Friday Q&A

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Photo by Redrecords ©️ on Pexels.com

Let’s do this.

OK, so first of all, keep in mind that you’re asking this question of an unemployed man who spent his entire morning trying and failing to convince a toddler to put on pants. I never went to journalism school, I’m not sure I’ve ever called myself a “journalist” unironically, and I always tried my best to avoid big-picture strategy sessions because corporate buzzwords make me giggle inappropriately.

The short answer is: I have no idea, and you should look with great suspicion upon anyone who speaks with confidence on this topic and comes to a conclusion much firmer than, “I have no idea.”

There’s irony inherent in me talking out of my ass here: One of the aspects of contemporary media that I find most frustrating is the total obliteration of the notion of expertise. And though I can appreciate the value of scrutinizing and sometimes undercutting the entrenched institutions establishing expertise, there are outlets out there right now that essentially operate as though a Harvard-trained epidemiologist’s perspective on COVID-19 is no more valid than Kid Rock’s.

An innocuous example I frequently cite to describe some of my frustrations at USA Today is this article, headlined “Baseball players are getting fat like us,” and based on truly preposterous analysis that used BMI — a metric by which Mike Trout is considered obese — to reach a conclusion that would be dismissed out of hand by anyone who has seen a baseball game in the last 15 years.

I had received, rejected, and publicly mocked the same pitch less than a week before the paper amplified it in the opinion section, and I found it both troubling and unsurprising that whoever made the decision to run with it did so without consulting any of the six full-time staffers the company paid to know about baseball. “Baseball players are getting fat like us” is a great headline that people are going to mindlessly click and share on Facebook, and while I never met anyone who worked on the opinion page, I have no doubt those people were operating under a mandate to drive up traffic numbers. And, hey: Everyone has the right to an opinion! Let’s check in with Kid Rock for his take on Major League Baseball’s obesity problem.

Pageview-driven journalism, I believe, does more harm than most people realize, and I genuinely do not think Donald Trump would be the president today if the media industry had figured out and settled on a better way to make money.

None of that really even approaches an answer to Mike’s question, which — again — I am just not in any way qualified to answer. I can say (with hesitation, because I’d like to someday be employed again), that I think access can be overrated, especially in the case of something like Trump’s daily coronavirus misinform-athon. It just doesn’t really matter if you secure the ability to ask the guy a question when his answers show no correlation to the truth. Obviously there are huge benefits to access. But it often requires concessions.

And I can say that I hope paid subscription models prove successful in the long run, but that’s not at all insightful. Right now, it’s just as easy to imagine an accelerated Idiocracy, with press conferences by the end of Trump’s next term covered exclusively by the Ow My Balls! radio network.

The only other perspective I can offer is this: The internet is still a very new thing, historically speaking. Online media as we know it isn’t old enough to drink, and it’s probably unreasonable to expect an advancement of this magnitude to sort itself out so quickly. Right? The printing press generally gets a lot of credit for the onset of the Renaissance, but it was still some 70 years between Gutenberg’s invention and the Mona Lisa.

The excellent book The Sun and the Moon details an incredible hoax perpetrated by the New York Sun in the 1830s, but I found it just as interesting for its depiction of the early days of daily newspapers and their myriad parallels to the early days of online media. Early newspapers operated pretty similarly to early blogs — there were a ton of them, they were typically the work of one editor, they were unabashedly partisan, there was little accountability and constant jockeying for attention — and over time, some succeeded and some failed and some combined and some moved to the fringes.

Point is, I think, we’re still figuring this out. I don’t think the ball ever stops rolling, really, but I hope when it slows down, it does so in a place where there’s some appreciation for what’s actually true and not just what people will accept as true on Facebook.

OK, now to the food questions:

I’m sorry to say this, Ben, but it can’t be done. Taco Bell comes from magic, and the magic only happens inside Taco Bell kitchens. There are a bunch of recipes online that attempt to approximate it, but I’ve tried precisely none of them, because I don’t believe Taco Bell is something mere humans can replicate with any accuracy.

We talking just grilling, or full-blown smoking? If you mean the latter, I’m best, most practiced, and most consistent with baby back ribs, primarily because they’re so widely available and they’re my wife’s favorite of the meats one might smoke. But my personal favorite, if I can get it right, are beef ribs (a.k.a. “dinosaur ribs”). They’re hard to find and tricky to cook, but when you nail it, they’re so good. Better than brisket even, I think because the fat is better distributed throughout the meat.

For just straight grilling, it’s either skirt steak or chicken thighs. I cook a heck a lot of the latter, and I’ve gotten pretty good at making it so the skin gets nice and crispy without drying out the interior meat. Dark meat chicken is so far superior to white meat chicken that it’s absurd they charge you more for white meat at fried chicken places.

The bar for “replacement level” plummeted so much in the last two weeks that, if we’re drawing an analogy to baseball, it’s like the league just added 25 expansion teams.

A well-made PB&J, I think, has always been sturdily above-replacement, though a bad one — especially if someone fails to put peanut butter on both sides, so one side of the bread gets sogged up with jelly — can definitely perform at replacement level.

Three weeks ago, I would’ve told you a replacement level sandwich is some pre-packaged lunchmeat (think Oscar Mayer ham) on white bread with American cheese. The type of sandwich you might find pre-made and pre-cut in the refrigerator area at a gas station convenience store: Readily and perpetually available, inexpensive, bad, but not going to kill you.

Today, I made a sandwich from two pieces of American cheese on a toasted English muffin from a box that had been sitting in my freezer for about a year. That’s the replacement-level sandwich now.

Losing it

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This is a stock photo that came up in a search for “Crazy.” (Photo by Edu Carvalho on Pexels.com)

Five or six years ago, New York City endured a brutal winter. I forget the specifics, but I recall that basically every time one storm’s snow melted, another snowstorm came, and it got extremely cold for a while. What I remember best was people losing their cool after being holed up for months: A guy on line at the coffee shop snapping at the barista over something stupid, a woman having a full-blown shit-fit about getting a parking ticket, etc.

