Sunday, July 25, 2010

Oh Boy! Food!*

I think about food a lot. For example, right now, I’m using about 40 percent of my brain to focus on writing this column, while the other 60 percent is fixated on the Lean Pockets waiting for me in the freezer. I wonder what they’ll taste like. Are they any good? Should I eat both? If I only eat one, will I be gnawing my own arm off an hour later? How, in fact, does the crisping sleeve work?

In particular, as I referenced in an earlier posting, I am fascinated by the relentlessness of mealtime, relentless in the way that TLC and HGTV bombard you with shows about young couples looking to buy a home. Incidentally, it took me about a year to realize that all these riveting stories are depicted on roughly forty different shows. Property Virgins. House Hunters. Real Estate Intervention. Anyway, other than oxygen and water (both of which are easily accessible), food is the only thing that you HAVE to have on a frequent basis. And it's the thing that takes the most work.

Even eating out is a complex task involving (1) the selection of a place (I like the idea of the Urbanspoon app on the iPhone (a random restaurant selector), but I never like the option it gives me, so I run the app over and over, which basically renders it useless), (2) traveling there and (3) the often shocking expense of it. Further complicating matters is the added dimension that your life literally depends on the food choices you make every day. It’s like taking the SAT and finding out that answering too many questions incorrectly will result in the proctor taking you out behind the gymnasium and murdering you. Pencils down, b*tch!

My own eating habits were ingrained at a young age. We didn’t eat out often, and my parents shared the cooking responsibilities pretty equally. Given that very few Middle Eastern men his age cook, my father is a bit of a rarity, sort of like the rock that Andy directs Red to at the end of the Shawshank Redemption, a rock of “black, volcanic glass” that had no earthly business in a Maine hayfield. My dad -- the black rock in a Maine hayfield of Lebanese women.

Once a month or so, we’d get the Friday night trip to Red Lobster, where I would proceed to lay waste to the popcorn shrimp platter. These excursions were tremendously exciting in our household (at least for me and my sister) because they meant a temporary reprieve from my mom’s stuffed grape leaf cannon and hummus gun, both of which she fired indiscriminately. Not that the food wasn’t good, but when you’re a first-generation American, the last thing you want is to give some hint to the schoolyard masses that you’re somehow different by lugging in a lunchbox full of Middle Eastern-looking grub (and that was back when the Russians were the bad guys, before anyone had ever heard of al-Qaeda).

Since I could pretty much rule out the prospect of buying my own lunch (I went to private school, where, looking back, I would agree that lunch was ridiculously expensive), all I wanted was a bologna sandwich and a bag of Cheetos in my lunch bag. Yes, I do find it ironic that I’m now willing to drop 40 bucks a day at the Lebanese Food Festival or in one of the area’s Mediterranean delis to get a little taste of the food that I rejected so often. Strangely, as I’ve mentioned before, I was pretty chubby as a kid, which is a bit mystifying because I basically ate the South Beach diet until I went to college. This leads me to wonder how much popcorn shrimp I actually ate during those Friday night outings.

So I toddled off into adulthood with these food lessons -- (1) men cook; (2) eating out is for suckers; and (3) Red Lobster makes awesome popcorn shrimp. I haven’t been to Red Lobster in more than twenty years, but I’d bet the popcorn shrimp still tastes pretty good. Because you could deep fry my iPhone and I’d probably want to take a bite.

We’ll write off the college years and my 20s, which, probably like yours, is a hazy string of memories glued together with pizza cheese and sprayed with beer, and focus on diet in adulthood. First, you actually have to think about what your eating (take it easy, you grammar ninjas, I was just trying to get a rise of out of you with that "your eating"…). As for me, I recently came to the extremely troubling realization that I need about 400 fewer calories a day than I was consuming. I know this because I’m now in Week 12 of the P90X workout program and, despite becoming fitter than I’ve been since high school, I’m able to power through the 5-6 workouts a week on about 1600-1800 calories a day. A Chipotle burrito, even without cheese and sour cream, is pushing 1,000 calories by itself. That just depresses me.

Sometimes, I think this overall sadness that strikes you about your diet has contributed to the popularity of farmer’s markets, especially of the vendors hawking the locally raised meats. After all, it’s a lot easier to convince yourself of the nutritional benefits of eating local baby rack ribs rather than the ones from Outback. That they are still baby rack ribs is somehow lost on me. (By the way, go look up how many calories a rack of ribs has -- I’ll wait).

Back yet?

Yeah, reading that was a kick in the stomach wasn’t it? Sort of like watching Tony Almeida turn on Jack Bauer in 24.

