Thank you, Stephen Colbert

Hello TedQuarters. I am procrastinating. I have actual, paid work I should be doing, but it’s a beautiful Saturday on the Upper East Side. And while I caffeinate, I figured I’d stop by my old haunt here to pay tribute to one of the people who indirectly made it possible. More on that soon.

As for that actual, paid work: It’s still happening, and you should check it out. The transition from writing for an extremely niche audience — Mets fans who want to know what I had for lunch — to the much broader one understandably preferred by USA Today took more of an adjustment than I expected, but I think I’ve finally found a way to marry the style that drove this site with the one necessary to appeal to more casual baseball fans. I’ve been pretty happy with my output lately, which is rare for me, and I suspect you’ll enjoy it too.

Anybody who regularly read this site likely noticed my appreciation for The Colbert Report, since I referenced it a bunch and posted videos wherever applicable. But this you may not know: In college, I hosted a sports-comedy TV show called The Award-Winning SaxaCenter Program. (It was initially just called SaxaCenter, but then we won an award.)

I pray daily that clips from the show — archived somewhere on VHS — never surface on the Internet, since it was generally more juvenile than good, and I try to maintain some semblance of professionalism now that I have a job and a wife and rent to pay and everything. I had a lot of fun making it and don’t regret it at all. But many of the things college kids do are best contained to college audiences. I’m sure you understand.

As the host of the show, I “played,” so to speak, a sort of exaggerated, pompous, ridiculous version of myself. My co-host usually served as my foil, playing a more pathetic version of himself. I never really considered it creating a character, but that’s what was happening. Acting has always come pretty naturally to me, and being myself on camera absolutely does not. (If you saw early videos, you watched me struggle to tone down my instinct for ironic shtick in a studio setting that felt wholly artificial to me. It made for awful web video, and I appreciate our producers for sticking with me while I tried to figure it out.)

I remember calling that college co-host the day after the Colbert Report debuted on Comedy Central in 2005, a couple years after we graduated. Our conversation went like this:

“Dude, did you see the Colbert Report?” I asked, dejectedly.

“Yeah…”he said.


That was the only time I ever lamented the program’s existence, but it did frustrate me at first. My dream, at that point, was to someday create a professional version of the show we had in college, to convince someone to pay me to make jokes about sports. And Colbert’s character, from Day 1, was a better-developed, funnier, more polished version of the obnoxious caricature of myself that I had used to make jokes about sports.

I knew immediately that Stephen Colbert was doing what I wanted to do better than I could ever do it, even if he was covering a different subject matter. And I realized that if I were to pursue it, I would inevitably look like I was ripping him off — even if it was something I started doing years before his show even existed.

It didn’t stop me from making jokes or liking sports, of course, since I made jokes and liked sports long before either became part of my professional ambitions. But it did force me to alter my hopes and expectations for whatever I would do in life. Keep in mind: This was before I had my first job in this career. I was in grad school, and prepping high-school kids for the SATs to help pay for it.

I loved the show from the start. Colbert is, I think, still underrated even after all the accolades. He’s a viciously talented guy, so good at and so dedicated to staying in character that its easy to forget he’s in character at all. He ad-libs in character. He conducts interviews in character. He creates SuperPACs in character. He hosted the White House Correspondents Dinner in character. It’s outrageously impressive, and totally punk rock.

About six months after Colbert Report first aired, I stumbled into a job at There, eventually, they let me start writing about the Mets on In early 2008, I was hired by SNY proper, where they let me continue writing about the Mets, and soon let me write jokes for The Nooner — a well-intentioned but largely underwhelming and under-viewed daily sports-comedy web show.

They let me write. That’s kinda important to note. Maybe they even wanted me to write. But they never told me to write, and it was made pretty clear — especially at first — that I was not hired to write. I’m not bitter about it now, nor do I really blame them. Lots of people want to write, and if they wanted a full-time writer at my salary, they easily could have found someone a lot more established.

Regardless, I like writing, and I saw writing for The Nooner as an opportunity to make jokes about sports, even if it wouldn’t be me on camera telling the jokes. But despite our best efforts, the show kind of sucked. It’s just too hard for a writing staff of two dudes with limited experience to come up with five minutes’ worth of funny but generally inoffensive jokes about New York sports by 10 a.m. every weekday without chronically repeating themselves.