For anyone who’s not insanely wealthy, there’s a trade-off inherent in living in New York City: You give up interior space in exchange for extra things to do. People say things like, “well, the bar downstairs is my living room,” or, “we like to think of Tompkins Square Park as our backyard,” and most of the time, they’re not wrong. But when life, for whatever reason, forces everyone inside for a while, we start feeling crushed by the walls around us. And I recognize that this is true to some extent everywhere, but the effect is amplified here, where it’s rare for anyone to have more than 500 square feet to themselves.

I’ve whined before about how difficult it is to find ways to keep a 2 1/2-year-old physically active at this particular juncture in history, but this morning I found a pretty good one. I took the kid and his little yellow basketball to an open field in the park and basically played fetch with him, and, to my surprise, he loved it. I got some much-needed exercise out of it myself, as I’d basically throw the ball as far as I could, wait until he got about halfway to reaching it, then sprint to catch up with him while he giggled with delight.

Then something horrible happened: Some other kid showed up and wanted to play with us. He was extremely sweet, and at first he seemed content to just kick the ball if he got to it first. I was fine with that. Then he started picking the ball up and moving ever closer to me and my son, and when I looked to his caregiver for assistance, she was on the phone.

My normal inclination, even if the other kid was riddled with visible chicken pox or something, would be to just sort of shrug and let him play with us for a while. But this is obviously different. I am myself chock full of autoimmune disease, and I certainly don’t want to be responsible for giving my wife the ‘rona and risk having her bring it into a hospital to distribute to kids with serious underlying conditions.

Also, and not for nothing, I don’t know the kid’s deal or if he lives with any vulnerable people, and since my wife works at a hospital and my son can’t keep his hands off door handles, I can’t say for sure that I’m not an asymptomatic carrier of the disease.

But I’m never, ever going to scold someone else’s kid, so instead I just kind of kept looking at the lady, seeing if she might intervene, growing increasingly frustrated. Pretty soon I just gave up and went home. I said nothing, but I wanted to say, “lady, are you f@#!ing kidding me?”

Then, like two minutes into our walk home, I heard a jogging bro ask exactly that of a masked older woman who had her dog off-leash. I didn’t see what happened, but I assume the dog ran into his path. And I thought to myself that this guy was giving in to the urge to be uncool at a time when it’s way too easy to be uncool, and that he was clearly the villain in the scenario.

Then the dog, a little yippy thing, started running behind the guy, and the old woman — no joke — started yelling out, “Bite him! Bite him! Bite him!”

This isn’t exactly next-level insight, but to those of us lucky enough to be healthy and active and out and about to the extent that we can be right now: We must chill. No one has ever dealt with anything like this before, but we need to keep in mind that no one else has ever dealt with anything like this before. It’s been, what, three weeks? This could stretch on for months.

From the Wikipedia: Pangolins

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Nap time came early for my kid today. This isn’t a typical Wednesday, but nap time typically comes early on Wednesdays, because on typical Wednesdays he has school on the Upper West Side in the afternoons. So on typical Wednesdays, we go to the Museum of Natural History in the morning, where he tires himself out sprinting big circles around the diorama rooms full of gorgeous and exotic animals that Teddy Roosevelt and his friends shot in the name of science. I’m desperately awaiting a typical Wednesday.

From the Wikipedia: Pangolins.

Pangolin_borneoI’ve written before about the internet’s weird, dumb tendency to shame people for knowledge they want but don’t yet have, but I will admit without hesitation that I never in my life heard of a pangolin before they became newsworthy as a potential disease vector for COVID-19. From all the time at the museum, I know about gemsboks and gaurs and kudus and sables, but as far as I know there is no pangolin there. This creature’s existence entirely dodged my awareness until roughly two weeks ago.

As it turns out, the study that initially connected pangolins to the coronavirus was a bit of a stretch — I don’t really understand the science detailed on the Wikipedia page, but you’re welcome to check it out and report back. Either way, it’s clearly not the pangolins’ fault, and it turns out pangolins are fascinating.

Did you know that pangolins are the most trafficked animal in the world? I would’ve guessed it was monkeys or something. There are eight extant species of pangolin, and together they comprise some 20% of the world’s illegal wildlife trade. Types of pangolin live in Sub-Saharan Africa, on the Indian subcontinent, and in China and Southeast Asia.

They’re hunted for their meat, which is considered a delicacy in some areas, and especially for their most unusual characteristic: Protective scales made of keratin that cover their entire body. The Wikipedia says they’re the only known mammal with this feature, and that the scales are coveted in part for their value in Chinese traditional medicine.

The scales are also undeniably dope. The name pangolin derives from a Malay word that means “one who rolls up,” because pangolins can basically turn themselves into spiky rocks by going fetal when threatened. Check out this pangolin in its defensive position:

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Here’s a different type of pangolin, confusing the heck out of some hungry lions:

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“Oh, where’d I go, sucker lion?” – That pangolin there.

Pangolins eat ants and termites with a sticky tongue that can extend up to 16 inches. Three of the eight species of pangolin are critically endangered and three more are considered vulnerable, but they tend to struggle in captivity, flummoxing conservation efforts.

The pangolin’s champions include David Attenborough, who rescued one from hunters in Bali in 1951, and Jackie Chan, who put out a PSA in 2017 to support a ban on international pangolin trade. In 2017, a YouTube channel called Animalogic declared it “The cutest animal you’ve never heard of.” They don’t really seem cute in photos, but once you see them walk, it makes sense:

In conclusion, don’t blame this cool animal for the ‘rona. Pangolins aren’t trying to get people sick, they just want to eat ants and roll themselves up into balls and have sex once a year.

Sandwich of the Week

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Here we go:

The sandwich: Smoked brisket with Alabama-style white BBQ sauce and Brussels sprouts on whole-wheat toast.