So to really embrace a healthy diet but still feel like you enjoy what you’re eating, it seems like you have to brainwash yourself. Believe me, nobody likes getting a bag of Chinese takeout more than me, so when I’m feeling like H.I. McDonough at the beginning of Raising Arizona and driving by Chinese restaurants that aren’t even on my way home, I remind myself that once I feel full, I won’t care what I ate to become full. This usually brings me back from the brink, and we whip up some whole-wheat spaghetti and turkey meatballs. Usually.

Mmm… Chinese….

Me looking around awkwardly...

You still here? No, I’m not getting Chinese for dinner. I swear!

Lunch can be as big a pain in the rear as dinner, if not more so. I used to be really good about making my lunch the night before, but as the years have worn on, it’s become a little game of what I like to call pull-and-pray (admittedly, not nearly as fun as the original Pull-and-Pray it’s named after, but with far less serious consequences). Assuming your prayers that there’s something lunchworthy waiting for you after you’ve pulled open the fridge door have not been answered, you’re staring down the gunbarrel of dropping ten bucks for a lunch that probably violates virtually every tenet of healthy eating.

I seem to operate under the impression that lunch prices have held steady since the late 1980s. I think the reason for this is that when I started going out to eat without parents in tow and paying for meals with my own money, our destination was invariably Taco Bell, which, as you may recall, once sported a menu board with no item more expensive than a dollar. A lunch tab of $2.38 apparently imprinted itself on my brain as an appropriate baseline, and so whenever I see a lunch bill for ten dollars, I am, on some level, appalled.

And if you have kids, your work is exponentially harder -- not just because you’re molding the eating habits for a hopefully healthy adulthood but because you have to perform said molding while your son is holding your daughter’s My Little Pony hostage, threatening to snip off her luscious mane with a pair of safety scissors. It may be an exaggeration to say that since my kids have already eaten out more often than I did during my entire childhood. But only a slight exaggeration. And the kids’ menus at most restaurants are abominations - chicken tenders, corn dogs, mac and cheese, and so on -- so that, plus the desire to have a peaceful meal, conspire to make it virtually impossible to have the kids eat healthy while eating out.

We are pretty careful about the kids’ diet, and they are generally happy to eat whatever we put on their plate at home. Then again, my kids spend most of their waking hours running around chasing things and climbing on monkey bars, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they’re both little string beans. It’s things like this that make me want to grab my son by the shoulders and shout, “why do you want to get older? WHY? WHY? You fool!”

So yet again, I come to the same conclusion in this column as I have in several others – when it comes to matters of grub, you are not alone. We’re all standing in front of the open refrigerator door, eyeing that pastrami sandwich, but the apple is always in the corner of our eye, making us feel guilty as hell.

*I owe this week's blog title to the name of a catering company in the end credits of a movie I saw one night in college. I don't remember the name of the movie, but I do recall it appeared on USA Network's Friday night movie series titled "Up All Night".

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Dog, A Goat and President Obama Walk into a Bar (Harbor)

Thursday, 8:13 a.m.
Richmond, Virginia

The wife and I are hitting the road this morning, winging north to Bar Harbor, Maine, for my buddy’s wedding. As fate would have it, we’ve heard through the grapevine that President Obama and his family are also vacationing in Bar Harbor this weekend, and in fact, staying in the same resort. When I heard this, I could not have been more giddy because of the comedy potential for this week’s blog.

Things got weird almost immediately when the Secret Service called and asked if the President could ride with us on the understanding that he would pay for gas and snacks. I wanted to think about it for a second, but the agent immediately grew stone-faced and said, “Mr. Kazzie, we know how much you like the pretzel Combos with jalapeno cheddar. We can make this easy for you. Or we can make sure every convenience store between here and the Canadian border is fresh out of Combos when you arrive for gas. Your call."

So after I go to all the trouble of clearing out a spot in the back seat, the Service calls back and says, “Mr. Kazzie, we're good. Turns out we have a helicopter AND a big-ass jumbo jet! See you in Maine!”

I said, “hey, how about you let me and the wife ride with you guys?”

All I got in response was this: "Thank you for calling Chanelo’s, please hold."

Thursday, 10:20 a.m.
Outside Washington, D.C.

I’m not going to surprise or even entertain anyone by noting that there is a sh*tload of traffic in Washington, D.C. I briefly lived here 15 years ago, and the traffic situation looks to be about 4 million times worse than it did in 1995. The gaudy electronic signs along Interstate 495 inform us that there is heavy traffic from Milepost 23 to Milepost Infinity.

