Friday Q&A: Furloughs, food, Creed, FTW

Here we go:

Hemal, you’re asking the wrong guy. I typed out a bunch of things that might prove helpful for relaxation, starting with putting your phone away and going for a long walk without it. Then I realized that I wouldn’t actually find that relaxing at all! What if something happens that I want to know about while I’m without my phone!? What if someone’s trying to text me? What if the president says another dumb thing, and I don’t find out about it until the end of my whole walk?

I’ve been prone to bouts of insomnia since I was a kid, but in adulthood I’ve mostly found I can keep it under wraps with a steady bedtime routine. Over the past few weeks, I’ve slept less and slept worse than I have at any point since college, and I don’t have anything else to do. This is hardly the worst aspect of this crisis, but it’s an awful irony that it should be impossible to relax at a time when there’s so little else to do.

Yesterday I had a busy day, which I finished by drinking three servings of whiskey during the course of online baseball trivia. I figured I would be out cold when I hit the bed. Fitbit says I got just over three hours’ worth of sleep. Only once in the last week have I gotten more than five hours. I’m too bored to relax.

I love Thai food, and a bunch of times I’ve got it in my head to make my own Thai food. Then I haul myself down to Chinatown to buy kaffir lime leaf and lemongrass, come back uptown and spend the bulk of a day making some style of curry. Then I eat it and I’m proud that it’s almost as good as what I could get from the Thai place down the block in 20 minutes.

My cooking repertoire is pretty limited. I think I’m good at cooking the things I know how to cook — grilled and smoked meats, basically — and I know that I am objectively excellent at piling those things atop bread to make sandwiches. I can improvise off recipes pretty well (and I maintain that cooking is a lot like playing jazz), but I rarely attempt anything too involved.

The answer to your question is almost certainly fried chicken. I’ve tried to make fried chicken so many times in so many different ways, and I almost always screw it up in one way or another. Then my home reeks of oil for a week.

Because people, by and large, have bad taste. The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack and two different Eagles records sold more copies than the most popular Beatles album.

I am honestly less shocked by Creed’s success than I am by the notion that Dark Side of the Moon is one of the best-selling albums of all time. That more than 40 million people have purchased it might be the single best endorsement for humanity. One might make the same case for Thriller, but Thriller seems so much more accessible that its commercial success feels easier to understand.

I recommend, first and foremost, that you get yourself to that Taco Bell. What to order there? Well, friend, that depends on how near the Taco Bell is to you.

If, say, the Taco Bell is on the first floor of your walk-up apartment building, then feel free to pick from everything on the menu, because you’re going to be able to get it home while it’s still good. But since making use of the Taco Bell dining room is probably not an option right now, I’d advise against ordering crunchy tacos if you need to travel for more than 10 minutes or so before you’re going to eat them.

The main key to Taco Bell ordering is not to stress too much. The menu might seem overwhelming, but only because Taco Bell has come up with a thousand configurations of the same eight things. I strongly recommend getting Taco Bell items with ground beef as the protein, and if you do that, the range between the worst Taco Bell thing and the best one is shockingly narrow.

Now and always — but especially now — you should order with the Taco Bell app. The Cheesy Gordita Crunch is a great option for pretty much any situation, but my current go-to and single favorite Taco Bell thing involves some customization. In the app, start with the (excellent as-is) Beefy Nacho Loaded Griller, which you can find in the “Burritos” section. Click “customize,” opt for extra seasoned beef, then, in the “sauces” area, choose one of Chipotle Sauce, Creamy Jalapeno Sauce, and Spicy Ranch — it really just doesn’t matter which. If you’re feeling especially frisky, add jalapenos as well.

Enjoy!

Hardcore Ted fans might know that I usually work on something until I hate it, then get frustrated and hit publish just to be done with it. This isn’t fishing for compliments, either, it’s just, I think, part of my process or something. It’s extremely rare for me to be fully happy with something I’ve written. Time sometimes softens my distaste for it, and I’ll often enjoy certain elements of things I wrote, but when I go back to them, I always find some details that I dislike.

The tiny coffee thing Chris alludes to might in fact be my favorite, just because the experience of having the entire city of Miami yell at me about coffee stands as one of the funniest and silliest things that has ever happened to me, and I was legitimately underwhelmed by the legendary strength of that coffee. I also feel very strongly about the internet’s propensity for rewarding posers, and I think I did a good job examining it in that post.

I liked this thing I wrote about my brother and Mariano Rivera when I wrote it. Now I regret having done it. It’s complicated, and none of the people who were in charge when I wrote that were still in charge by the end. Bottom line is, I feel like a fool and a sucker for having given that much of my soul to a company that ultimately showed it didn’t deserve any bit of it, and I think I’d still be working there if I’d known enough to just write baseball hot takes and cash paychecks.

…while you’re busy making other plans

If you’ve come to TedQuarters this afternoon looking for some fresh content, then a) you rule and b) you’re out of luck. After not having anything at all to do for the last month, today I have several things to do. Did you hear me? Several! It’s nuts.

Play trivia tonight. If you’re absolutely desperate for my sweet, sweet words, either seek help or start clicking around from the goodbye posts from SNY or USA Today. But you’re better off enjoying the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra playing Monk:

Trivial pursuits

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There’s really never a bad time to share a photo of yourself and the legend Trebek.

Back when we could go out and see people and do stuff, I hosted a bunch of baseball and general trivia nights at my friends’ bars in Brooklyn. It’s weird to me now, in retrospect, that I never used this space to promote or discuss it, but I very much enjoyed it, and I think most of the people that came out to play had fun, too.

Writing trivia questions is entirely unlike any other type of writing I’ve attempted, and there’s definitely an art to it. I suspect that even a lot of hardcore Jeopardy! fans don’t consider just how good the show’s writers are at coming up with 61 new questions for every single episode, or how well constructed every one of those questions is.

Go to a bunch of bad bar trivia nights and you’ll start appreciating it: Jeopardy! questions are rarely a straightforward test of whether you know something or not. They’re way more often a test of how well you can use the clues presented to come to a quick, educated guess.