The construction: All those things I just said. The aforementioned Crowd Cow — where you can sign up with my referral code and get $25 worth of meat for both of us — sells full briskets, brisket flats, and brisket points. Flats are the lean type available at many supermarkets. They can be delicious, but if you’re smoking them, they sometimes end up pretty dry. The point — a.k.a. the deckle — is the fattier part sold as “moist brisket” at a lot of barbecue joints, and it’s both tastier and more forgiving. I buy the points.

Brisket has so much flavor and takes on enough smoke that it doesn’t require more than salt and pepper as a rub, but I gave it a light coating of yellow mustard and used a mix of the Trader Joe’s coffee-garlic rub and a the remains of a container of Chicago-style steak seasoning that I bought years ago in Arizona when my spring-training hotel had a barbecue. Here’s the brisket is on the grill:

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This happened to be an exceptionally fatty brisket even after I trimmed it, so I wound up cutting some fat out of the center and melting it in a skillet. I shredded the Brussels sprouts and fried them in the beef fat, in the hopes that they’d crisp up and provide some texture to the sandwich.

I chose Alabama barbecue sauce because I knew I had the necessary ingredients and because I wanted something with a strongly acidic, vinegary flavor to give the sandwich bite and to balance out the bitterness of the Brussels sprouts. There are a bunch of recipes for Alabama-style sauce online. I used mayo, apple cider vinegar, the juice of half a lime, horseradish, brown sugar, salt, black pepper, garlic powder and cayenne pepper.

If you’ve got a smoker at home, you probably don’t need this advice, and if you don’t it doesn’t apply, but I cooked the brisket over indirect heat at around 250-degrees. I used oak, which I believe to be the best and most versatile wood for beef and pork smoking. To me, hickory and mesquite have way too much smoke flavor, and I don’t often like the sweetness of fruit woods.

Important background information: I need to address an elephant in this digital room, because it’s one that has me awash in guilt right now: I live in a Manhattan apartment with outdoor space. It’s a phenomenal thing, and one for which my landlords could certainly get away with charging (someone, not us) way more in rent. The interior of our place is cramped, but the patio is big enough for a small dining table, a couch and a fancy grill.

And because it’s New York City, there are roughly 50 other apartments that can see right into our backyard, and these days, I can sense the eyes of all my neighbors firing death rays at me every time I’m out there. I feel like a goldfish nonchalantly barbecuing inside its fishbowl while everyone outside the fishbowl is dying of thirst.

What can you do? I’m not about to stay indoors out of solidarity, and if any of my neighbors want to devise some contact-free meat-moving system, I’ll happily throw their steaks on the grill next to mine. In the interim, I feel like I should move into more performative grilling, like I’m manning the hibachi at Benihana. I need to practice my knifeplay, for the people.

What it looks like: 

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How it tastes: Honestly? Meh.

It was delicious, no doubt, because the brisket was delicious — salty, fatty, beefy and smoky. But I believe a sandwich should be better than the sum of its parts, and I can’t say with any confidence that I upgraded this brisket by slapping it between bread with sauce and Brussels sprouts.

My hopes for crispy Brussels sprouts were foolhardy: Though they had some light crunch coming out of the pan, that crunch was no match whatsoever for the greasiness of the moist brisket, so the Brussels sprouts served only to provide some not-unpleasant but also not-at-all necessary vegetal flavor.

Maybe if I had a kaiser roll or something, I could’ve found some extra ingredient to throw on this sandwich and give it some extra oomph. But my neighborhood, like many, lacks for bread selection right now, and this wheat bread was (and remains) all I had available. It held together surprisingly well under the onslaught of dripping fat, but it added nothing more than something to hold on to while I enjoyed the brisket inside.

Hardcore Sandwich of the Week heads might recognize it as a rarity for me to write up a less-than-spectacular sandwich, but since there is no small-business owner behind the creation of this one, I can be honest: It was just OK. As referenced, I think I would have preferred the brisket on a plate with Brussels sprouts and toast.

Hall of Fame? Nah.

Special shout-out: A handful heroes used my Crowd Cow referral code to buy meat, meaning my next big order of meat to prepare and review is going to be more or less free. Thanks so much to all of them. It’s like getting paid to write again, except this time around I am paid directly in meat, which would be my preference.

Also, seriously: The selection is limited right now, but Crowd Cow can probably deliver food to you faster than FreshDirect or anybody else at this point, so I’m going to keep plugging it and my referral code for as long as that’s the case.

Make it up as we go along

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Stock-photo tablet and overalls man, for no reason whatsoever. (Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com)

This morning, while I pedaled up the 1st Ave. bike lane, I felt on the cusp of making some brilliant connection between one of the things I love about baseball and one of things I find most frustrating about the coronavirus shutdown. Then, with no inciting incident whatsoever, I went flying over my handlebars.

Don’t freak out, Mom: I’m fine. I was wearing a helmet, and playing football for my entire youth taught me how to tuck in all my body parts when I fall. I have some scrapes and bruises and it kind of looks like I got punched in the nose, but mostly I’m just stunned that it happened.

I’ve been on a bike at least 3,000 times in my life, easily. I’ve been doored. I’ve been clipped by cars. I’ve fallen off to the side while avoiding hazards, and I’ve tumbled over when my wheel got caught in a trolley rut. But the first time I’ve ever flipped over my handlebars was this morning, on a day when seeking medical attention for anything but the gravest of illnesses makes you an a-hole, while the roads were close to empty, in a spot where I’ve biked hundreds of times before.

And I wasn’t biking recklessly! Best I can figure, if anything besides total randomness caused it to happen today, it was that I was riding my wife’s bike because my own has a flat (the ‘rona has prevented me from getting it fixed), and it’s balanced a bit differently than mine. Also, maybe, I got lulled into a false sense of security by how few cars and pedestrians and other cyclists are around. I felt like a damn fool, either way. Still do. I’m going to be more careful next time.

