Sick among the pure

My son is almost 5 years old and my daughter is almost 2, and every night after their bath, they run the length of our railroad apartment wearing nothing but their hooded towels, pretending to be ghosts. They start in the kitchen, by the wall where we tape up their latest drawings, then they sprint through the couch-cramped living room, through the little bedroom that they share, all the way to the queen bed in the bigger bedroom, then back through to the kitchen again, repeating until they’re exhausted, yelling out “boo!” whenever they can stop giggling and also sometimes roaring like dinosaurs, filling our home with laughter and footfall.

If I am cleaning the kitchen or putting away their bath toys when they start, they demand that I sit in the recliner in the living room and whistle, because my oblivious whistling makes it funnier when I howl out in terror at the naked little ghosts haunting my apartment. If I am writhing on the floor in pain, they tell me to “open the Dada Tunnel,” so they can crawl underneath me. 

Physical discomfort is nothing new for me – I have M.S. and Crohn’s disease, and I’ve endured all the breaks and tears that come with a life spent playing sports a little too recklessly – but nothing I dealt with in the first 39 years of my life prepared me for what I’ve suffered over the past two. It’s gastrointestinal, but not all of my way-too-many doctors are sure it’s connected to the Crohn’s. I can’t eat full meals, I can’t eat vegetables, and many days I feel like I can’t eat at all. Between the middle of August of 2020 and Thanksgiving of that same year, I lost about 45 pounds. I’ve been hospitalized twice in the past five months. 

It blows, and it’s hard on my kids. They feel it when I’m hurting too much to chase them around at the playground, and they definitely feel it when I’m in the hospital. They show it in different ways, but they both show it, and no matter how often I remind myself that my kids are extremely fortunate for a variety of reasons, it’s an awful and helpless feeling to know that my own stupid body is complicating their lives. 

Much of the time the pain is bearable, and I don’t think I’m bound for the Big Sleep anytime soon. But earlier this month, for one very bleak night of the most recent hospitalization, I genuinely thought I was dying, and I kept picturing my grieving wife telling my sweet kids that Dada wasn’t coming home, and the guilt was overwhelming.

I know that’s not rational. I know it’s not my fault I’m sick. But it’s my family, and when my body fails me, I can’t help but feel like I am failing them. 

And the next morning, while I was still in the hospital, with my parents in from Long Island to cover my childcare duties, my new landlord came by to do asbestos testing. He helped my mom carry our stroller up our front steps and charmed her by telling her he has two small children of his own. Then he casually mentioned to her that we were the family with two young kids that was “out of here in June,” or something along those lines – the first time we got any indication from the management company that we would not be welcome to stay in our apartment.

My wife and I moved to this quiet block in the Yorkville neighborhood of Manhattan in 2011. Our landlord then was a nice older woman who lived across the street and still washed the windows herself. Eventually her children took over for her, but our rent never went up, and the building was well-kept, and we knew we had it good. 

We welcomed our son in 2017, then our daughter in 2020, and now this place is their home, inside and out: It’s perpetually littered with their toys and pajamas and discarded wet-wipes, and they like baking cookies for our neighbors upstairs and high-fiving the doormen at the luxury building down the street, and they know that the barber around the corner always has lollipops, and my son is registered to start Kindergarten in September at an elementary school a few blocks away.  

But late last year we got notice that the nice family of our nice landlady sold the building and the buildings on either side of it to some faceless, ungoogleable LLC, to be managed by a big midtown company that boasts over 100 buildings in its portfolio. We learned the name of our new landlord, and I learned from the management company’s website that he’s the son of the company president, who himself inherited the company from his father-in-law, who inherited the company from his father. This information is presented as though it should endear me to the company. 

It turns out that when the landlord said we were out of here in June, he had us mixed up with another family with two young kids that he is forcing out of the building next door. But two weeks ago, we got notice that we need to vacate our home by the end of August. 

It’s three months’ notice, and three months’ notice is all that’s legally required to give someone the boot from an unregulated rental unit. And maybe three months sounds like plenty of time to find a new place, but rents are skyrocketing right now. And maybe you’re thinking, “well, if you can’t afford it, then live somewhere else,” but until now we always could and did afford it, and when you live someplace for 11 years and start a family there, the entire calculus of your life becomes tied to your location. 

My wife works absurd hours, and a longer commute would mean more time away from our children. I split childcare duties with a nanny that has become part of our family, and we need to be somewhere she can access by subway. My entire army of doctors is stationed in upper Manhattan. And though I feel OK right now, we need to be somewhere my parents and in-laws can reach without too much trouble to take care of our kids in emergencies. Plus, we like it here. This is our home. 

So I called the management company to explain all that and to ask for some more time. Someone, not the landlord, called me back the next day to take part in one of the most existentially frustrating conversations I’ve ever had – and I write that as someone who spends a whole lot of time trying to get health-insurance claims settled. 

I told her I was sick, that I’d been in the hospital the week before, that I didn’t know when I might land in the hospital again, and that all my doctors are near here. I told her my wife is herself a doctor and already has her work schedule for the next year, and that it does not include time off to find a new place and pack up all our things. I told her we have two small children. 

She told me that a lot of their tenants in “this situation” also had complications, and that she was just following the owner’s orders. She said they already had permits to start gutting the building in September, and that if we’re not out by then, there’ll be lots of dust and noise in the hallways. I told her I know there are multiple rent-stabilized units in the building, two of which have nonagenarian tenants that do not intend to move and are protected against eviction. She told me she didn’t know what would happen with those tenants, but that she thought they might find them places in one of their many other buildings. 