I keep that in mind as a goal when I’m writing trivia. Like every other trivia writer not employed by Jeopardy!, I’m not Jeopardy! caliber. But I got good enough at it that people had just started to hire me to do events outside the bar when events stopped happening. I even got myself business cards:

On Thursday night at 8:30 p.m. ET, the Quad-A Baseball Quiz will make its online debut. The estimable Cooper Lund, a regular player at the real-life baseball trivia nights, set up all the technical elements and coached me through my end of it. He and similarly estimable Quad-A trivia teammate (and my fellow former Jeopardy! contestant) Ami Li will help me tally the scores.

If you’ve got nothing else to do — and you’ve got nothing else to do! The NFL Draft is bad! — you can and should register here. At the bar, teams play for money, but because it’d be impossible to police cheating, there’s no money on the line online. Dan Lewis, of the excellent Now I Know newsletter, has offered up a signed copy of his book to the winner, with the caveat that you’ll have to wait until he’s willing to go to the post office (which seems reasonable).

Thursday night’s quiz will include five rounds of eight questions, with some sort of closest-to-the-pole tiebreak question if necessary. The first two rounds are themed rounds, the third round will be a visual round (i.e. identifying photos), the fourth round is Before & After, and the fifth is general baseball trivia. Barring technical difficulties, it should take about an hour and a half.

To help you decide if this is something you want to do, I’m going to screencap some Google Slides from recent events and turn them into two rounds’ worth of trivia here. Whether or not you want to play online, you should consider coming out to the analog versions of the Quad-A Baseball Quiz and/or The Executive Game whenever they do return. And if you’re planning to do that, you should consider buying a Barry Bond, laying out some money now to help the bars weather the pandemic and getting your interest paid in extra booze.

OK, here we go. I’m going to put the answers in a comment, so DO NOT CLICK THE COMMENTS IF YOU DON’T WANT TO SEE THE ANSWERS. SPOILER ALERT! HELLO! CAPS! The first round here will be a general baseball-trivia round, and the second will be Before & After.

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Next, Before & After. You know how these work, right? Good.

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Again, the answers are going to be in the first comment below. Chime in and say how you did! Or don’t. But do join me tomorrow.

Who would do such a thing?

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Do these people all live together, or have they decided that making free-use photos for WordPress is more essential than social distancing? Also, color me skeptical that the photographer shares a name with a Breaking Bad villain. (Photo by Gustavo Fring on Pexels.com)

After the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami that devastated Southeast Asia, news circulated online that fitness celebrity John Basedow — he of the once-ubiquitous Fitness Made Simple commercials — had been vacationing in Phuket, Thailand and was presumed dead.

He was not. About a month after the disaster, a note on the front page of the Fitness Made Simple website assured fitness fans that John Basedow was alive, unharmed, and had never even been to Thailand.

There’s nothing funny about the actual tsunami, obviously. But if John Basedow did not die in it — and John Basedow did not die in it — it means that upon learning of one of the deadliest disasters in human history, someone somewhere invented the story of John Basedow’s untimely demise and went through the trouble of disseminating it online. And that, I think, is kind of funny — not the hoax itself so much as the decision to enact it. Because: Why?

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At the Big East tournament the next year (or maybe the year after that, but sometime before smartphones became ubiquitous), a friend and I discussed at some length the John Basedow death hoax and its ability to spread unchecked in the wake of the tsunami. So during a dull part in a game, he picked up his BlackBerry, looked at it, and said, loudly, “Wow, Clyde Drexler died. Police suspect foul play.” The people behind us overheard and expressed their disbelief, and then you could hear it sort of echoing its way back through the seats, in grim tones, “Clyde Drexler… Clyde Drexler… Clyde Drexler.”

Maybe death is not something that should ever be falsified, and maybe I should not now confess my role in the Great Clyde Drexler Death Hoax of 2006. I’m not saying it’s something I’m especially proud of, only that it’s something that happened. Me and my friend successfully convinced a handful of people that Clyde Drexler had died, just to see if we could.

Hoaxes exist in many forms. Some — those that are purely self-serving on behalf of the hoaxer — are easy to figure out. Manti Te’o and his friend made up the story of Lennay Kekua because Te’o stood to benefit from it in the form of fawning magazine profiles and SportsCenter segments. Kellyanne Conway said the “Bowling Green Massacre” happened because she didn’t have enough actual examples to forward her xenophobic agenda. I have no trouble deciphering why such things would come to be.

But this pandemic has brought with it a handful of more baffling hoaxes, and elements of at least four of them have at some point been earnestly passed along to me by friends or family members trying to be helpful. The first came more than a month ago, right after the NBA shut down, when everything seemed like it was spinning off the rails. It said, basically, that a friend of a friend who was a cop said that the city was preparing to quarantine all of Manhattan by closing every bridge and tunnel.

That one kind of felt like it might just be a game of telephone gone awry. The city, clearly, really was preparing for a shutdown like the one we’re currently enduring, and perhaps someone misunderstood that to mean shutting down all points of egress. I recognized it as ridiculous — more than 1.5 million people live in Manhattan, and we would pretty quickly run out of food without the use of bridges and tunnels — and soon found tweets from the NYPD that referenced and dismissed the rumor.

Then there’s this one: Since January, apparently, people have been circulating an image online explaining that standard surgical masks are reversible, and that sick people should wear them with the colored side out to prevent transmission of the virus and healthy people should wear them with the colored side in to prevent germs from penetrating the masks. It has made the rounds in multiple languages and on multiple continents and has persisted for months, and it’s complete hokum. Surgical masks are not reversible. They are made to be worn with the colored side out, always, by everyone.

I wish I could offer some grand conclusion to this post, but I’ve got nothing. The question posed in the headline is a genuine one: Who the hell would make something like that up, and why? Is it someone who really thinks he or she has figured out a better, more effective way to wear surgical masks? Does it mean to sow chaos by trying to publicly codify the sick and the healthy? Or is it, like the deaths of John Basedow and Clyde Drexler, just something someone made up to see if they could get other people to believe it?

 

Sandwich of the Week!

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Going to keep this quick today because I got roughly 90 minutes’ worth of sleep last night. This happens to me sometimes, but I’m not entirely sure why it happened this time. I have a couple of theories.

The first is that quarantine has devolved into something close to a vegetative state, so I don’t really need proper sleep because I’m more or less always at rest now. The second and more likely explanation is that I was simply too fired up about this sandwich. Look at that thing.