That’s an excuse for my inability to better connect the following two facts, which I know to be related somehow:

1) There are obviously different levels at which the coronavirus sucks, and I still don’t want to complain too much while me and my loved ones are all (knocking wood) healthy. But one of the things I find most frustrating about the shutdown is the lack of a clear end date.

I recognize that the nature of such things is that we will not and should not get a clear end date until it’s nearly upon us, so I’m not asserting that someone should give us some official quarantine release day before science can offer one. I’m just saying, I think this would be a lot easier to bear if I could know exactly when I can do stuff again.

Think about it this way: For some reason, you are put in charge of the coronavirus — possibly because A-Rod turned down the job. And Ron Science, unimpeachable King of Science, tells you that you have two options:  A) You could let this all play out — keep everything closed, maintain social distancing, etc — to see what happens and maintain hope, without certainty, that the virus runs its course or has some sort of cure by early June. Or B) You can agree to keep everything shut down until exactly July 16, at which point you can safely go outside.

I’d definitely choose B. If I knew precisely how long this was going to last, I could better map out how to spend this time, and I’d have something to look forward to when it’s over. Part of what makes having to stay inside all the time and avoid human interaction so harrowing is not having any idea how long it has to last.

0_ZfzG-e5kmxLPR_lT2) I have very little interest in watching sporting events when I know the outcome. I DVR every Georgetown basketball game so I can start watching a little late and fast-forward through commercials, but if I see a phone notification with a score update, I always wind up advancing until the score is the one I just saw.

Same thing with baseball. I think a big part of sports’ appeal to me is that they’re unscripted; no one knows what’s going to happen, and then you watch it unfold at the arena or in the stadium or on your television. Sometimes it goes your way and sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes it’s thrilling and sometimes it’s anti-climactic, but it’s always spontaneous and urgent.

I don’t begrudge people their right to enjoy baseball however they want to enjoy baseball, and I certainly understand why MLB Network and SNY and other outlets in the business of broadcasting baseball games might re-air “classic” games for as long as there are no new ones.

But I’m sure that if someone gave me the choice between rewatching Game 5 of the 2017 World Series — maybe the best and wildest game I’ve ever seen — or checking out some random, hard-fought Twins-Tigers tilt from June, 2009, I’d choose the latter unless the person spoiled the final score or told me why it was worth watching. It might take some mental gymnastics to convince myself it was happening live, especially once I saw Nick Punto, but at the very least it’d be new to me.

The connection between points 1 and 2, I think, goes back to the thing I once wrote about baseball serving as an orderly plane to help us sort out our real-life trials. Not knowing what’s going to happen makes baseball incredible. Not knowing what’s going to happen next makes real life agonizing.

Here’s a poll:

 

Friday Q&A: What the hell should I do with myself?

A page out of the old-school TedQuarters playbook. If you’ve got questions you’d like to see answered in future installments of Friday Q&A, feel free to email AskTedBerg@gmail.com or tweet them at me.

I’ll start with some quick ones before I get to the big one:

Into the garbage. Maybe I shouldn’t admit to wasting food in times like these, but for as much as I love freshly sliced lunchmeat, few things gross me out more than old lunchmeat. Eating it risks making me feel so sick that I go off deli meat entirely for months, to my own detriment. As such, I usually buy lunchmeat in 1/2-pound increments, knowing I’d rather crave more meat than I have than wind up eating a 10-day-old piece of salsalito turkey that’s starting to spore.

1. Tried to, but didn’t get it to rise. I think I’ve successfully used yeast one time in my entire life, and it was in home-ec class in 7th grade. Made a calzone with it. If I recall correctly, it was a dope calzone.

2. In my eyes, there is no reasonable return, as my appreciation for Dom Smith extends beyond reason. The joy he took in the Mets’ successes last year while he was confined to the little scooter thing was completely infectious, and I want the Mets to keep him forever even if it’s not what’s best for his career. Being a fan isn’t a reasonable thing. They could trade Smith straight up for Juan Soto tomorrow and I’d still be at least a tiny bit bummed out. I’d get over it, but I’d hate to see him go.

Of course. Fun fact: I have the cap Pascucci wore during the TedQuarters singularity game, when he homered off Cole Hamels. A reader who was also a friend of a friend came into it somehow and thought I should have it, and I did not disagree. I’m not generally much of a memorabilia collector and I don’t know what I’ll ultimately do with it, but I do cherish it, and the only way I could ever imagine parting with it would be bestowing it back upon Pascucci’s glorious head in some grand ceremony someday.

Yes! There is currently a napping child separating me from the big stack of novels on my nightstand, but some I read in the last couple of years that I can recall enjoying include: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch, New York 2180 by Kim Stanley Robinson, Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson, and everything by Ottessa Moshfegh, who writes so well it makes me angry. I also re-read 1984 a couple months ago and learned that it’s still incredible. Just started Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad, because I read a speech he gave about writing and found it so thoroughly on-the-money that I kept involuntarily and vigorously nodding at the points he made. Seems good so far, but I’m only like 15 pages deep.

Man. I have a lot of thoughts on this topic right now — as we all do, I assume — and not a lot of time to sort them all out in this space, so I apologize if this strays into a stream of consciousness. I promise I’ll get to an answer.

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WordPress now offers free stock photos like this one, so I’m going to use them. (Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com)

Yesterday morning, I took my son out for a walk and got so frustrated that I planned to turn my Thursday post here into a tirade about how much this situation sucks. I love my kid, naturally, and I love spending time with him, and until the ‘rona hit New York, I found that the trophy husband lifestyle really suited me.

But now the zoo is closed, his one-day-a-week school program is closed, the Natural History museum is closed, we’re avoiding playgrounds, and all of a sudden I need to be a total hardo when he wants to climb up random stoops and stop in the middle of the sidewalk to wave at strangers. This child is 2 1/2 years old. He knows something has changed, but there’s no way he can understand it, and the only way to get him to behave in a socially responsible manner is to be far more stern with him than I really think anyone should ever be with a playful toddler. It blows.