Thursday, 1:15 p.m.
Somewhere in south central Pennsylvania

A giant Crayola factory catches our eye. Seriously, this might be the happiest place in all of Pennsylvania. They should send Philadelphia Eagles fans here at the end of every NFL season and set each of them up with a box of 64.

Thursday, 4:55 p.m.
Outside Danbury, Connecticut

I’m making this trip with a shrill, pushy and somewhat antagonistic female. You may also know her as the voice of the GPS navigation system. (Really, you didn’t think I was talking about my wife like this, did you? Really?) God forbid someone other than her (the GPS, not my wife) decide which way to go. If I have to hear her tell me one more time to go seven-tenths of a mile and make a legal U-turn to go back the way SHE wants me to go, my head might explode. I totally get Will Smith’s character from I, Robot. I think they should program these devices so that if you come up with a better route than the omnipotent supercomputer, she has to give you props.

"Um, yeah ... cutting down Route 15 South. Good call. I'm gonna file that one away for next time."

Thursday, 8:00 p.m.
Massachusetts/New Hampshire State Line

We cross into New Hampshire as the day’s last light leaks out of the sky. The first thing that the good people of New Hampshire want you to know is that they have LIQUOR and LOTTERY TICKETS. Nature, schmature. Not one mile into the state, there is a dedicated exit ramp to a giant LIQUOR STORE. That, my friends, is called putting the customer 1st.

Thursday, 9:10 p.m.
Somewhere in Maine

Being in Maine is really disorienting. There’s a sense of loneliness as you traipse north to the far reaches of I-95, the way I imagine the hostages in the movie Speed felt when they had to entrust their lives to Sandra Bullock making a 50-foot jump with a city bus. I also think that there are bears waiting to eat us. It’s not delivery, it’s David!

We spend the night in Portland, Maine, which actually looks like a really cool town. There must be a pub for every three residents of the city.

Friday, 10:15 a.m.
Bangor, Maine

After a good night’s sleep and a 90-minute haul north, we arrive in Bangor, full of that excitement you feel at the end of a long trip, knowing that you’re as far away from the depressing return trip home as you can be.

I’m a big Stephen King fan, and I’d heard that he lives in Bangor during the spring and summer. His address is surprisingly easy to find on the Internets. It’s a nice looking house, Victorian style, with a big wrought iron gate out front. We drive by and take a picture.

No, I don’t think that’s creepy.

OK, it might be a little creepy, but it’s not as creepy as the two women standing in front of the front gate, trying to snap a photograph with their black cat. At least I hope it was their black cat.

Friday, 3:00 p.m.
Bar Harbor, Maine

Things get freaky. We approach our hotel, the Bar Harbor Regency Holiday Inn, along Route 3 East and quickly notice a ROAD CLOSED-DETOUR sign. Luckily, the bride’s brother (whose father is a well-known prosecutor in the area) is riding with us, and the Sheriff (the actual sheriff, not a deputy) who’s manning the blockade, recognizes him. The Sheriff clears us through, and we make our way to the REAL blockade about a mile up the road.

There’s a concrete barrier and a tent set up, along with a portable X-ray machine (Sort of like a travel Simon game, but not nearly as fun). About two hundred yards up the road is another checkpoint, and, since the resort backs up to the Atlantic to the east, we realize that the hotel must be in between the two.

A hotel employee checks our names and IDs and ensures that we are on the hotel registry. After we clear that, we pull up under the tent, where a black Labrador retriever and four agents searched our car and our bags. Interestingly, they don’t conduct a patdown or use a wand on us, which is a pretty strong signal that we’re not getting anywhere near the President and an even stronger signal that if you even think about trying something, you’d be dead shortly afterwards. I immediately dismissed my plan to tiptoe around the hotel all weekend.

I’d say we probably saw two dozen agents before we even got to our room. As the afternoon progressed, we realized that many of the “tourists” were agents as well. A bunch of fit-looking dudes with cheesy t-shirts - and earpieces and guns. You know how people say something is not like the movies? Well, it actually IS like the movies. The agents look exactly like you expect. The motorcade looks just like you expect.

We never did confirm which floor the President stayed on, although we suspect it was the fourth floor.

Friday, 5:00 p.m.
Bar Harbor, Maine

The rehearsal goes off without a hitch. Bride and groom seem happy. The three agents observing the rehearsal also seem happy. People are milling about when we notice a commotion near the tiki bar. A gaggle of reporters streams down the pier to a boat, and shortly afterwards, we see President Obama headed for the pier. He’s no more than fifty yards away. Whatever your politics, it’s amazing to see in person the guy that we’ve entrusted with the future of our country.

