Until We Meat Again: A Smokeboy Hangs Up His Apron

Time for your weekly edition of the Defector Funbag. Got something on your mind? Email the Funbag. And buy Drew’s book, The Night The Lights Went Out, while you’re at it. Today, we’re talking about the license plate game, marching bands, Apple Plus, and more.

Your letters:

Bryan:

This weekend, I made arancini at my wife’s request. Now, I love arancini, but I spent the better part of a day making the filling, risotto, forming and frying the things. It got me thinking: which homemade foods are simply not worth the effort? Arancini has to be up there, right? Even though my efforts were rewarded, I couldn’t help but think I would have just been better off going to the Italian place up the street and forking over the $10-$12 for an order of the things.

My favorite example of this comes from a book my mom lent me many years ago and featured the author, renowned food writer Jeffrey Steingarten, making his own ketchup. I stopped reading when I hit that chapter. Heinz ketchup is a perfect condiment that costs mere dollars at any grocery store. Making your own ketchup might very well be the least valuable way to use your time. Leave that shit to Mrs. John Kerry and go out for a nice walk.

Has that stopped me from attempting to make other impossible-to-make foodstuffs in my own kitchen? Nope. I learned the hard way every time, and here is a partial list of the shit I’ll never again attempt to cook on my own:

  • Fried chicken. I tried making copycat Chick-Fil-A sandwiches once by brining some chicken breast in pickle juice and like, buttermilk, before battering it and frying it on my stovetop. Never again. CFA made it better, and without spattered grease ending up on every windowpane in a 20-yard radius. I can mimic CFA’s chocolate chip cookies quite well, but I’m leaving the signature item to the professionals. Same deal with bone-in chicken. I’m not making it better than Popeye’s, and I have no interest in trying.
  • Dumplings/wontons. These are always delicious to make at home, but spending all cocktail hour carefully tucking teaspoons of ground meat into a little wonton skin, without fucking up the edges, is an ordeal. And the end product isn’t markedly better than what I can get from a Chinese place nearby. Maybe if I lived somewhere without decent restaurants, like Detroit, I’d make the effort. But not in a real food town.
  • Bread. Thanks to the pandemic, I now know that I can make my own bread, and that I’d rather bake myself in an oven than ever do it again. Making my own pasta, though? That kicks ass.
  • Pie crust. Unless it’s a graham cracker crust. Otherwise, fuck that.
  • Pad thai. You can buy a pad thai kit at pretty much any supermarket. Just add some chicken breast and VOILA! You now have a serving of pad thai that’s not as good as takeout, less plentiful, and WAY too healthy. I don’t want responsible pad thai. I want the evil shit, made with an oil drum full of MSG. Ten bucks worth of that poison can feed a family of eight.
  • Granola. Same deal with pad thai. The homemade kind is way too healthy. I need the kind made with palm oil harvested by child slaves. That’s how you know it’ll keep you full on the trail.
  • Rice and beans. One of my life goals is to make rice and beans as well as the best Mexican joints in the Southwest. I have yet to begin that effort.
  • Real deal mole/birria. I actually tried making my own mole once. Given that I am not a 70-year-old abuela who’s been making it from scratch in her kitchen for the past 50 years, I think you know how that turned out.
  • Cheese/alt milks. Adam Rapoport’s Bon Appetit was a shitty magazine for a lot of reasons, but one of its worst and most frequent crimes was telling readers that making shit like almond milk at home was “ridiculously easy.” Bullshit. Absolute, total bullshit. Look at this recipe for almond milk. It takes 12-plus hours, requires a bunch of shit you have to wash by hand, and yields one quart of milk. “Ridiculously easy.” Go fuck yourself.

And finally, barbecue. Here is where I announce my formal retirement from being a smokeboy. I bought a smoker seven years ago and fell in love with it, only for half my family to go vegetarian and my heart to get clogged. I loved my time as a smokeboy. I loved building fires, shopping for fatty cuts of pork, making my own sauces, and fussing over my barbecue like it was a novel I was finishing. I had visions of one day owning one of those trailer smokers with a name like BOSS HOG and feeding entire tailgates with smoky goodness. I reveled in the smokiness.

But no one else in my house will eat this shit, and I shouldn’t. Besides, I never made anything as good as Franklin Barbecue and its peers. Oh, and the grill itself is so beaten up that it’s barely usable. So sometime soon, I’m leaving it out on the curb. It’ll break my heart a little, but I’ll always remember the good times my smoker and me had. I’ll always love you, Char-Griller. You were one of the good ones.

(By the way, I made porchetta on my smoker once and it was 100 percent legit. I’ll never produce anything that good again.)