The sandwich: Lamburger!

The construction: A grilled, ground lamb patty with homemade tzatziki, sliced cucumbers, butterhead lettuce, grilled red onion, and sriracha on a pretzel roll.

The lamb, like a lot of my meat, came from Crowd Cow, where you and I can both get $25 worth of meat if you use my referral code and keep making me a meat influencer. I prepped it by vaguely following this recipe, up until the point where he says to shape the lamb patties like footballs so they fit inside a pita.

I also used AmazingRibs.com’s tzatziki recipe, except I didn’t have sour cream so I added a splash of vinegar to the yogurt. Also — and you may have figured this out by now — I don’t often follow recipes closely and almost never measure anything. Who’s got the type of time for that? It’s nice to have a general sense of proportion, but I always adjust based on what I like and what I have. In this case, I didn’t have that much mint but I had a ton of chives and dill, so I used a ton of chives and dill. (Chives, it turns out, just sort of keep on coming forever if you plant them once. Even in the dead of winter, there are usually chives growing in the pot I use as an herb garden. Useful herb, too.)

I found that site’s recipes because it’s almost always the first place I look for grilling tips when I pick up a meat I haven’t cooked before. The world of online barbecue discourse is fraught with ridiculous pseudoscience, and Meathead Goldwyn is a beacon of reason.

Important background information: I don’t especially love lamb. It’s fine, and it’s decidedly better than not having meat, but it’s rare that I eat lamb and don’t consider how the meal it came in wouldn’t be improved by using plain, old, incredible beef. Basically, as a rule of thumb: Unless your lamb dish comes from Xi’an Famous Foods, I’d rather it be beef. Or squab. You ever get down on some squab? Incredible meat.

I also don’t like onions in most contexts. I’m fine with the flavor of onions and I use them to cook somewhat frequently — it’s unavoidable, really — but something about the texture grosses me out, so usually I try to dice them up into the tiniest pieces possible. But I figured, if nothing else, this shutdown period should be a time to expand our sandwich horizons, and I had some red onion in the fridge, and another thing to throw on the grill gives me more time to play with fire.

What it looks like: 00100lrportrait_00100_burst20200419183556770_cover

How it tastes: Like a f@#!ing symphony.

Where I went in with doubts about my use of lamb, one bite quieted them: Lamb and tzatziki are a perfect pair. The tart, lively, light, herbaceous flavor of the sauce is the ideal complement to the rich, gamy, garlicky lamb burger, and I suspect those two ingredients alone on a bun might’ve still made this a Hall of Famer. Though the ground lamb did not prove quite as juicy as a beef burger, my heavy hand with the tzatziki ensured the sandwich was thoroughly moist.

Cucumbers are a wildly underrated sandwich topping in general, and here they add crunch, moisture and flavor. The lettuce? Whatever. It’s lettuce. I could take it or leave it, to be honest. It made the sandwich a little more colorful.

Someone on Twitter called me out for mixing tzatziki and sriracha — as though that’s some sort of faux pas — but the light squirt of sriracha that I used added just some subtle heat to the whole thing, amplifying all the flavors without making any bite taste like sriracha itself.

And the red onion, I want to say, was a great call by yours truly. Grilling it brought out some of its sweetness, and there was enough textural diversity to the sandwich that I didn’t even notice the slitheriness that usually turns me off of onions. I was proud of myself for including it. I remain proud of myself.

All the parts are good, and yet the sandwich is better than the sum of its parts. If I had one quibble, it’d be that I screwed up on the bun a little by foolishly forgetting to take it out of the freezer to thaw before I started cooking. Instead, I threw it on the grill for a minute, but the inside part was still frozen when the lamb patties were ready, so I hastily cut it open to make sure the interior bun got warm, and in so doing I hacked the pretzel rolls to shreds. So it goes. Didn’t really take away from the sandwich, which ruled.

Hall of Fame? Yeah. Heck yeah. Go Ted.

Friday Q&A: Robots, foodstuff, quaran-time

Less talk, more rock. Via email, Steven writes:

Now that the Rakuten Monkeys of the Taiwanese Baseball League have bought hundreds of robots to dress as fans when they begin the 2020 season, will this be the setting of the first robot rebellion, with them storming the field and killing the players?

OK, so I’ve seen a bunch of clips of Rakuten games, and for the most part it seems like the robots in the stands are more mannequins than anything else. I don’t understand how the droids improve the baseball experience for anyone playing or watching unless it so happens they’re into extraordinarily creepy things — and more power to ’em — but these robots also don’t seem at all like the type of robots we need to worry about moving on humanity.

Although:

In any case, I feel that a baseball game is actually the safest place to allow robots to congregate. They will be lured in by its angles and its numbers and its logic, then tortured by its general senselessness, and either their circuit-boards will fry the first time they see the Taiwanese Joe McEwing go deep off the Taiwanese Randy Johnson, or they’ll be so entertained that their batteries run out before they get around to enacting the Singularity. All the smartest people I know chose to watch a lot of baseball instead of trying to take over the world.

On that topic:

I think, if it happens, it’ll be awfully weird. I’ve only seen highlights from the CPBL games, but I suspect they’re very weird. I remember watching when the Orioles played in front of an empty stadium during the Freddie Gray protests and thinking that it seemed extremely weird.

This is why I’ve suggested surrounding the playing fields with green-screens and staging the games against bizarre and hilarious backdrops, like, top of my head, outer space, underwater, an Old West desert scene, or the Himalayas. Heck, it wouldn’t even have to be so literal. Look, the Dodgers are playing the Padres inside Monet’s Water Lilies. Stare at the magic-eye backdrop of this Marlins game long enough and a real baseball team pops out. If it’s going to be weird, you might as well go full weird.

All that said, I’d happily tune into games in empty stadiums every night if and when that proves a safe way to bring baseball to 2020. The presence of baseball means I don’t have to figure out what to watch on TV, and right now I’m struggling with that. I know there’s plenty of great stuff I could be binge-watching, but it’s like I’ve gotten so bored that I no longer know how to handle boredom. Usually boredom is the exception, now it’s the baseline.

Pretzels. But you’re asking the wrong guy. I think I have about a lifetime .200 batting average at getting yeast to work.