As I write this, I’m kicking myself for not remembering to look for the nuclear football. Obama comes down the pier, gets a little playful by hopping up and down on the gangway, and then gets on a boat with his wife, daughters, mother-in-law, and half a dozen other people. The boat motors away from the dock, followed by the boat carrying the reporters. I presume they follow along to be on the scene in the event the President’s boat sinks.

To celebrate this real-life civics lesson, I step down to the tiki bar and have a pint of Sam Adams. I love beer.

Friday, 7:00 p.m.
Hancock, Maine

The President does not attend the rehearsal dinner. However, a pair of goats named Mazel and Tov do make an appearance. This is a running joke between the groom and the bride’s father regarding her dowry. It appears the father of the bride is short a few goats.

After a delicious seafood dinner, we hear some great speeches and watch a slide show, prepared by the groom’s sister, of the couple from the time they were kids through the arc of their relationship. The groom and I have been friends since we were 12, so a photo of him and me from about 1987 made it in the show. I was thrilled to see this photograph came from my chubby phase – my face appeared to be trying to eat my eyeglasses like it was the pit of Sarlacc swallowing Boba Fett. Yikes.

Bottom line, there is no doubt that my friend has found the perfect match in his new wife.

Friday, 11:00 p.m.
Bar Harbor, Maine

Back at the hotel, back through another security check. We make it upstairs, where we find the Secret Service agent assigned to our floor settling into his shift near the elevator.

I’m pretty sure that we’re sleeping in the most heavily guarded hotel in the world tonight. Definitely the most heavily guarded Holiday Inn. For once in my life, I do not feel the need to get out of bed and make sure the door is locked.

Saturday morning
Bar Harbor, Maine

I am guessing you are not particularly interested in the touristy aspect of my stay in Bar Harbor. Hence, I will save you the literary equivalent of sitting through my home movies. We hit as many sights as we could, bought gifts for the kids and headed back to the hotel to get ready for the wedding. As we roll back through the checkpoint, I start to realize we’re getting used to all the security. You know what to expect at each security checkpoint, and a tiny part of you starts to think they’re really there to protect YOU.

Yeah, they’re not. Even if you and your wife do give yourselves Secret Service code names. Not that we did that.

Saturday, 2:25 p.m.

The groom and groomsmen get ready and hang out in the best man’s room. Lethal Weapon 2 is on TV, and we come across the scene where Murtaugh is trapped on the bomb-rigged toilet. The groom and two of the other groomsmen are film school graduates, and so I make the mistake of betting them that the SWAT Team commander from Lethal Weapon 2 is the same guy who played Bernard in Lost. They assure me that he is not. I check IMDB. I lose the bet.

Side note: One of the groomsmen makes the astute observation that it’s incredibly ironic that the bad guys in Lethal Weapon 2, in fact the same guys, it’s revealed, who murdered Mel Gibson’s character’s wife, are racist white South Africans. Given that Mel Gibson has turned out to be a total nutjob, we all agree that watching him battle evil South Africans almost like watching O.J. Simpson playing Norbert from The Naked Gun movies if he’d been assigned to a domestic violence unit.

Saturday, 4:30 p.m.

It was a perfect day for a wedding, and the wedding ceremony was short, sweet and to the point. The bride’s father, who officiated the ceremony, closed the proceedings with a fantastic line to the groom: “… And now, for what I am assured will be the first time, you may kiss the bride.”

I manage to get through my reading without flubbing it too badly.

Saturday, 8:40 p.m.

I am not the biggest filet mignon fan in the world. I always find it to be excessively chewy and dry, no matter how rare you cook it. My wife, on the other hand, would wear a dress made of filet mignon. Hence, that was her dinner selection. I went with the seafood. To quote Ron Burgundy the morning after he and Veronica Corningstone consummate their relationship: “When in Rome…”

And yet, because it is steak, and because I am a guy, I cannot help but take a bite of my wife’s dinner. Um, I don’t remember filet ever tasting this good. I am pretty sure this is what I think filet SHOULD taste like, but it never does. Thus, I cannot help but wonder if I am eating filet Obam-ignon. If you’re the general manager of a hotel that’s going to be hosting the President of the United States, you’re gonna make pretty sure you’ve got some Angus beef on hand, right? What if El Jefe wants a steak sandwich at 2 a.m.?

I also met the guy who wins the Wedding Guest with Coolest Job award – he writes the Super Hero Squad comic book and has, in his career, written for some, if not all, of the Spider-Man comic books. I think about my law school diploma and start to weep.

Saturday, 9:15 p.m.

