Category Archives: July

I Love the Dough

Everyone loves pretzels, in some form or another.  Okay, not everyone, but almost everyone.  There are soft pretzels, best served warm with a little mustard on the side (yellow, not spicy brown; spicy brown mustard is gross).  There are the pretzel rods you used to get at the pediatrician’s office, twists, nuggets, and on and on.  I’m not even sure that the hard versions can go stale; they’re already pretty close to it when you buy them.  They’re pretty much perfect.

Pretzels are made of dough, so theoretically, they might be made from a specific kind of dough, or at the very least dough that is treated a certain way.  I am not a baker, nor am I a pretzel expert, so I don’t know.

Anyway, after nearly three decades of thinking that pretzels were just pretzels, two products have emerged in the last month or so that have the potential to shake the very foundation of my belief system.  Wendy’s has a “Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger,” which, on the surface, sounds like it’s perfection perfected.  I’ve also seen commercials for Sonic’s “Cheesy Bacon Pretzel Dog.”  I don’t even know, but I’m listening, Sonic.

Wendy’s gives you a burger, cheese, bacon, honey mustard sauce, lettuce, and tomato on a “warm, soft pretzel bun.”  Sonic offers one of its standard hot dogs with cheese sauce, bacon, and grilled onions on a “brand new soft pretzel bun.”  I always assumed that every bun they gave you was made brand new, so I’m guessing “brand new” means they’ve never offered this before.

I couldn’t even wrap my head around what a “soft pretzel bun” would be.  Like, soft pretzels are hard on the outside, and they’re shaped in a decidedly non-bun-like fashion.  As I’ve mentioned before, we have a Wendy’s across the street from work, so the last time we went, I dove headfirst into the proverbial deep end and ordered the Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger.  Sans tomato, of course (that is a whole other post in and of itself).

I unwrapped the sandwich, and much to my disappointment, the lettuce was more like salad greens.  I like salad as much as the next guy, but my salads always have two things: 1) Caesar dressing, and 2) crispy, crunchy lettuce.  None of these dark, leafy greens.  Not having it.

I picked up the burger, and they were right, the bun was warm.  But do you know what it wasn’t?  A PRETZEL.  IT DID NOT RESEMBLE A PRETZEL IN ANY WAY.  Do you know what it did resemble?  I’ll tell you: IT TASTED LIKE A REGULAR WENDY’S BUN.

What a disappointment.  I understand that the consistency of a soft pretzel is not conducive to housing beef, cheese, and bacon, but at the same time, everything on Earth is conducive to housing beef, cheese, and bacon.  This is one of the biggest culinary letdowns since…well, probably since that time I used the word “culinary” to describe something at Wendy’s.

The real losers here?  Sonic.  They came out with their own “pretzel bun” product right after the guys that screwed up their pretzel bun product.

But Sonic, despite my trepidation, I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt (someday, probably, maybe, we’ll see).  Please don’t let me – and America – down.

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Waiting For Us to Make a Move

I’m not just a fan of my favorite teams, I’m also just a sports fan in general.  Like, for instance, I am a baseball fan, which means that I keep up on what’s going on, who’s hurt, who’s playing well, and all that stuff.  True, part of that is because of fantasy baseball, but fantasy ends in September and I still watch the playoffs pretty much every night because I really do care.

For the past half decade-plus the Phillies have been movers and shakers around the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.  For most of that stretch, they’ve been buyers, improving the team for the pennant chase.  It worked, as they won five straight division titles, two league championships, and a World Series.

Last season, they were sellers, sending outfielders Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence to the West Coast for prospects.  This season, the Phillies went into the All-Star Break on an uptick, getting back to .500 and within seven games of the division-leading Braves.  After a win in the first game after the break, an eight-game losing streak seems to have put the “for sale” sign on the lawn at Citizens Bank Park.

I always hate to see one of my teams throw in the towel, but I understand that sometimes you have to jettison veterans and shed salary to bring in younger talent.  It’s how sports work.  That being said, I don’t want to see the Phillies trade Cliff Lee; their best chance to be good in 2014 is by having Lee and Cole Hamels at the front of their starting rotation along with rumored signing Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez and maybe even a rejuvenated, something-to-prove Roy Halladay.

And as I’ve said to anyone who asked, and a number of people who haven’t, trading Chase Utley would be like trading the Phillie Phanatic, except more people would be upset.

There are two guys, however, that I wouldn’t mind seeing in a different uniform tomorrow night: Jonathan Papelbon and Michael Young.