I did play football! I loved it. I coached football, too, and loved that too. And I loved watching football for a very long time, until a couple of things happened:

1) I started spending the entirety of my Octobers on the road covering baseball, meaning that I’d come home after having spent some 30-40 consecutive days working and watching sports, the Jets would already be out of contention, and I just didn’t find myself in the mood to figure out what was happening in the NFL and start watching more sports.

And, mainly, 2) We learned that professional football somewhat regularly scrambles players’ brains, and that the NFL either actively covered up that information or at the very least put on some incredibly large blinders to avoid acknowledging it.

I try not to be too holier-than-thou about not watching football anymore because I understand that it’s exciting and because I recognize that millions and millions of people still very much enjoy it in spite of having seen and read all the same things I’ve seen and read about CTE. But I’ll say that having Sundays free turns out to be pretty amazing, and it turns out I can find other excuses to eat Buffalo wings.

Also, I find the NFL Draft especially frustrating for a variety of reasons, and don’t think it’s compelling television. Down with sports drafts!

I am vaguely interested in seeing what the inside of Mel Kiper Jr.’s house looks like, which presumably viewers of this year’s NFL Draft will get to do. But I’m forgoing that opportunity because the same night of this year’s NFL Draft — Thursday, April 23, or a week from yesterday — I’m hosting the online version of the bar baseball trivia I was doing monthly until all bars closed.

It was probably not the best idea to schedule it against the only sporting event in months, but the NFL Draft is not actually a sporting event.

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If you’re reading this, you should play. Sign up here.

At times when I am not quarantined, I am actually terrible at this. I generally have pasta, butter and parmesan cheese on hand, and that’s kind of a meal, but it’s not a very good one. We almost always have yogurt and granola, and that’s a solid breakfast. Living across the street from a supermarket allows me to be pretty irresponsible about keeping food stocked.

So instead of an actual answer, I’ll share my go-to quick meal when I need to make a fairly fast, delicious, inexpensive dinner (and then some — it always feeds my family at least twice). You will need:

  • One box of pasta, preferably something like rigatoni or fusilli
  • One pound spicy Italian sausage with the casings removed
  • A large head of broccoli
  • Four cloves of garlic, sliced thin
  • Olive oil
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Steps:

  1. In one pot, boil some salted water for pasta. When it’s boiling, add pasta.
  2. Set another, larger pot over medium heat. Add enough olive oil to cover the bottom, garlic and sausage meat, stirring occasionally to brown all the meat.
  3. After the pasta’s been cooking for a few minutes, throw in the broccoli. You can use a separate pot for the broccoli if you want, but then you have an extra dirty dish to deal with. Screw that. Just use the pasta pot.
  4. When the pasta and broccoli are cooked, drain them, then dump them into the pot with the sausage and lower the heat.
  5. Stir so the olive oil and delicious orange sausage grease coat the pasta. If the pasta looks dry, add a little more olive oil.
  6. Mix in about 2 ounces of Parmesan cheese. Two ounces is an estimate based on looking up the standard size container of Parmesan cheese, which turns out to be 5 ounces. I use a little less than half of that.
  7. Give it a healthy hit of black pepper.

Sprinkle some extra parmesan cheese on top to serve. It’s very good, and you can feed six people for like nine bucks.

Via Twitter, Kevin (who has a private account) asks:

What is the ideal age and living situation for this whole shitshow shut down?

I got at this a little bit a couple weeks ago, but I think it’s something that a lot of people are thinking about it. And I think a lot of people are thinking about it because everyone’s certain their own shutdown situation is something far less than ideal.

And I suspect, to a lot of people, my own situation for the shutdown might seem somewhat optimal: I don’t have a job so I don’t have to worry about working from home, and I was already out of the job long before this started, so I’m not stressing about the loss of income. My wife’s job is pandemic-proof, my apartment has a backyard, I’ve only got one kid and he’s too young for proper school so I don’t have to worry about home-schooling him in calculus or whatever. But still I keep finding myself like, “ugh this sucks, this would be so much easier if…”

Obviously the ideal circumstance for any situation is “eccentric billionaire,” but assuming that’s not an option, my first instinct was to say: Middle school. Remember how much middle school sucked? God, it’d be great to get out of middle school. But wait! You’re not just getting out of middle school to play sports with your friends and flirt with classmates you run into at the movie theater. You’re getting out of middle school to do nothing at all besides stare at various screens, and that sounds largely unsatisfying.

High-schoolers tend to think anything bad that happens to them is the worst thing that has ever happened to anyone, so high school is out. College kids have had their minds warped by people telling them “these are the best four years of your life,” which isn’t at all true but puts them under all sorts of pressure to make the most of those four years, so that’s out too.

I’d say, of all the living situations I’ve ever seen up close, the best for riding out a quarantine would be one that belonged to a friend of mine in Brooklyn when we were in our mid-20s. He lived in a huge apartment with four other dudes and all of them were musically or creatively inclined, so I imagine they could’ve rode out a hypothetical quarantine just jamming and making music and broing down, and there were enough other people around that you wouldn’t get sick of each other. But then, in retrospect, I can’t remember what any of those guys did for work, or whether they’d still be able to cover the rent in circumstances like this one.

I think this pretty much sucks for everyone except profiteering politicians. It obviously sucks way, way more for some people than for others, but I don’t know that anyone reasonable is satisfied with the terms under which they have to stay inside all the time.

Sandwich of the Week

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My wife pointed out recently that this crisis doesn’t seem to change personalities so much as it amplifies them. I think that’s right: People who are usually assholes are now acting like outrageous assholes. People who are typically friendly are being extremely friendly. Trouble is, it’s hard to tell one group from the other when everyone’s wearing masks.

When I am out and about in New York City in normal times, I am neither mean nor nice so much as I am dedicated to not inconveniencing people. Call it my own implementation of the Golden Rule: I do not wish for people to treat me with outgoing kindness so much as I wish for them to not block my egress from the subway.

So right now, I find myself trying very hard not to get in anybody’s way, which is difficult to pull off while shepherding around a 2-year-old who can’t grasp the concept of social distancing or the measure of six feet. Lots of people seem rightly paranoid about letting him or me get too close, but some are pretty cool about it and some are way less cool about it, and, again, it’s impossible to guess how people are going to react when their faces are covered.