When writing, of course, I try my best to write things I will be proud of. And with The Nooner, I wanted to make jokes I found funny even if I knew they’d never be credited to me, and even if I realized half of them would get cut from the script for being too strange or too edgy or too stupid. Pages upon pages of jokes I wrote that no one but me and the other guy and our boss ever heard — many of which I still find funny — were lost forever when SNY reformatted my old computer. But again, no regrets: All good practice.

And I learned something about myself while trying to make those jokes: On mornings I watched the Colbert Report, I liked my output a lot more. It was never really a conscious thing. But I think, as someone who has always wanted to write comedy in some form, hearing good jokes makes me think about why they work and helps me better understand exactly what I think is funny. Maybe everyone does that. I can only speak for me, obviously.

So I started watching TiVo’d episodes of The Colbert Report every morning before I left for the office as something of a warmup, a habit that continued when they let me start writing this site. And I guess I recognized — again, not really consciously — that the best jokes are usually the most truthful and honest ones, even if they’re presented as sarcasm or satire.

Because that’s the most impressive thing about Colbert, I think: He manages to poke fun at nearly every aspect of our ridiculous political landscape in a deceptively nuanced way without ever seeming like he’s taking himself (or anything) too seriously. It’s a credit to him, his on-air persona, and his writing staff, and something I think often gets overlooked because we’re all too busy laughing to think about it critically. Which is the point, I suppose.

Writing here daily, I made honesty and clarity my overarching goals. So it might seem counterintuitive that one of its prevailing influences would be a show so firmly established as satire. But it was. I’ve always liked sports, but I never read much sportswriting before I started doing it myself.

Certainly I pick up bits and pieces from other sportswriters, taking note of what I like and what I don’t and doing my best to incorporate the former into my work. But if I’m being honest about the people that most influenced the way I think and the way I write, it’s a pretty short list: My family, my friends, a handful of dead novelists, a couple of songwriters, and Stephen Colbert.

Which is all a long-winded way of explaining why the news that Colbert will replace David Letterman on the Late Show nearly moved me to tears: It’s some form of pride for someone I’ve never met but long appreciated, and happiness for the remarkably redeeming reminder that sometimes the all-too-often misguided whims of mass media do reward the stealthy type of honesty, grace, talent and integrity that I strive for — that every so often the cream really does rise to the top.

I’m not saying I think I am or ever will be as good at anything as Stephen Colbert is at being Stephen Colbert, only that I feel vindicated by knowing that his ability and his dedication to it were enough to get him tapped for one of the top jobs in his game. And it makes me want to give the real Colbert — Stephen Colbert (person), not Stephen Colbert (character) — a big ol’ hug. I hope in his final performance on the real show, he can break character long enough for a curtain call, so the audience can give the real guy behind the persona the prolonged standing ovation he deserves.

I studied art in grad school, which does not exactly prepare a student for a career in sportswriting, or anything. But I loved it, because I loved the way it taught me to think and the way it helped me understand what I love about the art I love.

There’s a common thread: All of my favorite things, in every medium, combine the confidence that comes from technical mastery with the transparent joy of an artist who absolutely loves what he’s doing. I think that’s there in Dali’s best paintings and Hendrix’s best guitar solos, and I see it in Orson Welles’ performance in Citizen Kane and Frank Lloyd Wright’s design for Fallingwater and Biggie’s second verse on “Warning.”

And it’s there, definitely, in The Colbert Report every night. And I think, even more than the jokes, that’s what has made the show so helpful to me in my own creative pursuits for the last six years. Colbert is incredible at what he does, and he makes it look incredibly fun.

That should be the goal, I think, for everyone working in any medium, whether it’s sculpture or spreadsheets or woodworking or writing about shirtless photos of Harry Caray. It sounds so simple, but I think it’s all that really matters: Love what you do, and be great at it.

I talked to a college kid a few days ago about his lofty career goals, and it got me thinking about myself in college and my own silly 21-year-old dreams. But then I realized, for the first time, that I’m now doing exactly what I always wanted to do: I get paid to write jokes about sports.