Blasting the Phillies for signing Papelbon to a big contract has been en vogue in Philadelphia since like four seconds after they announced it.  I wasn’t among the chorus of boos and “huh?”s.  The dude has been a fairly lights-out reliever for a long time, and while $13 million in today’s game is probably too much…okay, it’s definitely way too much…for a guy who pitches, on average, at best, every other day, I understand that 1) the Phillies have money, and 2) you have to pay top dollar for top talent.

He’s been pretty good over the last season and a half, despite blowing four straight saves last month.  But while a $13 million-a-year closer may be an important piece of a championship club, it’s a luxury for a team that went 81-81 last year and may have to do some work to get there this year.

Take that, and Papelbon’s recent comments that he “definitely didn’t come here for this,” and it’s like, all right, buddy, we get it, you want to win.  Thanks for your time, good luck and godspeed.  Then again, the fact that Papelbon is making $13 million a year to throw 60-70 innings might make that deal a little tougher to complete.

(Are you kidding me?  Do you think the other guys “came here for this,” either?  No one should ever throw his team under the bus like that, but especially not a guy who pitches one inning, like I said, maybe every other day.  Dude.  Shut up.  Seriously.)

Young, on the other hand, has seemed fairly professional in his time here.  With the Texas Rangers, he held “10 and five” rights – meaning he had 10 years of major league service, and had spent the last five years with the same team – but the Phillies gave him a full no-trade clause in order to facilitate his acquisition during the offseason.

There is no such thing as a no-trade clause, really; guys waive them all the time to move to a better situation.  Young, however, has apparently said he will waive his rights only for a trade back to Texas, where his family lives.  That’s understandable; his family is important to him, and he spent all but the past four months of his career there.  He is their all-time leader in almost every offensive category, and is arguably the greatest player in franchise history.

What’s not understandable is why anyone – Young, the Phillies, or anyone with knowledge of his “demand” – let the news out.  Why would the Rangers give up anything of value when they hold literally every single drop of leverage in this situation?  Everyone should have kept their mouths shut for 24 more hours so that the general managers could make a reasonable deal instead of forcing the Phillies to accept a mediocre minor league bat – quite possibly just an actual, maple, Louisville Slugger bat – and a small bit of salary relief in exchange for their one easily tradeable asset.

(Now Young has apparently modified his stance and may agree to different destinations, one at a time.  Okay.  Great.  Thanks.  Bye.)

This time tomorrow, Cody Asche will be the Phillies’ starting third baseman for the rest of 2013.  Antonio Bastardo or Justin De Fratus may be their nominal closer.  Regardless, if Michael Young is in a Phillies uniform – and, to a lesser extent, Jonathan Papelbon – we’ll have to wonder if it was an opportunity lost.

We won’t have our answer until the Phillies put the “help wanted” or “for sale” sign on the lawn at next year’s trade deadline.

So Fresh and So Clean

I just saw a commercial for “Mr. Clean” that shows Mr. Clean at various points throughout his life.  You can click here to watch it.

I have some thoughts, because of course I do.

First of all, call me old-fashioned, or crazy, or both, but seeing animated characters mixed in with real live people still weirds me out a little bit.  Just a little, but enough that after a few minutes I’m like, “okay, can we…not?”

(“But Roger Rabbit!” you say.  I guess.  But that’s clearly a cartoon.  I’m talking these really lifelike, “hey wait a minute, is that dude real?  Yeah, that’s definitely a real – oh wait, what?!?”-type animated characters.)

Second of all, Mr. Clean clearly has a medical condition; he hasn’t had a single hair on his head for his entire life, and the eyebrows he does have have always been white.  So we’ve turned a guy who is both an albino and has alopecia into a symbol for cleanliness.  Did he have a choice in this?  Look at that little boy cleaning his window; did he pick that up because he loved the view, or because all the other kids made fun of him so he spent a lot of time in his room?

Seeing that commercial, I feel bad for Mr. Clean.  Not bad enough to buy his products, but still.  Poor guy.

(Look, it’s late.  These are the things that come to mind and then don’t leave for a really long time.)

Fuel

Never Did We Know What the Future Would Hold

I do a reasonably good job of keeping up with what’s current in the music world, but if you look at my iPod, the majority of the content is from the 80s, 90s, and 2000s, and the most common genre on there is what was known, at least at one point, as “modern rock.”

When I was young, I had always just listened to whatever my dad had in his collection, which was and still is a pretty gigantic selection.  His favorite band was Genesis, and his favorite singer Phil Collins, so my favorite artists were Genesis and Phil Collins.  I knew pretty much every word of every song they put out between 1980 and 1995.