This morning, I was walking along a narrow path in Central Park when the boy started to melt down a little. A moody kid, in my experience, is far less apt to take instructions, less willing to be gently tugged away from strangers by the hood of his coat, and generally more demanding. And it so happened that a masked man with a dog was coming our way right as I could tell things were about to get hairy.

Wanting to give the guy and dog as wide a berth as possible, I pulled my son toward me. As I did, he spotted my phone peeking out of the cupholder on his stroller, pointed at it, and demanded I play a song on it. This is something he does sometimes, and most of the time I can figure out what song he means, either because he knows the title — “Down by the Bay,” “Wheels on the Bus” and “Everyday People” he has down — or because I know his name for the song — “The Train Coming Song” is “Folsom Prison Blues;” “Are You My Sunshine?” is “You Are My Sunshine;” “The Talking Heads” refers, oddly enough, to Al Green’s version of “Take Me to the River.”

This morning, he said, with increasing urgency, “Want Dada to play ‘More We Get Together.’ Want Dada to play ‘More We Get Together!'”

Not realizing that “The More We Get Together” is, in fact, the name of a song, I tried to get him to clarify what he meant.

“I don’t know ‘More We Get Together,'” I said. “How does it go?”

Then, from beneath his mask, the dude with the dog — in a singing voice so lovely and so polished that I assume he is either a Broadway guy or at least someone who came to New York to be a Broadway guy — busted out: “The more we get together, together, together; the more we get together, the happier we’ll be!”

I realize this anecdote is so delightful as to seem unbelievable, especially given the extremely on-the-nose choice of song, but it really happened, on a path just west of the Alice in Wonderland statue, roughly four hours ago. Made the kid’s morning, too. People aren’t so bad sometimes.

Anyway, here’s a sandwich.

The sandwich: Roast beef with avocado-ricotta spread, fried garlic, and “pico de lettuce” on lightly toasted sourdough.

The construction: All those things I just said. Should I start coming up with names for my homemade sandwiches? Probably.

Like last time I did a roast beef sandwich, I roasted the beef myself using a rump roast I got from Crowd Cow. Like last time, I will now shill for my own Crowd Cow referral code, with which you and I can both get $25 off our next meat purchases. A bunch of people have already done this, and I am extremely appreciative — both because it has provided me with a ton of free meat and because it allows me to consider myself a meat influencer. It’s not just beef, either. Thanks to the people who bought meat with my referral code, forthcoming Sandwiches of the Week will likely feature chicken breast and ground lamb.

This time, I followed this pit beef recipe a little more closely. And this time, I still had cornbread left over from Easter on the day I roasted the beef, so I served it as straight-up roast beef the first day and made sandwiches the next.

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This worked out well for me, as it meant that the roast beef was cold when I sliced it up for sandwiches the next day. Cold roast beef is way easier to slice thin.

I made the avocado-ricotta spread by combining a slightly overripe avocado with some ricotta I needed to use before it went bad. I included a pinch of salt, too, out of habit. It turns out this is a pretty incredible sandwich spread — it’s a little wetter, creamier and tangier than if you just used straight up smashed avocado, but more colorful and flavorful and less goopy than ricotta alone.

Fried garlic is what it sounds like. I made mine by slicing up garlic as thin as possible and pan-frying it in oil. I think I had the oil at slightly too high a temperature, as I scorched the garlic a little bit.

TedQuarters completists with incredible memories might remember “pico de lettuce” from this 2012 Hall of Famer from No. 7 Sub. That was before I met No. 7 Sub sandwich guru Tyler Kord, talked sandwich theory with him, and convinced him to make me a sandwich — all of which you could still watch if websites everywhere weren’t so dedicated to using fly-by-night in-house video players instead of just sucking it up, giving YouTube some of their ad money, and having people actually watch the videos they spend so much time and energy making.

Important background information: I don’t know much about the ethics of recipe-heisting. I know that excerpting from books is generally OK, but would it count as excerpting if I just lifted the entire recipe for “pico de lettuce” from the No. 7 Sub cookbook and shared it with you, free of charge? Feels like a lousy thing to do to a guy who once gave me a sandwich.

Also, the guy Tyler Kord is an actual, culinary-school trained chef who knows what he’s doing and I’m some bored shmo in his apartment trying to figure it out. I modified the recipe for pico de lettuce — his used romaine, but I used butterhead lettuce because it’s what I had, and I added some shredded Brussels sprouts to try to give it a little more crunch. I can’t tell in good conscience tell you what I made without crediting his recipe, but I’m at least mildly concerned that if I relay to you what I made, some Grand High Master of Chef Society will see it and be all, “Kord told this guy it was OK to mix Brussels sprouts and butterhead lettuce? That’s a clear violation of Statute 79.2b! Oust him from the club and shame him in public.”

I feel comfortable saying that, in the book, Kord explains that he made up the term “pico de lettuce” because it sounds better than “old salad,” and that — as I suspected in the 2012 writeup — it is, in fact, “some sort of dressed lettuce.” I will also say that, in times like these when you are presumably trying to come up with interesting new ways to combine the mundane foods in your pantry, A Super Upsetting Cookbook About Sandwiches will be your gospel. Buy the guy’s book so I don’t feel bad trading on his ideas. Save the beef and the bread, every element of this sandwich is at least influenced by something I saw in there.

What it looks like: 

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How it tastes: Great!

First, regarding the part of this sandwich I had nothing to do with: The sourdough (from a brand called Heidelberg, via my freezer) is a huge upgrade over the wheat bread I’ve used for previous quarantine sandwiches. It’s a bit more dense, which is a good thing for holding together under duress, and it’s got a pleasant chewiness to it, more flavor, and it’s not as dry.

The roast beef was remarkably tender, and the smoke flavor I got from following the above-linked recipe just barely poked its way through all the other tastes here.

The interplay between the fried garlic and the avocado-ricotta spread, if I may say, is fabulous. The crunchy, pungent garlic adds both texture and flavor, and perfectly complements the creamy, mild spread upon which it rests. Because I overdid the garlic a bit, I think, there’s a hint of an unpleasant aftertaste, but not nearly enough to derail the sandwich.