When I asked if she could offer us a comparable apartment, even for more money, in one of those many buildings, she said that they had very few vacancies right now because – she actually said this – “people are so afraid of what’s happening with rents in the city,” as though it were an alien invasion and not something she was actively working to perpetrate. 

There’s one line of the two-page notice-to-vacate that doesn’t read like dense legalese: “Unfortunately the landlord does not intend to renew the lease to the apartment due to necessary repairs.” I asked the woman from the company what they meant by “necessary repairs,” since I’ve been living in the apartment for a long time and nothing about it seems to necessitate repairs. She couldn’t say exactly what repairs they’d be doing but assured me we were safe to keep on living there until the date provided. Then I got mad and asked if by “necessary” they meant to say “profitable.” She repeated that she was just following the owner’s orders.

We’re going to be OK. If we can’t figure out a way to stay in our place, we’ll find another, and while we’ll sting from the stress and the cost and the sadness, we are lucky in too many ways to list. We’re not about to be forced into a shelter or onto the streets. 

The same can’t be said for tens of thousands of others in New York State facing “necessary repairs” or exorbitant rate hikes, and as I write this, there are lawmakers fighting to pass “Good Cause Eviction” legislation aimed to protect responsible renters from predatory landlords. Polls suggest a strong majority of New York voters support the legislation, and a handful of other cities in the state already have similar laws in place.

But despite the best efforts of those lawmakers, the bill appears unlikely to get passed before the legislative session ends later this week. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that people who own lots of buildings carry way more clout with elected politicians than landless renters like me and my family. 

That’s why I’m writing this: To urgently beat the drum for political change, or at least to desperately shout into the abyss about political injustice. I feel confident I’d be in favor of such legislation even if it didn’t so directly affect my family, but there’s obvious self-interest here. I can’t say I would be writing about this or following it so closely if it was on the table last year at this time. I never would’ve guessed it might happen to me. 

So if you’re among the millions of New Yorkers who make their homes in unregulated apartments, consider this a warning: This can happen to you, too. In New York City, 89% of housing units have corporate owners, and when the nice old lady you’ve been renting from for a decade decides it’s time to cash out, the highest bidder is never going to be another nice old lady. 

I can’t promise my kids they’ll be haunting the same home come September, just like I can’t promise them I’ll stay out of the hospital. But since I am already too often saddled with the feeling that I’m letting them down, I need them to know, sometime in the future when they’re old enough to understand, that I didn’t just roll over and uproot our lives so some rich guy could have more money. I want to fight for my family, and the only sad weapons in my arsenal are a modest Twitter following and a dormant blog. I realize this is not nearly enough, but it’s the only thing I know how to do.

I have a podcast now, and I got hit by a truck

The first order of business, addressed in the headline above, is that I am now co-hosting The Athletic’s Metrospective podcast with Tim Britton. Our first show went live yesterday on iTunes and Spotify and The Athletic itself, and probably wherever else you get podcasts. Please do check it out. Tim’s a smart and funny guy who knows a ton about the Mets, and I think it went very well for our first show together. I imagine it’ll only get better, and I’m excited to be opining about the Mets again in a public forum on a regular basis.

The second thing is that I was hit by a fucking truck this morning. True story. I’m OK. It wasn’t moving very fast.

Some background information: I am currently in the best shape of my life, and I’m not just saying that in the halfhearted way baseball writers say that about old retread dudes showing up fit to spring training. Tomorrow is my 40th birthday, and I’m going to enter my 40s weighing less than I did entering high school. BMI is generally a pretty stupid metric, but by its standards I am almost certain I registered as either overweight or obese for more or less the entirety of my life until the start of December. Now I’m just -weight, I guess. It’s wild, I’m sure it won’t last, and I hope this stupid pandemic ends soon so more people can see how hot I am.

The full story of how I got here is a complicated topic for some indeterminate later date, but one component of it is that in June, after gaining roughly 15 pounds in the early part of the pandemic, I started running. I hate running.

It began as a strategic decision. The first time I took my kid out for a bike ride in the spring, he decided — after seeming perfectly happy in his bike seat for the prior two biking-seasons — that riding in the bike seat was in fact blood-curdlingly terrifying and that he would not willingly do it moving forward. I knew I needed to be getting more exercise, we had a jogging stroller, and even if running doesn’t open up the city quite the way biking does, it at least opened up parts of Central Park we’d otherwise never get to.

Then it snowballed on me, and I started running without the jogging stroller, and now, six months later, I am a guy who owns multiple pairs of running tights. I still hate running, but increasingly I find I am able to spend as much as half of each jog thinking about stuff other than how much I hate running. When I started, I struggled to run a mile without stopping. This past Monday morning I felt especially sprightly and tacked an extra 1.5 miles on to my normal 6.5-mile route for an even eight. I ran further that morning, I am certain, than I did in sum in the entire two-decade span from June of 2000 to June of 2020.

I mention all that because of my ongoing pattern, previously detailed here, of enjoying long stretches of steady fitness improvements before traumatic injuries or life events compel me to balloon back up. This particular stretch has lasted long enough and been successful enough that I am clearly overdue for injury, so at this point pretty much every time I go out for a run I expect it will be the day I blow out my Achilles.

You know what I didn’t expect? Getting hit by a fucking truck.

I don’t run every day but I am in full-on Mr. Fitness Bro mode right now, so on days I don’t run, I walk a long route down the East River, stopping at various places to stretch and do bodyweight exercises. Around 6:15 this morning, at an adult exercise area inside a park in my neighborhood, I opted to do part of my workout facing the river on a rubberized surface that exists for just such purposes. It was all very zen, until I got hit by the truck.