All that was weighing on me yesterday after he went down for his nap, when I opened my computer to write. But before I started writing, I checked Twitter and saw a bunch of other people complaining about coronavirus-related inconveniences and stresses, and I completely lost patience. And I want to be careful here, because I recognize that everyone else’s feelings are just as valid as my own, and I don’t want to make light of anyone whose real mental-health issues have been exacerbated by this crisis.

But it’s just… I’m sorry. Nurses at Mount Sinai — one of the top hospitals in one of the world’s biggest, richest cities — are literally using garbage bags as protective gear. There are refrigerated trucks parked outside a hospital in Queens to handle all the dead bodies. This is a full-blown apocalyptic shitshow. And here I am, all, “I’m so mad I have to tell my kid not to touch the magazine rack outside the bodega.” And here you are (not Chris, but the general “you”) going on Twitter, like, “This whole shelter-in-place thing is really making me feel anxious.”

I hope it gets better. I think it will get better. But if you’re not feeling anxious about the situation right now, you’re a sociopath.

It sucks to have to stay indoors and isolate yourself, no doubt. But there are levels of suckitude, and losing your job and facing grim financial uncertainty at this time most likely sucks way more than just social-distancing. And it sucks even more than that, probably, to have a job that exposes you to these dangers and forces you to witness the horrors up close. And it sucks most of all to lose loved ones to the virus, or to die from it yourself.

What I’m saying is: It sucks across the board, but not equally. And because I recognize that the degree to which it sucks for me is far less than the degree to which it sucks for many others (my wife among them), I decided I don’t really want to whine about it publicly.

Still, when I saw Chris’ question, I felt a tinge of envy. I assume it implies Chris does not have kids, and all I could think was how much easier this would be if I weren’t charged with stewarding a toddler through it. I could rewatch The Wire! I could practice the guitar without my son wanting to play it himself. If my living-room floor weren’t perpetually covered in toys, I could do push-ups and sit-ups all day and spend this time getting super yoked.

But then I started trying to think of the era of my life in which I would have found the quarantine least burdensome, and I couldn’t do it. If this happened when I was in high school, it would’ve canceled a sports season or the play, and those things meant the whole world to me when I participated in them. If it happened in college, it would’ve destroyed the Moo Shoo Porkestra. In grad school, it would have dried up my only source of income — tutoring for the SATs — and I probably would’ve wound up murdering my roommate and his girlfriend (both of whom were, and remain, awesome).

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How do they have enough masks for stock photos but not enough for hospitals? (Photo by EVG photos on Pexels.com)

And so on. There has simply never been a time in my life when it would have seemed convenient or palatable to have the whole world shut down around me. I imagine it’s the same for you.

So to get back to Chris’ question: I think the first thing everyone in every situation needs to come to terms with is that this fully sucks, and it sucks for everybody else, too, and it’s just going to unavoidably suck for a while yet. Far as I can see it, this is more or less the rock-bottom moment for civilization in my lifetime. Right? Nothing’s ever canceled baseball before, except baseball itself in 1994.

If you’re young and healthy and desperate for cash and willing to take on the risk, there’s definitely work available in grocery stores and delivery jobs. That’s an option. It’s not an option for me due to my array of auto-immune diseases, so it’s hard for me to speak to the risk-reward ratio. But people are doing it, they’re (rightfully) being hailed as heroes, and if and when they come out of it OK, they’re going to have a heck of a story for the bar. And, statistically speaking, the percentages are in their favor: Most of them will probably be OK. It’s still terrifying, of course.

But if you don’t want to take that on, I’d say the pretty obvious answer here is bucket drumming. Learn how to play some fuckin’ bucket drums! There are hundreds of instructional bucket-drumming videos on YouTube. All you need is a bucket and a pair of drumsticks, both of which can still easily be acquired online.

I’ve always felt like bucket-drumming would be an incredible skill to have in my pocket, and I think, if I had the next couple of months to dedicate a few hours a day to practicing, I could come out of it a pretty awesome bucket-drummer.

Just picture it: It’s August, and everyone’s finally allowed to go outside and interact again. After the initial round of orgies, you’re at a regular, non-orgy party with some friends and someone mentions that there’s a really nice view from the roof and they’re going to go up there for a cigarette. You don’t smoke, but you’re down to get some fresh air, so you join the little group heading up the fire-escape to chill on the roof. The person was right about the view, too — it’s a sweeping vista of the Manhattan skyline, and it’s a clear, gorgeous night, and if you walk to the other side of the roof you can even see the Statue of Liberty.

And, lo! What’s there on the roof but an old bucket and, for some reason, some drumsticks. You sit down and start playing a little rhythm — real simple at first — and the people, all standing well within six feet of each other, cast eyes your way as they drag on their cigarettes, thinking, “hey, Chris is doing a neat little thing on that bucket.”

Then you build up a little, start playing a full-blown beat, and heads start to bob, and they’re all, “wait a second, it sounds like Chris actually knows how to bucket-drum. I didn’t know that about him; that’s pretty cool.” And next thing they know, you’re just absolutely throwing down on the bucket-drums, a complex but still undeniably funky assault of bangs and thwaps and bops and rat-tat-tat-tats, and everyone’s dancing and laughing and having a great time, totally mesmerized and impressed by the virtuosic bucket-drumming skills you cultivated during our shared, months-long hiatus from normal life. You’re now the coolest guy you know, because you made the best possible use of these lousy circumstances.

So that, or play a bunch of video games.

 

4 horrible tips for working at home

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When I decided to relaunch here, I planned a helpful post full of tips on working from home. The way I figured it, a whole lot of people accustomed to office life have recently been forced into makeshift workspaces in their houses and apartments. I spent much of my 6 1/2-year tenure at USA Today working remotely, and I thought maybe readers could benefit from my experience.