As I hit middle school, I started listening to the radio and hearing more modern songs.  I remember going into the music section of department stores with my dad and thinking that I might soon buy a tape of my own.  I know, right?  Cassette tapes!  The one I had my eye on, incidentally, was (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? by Oasis (like everyone else, I knew “Champagne Supernova” and “Wonderwall”), but I never pulled the trigger.  In fact, I wouldn’t own the album until I went to England in the summer of 2000, nearly five years after its release.

Instead, it was Cracked Rear View by Hootie and the Blowfish.  I played the tape to death.  I mean that literally: one day it stopped working and got all twisted up and ripped inside the stereo.

My sister had a CD player before I did, so I bought the CD and made myself a cassette copy for my walkman, but owning the disc eventually led to me getting a player of my own.  With that came a need for new CDs, so I would occasionally flip through my dad’s record club (remember them?) catalog to see if there was a deal on something from someone I had heard on the radio.

For some reason, this was a big deal to me.  I had to make the right choices.  I mean, buying an entire album on the back of hearing just one or two songs seemed like a stretch, and in retrospect, I must not have been alone, because now we have iTunes for the exact purpose of purchasing songs piecemeal.

Finally, I had my two choices, and they were winners.  The more popular one, having sold over 15 million copies to date, was Yourself or Someone Like You by Matchbox Twenty.  It’s a great album, and helped launch the band to incredible heights in the late 90s and early 2000s.

The other choice became one of my favorite albums I’ve ever bought: Fuel’s Sunburn.  The track “Shimmer” went on to reach number two on the Modern Rock charts, and was one of the most-played songs on Modern Rock radio in 1998.  The band followed up the album with Something Like Human in 2000; the lead single, “Hemorrhage (In My Hands)” spent 12 weeks at the top of the charts.

After another release in 2003, lead singer Brett Scallions left the band.  Scallions had a very distinct, kind of nasally sound, and without him, I couldn’t imagine there being a Fuel at all.  They offered the lead singer’s job to Chris Daughtry of American Idol, but he declined, so they found another guy who spelled his name “Toryn” and released an album in 2007.  I didn’t hear a single track from it, let alone buy it.  After that, as far as I was concerned, Fuel was done.

Which made sense, really.  I know that bands can swap out drummers (Oasis went through like four of them, not counting temporary tour replacements) or guitarists or bassists and it’s no big deal, but the voice of the lead singer is pretty much the calling card of a band.  Sure, there are some people who care more about the music than the lyrics, but for most of us, we identify an artist by their voice, and other than Van Halen, I can’t think of another group that changed singers and maintained its popularity or relevance.  When you change singers, you become a different band.

About a week and a half ago a friend of mine told me about a free concert he wanted to attend.  Another one of our friends was going to go, and his buddy was coming as well.  Free concert, free parking, friends, ::cough::drinks::cough::, fun…why not?  The performers almost didn’t matter, but the lineup was two bands: Alien Ant Farm and Fuel.

Fuel?!?  Apparently they were still together.  I had no idea, and I had no idea what to expect when I arrived at the venue.  I hoped they would play the old stuff, even though I knew it wouldn’t sound the same.  I wasn’t familiar with any of their music after their third album, but instead of researching it in advance, I decided to just show up, listen, and hope for the best.

Alien Ant Farm played first.  Good.  Fuel started in Tennessee, but they moved to Eastern Pennsylvania before they hit it big, and the Philadelphia area helped propel them to the national stage, so it was almost a homecoming of sorts.  You’re darn tootin’ they’re headlining!

Most of the audience knew exactly two Alien Ant Farm songs.  They played their first two songs (the singer was doing a lot of that on-stage convulsing that a lot of hard rock/post-grunge “nu-metal” singers do, even though they weren’t exactly thrashing around up there) to a fairly disinterested audience, but when they started playing their familiar track “Movies,” a bunch of arms went up in the air and people started singing and dancing.

I lost interest in their set after that, chatting with my friends and enjoying the newly-discovered Redd’s Apple Ale(s) in my hand.  Two members of our group liked the band, so they enjoyed it, but it was apparent that most of the people there, myself included, were more interested in Fuel.  That did not stop any of us from enjoying their last song, their well-known cover of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal.”

About a half hour later, amid a few scattered rain drops that never amounted to anything more than, well, a few scattered rain drops, Fuel took the stage.  They opened with the first track from their second album, “Last Time.”  The singer sounded familiar, like really familiar, so I did a little research on my phone to confirm my suspicions: Scallions had returned to the band in 2011.  Fuel was back!