I’m not trying to brag. It’s incredible. And though I may grumble sometimes about some aspects of my job like everyone grumbles sometimes about aspects of his job, I know I’m incredibly lucky.

And I think I owe it, in part, to a TV show that served as a daily reminder of what I want to do and how I want to do it. So thank you, Stephen Colbert. Enjoy being the Alpha Dog.

Wu-Tang Clan member calls Bill Belichick an emotionless narcoleptic

Relevant to our interests.

For The Win

Wu-Tang Clan rapper Inspectah Deck shackled the masses with drastic football analysis on Friday, taking to Twitter to mock the New England Patriots.


As a point of reference, here is a photo of Bill Belichick from a recent press conference:

And here’s “ol Hugo Boss ad lookin ass” Tom Brady modeling for Glaceau Smartwater:


Deck — also known as the Rebel INS — confirmed that he is a New York Giants fan, as one might have guessed from the way he slams tracks like quarterback sacks from L.T.

Also active on Instagram at @INS_tagrams, Deck engaged Twitter followers in football talk while he awaits processing on charges from the system for murdering the rhythm.

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Why I don’t care who took steroids

Hey people who still check TedQuarters! This thing I wrote about Mike Piazza and the Hall of Fame and everything might appeal to you. Also, know that the Grilled Stuffed Nacho is overrated. Noble effort by Taco Bell to mold Taco Bell stuff into a new shape, but there’s no good reason for it to be that shape. Stick with the Beefy Nacho Griller, which is cheaper and features basically the same ingredients but better distributed. XOXOXO, Ted.

For The Win

I worked as a vendor at Shea Stadium in the summer of 2000. I stunk at it. Earning only commission but living comfortably in my parents’ house, I lacked the motivation to haul hot dogs up the endless stairs of the upper deck with the briskness that would make me real money. Mostly, I just wanted a free ticket to watch Mike Piazza hit four times a night.

During batting practice that season, women lined up near the Mets’ dugout and held signs offering the Mets’ catcher their hands in marriage. Fans of all ages jockeyed for the chance to call out his name as he jogged by, and cheered when he acknowledged them with a tip of the hat.

In short: He was the man. The real King of Queens, Kevin James be damned.

Luckily for me, no one ever wanted to buy soda when Mike Piazza approached the…

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Which MLB player would make the best 25-man roster of clones?

Hey TedQuarters readers! I’m alive. And I’m trying out this reblogging function now that it’s an option to me. Here’s something I wrote about which cloned baseball player would make for the best 25-man roster — a topic occasionally discussed here in the past. Also, I ate a bunch of awesome sandwiches recently and I hope to write one up soon. Sorry it’s been so long, and if I continue failing miserably in my plan to post here more often, have a happy New Year.

For The Win

A recent Reddit thread posed an interesting topic for debate. If you could clone one active MLB player to make an entire team comprised of only that guy, which guy would be best?

For the purposes of this discussion, let’s assume whatever cloning mechanism we have access to churns out identical copies of the player as currently constituted (but ignoring late-season injuries). The “teams” have spring training to learn all the new positions, but since we’re cloning them as they are now and not as babies, strong-armed position players don’t benefit from years of training to pitch — just a couple of months.

Also, just for kicks, we’re going to assume the manager’s a clone, too. Each team plays its home games in the cloned player’s home park, where the sold-out crowd is also comprised entirely of cloned versions of that player. So when Team Mike Trout takes the field…

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Hello, hello

I’ve been updating this site way too infrequently, I know, and hardly sticking to my promise to maintain it in some fashion after leaving for USA Today. But I’ve been busy, and too many hours at the computer make my back act up.

563338_10151521142310135_943651872_nAbout that: I’m again riding my bike for MS research. If you are for some reason still checking TedQuarters, you can help by donating to the cause here.

About that: I’m happy to report that the disease hasn’t progressed much in the years since I wrote this and this and this. My back hurts and I can’t fully feel the pinkie and ring fingers on my left hand. I’ve grown so used to it at this point that I don’t know if I’d even call it pain most of the time. It’s just what it is.