Then I realized, wait a minute: I’m unemployed! How am I going to give people advice about how to succeed while working from home when I demonstrably could not do it myself?

And, truth be told, none of my best or most productive days at USA Today came while working from my apartment. I always did my best work on location or in coffee shops. If that job — and my enthusiasm for it — died by a million pinpricks and a couple sucker-punches, working remotely was undoubtedly one of the pinpricks. I think I kind of stink at working from home. It’s boring. It took me a while to come to this conclusion, but I think I actually prefer human interaction to not wearing pants.

The only good advice I could give to someone working remotely would be to get out and go to a coffee shop, and for a lot of people that’s not currently an option. It’s too bad, because I have a really good mental map of Manhattan coffee shops with ample seating, reliable wifi and clean bathrooms.

Here are four bad pieces of advice for working at home:

1) Plan to exercise later: It might be nice to go out for a jog or a ride or a skate or a power-walk first thing in the morning to get your blood pumping. But that also sounds like a lot of work, and your TV is right there. Plus, you’ve got to eat breakfast! Why not plan to exercise later, and enjoy some television now while you eat your breakfast? And then, when breakfast is done, continue enjoying some television because you might as well finish the show.

Now that you’ve watched the show, you definitely don’t have time to exercise before starting work, but you can always exercise in the evening when you’re done. Or tomorrow, I guess. Tomorrow sounds good. You’ll start exercising tomorrow, for real.

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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

2) Always be snacking: Portion control is tempting, and one might even suggest you’ll eat less and be more productive while working from home if you transfer any snacks you’re going to eat into little bowls before taking them to your work area. But you show me someone the person who suggested that, and I’ll show you a sucker with an extra dish to clean.

Eat right out of the bag, baby! You’re cutting out a needless step — that’s just efficiency — and as an added bonus, an empty potato chip bag makes for a handy trash bag for the detritus of the rest of the snacks you’re going to eat in the day, since you’re best served lazily munching on junk food for nine straight hours instead of taking the time to prepare and enjoy a proper meal. Some trash is inevitably going to spill out of your makeshift trash bag onto your desk, but luckily that fits nicely with Tip #3.

3) Wallow in your own filth: My dad worked from home my entire life — still does, matter of fact — and started every day by taking a shower, putting on a button-down shirt and khaki pants, and heading upstairs to the room in the attic that served as his office.

What’d he do all that for? Since there’s a chance you’re going to exercise in the evening, it’s downright wasteful to shower and get dressed now. Stay in your sweatpants. Are they starting to stink? Nah, that’s you. But you’re not going to see anybody anyway. Try to avoid mirrors.

4) Take everything personally, say nothing, and let it fester: Just because you work remotely doesn’t mean you have to be the squeaky wheel. It’s often hard to gauge someone’s tone in electronic communication, but if you feel like some offhand comment in a work chatroom or supervisory oversight is a personal slight, it almost certainly is, and you should definitely take it that way. Don’t bother following up, either. Just stew. Let it eat at you over time. It’s just more evidence of how little they appreciate you and all the hard work you’ve done. To hell with them, really.

Sandwich of the Week!

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Sandwich of the Week is going to be homemade-sandwich heavy for the run of the TedQuarters revival. I want to support my local sandwich institutions, of course, and perhaps I’ll review some of them in this space, but I’m also trying to do the responsible thing and stay inside as much as possible.

People often give me spices and condiments as gifts, which I appreciate. I can and sometimes do make my own barbecue rub, but the gift of barbecue rub is one I’m always going to use eventually, which is more than I can say for dress slacks.

I haven’t exactly mapped out this site’s Operation Shutdown content, but I assume a lot of the food I prepare and write about here will include random ingredients I already had in my kitchen, as this seems like a good opportunity to use some of them up. That may make it difficult for you to accurately recreate these sandwiches at home. But it’s all jazz, baby. Seek not instructions here. Seek inspiration.

The sandwich: Roast beef, spinach and potato chips with club sauce on lightly toasted wheat bread.

The construction: I started with a rump roast I got from Crowd Cow, a reliably excellent source of meat that I’m going to endorse here because a) it’s a useful resource in these times and was actually available to deliver meat to me sooner than FreshDirect could, and b) we both get $25 credits if you sign up here with my referral code. Tacky, I know. But it’s not like I’m asking you to patreon me. We all get discounted meat out of this.

On the roast, I used a liberal sprinkling of Trader Joe’s coffee-garlic barbecue rub, which is delicious, and which I get as a gift frequently enough that I pretty much always have some around. Here’s how to approximate it if you don’t have access to it. Here’s the roast, with the rub, on the grill:

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Hardcore grill heads might note that I’m cooking it over indirect heat with a chunk of oak thrown in with the charcoal. But again, don’t fret about the specifics. I’m sure you can roast a perfect rump in your oven if you don’t have a fancy barbecue.

The potato chips were Kettle-band Spicy Queso chips from a half-eaten bag I had in my kitchen. I wanted to put sliced cucumber on the sandwich, but opted for baby spinach when I opened the fridge and learned we had no cucumbers. For the sauce, I took a sweet red-pepper jelly of forgotten origin that was on my refrigerator door, then mixed it with mayo, a little yellow mustard for tang, and salt and pepper.

Mixing roughly one part jelly — any sort of jelly, really — with three parts mayo makes for a shockingly good sandwich topping. I got the idea from No. 7 Sub sandwich guru Tyler Kord’s A Super Upsetting Cookbook About Sandwiches, which I wholeheartedly recommend. 

Important background information: I never spent a whole lot of time thinking about roast beef until I worked at the deli. We often had it around my house growing up — I’m pretty sure it’s my dad’s favorite lunchmeat — but it was never something I went out of my way to order.

But one regular customer at the deli forced a frequent consideration of roast beef. Her name was Gae. She owned the smoke shop around the corner, she never wanted anything at the deli besides roast beef, and she only wanted roast beef it was extremely rare.