And the pico de lettuce, as it did on that 2012 sub, just really shines as a sandwich topping. It’s got some acidic bite without overpowering the sandwich, it’s got some crispiness, and it’s moist without turning the bread into a soggy mess. I happen to think the shredded Brussels sprouts were a nice add, as they gave it a bit more crunch.

It’s a delicious sandwich, but if I were making it again, I might search for a way to add a tiny bit more oomph. I don’t know if that means something of contrasting temperature — a hot item to go with all these cold things — or something a little spicy or something a little sweet. Just something. And not too much of it. There’s already a lot going on here.

Hall of Fame? Not quite, though I can’t exactly explain why. I think this sandwich has all the elements of a Hall of Fame sandwich, and it would have gotten there if I perfectly executed all of them. But I stacked the roast beef a little thick in the middle and a little thin on the edges, I burned the garlic a bit, and I probably should’ve put the avocado-ricotta spread on both sides.

Also, you really can’t put too many of your own sandwiches into your own Sandwich Hall of Fame without trivializing the entire institution. I’m going to have you believe that I’m so talented a cook and conceiver of sandwiches that I can just churn out all-timers on the reg? C’mon.

Oil change

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This is fiction. It was inspired by this tweet, and written in mild protest of this New York Times piece. It includes a medical supposition that has not yet been established by science; please do not use TedQuarters fiction in lieu of an actual doctor’s advice. 

“Hey, Sammy,” he barked through the cloudy plexiglass window separating the shop from the garage. “How long for an oil change?”

“Ehh… 40 minutes,” called a voice from the other side. “Gotta take the Lexus off the lift and then I’ll take care of it.”

“40 minutes OK?” he asked, turning back to the woman in the doorway. “You can wait here or come back and get it later. Plenty of room on the lot right now.”

Instinctively, she looked outside to confirm. At the gas pump, a woman in medical scrubs and a surgical mask wore latex gloves to refill a clean grey Audi SUV. The parking area had room for seven or eight cars, but held only two besides hers — a small black sedan and a copper-colored, canvas-topped old American gas guzzler in good shape.

“40 minutes is fine,” she said.

“Keys?” he asked, holding out his hand.

She stepped tentatively toward the counter, looking at the open canister of disinfectant wipes serving as a paper-weight on a rumpled stack of pink receipts. “Should I just… put them…”

“However you like,” he shrugged, lifting a corner of his mouth into a friendly grin as he opened a drawer beneath the counter and pulled out a job ticket. He wore his salt-and-pepper hair in a ponytail that spilled out the back of a faded Yankees cap. A silver handlebar mustache, neatly kept, framed his strong, dimpled chin. The mid-May sunshine pouring into the shop darkened the transition lenses on his aviator glasses enough that it was difficult — but still possible — to see gentle eyes moving about behind them.

She set her keys down on the counter, pinching her face as though she smelled something unpleasant. She wore pilled maroon sweatpants with white bleach spots near the ankles and a faded blue T-shirt featuring a clip-art drawing of sporting goods under the words “Justin’s Bar Mitzvah.” She had shoulder-length hair that she styled with a messy side part, and just below her ear level it abruptly changed colors from a drab brown to a rich auburn. She was petite with delicate features, and pale, but with the leathered skin of someone who had once spent plenty of time in the sun.

He offered a quick, understanding nod and grabbed her keys. She waited, motionless, while he disappeared into the garage through a door behind the counter, then returned with a ballpoint pen.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Janice,” she said.

“Last name?”

“Oh,” she blushed. “Duffy.”

He scribbled her name on the form and looked out toward her car.

“Red Jetta,” he said to himself as he wrote. “What model year?”

“2013,” she said.

“Just oil, filter, lube?” he asked.

“I guess,” she said. “Just, you know, the standard.”

“Any preference what oil?”

“Whatever you recommend.”

“Regular’s 15 bucks,” he said, “Synthetic is ten dollars more, but it lasts twice as long.”

“I’ll do that, I guess,” she said. “The synthetic.”

“Alright, Janice Duffy,” he said. “With synthetic oil, new filters and a lube, that’s gonna come to 74 dollars. Do you work at the hospital?”

“No,” she said. “Why?”

“I do a twenty percent discount for essential workers. Doctors, nurses, cops–”

“I’m a party planner. Or, I was.”

“74 dollars, then,” he said. “And did you want to wait here, or you want me to call you when it’s done?”

She looked around the shop. There were a few dusty shelves half-full of auto accessories — tire gauges, bottles of wiper fluid, and an array of tree-shaped air fresheners — plus a soda machine and a snack vending machine that was entirely empty except for chewing gum. In one corner, three metal folding chairs sat around a small plastic table with nothing on it besides a large pump bottle of hand sanitizer.

“I’ll wait,” she said. Muttering, she added, “Nothing else to do.”

He grinned again, and nodded toward the chairs.

“Be my guest,” he said. “I got rid of the magazines, but I’ve got the Daily News if you want it.”

“I definitely don’t,” she said with a snicker. “I might go for a walk, actually.”

“Good day for it. You know the area?”

“Yeah, I live in town.”

“Oh. You been here before?”

“Just for gas,” she said. “I always took it to the place on Morris Ave. near the baseball field, but they closed.”

“I know the place,” he said. “Sad about Terry.”

“The owner?”

“Yeah.”

“Must be hard for anyone to stay in business right now.”

“It wasn’t that,” he said, pursing his lips. “But hey, look, not to– you can take my card if you want. I do inspections, too, and any kind of engine and transmission work you need.”

He pulled a business card out of a holder on the counter and held it out to her. Over his shoulder, through the plexiglass, she noticed her car pulling into the garage. She looked quizzically at his hand, then tentatively extended her own.

“You don’t mind if I just– “ she said, her fingers inching toward the card.

“Had it already, pretty early,” he said. “Been cleared almost a month now.”

She exhaled, and tension escaped her shoulders.

“Me too,” she said, taking the card. “I mean, I never officially got tested, but I definitely had it.”

“Knocked me on my ass,” he said. “But I guess it could’ve been worse.”

“Really? I barely had anything. Just a cough. Fever for a few days. And for like two weeks, everything I ate tasted like cardboard.”

“Same thing. Wet cardboard. So weird.”