John:

Why is public WiFi such a shitshow? You either have to register for so-so access and open yourself up to 100 pieces of spam each hour, or go with a public channel that runs slower than your old AOL dial-up. With so many places trying to replaces menus and paper with QR Codes, you’d think they would get their shit together. 

It’s a bandwidth issue. You need a lot of it to accommodate hundreds of thousands of people all using the same signal at the same time. Chattanooga is famous for having a fiber-optic public network that’s breathtakingly fast, and the idea was that other cities would eventually have that same kind of access. But digital infrastructure is not unlike physical infrastructure in that building it requires help (and money) from a shitload of competing interests: tech companies, contractors, lobbyists, governmental bureaucrats, and pornographers. If this country had its shit together, we’d have 500G WiFi in every corner store, plus hyperspace train service between every major urban center. We don’t, which is how you end up sitting on a delayed subway for 20 minutes, begging the front page of ESPN.com to load already.

I’m used to this, so my only request is that I not be forced to register to log onto any of these networks. When I’m at an airport and all I have to do is click ACCEPT for the free WiFi signal to activate, I weep with joy. But if you want me to enter my email, I’m less enthused. And if you want me to create a full account, complete with username and password, I turn homicidal. My greatest old-man affliction is that I never want to register for anything. Not WiFi. Not an app. Not a fucking iPhone game. I’m here to play mini golf on my phone and you expect me to fill out a fucking form? I will bomb your fucking house, Mister Programmer.

Todd:

I was watching one of the press conferences after the bridge collapse, and the governor spoke of being “Baltimore strong” and “Maryland tough.” I’m all for civic pride, but isn’t it time to retire the whole “{Insert city/region name} tough/strong” trope? After all, is there really that much different between being “Duluth Tough” or “Sioux Falls Strong”?

There isn’t. I hate to give Boston credit for anything, but they’re the ones who coined “Boston Strong” after the Marathon bombing, so they should get exclusivity on that format. The more widely adopted a catchphrase becomes, the less effect it has. Fucking Jake Paul could die tomorrow and someone would give him a “Rest in Power.” It’s a dilution of language and it’s endemic, especially in sports where every playoff team has to wear t-shirts with the same, league-mandated motivational slogan. “IT’S OUR TIME” etc. Fucking terrible. I’d write a whole essay on the topic, but this isn’t Slate and I’m not that boring of a writer. So I’ll refrain.

What I would like is for “God This Fucking Blows” to become a more widely adopted municipal catchphrase. People died in that bridge collapse! Do you know how much traffic the collapse caused, and will cause for literal years? Do you know how many local commutes it fucked? And it cost some of our hardest working shipping magnates money! All of that blows, and while I know Baltimore will recover, I also know that city would have rather not had to bother doing so. I don’t wanna have to be strong. I wanna be a soft-ass baby my whole life and not have to pay for it. Put that on a t-shirt.

Steven:

Do you keep in touch with your fellow Chopped contestants? Are you on a group chat? Is the jazz musician a Defector subscriber?

Shit no, I don’t. You watched that episode. One of my opponents was a professional reality show contestant. Another other was a lady who walked her dolls around in a stroller, in public. And the other one was the aforementioned jazz singer, who chastised me between rounds because I swore on camera. I’d rather play mini golf with Kim Mulkey than chill with that trio again.

Rich:

My wife and I just returned from about a six-week road trip that spanned from Michigan to California, with a stop in Texas. During these trips, we played the license plate game, where we keep track of the states and provinces we saw (cars only, semi trucks didn’t count). We are such dorks that we had a checklist in the Notes app to track them. We saw 49 out of 50 states, and the one that we didn’t get was Delaware. In our experience, this is usually the hardest one to find, even more than Alaska or Hawaii. This leads me to wonder, does Delaware actually exist?

I can confirm that Delaware exists, because Creamy Joe Biden is from there and because I’ve paid that state $50,000 in tolls over the course of my adulthood. Oh, and I go to the beaches in Delaware every summer. So Delaware is REAL. Don’t let a TikTok tell you otherwise.

By the way, we used to play the license plate game on road trips with our kids. My wife printed out a checklist of the states and tucked it into the seat pocket in the back of the minivan. Then she’d ask the kids to mark off each state as they saw it, and they’d either play along for 10 minutes, or ignore her until she yelled at them for wanting to watch a DVD of Spaceballs instead.

The irony is that, now that the kids are bigger, we’ll sometimes catch them playing some of those childhood games on their own. My sons played I Spy just the other day. My daughter started playing Minecraft again after spending a solid decade away from it. If any of them ask me to play Candy Land this year, I’ll get all choked up … and then come up with an excuse not to play because I always get smoked in Candy Land.

Glenn:

In all seriousness, what would happen to pro and big-time college sports if there wasn’t betting?