Maybe the podcast I was streaming about the history of science fiction was especially riveting, because I did not hear the truck enter that area of the park, and I certainly didn’t hear it come up behind me. As I was midway through a set of wide-grip push-ups, really trying to focus on my form to best engage my muscles, I sensed a light from behind me and, without really thinking about it, took it for an e-bike. Then I sensed it coming closer, turned over my shoulder to give this e-cyclist the business for biking so close to me, and saw instead the front wheel of the truck that was about to hit me.

Something on the front of the truck caught me on the lower back and pushed me forward, driving me into the ground. I yelled, “STOP!” what felt like a million times, but it did not immediately stop. Somehow I turned myself onto my back and was trying to shimmy my way out on my elbows, all the while yelling. The truck was turning and the wheel was, or at least felt like it was, maybe a foot from my head when it finally stopped.

I scampered out from under it, very eloquently yelling, “HOLY SHIT! HOLY SHIT! HOLY SHIT!” I saw that it was a NYC parks department pickup truck, which at least explained what it was doing there. I got to a place from which I could yell at the driver, looked at him, and yelled, “HOLY SHIT! HOLY SHIT! HOLY SHIT!” I imagine you understand.

Then here’s the bonkers part: He was a dick about it!

Despite having hit me with a fucking truck, the driver acted aggrieved, all, “Why were you laying there?” He did ask if I was OK, to his credit, and I assume both dudes in the truck were themselves a bit scared and shaken up by it, but basically they accused me of recklessness for exercising in the portion of the open, public park that is very clearly set aside for people to exercise in.

They didn’t really relent at all until I shouted, “why are you yelling at me? You just hit me with a fucking truck!”

I picked up my phone, which had fallen out of my pocket when I got hit by the truck, and made my way over the passenger side. Even though both guys kept noting that they come through that way all the time — which really doesn’t make any sense as an argument for why it’s not their fault, seeing as there are often people exercising in the area — the passenger-side dude was decidedly the peacemaker of the two, and he asked again if I was OK. I told him that I thought I was but I wasn’t sure because my adrenaline was high, and that I had to take pictures of the truck. They were fine with that, then they drove off.

I sat on a bench for a while catching my breath, thinking about how close I had come to dying, and also thinking about how close I had come to crapping my own pants. Thankfully it did not happen — insult to injury, etc. — but there was definitely some rumbling from below.

Since I’m sharing personal details, I’ll also say that I tend toward passivity and indifference, and I am generally so reluctant to inconvenience people that I fear I am something of a pushover. I don’t think I necessarily present myself as a pushover, it’s just that pushing back seems like a lot of effort, and most of the time I’m just all, “whatever, push me over,” without considering that getting pushed over might suck, especially if the thing doing the pushing is, say, a fucking truck.

So by the time I talked about it with a friend on the phone, my ire was fully up. I told him about how I wasn’t going to be such a pushover anymore, and how the new, hotter, 40-year-old Ted 2.0 isn’t going to take getting hit by a truck lying down. Because fuck that, right? I am here, paying taxes, riding out this bullshit in New York City, throwing socially distanced elbows at the supermarket to try to get paper towels, facing constant fear and neverending protocol, raising two kids, trying to make the best of it by exercising in the portion of the public park that is clearly set up for that purpose, and this is the thanks I get? Hit by a city vehicle, and a driver who’s going to be an asshole about it? No. I will not stand for it. No! Fuck yourself, de Blasio.

I called 311 and got the number for the comptroller’s office, because I guess handling such claims is something a comptroller does. I contacted my (very worried) parents and asked them to come watch my kids while I went to the urgent care clinic to get the bruises on my back, leg and arm checked out.

Then, while sitting in the exam room texting everyone I could think of, my outrage turned into a sort of giddiness, and I found myself delighting in the absurdity of it. I got hit by a truck today. And while it was perhaps the scariest bit of physical trauma I ever endured — I really can’t stress how close I came to getting fully rolled over by a truck — it was at least not the most injurious.

Sandwiches of the Week

I was going to use this intro space to write about the weird, Zen-like joy I found in manning the grill for the pre-beach weekend morning rush at the deli back in the day, but then I searched this site and realized that I wrote about that exact topic when reviewing a bacon, egg and cheese nearly a full decade ago.

So instead I’ll just give a brief shoutout to the flat-top griddle for being basically the most useful cooking implement for food I want to eat. I don’t understand why they’re not standard on consumer stovetops. I have a big stove, by NYC standards, with four round burners around the side and a long burner in the middle that seems to be designed to heat a long, rectangular griddle. Why not just build that griddle in to the stove? Some quick googling informs me that this is already a thing, but it’s not a thing I have. I’m so sick of needing to own my own, separate griddle, which isn’t as big as it could be if it were just built into the stove.

The sandwiches: I was craving an egg sandwich, but my go-to street cart around the corner has been gone since mid-March. So I made myself a sausage, egg and cheese.

It struck me while I was making it that one big advantage of the bacon, egg and cheese over the sausage, egg and cheese is the crunch from the bacon, so I crumbled up some tortilla chips and threw them on top. I’m trying things out here.

The day after I made that sandwich, I bought a bacon, egg and cheese with ketchup from a bagel place a block from my apartment. Here’s what it looked like:

The construction: For my sandwich, I used another one of the excellent FreshDirect pretzel rolls, two eggs, two slices of American cheese, a sausage patty, ketchup and mayo. I recognize that mayo on an egg sandwich sounds disgusting, but the deli job — where, by the end of the breakfast rush, there would invariably be one ordered-but-unclaimed sandwich, which I would then eat — introduced me to all sorts of egg-sandwich topping options. Sometimes I get a weird hankering for mayo on there. Don’t judge me.