My wife and I decide to take a stroll down the pier toward the water. It’s a nice night out, and we want to take advantage of every chance to be close to the water before we have to head home. We pass three guys having dinner at the entrance of the pier with a large black dog resting at their feet. Initially, it does not occur to me that dogs are not allowed on the resort property, unless (1) you are sniffing cars for explosives or (2) you are Bo, the First Dog, and you can pretty much go wherever you want.

When I realize that this particular dog satisfies Exception No. 2, I head back up the pier, determined to make direct contact with fame. I figure that if the agents don’t want me around, they’ll be more than happy to tell me to beat it. We chat briefly about dogs (Bo is a lot bigger than he looks on television and a sweet dog who loves himself some French fries), and I quickly realize I’m out of things to say. I never want to be That Guy, but I figure this is my last chance. I ask if I can take a photo of the dog, and they agree. Their waitress shoos me away, but I get my picture in. Of course, it’s pretty dark by now, and all I’ve got is my flashless iPhone 3GS (thanks, Steve Jobs!). Fortunately, there’s just enough artificial light, and I get a decent enough picture.

Say hi to Bo.



Sunday, 10:00 a.m.
Somewhere in southern Maine

We’ve been on the road for a few hours. A long drive ahead, but I would be remiss if I did not give a huge shout-out to a place near Augusta, Maine called Bagel Mainea, which has some of the best bagels we’ve ever had. If you’re ever up in that area, stop and eat there.

I start to miss my Secret Service buddies. It’s like that scene in Die Hard, where the talking head on the news discusses his book, “Hostage, Terrorist, Terrorist, Hostage: A Study in Duality.” (Yes, I’ve seen that movie many, many times). You mean that no one is going to ask to see my ID? I don’t have this slightly privileged status of staying in what has become the most famous Holiday Inn in the world? Yeah, I realize this status was conferred on us by a flukish coincidence that had nothing to do with anything I’ve ever done other than become friends with the groom 25 years ago.

Anyway, last bit of advice. If you’re ever inclined to drive from Bar Harbor to Virginia in one day – don’t. Take Air Force One instead.

Total Obama Sightings: 1
Total First Dog Sightings and Petting: 1
Miles Driven: 1,800 (Roundtrip)
Amount of Seafood Eaten: 28 pounds
Amount of Bourbon Consumed: All of it

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Know Nothing Party

“Ray, pretend for a moment that I don’t understand anything about metallurgy, engineering or physics, and just tell me what the hell is going on.”
Dr. Peter Venkman, Ghostbusters

My idea for this week’s column is to wax poetically about how I really don’t understand anything. I find this fairly troubling because I have a sh*t-ton of education and the student loan debts to prove it.

For example, I don’t really get the nuts and bolts of the health-care legislation, other than that Democrats are supposed to love it, and Republicans are supposed to think it’s a financial weapon of mass destruction. I do know that I haven’t read the 2,000-plus pages that make up the legislation, and I can probably count on one hand the number of people who have – so why should I understand the nuts and bolts of it? My guess is that no one really understands it, even those that have read all 2,000 pages of it, and your opinion of the bill probably hinges on your political leanings. Assuming you even care anymore. Am I smarter for recognizing that I don’t know? Or am I just really that much of a moron?

Another example of my ignorance -- comprehending the underpinnings of the global economic meltdown. I know that a once-obscure little investment called a credit default swap is at least partially responsible, which is like saying Verbal Kint was partially responsible for the boat explosion in The Usual Suspects. For those who don’t know what a credit default swap is, here’s what I was able to gather as I researched this column: it’s sort of like buying insurance on a bunch of houses that you don’t own and then hoping all of the houses catch fire. That being said, even if I am close to understanding what a credit default swap is, I don’t understand how it had us all on the brink of financial apocalypse (not to be confused with the King James-ocalypse).

Awareness of these shortcomings has occasionally made me hesitant to engage in discussions about the issues of the day, which is a bit disheartening. Given my seven years of college and law school, I feel like I should be able to engage in some sort of intellectual discourse about something other than movies involving Will Ferrell. Alas, I’m left to quote Stepbrothers and Old School.

But I’ve started to realize something – I’m becoming more confident that no one else has any idea what’s going on either. See Exhibits A and B. It’s almost impossible to be well-versed in just about anything anymore because everything is so specialized.

Exhibit A: The ideas behind BP’s attempts at stopping the Deepwater Horizon leak seem to originate in Wile E. Coyote’s workshop.

Exhibit B: Many of the traders in the credit default swap markets didn’t really understand long-term implications of these securities until it was too late. Did I mention the swap market was once valued at $45 trillion?