So many more horses would be alive today if that were the case. Millions of them. Horses would be so plentiful, and so cheap, that anyone with a steady job could buy their daughter a pony for Christmas, every Christmas. We’d all be one big horsey family.

In all seriousness, I’d like to think that the effects of gambling on any given sport’s viewership is overstated, but the NFL itself would disagree with me there. It’s a simple cause and effect, where the more people gamble on a sporting event, the more likely they are to watch it. That’s why the Super Bowl is the No. 1 TV show every year and will be until I die. It’s why March Madness is March Madness. It’s why anyone who still gives a fuck about boxing or horse racing still gives a fuck about boxing or horse racing.

At the same time, there are many millions of people like me out there who are rabid sports fans but are NOT serial gamblers. I don’t need to have the deed to my house at stake to watch any NFL game, even if it’s a completely dogshit one. I’m as pure a sports fan as you’ll ever find, and there are plenty more of my kind out there. So if gambling magically disappeared from the landscape tomorrow, fans like me would still turn out en masse and leagues would still prosper. The only difference is that the average owner would be worth a billion or two less than they are now. And again, horses would be legion.

HALFTIME!

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Nic:

My question/Andy Rooney take: Why do marching bands insist on trotting out covers of pop music during halftime? “Crazy Train” sounds like shit coming from 200 horn players and drummers. Drumlines are great, and marching band music is both plenty enjoyable and made for a stadium environment! 

Because it’s fun for the kids in the band to play songs they know and like. How many kids do you know get a hard-on for playing John Philip Sousa on an endless loop? How many kids would you WANT to enjoy that? That’s Ted Cruz Jr. shit. The way that band directors keep the kids hyped is by mixing in songs that are familiar to them outside of practice. It’s also fun (kinda) when a marching band starts playing “Single Ladies” and fans like me recognize it after straining for a beat. “Oh! Oh I know what they’re playing!” When you get the right band, the right pieces, and the right choreography, genuine magic happens, like so:

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This doesn’t always work out. When I was in choir, our teacher gave us sheet music for a lot of contemporary songs, including “Hungry Eyes” and “Somewhere Out There.” We, a bunch of middle schoolers, did not feel cool singing these songs in front of our parents. I don’t think the late Eric Carmen would’ve enjoyed it, either. You risk dad-ify any song by 400 percent when you run it through the middle-school-recital industrial complex.

Then I joined an all-male acapella group my freshman year and we got to choose our own songs. The leader of the group had us sing The Eagles (“Take It To The Limit”), Pink Floyd (“Goodbye Blue Sky”), and CNSY (“Find the Cost of Freedom”). I thought this was way cooler than singing a bunch of shit off of the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. No girls in my class thought likewise. Also, I now hate pretty much all of those bands. But when you’ve spent the rest of your chorus time forced to sing Benjamin Britten arrangements, you take whatever pop culture life raft gets thrown your way. So don’t get too worked up the next time a marching band strikes up “Call Me Maybe.” They need the joy, especially since they’re the only people at the stadium who can’t drink.

Justin:

Did you watch “The Dynasty” on Apple? If so, thoughts?

Fuck no, I didn’t. You know the deal with sports documentaries now. If they aren’t blatant advertorial content for the subject, they’re overlong rehashes that make headlines because they ruffled a handful of feathers. We’re not in pandemic lockdown anymore. I can real watch real sports now. If I have to watch a sports movie, gimme Hoop Dreams or fuck off.

And do you think I’m craving more Pats content after watching them, and their dipshit fans, lord over the NFL for two decades? That show could have had footage of Kraft’s handjob and I still wouldn’t have watched it. The Patriots are dogshit now, and I love not having to think about them whatsoever. In fact, when they trade my team the No. 3 pick a little over week from now, they’ll be even more anonymous. That’s just how I like my Boston sports teams. I hope Jerod Mayo turns out to be a diddler.

The bigger story here is that a LOT of people didn’t watch that show, because Apple TV+ gets fewer viewers than, I shit you not, Pluto TV. No one watches it, even if a yearlong sub comes free with every AT&T ad you have to sit through. This is a pity in some ways, because Apple makes a lot of good stuff (Severance and Killers of the Flower Moon come to mind). On the other hand, I really don’t want to pony up for yet another streaming service that churns out yet another overly padded documentary about how Tom Brady and Bill Belichick didn’t always see eye-to-eye. I already know all that.

Aaron:

Who is the most impersonated character, Borat or Austin Powers? Is there a third option I am missing?