But since I’m used to it — and since I’m gunning for donations here — here’s an anecdote I’m not sure I’ve ever shared publicly before:

It took roughly a million doctor’s visits and tests to diagnose the MS, in part because my case was a bit complicated even by the strange standards of neurological health issues. I kept having to go get MRIs at a place near Columbus Circle, and when you’ve got back problems (and some mild claustrophobia), MRIs suck. I’m not a big drinker, but I used to sometimes buy whiskey at a nearby liquor store so I could take a couple slugs before going in the tube.

It was right after the final MRI I got — the one that diagnosed the disease — when something went awry. Before I could put my all my clothes back on in the dressing room, I entirely lost control of my left arm. It wasn’t the first time it happened, but it was by far the most severe of the incidents. It became spasmodic. I could vaguely control it at the shoulder but nowhere else.

I couldn’t even button my pants, so I had to pull my belt on tight just to walk out of the place with my pants on. And I was so concerned about what the hell was happening to me that I didn’t think to tell the people at the MRI place or anything. It wasn’t even overwhelmingly uncomfortable; it was just terrifying.

To that point, the worst diagnosis I had heard was that I had a strained muscle in my back. One doctor insisted I merely had bad posture. And it was really only at that moment, stumbling around under some scaffolding on 57th and Broadway, that I knew something must be seriously f#@$ed up.

It was such a strange sensation that I couldn’t think of anything else, even decisions as mundane as getting on the subway to go home. I somehow made my way to the obnoxious high-end Columbus Circle shopping mall and sat at a dirty table in the bookstore drinking bourbon out of my backpack until the feeling in my arm was restored.

This reference might not seem appropriate for the gravity of the moment (in my head, at least), but the best comparison I can think of from movies is the scene in District 9 when the guy is first becoming an alien, and the alien arm rips out from inside his and he says, “Doctor, what has happened to my arm?”

That part of that movie was completely chilling to me, because what happened to me felt exactly like some sort of alien life form was taking over my body from inside. District 9. No joke.

Turns out it wasn’t extraterrestrial forces but my own stupid immune system, which has expressed a strong distaste for my body on numerous occasions.

Whatever. I don’t really know where I was going with that, except to try to get at how scary it can be to come down with some indistinct disease that causes you to lose control of your body. So, you know, donate if you can. No pressure.

Also, on a totally unrelated note: You can check out nearly all the writing I do at USA Today here. RSS that piece.

This post might be of particular interest to TedQuarters readers.

The Volcano Taco is dead. Long live the Volcano Taco!

Someone told me the Volcano Taco no longer exists, so I hiked to my nearest Taco Bell to investigate. I’ve been trying to eat healthier of late, but I figured the two-mile walk would more than mitigate the damage done by a single taco.

volcanotacoMy nearest Taco Bell pumps classic rock music all the time, which always seems out of place in the middle of East Harlem. Tom Petty’s “Running Down the Dream” was cranking when I walked in. Speaking of which:

“Do you still make Volcano Tacos?” I asked nonchalantly, as if it were a casual curiosity and not a pointed inquiry. I try to play it cool at Taco Bell and act as if I’m not in the 99.999th percentile of human beings in terms of Taco Bell knowledge. I don’t really know why. I guess I don’t want to embarrass myself in front of the Taco Bell employees.

“We don’t,” said the woman at the register. She stepped back and pointed toward a sign advertising the new Fiery Doritos Locos Taco. “If you’re looking for something similar, I could-”

I cut her off. I’m certainly interested in knowing how the new Doritos Locos Taco tastes, but I don’t particularly want one. Healthier eating means a far smaller monthly quota for Taco Bell items, and I’ve been so underwhelmed by both the Nacho Cheese and Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Tacos that I don’t want to waste any of my very limited Taco Bell intake on more Doritos Locos Tacos.

“Nah,” I said, shaking my head. “Could you–”

“You could get a regular taco with the same sauce,” she said.

“With the Lava Sauce, yeah,” I said, accidentally exposing that I’m aware it’s called Lava Sauce, prompting a fleeting moment of embarrassment before I remembered that I’m not at all ashamed to know that.

“So a regular Crunchy Taco plus Lava Sauce,” she repeated, pounding away at the register. There are buttons for that. We’re in the clear.