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We went through about one roast every three days, but she only ever wanted it — on a platter with gravy and french fries — if it could be sliced from the very middle of the roast. So instead of walking about 100 yards to survey the roast beef every day at noon, she’d call to check in. She had an incredible voice — a thick, sludgy New York accent with the gravelly growl of someone who not only smoked constantly but also spent most of her waking hours inside a small smoke-filled room. And she apparently had no time whatsoever for pleasantries.

“Hello, De Bono’s,” I’d say when I picked up the phone.

“IS IT RARE?” she’d ask. I knew to expect her call every day, so I always kept tabs on the roast beef.

“Hi, Gae. Yes, it’s rare.”

“I LIKE IT STILL MOOING.”

“Come on over, Gae. I’ll get it ready for you.”

Gae was right. Rare roast beef is the best and most flavorful form of that meat. And I’ve roasted beef of various cuts with plenty of success, but until last night, I never really nailed the interior rareness I was looking for.

I think some of it was that the roast was still frozen in the very center when I put it on the grill, and some of it was dumb luck: A drunk lady visiting my neighbor popped her head over the fence and started a conversation with me while I meant to be checking on the meat. The grill got to a way higher temperature than I wanted, and the first time I stuck the meat thermometer in, it was already at 125-degrees in the middle. The innermost parts of big cuts of meat continue gaining temperature for about 10 minutes after you pull them off the grill (there’s science to this), so I took it off right then, let it rest for a while, and cut it open to find the beautiful interior redness you can see in the photo above.

What it looks like:

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How it tastes: Folks, I have made so many freaking sandwiches in my life. So many. Tens of thousands, easily. This might have been the best.

And that’s both alarming and liberating, because it’s really not a sandwich I spent a whole lot of time planning. I had a rump roast I wanted to turn into roast beef. I had some potato chips and some spinach. I had a random half-eaten jar of red-pepper jelly in the fridge. I had bread. I made a sandwich.

But what a sandwich! The beef was juicy, tender, salty and meaty, and still warm from the grill. The potato chips added some spice and a powerful crunch, the sauce was sweet,  tangy and peppery. The spinach means it’s good for you.

The bread was a bit overmatched by the bulk of the sandwich and the juiciness of the beef, but it died a hero, for sure.

What it costs: $25 less than it would if you didn’t use my Crowd Cow referral code.

Hall of Fame? Yup.

We’re going to make it through this.

Taco Bell in the time of COVID-19

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These are grim times. You know that. They’re grim times for artists and grim times for doctors and grim times for teachers and students and builders and lawyers and farmers and soldiers and IT professionals, because people are getting sick and dying at terrifying rates and the best way — the only way — to combat it involves the near-complete suspension of community and enterprise and normalcy and everything else we typically turn to for help handling hardships. It sucks.

And these are, undoubtedly, grim times for the restaurant industry — especially in New York City, where exorbitant rents require restaurateurs to operate on impossibly slim margins in a landscape already blighted with empty storefronts.

If you are getting takeout and have the opportunity to support a small business, you should do it. But after you do that, or, perhaps, when you have few other options, you may find yourself at a Taco Bell. I know, because it happened to me over the weekend, and because my former roommate Bill texted me not two hours ago to note that the same thing happened to him yesterday. Taco Bell is delicious and inexpensive and comforting, and while it appears far better positioned than most to survive this pandemic, these presumably aren’t great times for area Taco Bell franchisees, either.

Here are four tips for enjoying Taco Bell in the time of COVID-19:

1) Be cool: If you thought this nation’s only truly horrendous people were the ones running it, think again! A Business Insider post surveying fast-food workers notes, “some customers were treating employees poorly in the face of the coronavirus outbreak. Multiple workers shared stories of customers coughing on them, either by accident or as a ‘joke.’ Others said customers had yelled at them due to restricted hours or longer wait times.”

For fuck’s sake. I find few things more off-putting than people who mistreat food-service workers. (Once, when I got confused about the terms of a coupon at the lobster farm, the customer actually said, “that’s why I go to Cornell and you work at a lobster farm.” No joke.) It’s just a lousy thing to do, but also, I don’t think problem customers realize that people really do spit in their food sometimes. I never did it myself, but I’ve seen it happen enough times to know better than to take out my frustrations on someone handling my food, even on my worst day.

Yes, you’re scared about the ‘rona. Yes, your Taco Bell might take longer than it normally does because of the extra crowds and precautions that come along with the virus. But for heaven’s sake, be cool. Everyone’s scared. Everyone’s stressed. That person taking your order is literally putting her life on the line to provide you Taco Bell. It’s downright noble! And you’re working from home anyway! No one can see if you spent an extra ten minutes away from your desk getting lunch.

2) Use the Taco Bell app: Have you used the Taco Bell app? It’s phenomenal. And — I want to point out — it is awfully similar to a concept I outlined in this space in 2011. You can trick out any Taco Bell thing you can think of in practically any way. I like adding jalapenos to stuff just because I can. Sometimes I swap out Spicy Ranch sauce for Avocado Ranch sauce, not because I can necessarily tell the difference so much as because I am drunk with power. Extra meat? You can do that. Multiple meats? Absolutely. They don’t really let you mess with the various incarnations of tortilla that deliver your Taco Bell stuff, but everything inside is fair game.

Why it matters now is that you pay via the app, so you don’t have to use cash and you don’t force the Taco Bell employee to handle your grimy credit card and pass your germs along to the next person in line.

3) Skip the Crunchy Tacos: We all need to make sacrifices in this time And the particulars of eating Taco Bell during the coronavirus shutdown mean that you are likely either eating Taco Bell in your car or taking it away to eat somewhere besides the Taco Bell dining room. Crunchy Tacos are a great many things, but they are not particularly portable, nor are they really built to withstand more than a few minutes’ worth of travel time. If you want something that crunches, go with plain old nachos, or something that utilizes the superlative Crunchy Red Strips, or opt for the ever-popular Cheesy G.