Thus, I’m always fascinated when people have really strong opinions about a particular issue, especially one that’s not their area of expertise. It always reminds me of the scene in Animal House, where Eric Stratton makes the rambling speech to the Greek Council and caps it off with: “We’re not going to sit here and listen to you bad-MOUTH the United States of America! Gentlemen!”

Four years ago, I was an expert in appellate court procedure. A year ago, I was an expert in the old legal doctrine known as sovereign immunity (Doesn’t being a lawyer sound awesome? Sometimes I wish I had a Hot Tub Time Machine so I could go back and burn all my law school applications. But I digress). I’m not an expert in many other things (except, as previously discussed on this blog, Nintendo Ice Hockey).

So why do I think I have any standing to have an opinion about whether this country should be fighting a war in Afghanistan? (my opinion – well, we let the Taliban and al-Qaeda grow unchecked in the 1990s, and that didn’t really work out too well for us. We probably need to wipe those jokers out before they detonate a suitcase nuke in Manhattan). Or whether the U.S. should engage in offshore drilling? (doesn’t look like we’re getting off oil anytime soon, so I guess if we can get it without destroying the Gulf of Mexico—whassat? Never mind). How big or small should the government be? Would Democrats be happy if the federal government employed all 300 million of us? Would Republicans be happy if we had no government? Would that be a small enough government?

Even if I read a book about a particular subject, I’m only going to know the author’s particular take on a particular issue, and for all I know, he was the dunce of his Ph.D. program. (You know what they call the guy who finished last in his med school class? Doctor. Love that joke).

Then again, there isn’t a whole lot more American than having an opinion about something, so maybe I should storm ahead with any thought I have about anything, regardless of whether those thoughts are supported by facts. It doesn’t stop Glen Beck or Keith Olbermann, and those guys are all famous! Ain’t I just a piece of work making fun of conservatives and liberals alike? Seriously, I’d like to see those two in a cage match to the death.

So what does it take to be appropriately informed? How many books or articles do I need to read before I safely have an informed opinion on something? Is it even possible to have an informed opinion on something? Am I better off picking the opinion I want to have and then finding the support that undoubtedly exists out there (because no matter how kooky your opinion is, someone else shares it. God, I love the Internet). It’s a never-ending battle between standing up for what you believe in and not making a total ass of yourself.

Then again, no one else really knows if what you’re saying is true or not because they’re all secretly worried that you DO know what you’re talking about.

So suffice it to say, if you feel like an idiot about the issues of the day, you can rest easy in knowing everyone else probably feels like an idiot, too. Even the experts. Makes you feel good about the upcoming attempt to duplicate the Big Bang with that particle accelerator over in Switzerland, huh? If something goes wrong, look on the bright side. Maybe we’ll all end up on the island from Lost.

I do know one thing for certain, and I will rest easy knowing this one thing -- the girls on Bridezillas do not understand the premise of the show.

NEXT WEEK'S COLUMN: Road Trip!

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Decision

Bonus post tonight, as I could not resist making fun of The Decision, the made-for-television event in which Lebron James announces the team he’s going to sign with. And even though I am by no means an NBA expert, I love seismic changes in any sport.

Plus, seriously, we’ve never seen anything like this before. Even when A-Rod got traded to the Yankees in 2004, I first learned about it on the main Yahoo! page via a one-line headline. Tonight’s press conference was some next-level stuff – a fascinating intersection of media, sports, celebrity, Lebron’s ego, and children.

Here are my thoughts as the press conference, I mean, interview, I mean, abomination unfolded.

9:00 – 9:22: ESPN analysts Mike Wilbon, Chris Broussard, Jon Barry, and Stu Scott kill time, repeating information that anyone who even has a passing interest in this story have known for about three days. This is surrounded by a lot of This is SportsCenter commercials. I guess corporate America wasn’t interested in having its advertising dollars rerouted to the Boys and Girls Club of America.

9:22: Stu Scott kicks it over to Greenwich, Connecticut, where we see Lebron and Jim Gray perched on a black dais in cheap director’s chairs. Lebron is wearing dark jeans and a reddish shirt. Immediately, I try to remember which teams have red in their uniforms. Red = Hot = Heat. Uh, oh, Cleveland.

In the background, there are about 50 kids, who are going to be witnesses. Witnesses to what, I am not sure.

Anyway, off we go.

9:22:30: Now, I probably listen to my iPod volume way too high, but it sounded like Lebron said he is looking forward to the free agent process. Whoa, there, LBJ, just so we’re clear, everyone is under the impression that the free agent process is over.