She shook her head grimly and lifted her phone to check the time.

“OK, well,” she said. “40 minutes?”

He looked back through the plexiglass.

“It’s already up on the lift, so probably more like 20 now,” he said. “Sammy works quick. Not much for paperwork, though.”

He nodded toward the stack of receipts on the counter as she fumbled through her purse, his business card still pressed between her fingers.

“Shit,” she said, looking around the shop again. “You don’t sell cigarettes, do you?”

“I don’t. Closest place still open is a deli about, what, a mile and a half up the road on Peninsula Boulevard, just past the Southern State.”

She scrunched her face in frustration. “I just left them in the car.”

He ran his hand over the chest pocket of his shirt, then reached into his jeans and pulled out a rumpled box of Parliaments.

“If you just need one, I’ve got you,” he said.

“Oh, I don’t want to–” she hesitated. “I mean, I’ll give you a buck if you want.”

“Oh please. Just take it. I’ve been there.”

He flipped open the top of the pack and held it out to her. She paused, then reached two fingers in and pulled out a cigarette.

“Thanks so much,” she said, taking a deliberate glance at the business card in her other hand. “Ben.”

“Need a light?”

“I do, actually. Sorry.”

“The cigarette is on the house,” he chuckled, “but a light costs five bucks.”

Through his darkened lenses, they made eye contact, and she smiled.

“I’ll come out with you,” he said. “I could use one myself, tell you the truth.”

She led the way out the door and held it open while he lifted a hinged corner of the counter and followed her out. It was an unseasonably warm day, but without the heavy humidity of summer. In a neglected planter by the shop entrance, a patch of freshly flowered yellow dandelions and fledgling green crabgrass shaded a smattering of cigarette butts that had been snuffed into the dirt below.

Wordlessly, he handed her a plastic lighter. She flicked it on and pulled its flame to the end of her cigarette with a long drag, then handed it back. He lit up with a quick puff and let his cigarette hang out the side of his mouth as he shoved the lighter back into his pocket. There was ample space for them to spread out, but they stood next to each other near the doorway. Something metal clanked in the garage, breaking the silence.

“This is weird, right?” she asked, staring ahead toward the now-unoccupied gas pump and the empty expanse of blacktop around it. He nodded. She turned her head toward him. “Do you know how you got it?”

“Nah,” he said. “Hospital’s right up the road here. Lots of people coming and going. Could’ve been anyone. You?”

“A concert, I think” she said, rolling her eyes. “A work thing. Last night before they shut the venue down, believe it or not.”

“Concert, huh? Anyone I know?”

“Not if you’re lucky,” she said. “The Dirt Dogs.”

He let out a staccato snort of laughter.

“Oh, everyone my age ‘round here knows the Dirt Dogs. Matter of fact, I saw them open up for Led Zeppelin at the Coliseum when I was a teenager.”

“You were there?” she pepped up, smiling wide.

“There’s no way you were,” he said, looking her over.

“No, no,” she said. “I was seven years old. It’s just, we book them — you know, for events — and that’s like the main selling point. ‘Opened for Led Zeppelin in 1979.’ You’d be shocked how well that plays.”

“The Dirt Dogs,” he said, shaking his head. “That’s a trip. I had no idea they were still going.”

“Well, it’s just Mickey now — the singer. His kid plays guitar. The other two are just session guys.”

“The Dirt Dogs,” he said again. “Man, what a trip. You know, I haven’t seen live music in I don’t know how many years. It’s one of those things where, when you always have the option–”

“I know,” she said. “That’s ice skating for me.”

“Ice skating?”

“Once upon a time I’d go to open-skate at the rink out in Bellmore a couple days a week, but you know how it goes. Now that I can’t, I can’t stop thinking about it.”

“Let me ask you,” he said, more animated than before. “Did you keep smoking the whole time you had the virus?”

She stared at him for a moment. “I cut back a lot, but yeah, I did. You?”

“Me? Oh, no. I was off ‘em for 17 years when I got it.”

“What?”

“I quit 17 years ago. Tell you what– she divorced me anyway.”

She burst into laughter.

“What?” he asked.

“I’m sorry,” she said, coughing and rasping as she giggled. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be laughing, it’s just, you’re telling me you quit smoking for 17 years, you survived a lung disease that’s killing people left and right, and then, what, you got up, went out and bought a pack of Parliaments?”

“Hey,” he smiled, nodding at her cigarette as she stamped out the butt end in the planter. “It worked out for you.”

“And I appreciate it! But c’mon! No offense, but that’s got to be the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”

“I’ve made worse decisions,” he shrugged. “It’s something to do, anyway.”

“Oh, I know it,” she said, leaning in and gently smacking his shoulder in commiseration. “Why do you think I got an oil change? I can’t spend another fucking moment alone in my apartment, and I’m running out of errands.”

“Hey, speaking of your oil change,” he said, putting his cigarette out in the planter. “I can ring you up inside if you want.”

“You know, I never thought I’d be excited to hand someone my credit card.”

“Strange times.”

He held the door open for her, and her body brushed against his as she stepped back into the shop.

“Well, it was really nice standing next to you, Ben,” she said as she pulled her wallet from her purse. “Maybe I’ll see you at a Dirt Dogs concert, whenever this is over.”

“I don’t know about that. Never cared for their music, to be honest. No offense.”

“I don’t think anyone does,” she said, laughing again. “I’m not offended.”

“Well, hey, you know where to find me. He should have it out any minute now. Keys will be in there. Need another smoke for the road?”

“I’m good. But I appreciate it.”

She casually took her card and receipt and moved toward the door.

“No problem,” he said. His eyes followed her out. “Hey, have a nice day.”

She stopped and turned back to face him. “Honestly,” she said, “I already did. Thanks for the laugh.”

“It’s nothing,” he said. “Take care now.”

Stranger than fiction

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

When I picked this site back up again last month, I mentioned that I spent a lot of time between October and late February writing fiction. I’ve always read fiction more often than anything else, and from the time I started writing online in 2007, I always figured I would ultimately write novels. But as it turns out, no one just hires you on spec to write novels — not ever, really, and certainly not on the strength of your baseball and sandwich blogging — and spending 40-55 hours a week staring at text on a computer screen did not make me eager to do more of it in my spare time.