As the set went on, and every song came from the 1998-2003 era, I was transported back into high school.  Sixteen-year-old Joe called; his head exploded.  They put on a really good show, and I knew every word.  The crowd sang along to a number of songs, not just “Shimmer,” which Scallions pointed out and thanked the crowd for.  “You guys were on this s— back in 1995!” he said.  Not all of us, but you’re welcome.

They closed with “Hemorrhage,” and when it was over I was practically giddy.  I felt stupid about it; this was a band I listened to a decade and a half ago, and they’re by no means legends, but I was so surprised that the real singer was back that it made the experience 10 times better.  There are few good surprises in life, and when one came along, however small, I was really happy to enjoy it.

(After the fact, I did a little more reading.  Apparently Scallions is the only original member of the band who is in this incarnation of Fuel.  The group was essentially dormant for a few years before Scallions and bassist Jeff Abercrombie kicked around the idea of linking up as “Re-Fueled” and touring again.  Thank God that name didn’t stick.  Guitarist and songwriter Carl Bell was not part of the process, and after Abercrombie decided against going out on tour, Scallions recruited new guys and forged ahead.  They should have a new album out by the end of the year.  You didn’t ask, but you’re welcome anyway.)

We spent the rest of the night at the bar before going for late-night cheesesteaks, because this is Philadelphia and that is what you do.  It was the perfect ending to what unexpectedly turned into a great night.

As someone whose youth gets further away every day, I can’t accurately describe the feeling of recapturing a portion of it, even for just a couple hours, while still being reasonably grown up about it.  Some people try to stave off adulthood by going out and getting drunk every weekend until they end up in jail.  Some continue to skateboard into their 40s.

For us, we did it by enjoying good company, good music, and a good time.  And I’ll take that combination any day of the week.

Relax, Don’t Do It

The Phillies are in a tailspin.  The Sixers are in the toilet.  The Flyers missed the playoffs.  The Eagles have a new coach and low expectations.

Philadelphia sports are in a rut.  Which means Philadelphia sports fans are being their – our?  No, their – typical bellyaching selves.

I have never been a part of this.  I love the Phillies as much as anyone, but you won’t see me taking to the comments section of every article on the team to whine and complain about how this guy should be traded or this guy should be released or this guy should be fired.  I’m all for fans caring about teams and having opinions, but it’s gotten pretty ridiculous around here lately.

Less than five years ago, the Phillies won the World Series.  Less than four years ago, they won their second straight National League pennant.  You’d think that would buy them some goodwill.  Ha!  In this town, you are only as good as your last homestand.

A couple years back, Jimmy Rollins called Philadelphia fans frontrunners.  He was roundly criticized for it, but the truth is he’s right.  Despite all the good times they’ve given us over the last half-decade, they stopped selling out as soon as their record dipped below .500.

I thought of this after reading that Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin has a torn ACL and will miss the season.  Oh no.  The sky is falling on us again; let’s go write a diatribe against something or other on an internet message board!  Message board trolls are the worst.  Just the worst.

Next time you think about acting like you know more about how to run a baseball team than the general manager, do me a favor: stop.  Get up from the computer.  Walk away.  Go see what the sun looks like or something.

Just get a life.  And let the rest of us suffer in peace.

Whatever Happened to Predictability?

I was watching this week’s episode of Franklin & Bash (I feel like I mention Franklin & Bash more than anyone else on the internet…I don’t know what this means) and was reminded that I really like the theme song from the show.  It’s an actual song; not about lawyers and comedy and such, but just an actual song that was used for the opening credits.

(It’s called “Mixture” by a duo that goes by the name Pete.  Just so you know.)

After it was over, one of the 39 nightly Friends reruns was on.  Now there’s a show with an iconic theme song.  Again, it existed before the show, but “I’ll Be There For You” is synonymous with the show, and they’re almost inextricably linked forever more.  Not to disparage any career they had before or since, but most people have only heard of The Rembrandts because of that song.

It got me to thinking…are there any current shows with iconic themes written just for that show?  The most recent show I can think of (that also airs in frequent nightly reruns) with a show-based theme is The King of Queens, but other than that, I feel like shows just use recognizable songs or instrumentals.  Craig Ferguson wrote and sings the theme song for The Late Late Show, which is cute and all, but as far as I’m concerned the conversation about late night themes begins and ends with Late Night with Conan O’Brien, so as much as I love Craig, I’m not counting it.