A few minutes later, I ate what tasted exactly like a Volcano Taco, containing all the same ingredients. The red taco shell is no longer available, but that was just a novelty anyway, gone the way of the Black Jack Taco shell because Taco Bell’s current gimmicky shell thing is making them out of Doritos, not giving them different colors.

As to that: Whatever. They’re not my thing, but clearly they’re popular, and anything that helps keep Taco Bell flourishing is fine by me. Plus, the burgeoning relationship between Taco Bell and Frito-Lay seems like a step toward global Taco Bell dominance, winning the Restaurant Wars and all that.

Plus, at some point, Taco Bell’s going to start making taco shells out of other snack chips, which should get interesting. How about a pretzel taco? I could get down with that.

As for the Volcano Taco, it joins the pantheon of great retired Taco Bell items like the Bacon Cheeseburger Burrito. It will exist forever in our memories, a reminder of the transitional era in which Taco Bell first started toying with taco shells but before they started covering them with Dorito stuff. And the Taco Bell lifehackers among us will know that we can taste the Volcano Taco whenever we want by adding Lava Sauce to a Crunchy Taco, even if that adds an element of entropy that makes the Taco Bell significantly more likely to screw up your order than if you could just ask for a Volcano Taco.

I walked out to the boring thump of “25 or 6 to 4” by Chicago, a band inspired by the Beatles’ “Got to Get You Into My Life” to fuse rock music with a horn section, and one that enjoyed great commercial success while making largely terrible music. Sometimes good ideas pay off even when poorly executed. Taco Bell powers forward.

More on the British Sandwich Association, which remains a real thing

The existence of the British Sandwich Association came up here back in 2011. This morning, Twitterer @Andrew_J_Carter passed along an article from The Guardian about this year’s British Sandwich Association awards. 

It’s a good read, but significantly less so if you’re hungry and your home smells like pork and the pork isn’t ready yet. Man, I really hope this pork is done soon. I’m actually salivating.


Hello, people who are still checking this site occasionally. Thanks for your faith and your patience, or, if you’re my wife, for setting TedQuarters as one of your default Firefox tabs and not bothering to change it. I appreciate it. I never meant to let it sit dormant this long, but I’ve spent the last couple of months pretty busy while learning everything I have to learn at USA Today (a work in progress), plus traveling a lot and getting over the post-Asia jetlag that lingered for weeks.

If you’re interested, the best way to find things I’ve written for USA Today is to search the site for my name. As I understand it, there should be an RSS feed for most of my stuff available soon. If you’re going to the site, check out the other sports and baseball content while you’re there. It’s good.

I got an article about the Brewers’ stolen racing sausage on the front page of the sports section a few weeks back, and I interviewed Geddy Lee of Rush about baseball. Things are off to a solid start.

After a week and a half in Florida and a week and a half in Phoenix, I should now have some more defined time away from the work computer (even despite the start of the baseball season) and I hope to post here more regularly. I can be kinda lazy, though, plus I don’t love spending more time hunched over keyboards than I need to, and my various musical instruments are right here next to the home computer begging to be noodled with.

Also: I’m sort of trying to eat healthier, so I’ve been less inclined to write about food — the likeliest lifeblood of this site if I’m not writing about the Mets here. My waistline and general health have followed something of a sine-curve pattern for about 15 years now, and I felt myself surfing a particularly long crest. It is, I’m sure, partly because I ate a whole lot of fatty food in the pursuit of fatty food worth writing about here. Boo hoo, I know. The cross I bear is made of bacon. Could be worse.

But while writing about sports is an unspeakably awesome profession, I do miss writing about things that aren’t sports. And I miss interacting with the people who regularly read this site. Plus, I’m hardly going whole-hog with a diet and I’m allowing myself an occasional cheat meal, so I should still occasionally have food fodder to blog about here.

For example: The few weeks I spent at spring training provided ample opportunity to eat fast food, even as I tried not to.

On the Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Taco: A hearty meh. The most impressive part of the experience was the Port St. Lucie Taco Bell, which was absolutely packed at 7 p.m. on a Monday night. At one point, I counted 17 people on line. There were whole families, packs of teenagers, strung-out looking Florida meth people, and old couples who knew each other’s Taco Bell order by heart. Weird, awesome scene. It was like Taco Bell was functioning as the town square. I support that.