You’re missing like 15 other options. If you’re a dad and you’re my age, you have a standard repertoire of character impressions, including:

  • Borat and Austin Powers, as Aaron mentioned
  • James Bond
  • Mr. Burns
  • Homer Simpson
  • Yoda
  • Hannibal Lecter
  • Ace Ventura
  • Tony Montana
  • Jules Winnfield
  • Don Corleone
  • Ron Burgundy
  • Eric Cartman

Guess how many laughs I’ve gotten from other people while inhabiting these timeless characters? Zero. Does that stop me from crying out D’OH! every time my wife gets some pizza dough out of the fridge? You know the answer.

By the way, my daughter loves to say “mmkay?” like Mr. Mackey instead of just “OK,” and it always cracks me up. Turns out I’m much better as the audience for those impressions rather than the performer. Mmkay?

Johnny:

With all due respect, I loathe NFL Films. All those old highlights in super slow motion are so boring. QB throws in super slow motion, cut to a close up shot of JUST THE BALL spinning through the air in super slow motion for 20 full seconds, cut to a receiver catching the ball in super slow motion. Meanwhile, players on the field were doing things to make the play happen. What were they doing? We’ll never know because we only got to see the ball. Let’s say you hear about an awesome player from the 80s, and you want to see some highlights to learn what made him so awesome. Too bad! 

NFL Films was never conceived as a primary source of highlights. That’s why Inside the NFL has always aired in the middle of the week. You already know what happened in the game, but now you get to see key plays unfold from angles you never saw previously, and you get that precious sideline audio of Jerry Glanville screaming I AIN’T ‘FRAID OF YEW! at the nearest ref. The job of NFL Films is to canonize football, not recap it.

And they do a good job. I never watch Inside the NFL anymore, but I did back in the pre-web days when Len Dawson was the host and I watched any highlight show I could find. Watching the NFL Films packages back then was cool because they made every key play—for which I already knew the full context—look like the most dramatic thing that’s ever happened. That’s why the Sabols are in the Hall of Fame. They made football look bigger than football.

And if you don’t like it, well, Inside the NFL airs on the CW now, so it’s not like you’ll have a difficult time avoiding it.

Daniel:

With the existence of the internet, do you think our great-grandchildren will know more about us than we know about our great-grandparents today? Let’s assume for the sake of the argument that society doesn’t collapse in that time. 

No because all the shit we post will end up being memory-holed. Take it from someone who saw pretty much all of his work at Kissing Suzy Kolber wiped from the historical record. Like Vince Mancini wrote a while back, the internet is no longer forever. It’s been colonized, and the colonists have a fun habit of slashing and burning. Whatever digital traces you do leave behind will be sitting in an ocean of content that fill the fucking solar system. Your great-grandson Bryxxtyn isn’t gonna spend all of his time trying to track down all of those racist tweets you did back in 2008. He’s gonna be too busy fucking his chatbot while his Tesyota ferries him to the moon’s hottest new boba tea emporium.

Toni:

I cannot remember which episode it was, but on a somewhat recent episode of The Distraction you spoke about your need to pee a lot even if you don’t really have to go. You mentioned discussing it with your therapist, who concluded it was related to OCD. Can you go into further detail of how you stopped yourself from peeing so much? I seem to have a similar issue, with the compounded problem that I’m screwing up my dog’s sleep schedule.

I haven’t stopped, per se. I went on Zoloft (a truly magical drug) and that mellowed my compulsion, but didn’t get rid of it entirely. My psychiatrist told me that she could keep upping the dosage to help phase it out further. But I asked her if the dosage could go too high, and she told me, “Oh yeah. There’s a dosage where your dog could die in front of you and you wouldn’t react.” That kept me from wanting any more Zoloft than I currently take.

So I manage my compulsion by giving myself a cap on the number of times I can get up to piss before falling asleep (one or two), I ask myself “Do I really need to?” anytime I feel the itch to visit the toilet, and I forgive myself if I lapse. That’s about the best I can do, and I’m all right with that. Also my dog is still alive and frisky, and that makes me happy.

Email of the week!

Adam:

While in college I got randomly slotted into one of those freshman seminars that department heads teach. Mine was, of all things, the dance department. As a half-coordinated male, they were super thirsty to get me to stay. Next thing I knew, I ended up taking several years of ballet and modern dance and being in a few performances.

I couldn’t believe how much it made me into the athlete I always dreamed of being. I added over half a foot to my vertical, my mobility got precise, and my overall sense of balance was better than ever. I grew up playing basketball and football, and couldn’t help but think this would be an incredible hack for football players, linemen in particular. I gained more speed, bodily awareness, and balance from dance than from any gym work or drills I ever did in practice. I know Lynn Swann was famous for studying ballet, but it got me thinking: Considering the culture of football and football players, what type of undeniable performance advantage would the analytics team have to prove in order for elite college and pro teams to require ballet as part of training? 

Obligatory:

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