He looks really uncomfortable, almost like he’s being led to his execution. This really cannot be good for Cleveland.

9:24: This interview, however, is extremely good for the word “process”, which Lebron has now used five times in less than 90 seconds. He then says that not many people know about his decision, even though every media outlet in the known universe has been reporting for the last 24 hours that he’s chosen the Heat.

9:26: He says the major factor in his decision was the opportunity to win now. Um, Cleveland, you can just go ahead and change the channel to reruns of the Drew Carey Show. This isn’t going to end well. Like I said, I am no NBA expert, but I am aware that Lebron’s trips to the playoffs have gotten shorter with each passing year. From NBA Finals to Conference Finals, to this year’s disastrous beatdown by the Celtics in the second round.

9:27: “Um, no. I don’t have any doubts at all.” Oh, Lebron, it sounds like you might have the teensiest little bit of doubt. I mean, if you’re a juror in a criminal trial, you can send a guy to prison with a teensy bit of doubt. I wonder what that guy from “Lie to Me” would say about this response to Gray’s question.

9:27: Jim Gray asks, “You still a nailbiter?” Geez, Jimmy, why not ask him if he still wets the bed?

OK, announcement time. I came into this thinking he would still go back to Cleveland, but the last five minutes have changed that.

9:27:28: “This fall… man, this is very tough…”

Here it comes. This is like when your significant other tells you that you need to talk.

9:27:29: “…this fall, I’m going to take my talents to South Beach…”

Wait a minute, Cleveland! Maybe he means the south beach of Lake Erie!

9:27:36: "...and join the Miami Heat."

I guess not.

9:27:46: LBJ’s goal is “Not only just to win in the regular season, or just to win five games in a row or three games in a row.”

Well, that pretty much ends things with the Cavs. They were the kings of the regular season five-game winning streak.

9:28:59: Lebron: “For me, it’s not about sharing.”

Look, Lebron, that kind of attitude is not going to get you very far in my son’s pre-kindergarten class.

Lebron: “It’s about everyone having their own spotlight and then doing what’s best for the team.”

Hang on, let me get my dictionary. I want to look up the word “foreshadowing.”

“D-Wade, he’s the unselfish guy here.”

I, on the other hand, am totally and unapologetically selfish.

9:29:13: First reference to himself in the third person.

9:29:33: Yeah, Lebron, how WILL you explain this to the fans in Cleveland?

9:30:01: Your heart will always be around that area? It might be, if some of these angry Cleveland fans catch you.

9:30:13: Tread carefully, Lebron. Really, you’re trying to couch your departure in a way that makes it seem like you’re not really leaving Cleveland? Really?

“Look guys, you can still catch me on TNT and NBC and TBS next season. Just squint and pretend I’m wearing a Cavs jersey. You can’t afford to come to an NBA game in person anyway, so what difference does it make what my shirt says. It’s me, guys! It’s Bron-Bron!”

9:30:30: No, Lebron, it’s not an emotional time for the area. It’s an economic dirty bomb.

9:30:37: LBJ: “I’ve done so many great things for that team.”

Yeah. Except win a championship. But whatever.

9:30:50: I don’t think the Cleveland fans are going to have mixed emotions. It’s going to be pretty much one emotion, straight up, neat. And you may want to think twice about living in Akron in the future, because there is going to be a lot of toilet paper in your trees.

9:31:15: Who the eff is Erik Spoelstra? I loved this part. He’s basically telling Spoelstra that if he doesn’t like the way things are going, he’s just gonna go over his head to Pat Riley.

9:32:06: Lebron: “I know how loyal I am.”

Yes, your loyalty came shining through tonight. It’s going to be taught at colleges and universities throughout Ohio.

9:33:09: Wait a minute. Your mom waited until today to tell you she wants you to be happy? What’s she been doing since May 13?

9:33:26: And we’re done.

I don’t have any other commentary because seriously, that was spectacular television, and it pretty much spoke for itself.

Sorry, Cleveland.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Germophobia!

You use too much hand sanitizer. And lest you think that I shouldn’t be casting stones, trust me, if I were casting stones, I’d be squeezing some sanitizer into my own hands when I was done. Stones are dirty. Who knows what kind of germs are crawling around those things?

I was going to start this post by writing, “Hi, my name is David, and I’m a germophobe,” but I thought that was a pretty boring way to start a column about germophobia. I mean, really, I probably wouldn’t be writing a column about germophobia unless I had some germophobic tendencies.

And hand sanitizer is to blame.

