume. But, as the title character, he does what he can with a haphazard script and some especially creaky dialogue. In the opening aerial sequence, his Hal Jordan test pilot alter-ego plays as a campy mishmash of ham and bravado. He "freezes up" while flashing back to memories of his late father. It actually reminded me of Charlie Sheen as Lt. Topper Harley in the 1991 Top Gun spoof, Hot Shots.

Reynolds spends the first and second act going through the standard superhero movie motions (discovers power, doesn't know what to do with it, makes public debut by saving something/someone), but he brings it together for the film's choppy -- but, effective -- final act. Let's be honest: he's riding shotgun with a mystical piece of jewelry. Some of the film's most crowd-pleasing moments involved a giant green toy racecar track and a bad-ass green machine gun.

The film's lack of structure keeps any chemistry from developing between Reynolds and Blake Lively, who plays Carol Ferris -- Hal Jordan's love interest. She's even less convincing in the cockpit than Reynolds during the first scene, but the character is written in way that seemingly keeps her one step ahead of the superhero at all times. (She figures out Green Lantern's secret identity in short order with a clever little line about cheekbones.) Reynolds and Lively just never click, not even during the obligatory damsel-in-distress moments.

So, what did I like? Well, there's Peter Sarsgaard as the psionic villain Hector Hammond. Before Hammond's eventual corruption, Sarsgaard plays him with a gentle hand. The restrained enthusiasm he exhibits during his autopsy of an alien corpse is a hoot and Sarsgaard pairs it with a simmering bitterness just under the surface. The full-on transition to big-brained bad guy doesn't work nearly as well. (Similarly, the build up for the primary antagonist, Parallax, is much better than the payoff.) Mark Strong plays Jordan's distrusting mentor Sinestro with a warrior's nobility and, though it was woefully underdeveloped, the fanboy in me squealed with glee at the conceptualized mythology of the Green Lantern Corps.

The film never ascends anywhere close to greatness, but Green Lantern was actually a lot of fun. It moves in fits and starts, hastily blowing through developments that seem kinda-sorta important (near as I can tell, Jordan is formally trained by the Green Lantern Corps for two or three minutes) on its way to pay lip service on more serious matters (wait, the good guys are willing to sacrifice planet Earth to save themselves?) Reynolds makes for a likeable hero with just enough self-awareness to make the whole thing seem comic-book believable.

Now, the comic book geek in me is REALLY rooting for a sequel.

Monday, August 1, 2011

TBG in NYC Travel Diary -- Part IV: Meeting Old Friends for the First Time

Travel Diary Part I -- Part II -- Part III

I swear it couldn't be sweeter...

New York

Friday, June 24

9:00 AM -- I've shared this with you guys before, but my friend Nick has a terrific little theory when it comes to those of us in our 30s who attempt to recapture the evenings from our 20s. "I'm like Michael Jordan with the Washington Wizards", he says. "I can still put up 40 points. I just need to ice my knees a little longer, afterwards." At this moment, my physical condition places somewhere on the spectrum
between these two men. (Yeah, that was a rather lazy reference on my part. I should've went with my first "between these two men" choice.) Also, I need some metaphorical "ice".

9:30 AM -- Sitting at a table inside Dunkin' Donuts, nursing a large black coffee and a small hangover. A woman walks in and sits down one table over. She spends the next 10 minutes applying make-up from a small black bag. She changes her footwear from cross-trainers to sensible two-inch heels and leaves without ordering anything. In California, working women take care of this in their cars while idling in rush hour traffic or at red lights. Even the shoes, I presume. Advantage: west coast.

10:00 AM -- Checking my phone as I walk back to my room, I see
the following tweet from another New Yorker whom I only "know" through this lightly-read blog and social media. I've already got plans later in the afternoon to meet -- for the first time -- two of my absolute favorite people. Nick and I were going to the Yankees v. Rockies game that evening and the possibility of meeting a third...wait. I wanted to respond to Carrie, but not in the creepy "I'm going to be where YOU'RE going to be" way. I'd say I failed.

12:00 PM -- In 2007, during my last visit to New York City, Nick took me on an unintended two-hour walking tour of various bars as he searched for "this one bar he thought he remembered". Today, he's celebrating the four-year anniversary of our circuitous journey by taking me on an unintended walking tour of various pizzerias as he searches for "this one pizzeria he thought he remembered". Nick lives in Connecticut, so his sense of recall is only three hours away and one state over.

12:30 PM -- Nick and I ended up...well, somewhere on Third Avenue. Nick would walk in to a spot, size up the menu, examine the slices sitting behind the glass and silently move on. For his next birthday, I'm buying him an especially haughty monocle. After the fifth or sixth time, I would've settled for one of those
Trump n' Palin pies. Thankfully, he decided on...well, some place on Third Avenue. I can't remember the name. Who wants a review?!

I don't care if it was a tourist's mistake, I ordered two slices: pepperoni and the intriguing-to-me "lasagna". The pepperoni slice had some great flavors with a light smokiness from the crust working well with the kinda-sorta sweet sauce. The lasagna slice was topped with a dollop of ricotta cheese and a blend of ground beef and coarse Italian sausage. The richness from the ricotta weighted down -- figuratively and literally -- the rest of the toppings, but the same ricotta's creaminess gave it a texture unlike any slice I've ever eaten.

1:30 PM -- Back to
Brother Jimmy's BBQ for some mid-afternoon weekday libations. Nick and I order six light beers between us. He pays. The bill does NOT total $66. Remember this later.