The taco itself was just OK. I expected to like it more than the Nacho Cheese variety, but that wasn’t the case. The Cool Ranch flavor was less assertive than its cheesy cousin, so it added the dry powdery factor that plagued the original but without the benefit of much added Doritos taste. I like Cool Ranch Doritos chips way better than Nacho Cheese, but that didn’t translate to tacos. Tiny sample size, though.

I also ate a couple of fast food burgers I’d like to compare at some point soon, so check back.

Lastly: If you haven’t heard by now, consider this a public service announcement regarding the most important news of the season: Baseball started this week, and David Wright’s 2013 at-bat song is the Luniz’ “I Got 5 On It.”

It’s not merely one of his songs, either. It’s his only song. This is a tremendous development, as I’m sure you realize. I’ve long campaigned for more funky West Coast beats at baseball games.

There was some debate in the press box over what song it was, even as I insisted I knew the song well and that it was definitely the Luniz’ “I Got 5 On It.” So a reporter asked Wright to confirm after the game, and Wright said he didn’t know the name of the band but knew the song was called “I Got 5 On It.” The reporter turned to me and acknowledged I was correct, so I nodded and said, “It’s Luniz. The Luniz.”

“Old school, right?” Wright asked.

“Yeah, West Coast,” I said.

“West Coast,” he repeated, nodding.

So David Wright asked me a question about his own at-bat music, which is the exact opposite of my typical interaction with ballplayers.

Friday Q&A, pt. 2: Food stuff and randos

Man, I haven’t even thought about it yet. Actually, I haven’t even thought about the Super Bowl much at all. I’ve spent most of my days wrapping things up at the office, and most of my nights struggling with jetlag and trying to sleep. Joe Flacco favors Haribo Gold-Bears, as I do. That’s about all I’ve got, Super Bowl wise. I pretty much missed the NFL Playoffs.

I’ll probably have wings. That’s unoriginal, I know, but I haven’t had much time to plan a menu, I certainly haven’t ordered ahead, and I’m totally sweet at making wings. So I’ll get to Fairway and buy up some wings (assuming they’re not already sold out) and Buffalo those suckers up. Maybe I’ll talk my wife into making guacamole, and probably she’ll be excited enough for her first Super Bowl in years without any looming obligations that she’ll do it. So I’ll have wings and guacamole, like everyone else. And then I’ll fall asleep in my easy chair before halftime, because this jetlag.

Yes! We ate incredibly well in Southeast Asia. A lot of that meant stuff we already knew about — pad prik king, pho, banh mi and the like. But some popular regional foods were new to us, especially khao soi in Northern Thailand and cao lau in Hoi An, Vietnam. They’re both noodle dishes, and, interestingly, they both include both boiled and fried noodles. But the similarities end there: The khao soi noodles are swimming in a yellow curry broth with vegetables, the cao lau are served with fresh pork, lime and an array of fresh herbs. They’re both amazing, and I’ve used‘s find-a-food search to figure out where I’m going to try both in New York.

I’m not sure it counts as cultural, but the most eye-opening thing was definitely the difference in traffic patterns and roads. I think Americans — at least this one — tend to take our infrastructure for granted, but it’s pretty amazing the way so much of the contiguous part of this country is linked by our interstate system, and how you can drive in a reasonably direct path from anyplace to anyplace mostly via huge, well-paved two- and three-lane highways. In Ho Chi Minh City, a bustling, modern metropolis of over nine million people, we needed to take all sorts of odd sidestreets and alleys to get from the airport to our hotel — and our hotel was close to the center of town. I don’t know if it was something the driver was doing to skirt traffic or what, but it was enough to make a lifelong New Yorker appreciate the Van Wyck. And the traffic inside Ho Chi Minh City is unlike any I’ve seen anywhere: thousands upon thousands of mopeds and seemingly far, far fewer traffic lights per intersection than we’re accustomed to, creating an oddly ordered chaos expertly and somewhat patiently negotiated by the locals but appearing completely overwhelming to tourists. Check out some of the videos on YouTube. It’s mesmerizing.

And all that’s to say nothing of the grueling songthaew trips we took in Southern Laos, which were amazing and confusing enough to make for their own blog post sometime when I’m not charged with cleaning out my desk before getting out of here.