The bagel place’s sandwich had two eggs, bacon, cheese and ketchup on a roll. It looks a lot like a bacon, egg and cheese you might get at any decent deli in the New York City area.

Important background information: People who don’t live in New York mock New Yorkers for insisting we have the best pizza and the best egg sandwiches because the inherent excellence of this city’s pizza and egg-sandwich scenes is difficult for outsiders to understand. It’s not that the standard slice of New York pizza is much better — or better at all — than the best pizza in any other city. It’s the ubiquity of good pizza that rules.

If someone coming to visit asks me for a pizza recommendation, I almost never give specifics. There are exemplary slices of New York pizza out there, but I don’t think they’re really worth going far out of the way for, as they’re not way better than the best slice of pizza in any given neighborhood. If you are in New York City and you’re anywhere south of Van Cortlandt Park, north of, say, Greenwood Cemetery and west of LaGuardia Airport, you’re within walking distance of really good pizza (and the only reason I exclude the further reaches of the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens is that you’re not always within walking distance of stores). That’s simply not the case in other cities.

And you can say, “hey, wait, you’re just talking about population density,” and that’s definitely part of it. But I think the prevalence of pizza parlors here leads to higher standards, and the bottom line is that I can think of eight really good, reasonably priced pizza places within a half-mile radius of my home. Be honest: Can you? If you answered yes, you live in New York City.

This post is about egg sandwiches, but it’s a similar concept. You can live in D.C. and go to some weirdly corporate, disarmingly large brunch spot and get yourself a bougey-ass applewood-smoked bacon, egg and cheese sandwich on free-range brioche with microgreens, but you can’t roll out of bed hungover and stumble in your flip-flops down to the corner bodega, bark out, “baconeggandcheese, saltpepperketchup” and know you’re going to get an incredible sandwich for, like, four dollars.

What they look like:

How it tastes: Look at my beautiful my sausage, egg and cheese! Look at that cheese, lovingly melted over the perfectly over-easy eggs, with their deep yellow yolks ready to burst and spill out all over the plate, to be sopped up by the hearty pretzel roll. That’s a hand-formed patty, folks, and organic ketchup.

And it’s great! The eggs are gooey, the cheese melty, sausage peppery and porky and good, and the pretzel rolls, I keep telling you, are fantastic. The crunched up tortilla chips do nothing for it, but it’s a really good sandwich.

It’s just not as good as the rather pedestrian-looking bacon, egg and cheese from a rather pedestrian bagel place. There’s actual science to the notion that sandwiches taste better when someone else makes them for you, and that’s probably a factor. Plus, bacon is bacon, and shouldn’t be overlooked — even if sausage is obviously fabulous, too.

But there’s just a synergy to the classic, New York deli-style egg sandwich that I’ve never seen recreated elsewhere, not by myself at home or by chefs at fancy restaurants. It’s just this crunchy, salty, cheesy, greasy, ketchupy perfection, and nothing else in the world tastes quite like it.

It seems like this whole pandemic thing is inspiring a lot of people to leave the New York area, and I get it. But good luck finding a credible bacon, egg and cheese, suckers.

Hall of Fame? A definite no for mine. The bagel-shop bacon, egg and cheese is not, on its own, a Hall of Fame sandwich, but bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches in general should definitely earn some sort of lifetime-achievement entry into the Sandwich Hall of Fame.

The rip-off

Before I get started, I want to acknowledge my pettiness. I recognize that this particular juncture of history exposes all the whining herein as trivial, but I will whine regardless because it’s what’s on my mind and the site is called TedQuarters.

And, look: No one can claim dominion over takes. If you believe yourself reasonable — and I believe myself reasonable — you must understand that this world contains other reasonable people, and reasonable people presented with the same facts will often come to the same reasonable conclusions. It would be impossibly presumptuous to think yourself the only person capable of any particular take.

Over the weekend, someone sent me a link to a Barstool Sports post hailing Ricobene’s breaded steak sandwich as the greatest sandwich in America. I agree with this take, so I cannot possibly blame the taker for making it. Also, sandwiches are for the people. I want everyone in the world to be able to enjoy Ricobene’s breaded steak sandwich as I have, and I know that anything that helps that place keep churning out its incredible food is a net positive for humanity.

But part of the take in question rubbed me the wrong way. This part:

“And what’s fuckin mind bottling to me is anytime you see one of these Best Sandwiches ranking articles it’s nowhere to be found. Ever. (It’s usually because those are pay-to-play advertisements in disguise but I digress) Even in Chicago it can’t crack a top 25 for these foodie squids. Not sure if driving down to the South Side under an underpass is a deterrent or what.”

Here’s the thing: In 2015, I wrote an article for USA Today declaring the same sandwich “the best sandwich in the world.” And I wouldn’t blame this writer for missing it, except that the article turned into a whole big thing.

A bunch of Chicago food blogs and local media outlets jumped on the story, and at least one even did a follow-up about the huge uptick in business Ricobene’s saw from the article. It is the most widely read thing I’ve ever written, and the thing I’m proudest of in my professional career. On a subsequent trip to Chicago, I met with Rosario Ricobene and had perhaps the greatest conversation I’ve ever had in my life. It went like this:

“You have no idea how much that article did for us.”

You have no idea how much that sandwich has done for me.”