Back in the day, shows always had specific theme songs.  I Love Lucy had “I Love Lucy.”  Cheers had “Where Everybody Knows Your Name.”  All of the old “TGIF” series on ABC – most notably Full House, Family Matters, Step by Step, and the best of all, Perfect Strangers – had theme songs.  I still pull up the Perfect Strangers theme on YouTube every now and then.

There are only a few shows that I watch pretty regularly, so I could be way off, but I don’t think so.  Feel free to share any current examples that I missed.  Maybe I’ll do a “these are my favorite themes of all time” post, if you’re lucky.

EPILOGUE: I wanted to verify what I said about “I’ll Be There For You” existing before Friends.  I was pretty sure, but I went down the Wikipedia wormhole to confirm.  Turns out, I was wrong.  It was written by The Rembrandts along with a few other people, including the producers of the show, David Crane and Marta Kauffman.  It also turns out that they both grew up in the Philadelphia area.  Huh!  The original song was just a minute long, but when the show blew up, The Rembrandts went in and added another verse and turned it into a radio hit.

The original choice for the theme song for Friends?  “Shiny Happy People” by R.E.M.  I did not know that.

EPI-EPILOGUE: Lisa Kudrow, one of the stars of Friends, is a guest on The Late Late Show tonight.  I DID THAT WITH MY MIND.

It’s Better to Burn Out Than to Fade Away

Every year, a group of people in the area who do the same kind of job I do get together for a bowling outing.  We get together more frequently to have a drink and discuss the business of the day (how cool does that sound, “the business of the day?”), but the bowling outing is an annual thing that, for obvious reasons, I make sure not to miss.

Over the past few years, I would say that eight of the top 10 individual scores have been mine.  I don’t get too much of a hard time about it; they know I’m in a league and have been doing it for half my life.  I liken it to playing in a golf outing; there are always people who haven’t touched a golf club since last year’s event, and there are always people who play every other weekend.  The disparity in skill levels just happens.

I also try to go out of my way not to try too hard, but I’m too competitive, so I usually end up doing reasonably well and then trying to be all “oh well you know I have an unfair advantage, I do this all the time, you guys are doing great” about it.

It’s a weird dichotomy for me.  I can go to an outing like this, or out with friends, and have a couple of bad games and still crush everyone.  They ask what my average is (they always ask what my average is), and when I tell them, they’re impressed.  But when I go to my league night, I’m not even in the top half of the league, so I’m not really that good, you know?

Anyway, this year’s outing was today, but I didn’t bowl.  It’s time for a new champion, I told them.  The truth is, I just didn’t feel like it.  I barely even like bowling anymore, and I took the summer off to just get away from it, so I haven’t even looked at my bowling bag since early May.

I’ve actually felt that way the last couple years; I’m just burned out on it.  I’m not quitting the one league I’m still in because I’ve been a part of it for 12 years and I love those guys.  But a few years ago I was in three leagues, then two, and now just one.

I told the organizer that I wouldn’t bowl, but I would come by to hang out and have a few drinks afterward.  I purposely arrived fairly late because I expected to regret my decision not to bowl the second I got there.  Watching other people bowl has never really been fun for me, and I knew my competitive juices would be flowing as soon as I saw the scores being posted.

I walked in in the middle of the second and final game.  As people were missing easy spares and getting super-excited for strikes, I anticipated that the internal second-guessing would begin rather quickly.    A couple guys ended up shooting in the 140s; one guy hit 150.

I felt nothing.

It was actually a bit of a shock.  Here’s something that I’ve been doing since I was 14, and I didn’t care that I wasn’t doing it.  I know this sounds stupid, since it’s just a game, but I really didn’t know what to think about that.  I still don’t.

The league season will start up again the week after Labor Day.  We’ll meet the week before, and I’ll give my treasurer’s speech about how much things will cost and how some teams need to do a better job of getting their money in.  This will be my fourth year in the position, so it’s old hat by now.

We’ll draw random team numbers for scheduling purposes, and we’ll learn who we’re facing the following week.  We’ll all be tied for first place again, and I will no doubt look at the schedule and think, “if we get off to a good start, this could be our year” for the eighth straight season, even though it’s never been our year.

The optimism of opening night will surely recharge the batteries, and in two months’ time, I’ll probably go back and read this post and think, how could that have happened?  How could you not miss this?

But for now, I don’t.  And as someone who hates change – fears it, probably – the thought of not giving a crap anymore is a pretty sobering one.