I’ve tried pinning the origin of my own germophobia on the sum of all my experiences during my 36-plus years on this planet. For example, I am pretty certain that my pediatrician was, in fact, the boogeyman. (Narrative note: I considered using either the phrase “my childhood pediatrician” or “my pediatrician growing up”, but I quickly dismissed both, because, seriously, when the hell else did I have a pediatrician?).

Growing up, I was particularly prone to ear infections. And by prone, I mean that my ears were infected from 1975 until this past Thursday, so I spent a lot of time in said pediatrician’s office getting prescriptions for amoxicillin. My own kids have had issues with ear infections as well, which has been complicated by the fact that amoxicillin seems to be as effective on 21st century bacteria as, say, a Werther’s Original.

But the fact that I had a lot of ear infections as a kid didn’t make me a germophobe. If anything, it should have inoculated me (figuratively speaking) against having any serious problem with germs because I was at the doctor’s office every other day getting my ears drained. And once the ear infections started fading away in adolescence, I don’t recall thinking about germs much at all.

From 1991 until 1995, I basically lived in a hot zone. You might know it as “college.” Remarkably, I don’t remember being sick a whole lot in college, despite partaking in activities such as chugging a plastic cup of beer after a dirty ping-pong ball has splashed in it. Thus, I can’t pin my germophobia on that either.

So what’s left? As an adult, I’ve had my fair share of colds, stomach bugs, headaches, all of which, of course, was magnified by the addition of children to the equation. But I can’t blame it on the biological warfare waged by my kids, because my germophobia had already taken root by then.

Thus, I have to attribute my own germophobia to the proliferation of hand sanitizer. A decade ago, no one had ever heard of hand sanitizer. Today, my wife has a mini bottle on her keychain and one in her purse. I’ve got a small bottle in the car, one in each bathroom in the house, and one at my desk. I might as well be wearing holsters on each hip. It’s everywhere. And it’s so easy to vaporize every living thing off your hand and rest comfortably when you bite into your sandwich.

Plus, hand sanitizer is good at its job. Not the job advertised on the label. But the job of making you want to use more of it. The more you see it, the more you think about the germs on your hands, the germs that are just itching for you to chew on a fingernail, tap your fingertip against your lip, or, even more delicious, rub your eyes. When you’re at a restaurant, can you even look at a ketchup bottle without wondering how many people touched it before you? For all I know, some kid licked the ketchup dribble off an hour earlier. Not that I ever did that as a kid.

Awkward pause.

If you are somehow able to sandblast that image out of your mind, you think, I’d better sanitize again, even if you’ve already sanitized three times but just want some ketchup for your fries.

Last fall was hand sanitizer’s Oscar moment. Throughout the summer of 2009, all we heard about was the rapidly approaching swine flu epidemic. Estimates of 100,000 dead were pretty common. Young, healthy people were dying. It was going to be like Stephen King’s The Stand. I think sanitizer was added as an option at the fountain drink station at Taco Bell.

To quote Red from The Shawshank Redemption (best movie ever, but that’s a discussion for another day), “and oh my Lord, how the money rolled in.” As you will recall, they couldn’t make the stuff fast enough. Which was hilarious because, as it turns out, sanitizer is completely ineffective against swine flu. It didn’t stop me from coating myself with it. Also didn’t stop me from catching swine flu. The irony is not lost on me.

I’ve started to hate hand sanitizer.

Granted, that might make me slightly insane. It’s like saying I hate the polio vaccine. Or puppies. I get that it kills 99.9 percent of the bacteria on your hands. Too bad it kills 100 percent of your sanity. You’re sort of with me on this. I can tell. You’re thinking to yourself as you eat a handful of peanuts, “I do have a lot of hand sanitizer sitting around.” And then you think, “wait, did I clean my hands before I grabbed these peanuts?”

It’s no way to live.

I know why hand sanitizer is so beloved. It gives you a sense of control over your health, and it’s so easy. And isn’t that what America’s all about? Minimum effort, maximum return? Washing your hands is great and all, but you’ve gotta find a sink, your sleeves get wet, and the towel you’re using to dry your hands is probably so riddled with bacteria that your hands end up dirtier than before you washed them. Sanitizer’s dry in 15 seconds. And it’s got aloe!

But maybe it shouldn’t be so easy. If it weren’t so easy, maybe we wouldn’t think about it all the time. Maybe you’d just wash your hands really well before you ate and then be done with it. And it wouldn’t fan the flames of the OCD issues everyone’s got bubbling just under the surface.

So, I should probably wrap this up. I need to check my stove -- I think I might have left it on.

NEXT WEEK’S COLUMN: I Really Have No Idea What’s Going On.