From at least August of 2015 through August of 2018, a poster-sized version of the article hung in the window of Ricobene’s. I haven’t been to Chicago for a while so I can’t confirm it’s still there, but it’s there in the most recent Google Street View photos. And if this Barstool writer, who claims deep familiarity with this eatery, ever stopped to read that huge copy of my article that’s hanging on the side of the place, he might’ve seen this part:

(The) sandwich failed to rank on Chicagoist’s list of top 25 sandwiches, or on a CBS Chicago list of best sandwiches in 2010 or 2012, or on top Chicago sandwich lists compiled by Thrillist and Zagat.

So, just to recap: This person, who has supposedly frequented this restaurant for years, published a bold claim about its signature sandwich that so happened to be the exact same claim published five years earlier and now posted on the window of the restaurant. In the accompanying article, he made the exact same point I did about the sandwich being overlooked by food blogs and best-sandwich lists, except now it’s not even really a good point on account of the article I wrote that is displayed on the front page of the restaurant’s website, to which he linked.

To be clear: I don’t think this counts as plagiarism. It’s just lame. I’ll allow the possibility that the writer mentioned the article and it got edited out under some Barstool Sports policy not to send traffic elsewhere, which could easily exist, but I feel confident arguing that whatever happened here is either genuinely lousy, woefully lazy, or astonishingly oblivious.

Getting ripped off sucks. It’s bound to happen if you write online for long enough, and most of the time it’s just sort of mildly annoying: Someone taking quotes from your article without linking back to it, someone posting the entire text of something you wrote on a message board somewhere. It’s a weird feeling when you’re as vain as I am, because you love to know your stuff is getting read and talked about, but you’re under pressure to generate pageviews, and it’s frustrating to see people reading your material someplace where it doesn’t count.

But fairly late in my tenure at USA Today, I got straight-up plagiarized, and it was so demoralizing that I think it ultimately played a pretty big part in ending my career there. When you read about high-profile instances of plagiarism, it’s almost always about the scandal surrounding the plagiarist, and what drove him or her to risk his reputation over it. It feels like no one ever talks to the plagiaree.

Here’s what happened: Late last May, someone called my attention to a sports newsletter from a fairly major web outlet that include a list of the Hall of Famers Mike Trout had surpassed in career WAR that month. Initially, like the person who alerted me to it, I assumed it was a case of great minds thinking alike: Though I had been posting monthly updates on the Hall of Famers Mike Trout surpassed in WAR starting in July of 2016, I obviously can’t claim ownership of Mike Trout’s greatness or baseball-reference’s leaderboards. Besides, last season started doing a better version of the exact same thing, and I don’t think for a second that Sam Miller or ESPN stole my idea.

But when I read further into the newsletter, something about one of its paragraphs struck me as familiar. I went back to my Trout post from the end of April, and found an extraordinarily similar paragraph.

I called out the outlet on Twitter, and the writer DM’d me to say that he was a big fan and that he had intended to quote me in the article. He apologized profusely, said he “dropped the ball process-wise,” and promised to make a note of it link to my own newsletter in his next edition.

But his story didn’t fully line up. For one thing, this “big fan” did not include me among the hundreds of people he followed on Twitter. For another, he had edited out a couple of my sentences and changed a handful of my words, which doesn’t seem like something you would do if you intended to quote someone.

Knowing that pressing the matter would cost the guy his job, I dropped it, because ultimately I just don’t care enough about policing journalistic integrity to jeopardize someone’s livelihood. And I honestly felt bad for him, mostly because he seemed so desperate when I called him out on it, but also partly because he would do it in the first place. In such circumstances, my thing has always been, “eh — I’ll have more ideas.”

But what ate at me over time, really, was what it said about my own stature as a baseball writer. I spent more than 10 years writing about baseball every damn day, and made so small an imprint on the baseball-media landscape that some dude might lift half a paragraph from me without apparent concern that anyone would notice. Do people at reputable outlets do that to, like, Tom Verducci? Would any paid, professional sportswriter expect to get away with reprinting a few sentences of Peter Gammons’ writing without attribution?

And it didn’t help that was also now listing the Hall of Famers Mike Trout surpassed in WAR, which, again, I believe to be totally innocent. But if three years’ worth of doing the exact same monthly post failed to land on the radar of ESPN’s baseball editors, how could I expect to ever wind up in a better sportswriting job?

It all went a long way to convincing me that my career in sports media had hit a dead end. It wasn’t by any stretch the only reason I left USA Today, but it provided concrete evidence of a long-held suspicion and emboldened me to bail.

When I think about it that way, I guess I’m happy it happened. I’ll have other ideas.

Sandwich of the Week!

This idea came from Twitter user @ArtVandelay91, to whom I am now greatly indebted.

Before I get into it, I want to at least acknowledge something. No more than 300 people will likely see this blog post, so I can’t imagine I’m at any great risk of landing on the radar of the Internet Shame Police, but there is a whole conversation going on right now about the cultural appropriation of food.

I don’t want to get into much of it, as much of it just isn’t my place to get into. But I will say that the concept of “authenticity” in food is often tenuous and almost always overrated. Food is food. Nearly all of the best foods stem from some sort of intercultural exchange — the banh mi from a particularly despicable one — and while I recognize that people can and should feel pride and passion for the foods of their cultures and the specifics of how they’re prepared, I don’t think it’s reasonable at all to argue that no one has the right to alter or incorporate or build upon those foods. Dishes evolve. It’s all fusion.

That is to say: I was not trying to make an “authentic” banh mi here. I was trying to make a burger that incorporated delicious elements from that sandwich. And I obviously didn’t make it now because this topic is in the news. I made it because I had cilantro left over from the broccoli falafel and ground pork in the freezer from Crowd Cow (where you and I can both get $25 worth of meat if you order with my referral code).

The sandwich: Banh mi burger.