I reject, to some extent, the notion of genre — a Colson Whitehead speech I recently read and loved noted, “there’s only two kinds of books, shit you like and shit you don’t like” — but the book I was working on in the fall would be categorized as sci-fi or speculative fiction. It was to take place in New York City in 2029 and open with an attack the protagonist (falsely) assumed to be a nuclear bomb. It sucked.

I scrapped it before the coronavirus hit New York City. The instance of this pandemic only validated that decision, because the 2029 in which the events of the book were taking place was one in which those now ongoing never did, and the difference would’ve been impossible to rectify. I didn’t set out to write with any themes in mind, but the themes I believe were emerging in the story included: The extent to which we take our comfort and security for granted, and the notion that social media and online interaction are inadequate substitutes for actual human contact.

Ha! Those themes, obviously, no longer require a book-length examination or even a sentence-length one. Right now, people all over the world are acutely aware of all the comforts we were taking for granted, and no one thinks FaceTime is as good as face-time.

Part of the appeal of speculative fiction, to me, is the way in which it reflects the hopes and fears of the real world in which it was written. Nineteen Eighty-Four is not a novel about 1984 so much as it is a novel about 1949. Slaughterhouse Five is nominally about World War II and time-travel and aliens, but at its core it’s a book about trauma and wartime horrors, and I cannot imagine it would have resonated in the same way if it were not released at the exact time U.S. involvement in Vietnam hit its peak.

That’s all a very long introduction to a couple of points: 1) I still intend to write some dope science fiction, but I’m finding it impossible to even try right now because we are in the midst of a real-life scenario straight out of science fiction, and I cannot wrap my head around the way things are going to be and the way we’re going to be when this is over.

2) Tomorrow, I’m going to post a short story here. It still technically registers as “speculative fiction” because it takes place a month from now, but it is a very different type of story than anything I ever imagined I’d write. I’ll very much appreciate if you read it. If you enjoy it, I’ll very much appreciate if you tell me so. If you don’t, though, go easy. I feel weird and uncomfortable putting out a piece of fiction in which nothing blows up.

 

Bang on a can

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A garbage can (Photo by ready made on Pexels.com)

A week ago, I referenced that I wanted to write something about the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal but changed my mind. I thought at the time that it seemed pointless to tackle something that is, at this point, so very un-topical (atopical?). But the site’s called TedQuarters, so whatever’s on my mind counts as topical here. If you’re sick of reading about the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, I don’t blame you, and please come back tomorrow.

I saw this tweet this morning:

I don’t know the person or people behind the @AsteriskTour twitter account, and I don’t begrudge them or anyone else their right to enjoy baseball however the heck they want to enjoy baseball. If the WWE has shown us anything, it’s that the presence of a clearly established villain can make rooting for the good guys more fun. And I take no issue whatsoever with anyone who looks forward to booing the Astros relentlessly when baseball returns: The Astros cheated, and booing is fun.

Based on the stats, the above tweet obviously resonates with a lot of baseball fans, and as such, it embodies a big part of what frustrates me about the response to the scandal. Again, I don’t really blame anyone if they want to get so mad as to insist the Astros “did something horrible to this game we all love” so much as I can’t bring myself to be nearly that mad.

And if you tuned in to the reaction from fans, media and other players in the wake of the Astros news, you’d know that the tweet above represents more or less the going sentiment in the baseball world. People threw around words like “disgraceful” and “disgusting” and “despicable,” and my inability to gin up that sort of outrage only further convinced me that I was always a poor fit for sports media.

I can’t often put jokes aside, myself. And here, we’re talking about baseball. Just baseball. Stupid baseball. If the Astros really did something horrible to baseball, who among us can argue that baseball didn’t have it coming? Baseball has done horrible things to my soul and my psyche on an annual basis for more than three decades running.

Also, we’re talking about dudes slamming a metal garbage can with a bat to relay signs stolen via a clubhouse video feed. It’s so damn silly! The Houston Astros, of all teams — so celebrated for their innovation and their technological savvy — found no more advanced method of communication than going H.A.M. on a trash can with a baseball bat. And when all the videos came out to expose it, it only seemed funnier. “Oh yeah, that’s definitely the sound of a baseball bat banging twice on a metal garbage can right before Alex Bregman jumped all over that curveball.”

Plus — plus! — I don’t believe for a moment that the Astros were the only team in recent years using technology to steal signs. We already know the Red Sox did something, we just don’t know exactly what because the commissioner’s office insists it has anything else to do right now. People who worked for the 2017 Astros now work all over the league. You’re telling me the only two instances of anything like this happening are the two we know about, perpetrated by two teams that happened to win World Series? C’mon. Some crappier club definitely pulled some shady stuff last year, too; we’ll never know because it didn’t help that much.

And that’s another thing! I’m not convinced it helped nearly as much as everyone assumes it helped! Obviously that doesn’t make it OK — cheating is cheating — but how often did anyone calling the Astros “a disgrace” and acting like their championship was purely the product of their cheating even mention that the 2017 Astros hit better on the road? Go look for yourself. They scored more runs on the road, with more hits, more doubles, more triples, more homers, a higher batting average, higher OBP, and higher slugging. Did everyone forget, in the months following the 2019 World Series, that the visiting team won every game in the 2019 World Series? It was a whole thing!

Finally, and by far the most frustrating aspect of the scandal, is that everyone got so busy wringing their hands and shaming the Astros that no one seemed to care that there’s a fairly easy way to ensure nothing like it ever happens again. By outfitting pitchers and catchers (and perhaps pitching coaches) with wireless earpieces or, heck, officially sanctioned buzzer systems, MLB could make sign-stealing impossible (and shave about 15 minutes’ worth of pitcher-catcher conferences off every game). Make clear that any effort to hack into the earpiece or buzzer system is grounds for an immediate lifetime ban, and maybe someone still tries it, but definitely most people don’t.

I understand that good, old-fashioned analog sign-stealing from second base has long been a part of baseball and I’ve participated in it myself. But it’s not like it makes the sport any more compelling or entertaining for fans, since we’re so rarely aware of it happening. And not that long ago, a guy losing a perfect game in the 9th on a clearly blown call at first base was “a part of baseball,” and no one seems to miss that part of baseball all that much now. We move forward.