2:50 PM -- I head off to
Perfect Pint to meet Movie Joe and Michiewah for the very first time. It's just a one-mile walk, but along the way I experience New York's unique interpretation of rush hour traffic -- on the sidewalks. It's the last Friday in June, yet I've time-traveled exactly five months into the future. With the weekend beginning for the city's eight million residents and the streets filling up, everyone's usual frenetic pace cancelled each other's out. This physiological anomaly was first identified by the late Dr. Robert Marella.

3:15 PM -- Finally...I meet
Movie Joe. He and I actually go back a little. We first crossed paths in 2003 while writing for -- he wrote a weekly movie news column and I wrote the same for music. Years later, he was the biggest inspiration for the creation of this lightly-read blog. (If I recall, he IM'ed me: "You need to start your own blog.") And, now we're having beers.

Joe is the epitome "good people", y'all. As I told him, myself, the thing I admire most about his writing is his ability to convey his love for movies or music or
questionable football picks at all times -- whether he's praising something or pointing out its shortcomings. Mrs. Bootleg would love him. I've got to bring her with me next time.

4:15 PM -- An hour later, I finally meet
Michiewah as she joins us at the bar. Her off-center sense of humor syncs up perfectly with mine, as do her 9:00 AM cravings for steak sandwiches and innate inability to suffer fools gladly. As the three of us sat out on the crowded rooftop patio, I was grateful for the opportunity to mention my admiration of her livewire personality. Even with the synthetic sheen of preening professionals all around us, this woman's spirit couldn't be suffocated.

And, she shared the story of how she broke eight of her fingers all at once. (Joe's anecdotes were disappointingly lacking in freak physical accidents.)

5:30 PM -- With three or four Brooklyn Lagers sloshing inside my stomach, I took my temporary leave of the bar scene. First pitch for the Yankees v. Rockies game was scheduled for 7:05 PM and I had to sprint all the way back to the hotel to meet back up with Nick and get the tickets. I...didn't plan well.

5:45 PM -- Embracing the notion that red lights and crossing signals are nothing more than informal suggestions and ignored by pedestrians, I make it back to my room in pretty good time. Running through New York City is a LOT
like this. Right down to the half-bird/half-Busta Rhymes creatures that shriek from the rooftops.

6:45 PM -- Nick and I arrive at NEW Yankee Stadium. The two of us attended a Yankees game together
in 2007, but that was at the team's previous ballpark. The usual "difference between night and day" cliché doesn't quite capture the chasm between the two. The old place -- for all its "history" -- had become one with its squalid surroundings. Still, it was absolutely one of my favorite baseball experiences ever. The new stadium -- right across the street from where the original once stood -- is an opulent monstrosity. It reminded me of Biff Tannen's Pleasure Paradise Casino & Hotel towering over the slums of 1985A Hill Valley. Y'know, from Back to the Future II. Remember? The "A" stands for "altered reality". Remember?!

7:00 PM -- All kidding aside, this place is spectacular. I've been to better Major League ballparks, but new Yankee Stadium is unlike anywhere I've ever watched a game. Everything is enormous. Everything! The concourses, the signage, the scoreboard, the restrooms -- even the concession stands seem to extend into eternity. Before the game begins, I send a text message to Carrie (from earlier in this post...remember?!) and notice that my cell phone battery is on life support.

7:30 PM -- I've hastily made plans to meet Carrie after the third inning. For now, I've hasty-lier made plans to try the cheese fries at the Nathan's stand. For some surely litigious reason, the menus in New York are required to disclose the caloric content of every item offered. The cheese fries? 1,442 calories! However, the buyer's remorse didn't kick in until I returned to my seat. Thick, crinkle-cut fries asphyxiating in cheese sauce...and it was wholly mediocre: bland, flat and flavorless. Hard to believe the Nathan's brand would be associated with something so unappetizing.

8:00 PM -- Between innings, I meet up with Carrie for the first time. An aspiring lawyer, she owns my absolute favorite Twitter feed -- riffing on everything from law school to Cocoa Puffs. As I awkwardly -- possibly drunkenly -- blurted out to her, "Dude, I'm rooting for you more than anyone I've never met before!" I didn't want to take her away from the game -- or her boyfriend! -- for too long. In the past 48 hours, I'd met four different people whom I'd admired from afar for years. New York trip = worth it.

9:00 PM -- Also, "worth it"? Watching ancient Rockies DH Jason Giambi turn back the hands of time. In the second inning, he tied the game with an absolute bomb over the right field wall. He walked in his next plate appearance and in the fifth inning, he singled sharply, prompting an exasperated Nick -- a longtime Yankees fan -- to yell out, "Jesus Christ, he's 50!" Without exaggeration, he brought down our entire section with that one.

10:15 PM -- Nick's Yankees lose, 4-2. As we head back towards the train, word begins filtering in to those of us who were segregated from the real world for the past three hours: New York had legalized same-sex marriages. I'd say this calls for a celebration.

Saturday, June 25

3:00 AM -- Nick and I lift ourselves out of a cab and spill into the lobby of our hotel. Somehow, through a nonsensical pattern of long walks and short cab rides, we'd ended up on Broadway and drank our last six light beers in the same location. Kept the tab open. $66 to settle up. My turn to buy. New York trip = still worth it.

3:30 AM -- I can't convince Nick to come back out for one more
cheesesteak from Carl's. He had to head back to Connecticut early on Saturday and since he had spent his fifth wedding anniversary with me instead of with his beautiful wife and daughter, I gave him a pass. The streets seem more alive now than 12 hours ago. And, with a clear head and full spirit, I wanted to hold its essence. Turns out its essence is warm -- with extra Whiz and grilled onions.

Good night, New York.


Postscript -- My sincere thanks to everyone who made this trip so memorable and took some time to hang out with me. And, thanks to the "anonymous e-mailer" who inspired me to let a small handful of New Yorkers how much they mean to me. We'll have to do this again, New York. Soon.