The construction: A seasoned pork patty on a pretzel roll with pickled carrots and cucumbers, jalapenos, fresh cilantro, mayo and sriracha.

For the pork burgers, I pretty much followed the exact recipe the New York Times recently published for Vietnamese meatballs, except I used slightly more ginger and garlic, and it took me way longer than 20 minutes. Every recipe underestimates prep time by about half. It takes 20 minutes just for me to peel and mince two tablespoons’ worth of ginger.

Instead of shaping the pound of pork into 12 meatballs and baking them, I shaped it into five burger patties and cooked them on a cast-iron skillet. This turned out serendipitous, as I’ll explain in a minute.

Most of the banh mi-focused quick-pickling recipes I found online called for rice vinegar, but I didn’t have any. I shredded the carrots with a vegetable peeler, sliced the cucumber as thin as I could, and quick-pickled them in a mix of white vinegar and sugar, with a pinch of salt. I didn’t have any daikon radish. It’s a pandemic.

Important background information: One of the five best sandwiches I’ve ever had in my life was a pork meatball banh mi I got from a street vendor in Ho Chi Minh City in 2013. It cost the equivalent of 67 cents USD, it came wrapped in graph paper. and I have spent the last seven years alternately trying to find a banh mi anywhere close to as good and plotting my return to Vietnam.

That’s why @ArtVandelay91’s idea spoke to me, I think: The best banh mi I’d ever had was built on meatballs — not cold cuts — so a banh mi burger made a lot of sense. I can’t remember the original sandwich well enough to estimate if its meatballs tasted anything like the ones in the Times’ recipe (I sort of doubt it), and for all I know using ginger-seasoned meatballs in a banh mi is a major faux pas. But I went with it, and I’m glad I did.

What it looks like:

How it tastes: Spectacular. Completely f-ing spectacular. I have made myself a lot of sandwiches in my lifetime, and this might honestly be the best of them.

The main thing to understand is that the Times‘ Vietnamese pork meatballs make for sensational burgers when grilled on a cast-iron skillet. I don’t know the science behind why this happened — I figure it’s either the fat in the pork or the cracker crumbs mixed into the meat — but a crunchy crust formed on the outside of the patties, almost as if they’d been fried. So the patty itself provided a variety of textures and flavors, with the spicy, assertive taste of ginger standing out from the crispy, meaty, peppery, garlicky mix.

Complemented by the rest of the banh mi stuff here, it’s unbelievable. The jalapenos offer a second, more familiar source of sandwich spiciness to accompany the ginger, and it’s all balanced by the sweetness and tang of the pickled vegetables. The cilantro makes it sharp and the mayo makes it creamy, and the sriracha adds some color for the photograph.

All together, it’s an incredible, harmonious confluence of tastes and textures and temperatures, one that features flavors familiar from banh mi but isn’t exactly like any banh mi I’ve ever had before. It’s so good. Make this sandwich.

The pretzel rolls we keep getting from FreshDirect are again the unsung hero (pun vaguely intended). I don’t want to talk them up too much, and I fear the inevitable day they go the way of yeast and Nutella and hot dogs and stop being available to me.

Hall of Fame? Yes, quite.

The problem with unemployment is you can’t take a day off

man in yellow protective suit

Photo by cottonbro on

Since I started posting at this site again a couple months ago, it seems, a bunch of you have made it a habit to visit it regularly. Even on days I don’t tweet out links to fresh content, this site gets way more visitors than there are members of my family, and that feels awesome. If as many people as show up here every day were showing up nightly to some real-life location to hear me spew my nonsense, I would probably go on doing it forever, just for the joy of the performance.

But back in March, when I promised daily posts for the length of the quarantine, I made a series of major miscalculations.

Among them: 1) I estimated the amount of time it would take to churn out blog posts based on the amount of time it took at times in my life when I spent all of every weekday in front of a computer. I don’t do that any more, so I’m not constantly cuing up blog fodder. It’s easy to write about a Wikipedia rabbit-hole you’ve fallen down when you’re falling down three Wikipedia rabbit-holes a day. But you can’t force your way down that hole when you’re busy chasing around a toddler every morning.

2) Like a lot of Americans around my age, I am — or at least have been to date — generally spoiled by the historical circumstances of my lifetime. I did not at all consider the possibility that there’d be no clear end to the pandemic in sight by the middle of May. In my head, I figured, “Donald Trump or no, this is still the U.S. of A. in 2020; everything will be back to normal in a few weeks.” Remember, as of late March, they were still saying they might get in a full 162-game MLB season. Seems silly in retrospect.

3) I wildly underestimated both how many hours my wife would need to work during this time and how physically and mentally taxing childcare would prove without the many, many resources upon which I previously relied, namely my parents and my in-laws and playgrounds and zoos and museums and libraries and classes and bookstores.

I enjoy keeping this site active and I love that there are people out there apparently eager to read it, but I’ve got a couple of big, overwhelmingly positive life changes coming my way by the start of September and a bunch of shit I need to get together before they happen.

Also, if this is the new normal — and I really hope it isn’t — then I can’t keep letting the writing I do here prevent me from pursuing more difficult (and, ideally, more professionally viable) forms of writing. This is fun and some people seem to appreciate it, but it seems unlikely I’ll ever have another daily blogging job, so blogging daily feels like a poor way to move forward with my writing career.

As ridiculous as it sounds, I feel bad about bailing on a commitment I made to post something every day until baseball returns, but I feel worse about the current state of my kitchen floor. So from this point forward, I’ve got to dial it back. My aim is to still make two posts every week: One about a sandwich, and one about something else.