4) For cryin’ out loud, try a Beefy Nacho Griller: If it didn’t already seem like End Times, we might be spending more time considering that Taco Bell has only now, finally, come out with something called the “Taco Burrito,” and that somehow the Taco Burrito — based on my recent experience — just isn’t all that good. It’s fine, obviously, but it’s basically just a soft taco with slightly more tortilla (albeit with infinitely more Crunchy Red Strips).

I feel like a broken record: The best new Taco Bell menu item of the last 10 years, and possibly the very best Taco Bell menu item of all, is the relatively unheralded Beefy Nacho Griller. It’s just seasoned beef, nacho cheese, and Crunchy Red Strips in a burrito, which is to say that it’s all the Taco Bell things you want with no superfluous lettuce. Then, to make it extra good, they press it in their magical Taco Bell grill thing.

Good luck out there.

Shortness of breath

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Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

I took my bike out this morning. I live at the bottom of one of Manhattan’s few hills, and before I got to the top, I found myself huffing and wheezing.

For the fifth or sixth time in the last two weeks, I became convinced I had the ‘rona. I started scheming on how I might quarantine myself from my wife, who works in a hospital, and considering options for childcare for our toddler. But by the time I got to Central Park, I realized I was breathing easier.

I don’t think I have COVID-19. I think I’m just out of shape.

I have no unique insight into the pandemic sweeping my home city and much of the planet. My wife does, but it’s not mine to share, and she prefers I keep her out of my digital nonsense. If you’re looking for useful information about the coronavirus, you’ve come to the wrong place. Obviously.

But I do have a heck of a lot of experience spending time alone in my apartment, and it strikes me that a whole lot of people are currently adjusting to spending time alone in their apartments. And if I have any marketable skills whatsoever, they include the ability to entertain bored people from the confines of my home with only the use of my laptop and an internet connection.

I started this site in August of 2009 in part because I worked in an area of the SNY office that was otherwise empty for most of every workday. I was lonely, and writing here helped me connect with other bored, hungry Mets fans looking to kill time at work. (For a while, I think, TedQuarters could boast one of the internet’s very best comments sections — not because it was ever the most active, but because it was reliably insightful and respectful and hilarious and fun — and I don’t know that anything I’ve done professionally has ever been quite as satisfying as helping to cultivate that small but generally excellent online community.)

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As the primary caregiver for a delightful but predictably dependent 2 1/2-year-old, I can’t often say that I’m bored anymore. And I feel like raising a child is a defensible thing in practically any situation.

But at the same time, I don’t feel good about the idea of entirely sitting this shutdown out when basically the only thing I know how to do might now, in some way, offer some value to someone somewhere. This is my paltry contribution to this war effort, my post-9/11 American flag cake: Starting today, and running until either a) baseball comes back or b) the virus renders it impossible or c) my kid stops napping reliably or d) it becomes clear that no one at all is reading, I’m going to post something fresh here every weekday to help distract you and me both from the horrors happening around us.

It’s not much. I can’t put toilet paper on your shelves or money in your pocket or certainty in your future, but maybe I can help you think about something other than those things for, like, 10 minutes a day. That’s obviously presumptuous — who the hell do I think I am? — but it’s also therapeutic for me, and the site’s called TedQuarters.

I haven’t published anything anywhere since the last post on this site in October, but my understanding from some baseball-writer friends is that they see some backlash to anything they put out that’s not about COVID-19. I understand the sentiment, but I strongly disagree with it. Same goes for something I read in the N.Y. Times recently (and can’t find now) arguing that fiction writers shouldn’t write coronavirus-themed fiction until after the pandemic is over, if then.

I don’t think anyone gets to tell anybody what they can make or when they can make it, as long as it’s not hurting anybody else. Picasso started painting Guernica four days after the bombing of Guernica. Did no one say, “too soon?”

If you don’t want to read about baseball right now, don’t click on Eno’s stuff. If you don’t want to read fiction about pandemics, don’t read fiction about pandemics. What difference does it make to you if it exists? I’m not interested in math metal at this stage of my life, but I’m not tweeting at Meshuggah to tell them to stop.

Which is all to say: If you don’t want to read about random shit I find online, sandwiches, or cargo shorts, don’t visit TedQuarters.net. If you are, then by all means, come on by. As I referenced, I’m aiming to do most of the writing in the early afternoons while the boy naps, so you can probably expect to see something new by about 3 p.m. every day. I can’t imagine I’ll write much about the virus, but I also can’t imagine avoiding it entirely, given the grip it has on all our attention right now.

I’d be surprised if I write a whole lot about baseball, seeing as there are hundreds of employed baseball writers putting out good baseball content despite the complete absence of baseball right now. But, hey! Maybe some of that content will be so compelling as to suck me back in.

If you’re curious what I’ve been up to since I left USA Today in August and lost on Jeopardy! in September, it’s not terribly interesting: I’ve been mostly on dad duty — enjoying the hell out of it (at least up until they closed the zoo and the Met and the Museum of Natural History) — plus hosting baseball trivia and general trivia at my friends’ bars, and trying to fulfill my lifelong dream of writing fiction, which, it turns out, is extremely hard.

I plodded through 50 pages of a novel, but about a month ago, I read over the first chapter and noticed that it totally sucked. When I started it, I was so bitter about my career that the tone and voice did not reflect, at all, the person I am now or the writer I want to be, plus I was so desperate to be literary that I made the mistake of choosing a close third person narration where first person would’ve been so much more natural. Also, it was sci-fi/speculative fiction set in 2029, but it obviously did not account in any way for the terrifying, paradigm-shifting shit happening right at this very moment.

I’m still trying my hand at fiction, and you might even get some of it here in the days and weeks to come — it depends how long this thing lasts, I guess. But you’ll also get some stuff about Taco Bell, for sure. Thanks for reading. I missed you. Wash your hands.