If you’ve been coming here regularly, thank you so much, and please do keep coming — just maybe not so regularly. If you are a fan of my writing, understand that my goal in slowing down here is to provide you with way more of it elsewhere, in some less complicated future.


Make with a cure already, nerds

pink pills on yellow surface

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

Am I going to have to start doling out wedgies?

Last time I checked, it’s the year 2020, the middle of the full-blown future, and meanwhile I haven’t been able to eat at a restaurant in over two months because all the world’s best and brightest are apparently dragging their feet instead of curing this coronavirus.

No one’s asking you to invent vaccination, you geeks. Edward Jenner covered that. Just get off your Star Trek message boards, get on the shoulders of giants, and get rid of this freaking pandemic already. Do you have any idea how bored I am?

Maybe you think these things shouldn’t be rushed, and that it’s “important” to “follow protocol” and “ensure safety.” OK, Poindexter. Tell that to someone who has had a haircut since fucking February.

And yeah, I’ve heard about how scientists have made “significant progress” in figuring out how to treat and prevent the spread of the disease, but you know where significant progress gets me? Not into the goddamned movie theater, that’s for sure!

Here’s what I need before the end of the week: A 100% effective, completely safe, inexpensive, easily produced antidote. Don’t come at me with something that mitigates symptoms. I’m not trying to mitigate symptoms; I’m trying to go to spin class in a cramped, sweaty room. I need a cure, as in C-U-R-E, as in the Jonas Salk shit, the “Friday I’m In Love” shit.

Here’s what I can offer in return: Not giving you a swirlie, first and foremost, but also a Nobel prize, global adulation, a bunch of fawning magazine profiles and then, like five seconds later, all the worst things you’ve ever thought discovered and thrown back into your face to cancel you.

Get to it, dweeb. I’m almost all out of new episodes of Ozark. 


Friday Q&A: Taco Bell softball


On to it:

Pitcher – Crunchy taco: The single most important quality in a rec-league softball pitcher, by far, is consistency, and no Taco Bell menu item delivers consistency like the classic crunchy taco. You know exactly what you’re getting every single time. Nothing’s more irritating than a slow-pitch softball craftsman telling you about his special spin pitches. Shut up. Shut up. You’re the Biscuit Breakfast Taco of rec softball players; your shtick sounded interesting for like 30 seconds until everyone figured out it wasn’t an upgrade over a plain old-fashioned crunchy taco. Put the ball over the freakin’ plate.

Catcher – Power Menu Veggie Bowl: It depends on the level, I guess, but a rec-league softball catcher is pretty useless. You’re not calling pitches, you’re not throwing out base-stealers, you’re probably not getting all that many plays at the plate, and in many cases, your job could be better performed by a particularly durable lawnchair. Nothing on the Taco Bell menu seems more useless than the Power Menu Veggie Bowl. Like “catcher,” it sounds strong and good. Like the rec-league softball catcher position, it probably only offers upside to the deeply hungover.

First base – Mexican Pizza: At the Major League level, first base tends to be where teams bury bad defenders. But the bar for defense is so much lower at the rec-league softball level that you really can’t stick your worst glove at first base, since the first baseman’s going to need good hands or you’re never going to get any outs. The Mexican Pizza is strong and generally great but lacks range. You can’t take a Mexican Pizza anywhere, really, as it’s tortilla discs are limp and useless by the time you get it home, and you wouldn’t even think about eating one in the car. But you want its bat in the lineup, for sure, and it’s skillful enough to .

Second base – Crunchwrap Supreme: The keystone in softball is a great position for someone who seems rangy but actually isn’t. The Crunchwrap Supreme was marketed for its portability when it first came out, but it’s quietly ungainly.

Third base – Burrito Supreme: Quietly a very important defensive position in slow-pitch softball, where hitters tend to pull the ball hard or top over slow pitches and squib weird rollers down the third-base line. With its combination of beef and beans, Burrito Supreme covers everything without carrying the excess bulk of Taco Bell rice, endemic to burritos. My one concern is that Burrito Supremes are not quite spicy enough for the “hot corner,” but one packet of Fire Sauce should clear that up. 

Shortstop – Cheesy Gordita Crunch: Shortstop plays home to practically every rec-softball team’s best player by reputation, if not by reality. Assuming that having good hands is akin to having multiple taco shells glued together by melted cheese, having good range is a lot like being covered with Spicy Ranch Sauce, and having a strong arm is the same as being filled with beef — all fair assumptions, I believe — then there’s no more obvious call than this one. There’s also an irrepressible showman ship to the Cheesy G that makes it a perfect fit for the position.

Outfield rover – Beefy Nacho Loaded Griller: If you’re playing with an outfield rover, you probably want it to be one of your best and most versatile players, if not your most heralded one. The Beefy Nacho Loaded Griller ranks with the best that Taco Bell has to offer, but never really gets credit for its excellence. I think Major League teams should use rovers, and just stand their best defender wherever the batter is most likely to hit the ball. My top dude is quietly the Beefy Nacho Loaded Griller, preferably with extra beef and additional Creamy Jalapeno sauce.

Left field – Doritos Locos Taco: A lot of New York City rec-league softball fields are squeezed into spaces so small that your left fielder will wind up standing more or less face-to-face with the right fielder from an adjacent game. For entertainment value, then, the left fielder should be the saltiest person on the team.

Center field – Beefy 5 Layer Burrito with added Crunchy Red Strips: I bet you’re sleeping on the Beefy 5 Layer Burrito, because I know I am. It’s basically a Quesarito but with refried beans instead of rice, meaning it is a handful of Crunchy Red Strips shy of having everything I want in a Taco Bell thing and nothing I don’t. Next time I go to Taco Bell, I’m getting a Beefy 5 Layer Burrito with added Crunchy Red Strips, and then I’ll come back here to tell you why it rules. Why is it playing center? Because it’s probably incredible, and you want an incredible center fielder out there. I don’t know. I didn’t sleep a lot last night and I’m actually nodding off as I type this.

Right field – Baja Blast Freeze: I could really use some caffeine and some brainfreeze to jolt myself awake, then maybe I could explain to you why Baja Blast Freeze plays right field for my Taco Bell rec softball team. It makes sense in my head, I promise.


Sandwich of the Week


I eat a lot of meat, but I understand and respect vegetarianism, and I’d be fully willing to take it on if I didn’t love meat more than anything else in the world except possibly baseball and my family.

I also aim to be a man of the people, and a handful of people have requested a vegetarian option. This is it. It’s not vegan on account of the yogurt-based tzatziki I used for sauce, and also because there’s egg in the bread. But if you are, somehow, a vegan who reads the sandwich reviews on, you could pretty easily make this sandwich vegan.

The sandwich: Broccalafel!

The construction: I keep mentioning Tyler Kord’s sandwich cookbook, and I’ll do it again. It’s an amazing resource for turning things you have sitting around in your kitchen into delicious sandwiches. I don’t think I’ve yet made a single one of its sandwiches to completion, but it’s definitely in keeping with the cookbook’s aesthetic to pick and choose individual ingredients and customize sandwiches to my specifications.

The key ingredient of this sandwich comes pretty much straight from that cookbook. He calls it “broccoli falafel,” but I decided to cut out some syllables here. Broccoli falafel is made from broccoli, onion, garlic, cilantro, cumin, salt, ground coriander, chile flakes and salt, all slurried together in a food processor, rolled into balls, and fried.

Per the book’s suggestion, I made my broccoli falafel sandwich on a hot dog bun. I topped it with homemade tzatziki (from the same recipe I used here), bread and butter pickles, grilled red onions, and a squirt of sriracha. My wife put some baby spinach on hers to make it healthier. I felt like I was already eating a sandwich built around broccoli and shouldn’t push it.

Important background information: Most of the time, I’m a pretty balanced person, psychologically speaking. But every so often, some stupid little thing upsets me, and I fall into these awful, dizzying spirals of anger or frustration or self-doubt or sadness. And for whatever reason, few things cast me into the darkness quite as quickly as a botched dinner. One time, years ago, inadequately stretchy pizza dough sent me into a blind rage. Another time I fucked up fried chicken and wound up nearly crying.

I botched the broccoli falafel. I’m not exactly sure what I did wrong, but I think it was multiple things. I used my blender as a food processor, but the ingredients were too dry to blend together, so I added olive oil and screwed up the consistency. Instead of deep frying the falafel in a dutch oven on my stove, I tried to pan-fry them in a cast-iron skillet on my grill because I didn’t want my apartment stinking like grease for a week. The first several falafel I tried to make completely disintegrated and spread out into the oil. The oil never quite got hot enough, so the falafel took on more grease than I would’ve liked, and took way too long to fry. My kid kept screaming for my help with a puzzle while I was putting together the tzatziki, and I wound up using slightly too much dill and not enough chives. On and on like that.

It snowballed on me, and I found myself crushed by the monotony and difficulty and inconvenience and just the relentless grind of this whole quarantine thing, thinking about how much more complicated it is to screw up dinner now that the pizza place sometimes runs out of pizza, and how I was going to have to wake up the next day to help the boy with more puzzles and plan another dinner. By the time I constructed the sandwich, which I fully expected to suck, I didn’t want to eat it so much as I wanted to curl up and go catatonic on my kitchen floor.

What it looks like: 


How it tastes: Pretty darn good, actually.

The consistency of the broccoli falafel wasn’t exactly what I hoped for, but the flavor of them was delicious, and they definitely maintained a nice outer crunch that, in conjunction with the juicy pickles and creamy tzatziki and soft onions, gave the sandwich some excellent textural diversity.

An underrated advantage of some sandwiches, I think, is the marriage of hot ingredients with cold ingredients, and the absurd amount of time it took me to successfully fry falafel meant the tzatziki, for waiting it out in the fridge, was quite cold. The contrast proved pleasant.

And the combination of flavors, honestly, was excellent. The combination of cumin, coriander and cilantro in the falafel made them spicy, warm and just a touch astringent. They maintained the flavor of the broccoli, but in a fairly subtle way, like no one was trying to beat you over the head with the fact that you’re eating broccoli for dinner.

The pickles gave the sandwich a sweet, vinegary bite, the onions added some smoky earthiness, the tzatziki provided an herbaceous tang, and the sriracha offered just enough kick to keep it all interesting. The hot dog roll, for its part, held the sandwich together and got out of the damn way.

Hall of Fame? No, but there’s a lot more potential here than I figured there would be after I fouled it all up. Things could always be worse, I guess.

Do the trivia!

I’ve got a doctor’s appointment (not the ‘rona) and some stuff to take care of today, so in lieu of text content, hey, why not check out the online debut of The Quad-A Baseball Quiz from last month?

I am doing another quiz tomorrow, May 14, at 8:30 p.m. ET, thanks again to the tech guidance of real-life baseball-trivia mainstay Cooper Lund. There’s no cost to play, you probably don’t have anything else to do, and you might have fun. You can register here today and tomorrow.

I’m sorry to say that tomorrow’s version will feature less of my face, but the upside to you is that this time around, the video should feature a significantly higher ratio of baseball trivia to me learning how to share my screen.