Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Co-Ed Slumber Parties: Fresh From City Dads Group

Old School Slumber Party Crew

My oldest is now 10. Last year, or maybe it was two years ago, he went to a sleepover birthday party, as kids do. At the time, I didn't think anything of the fact that it was a co-ed invite list. I think my oldest son may have been the only boy invited, I'm not sure because I didn't care enough to examine who was there when I dropped off or picked up. After the party ended, I forgot it had even happened. A few months ago, I was at another party where the topic of "that party with the boy sleeping over" came up. The parents I talked to were sagely nodding to each other, relieved that one girl just went for the movie and didn’t sleep over. According to the group wisdom, her parents had done well. "Uh, yeah." I said, "That one boy there was my son."

What happened next? How do I feel about topic? Please head on over to City Dads Group to read more, Mixed Gender Sleepovers: Cause for Scandal or Celebration of Diversity.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Kobe Bryant and Teaching Consent

When I heard Sunday that Kobe Bryant had died, I was surprised. Of course I was, it's surprising when you hear that a person younger than yourself has suddenly died. Beyond that, I felt...nothing. This was also surprising. I was in the middle of helping coach at a youth rugby tournament so at first I chalked it up to that. During a break in the tournament I thought about it again. I'm not really into celebrity news outside of whatever it is people do when they're doing whatever it is they're famous for. So while I love say, Steph Curry as a Warrior, I don't know a ton about him off the court. So at that moment I chalked my lack of feelings on Kobe to my general apathy towards celebrity news in general. When the tournament was over and the kids and I were getting in the car, I reexamined my feelings and I still felt nothing. Why?

Why wasn't I upset?

I had been a huge Kobe fan between 2000 and 2003. If you know anything about Kobe, you know what happened in 2003. I was living in DC at the time and saving up for a sweet, crisp white Kobe Bryant jersey, which was a significant expense for a broke grad student. Then the news hit that Kobe had been accused of raping a woman in Colorado. After that, I always appreciated Kobe as a great basketball player, but I was no longer a fan.

In the years since his retirement Kobe had an impressive second act as a content creator. I never watched any of his work, not out of disdain or a sense of morality, but just because there's a lot of content out there to watch and it didn't interest me enough to seek it out.

Now he's gone.

When I mentioned his death to my wife, T was even less interested. Her thoughts were squarely with his victim. We agreed that it was a notable cultural event and that we were sad for everyone on board. They were all family and friend and co-worker and mentor to someone. There were kids, which is always sad. But that it was Kobe isn't any more sad than if it was anyone else.

It came up again over dinner. I don't remember how.

We have been deliberate in teaching our children about consent. We started with each of them from the time they were able to express a simple yes/no preference. We ask them if we can pick them up. We ask if we can hug or kiss them. We allow them the space to say, no. The goal of this with little kids is to teach them that they have bodily autonomy in their interpersonal relationships. They don't owe anyone physical affection, not even their closest relatives. We are not a physically distant family. We are very snuggly. My 10y/o son will still curl up on the couch with me to read or watch tv. My 8y/o still wants to be carried and tucked in. My 4y/o is basically glued to my wife every waking moment and asks me to lie down with her sometimes at bedtime. We're an affectionate crew, but always with consent.

Our conversation at dinner was the first time I remember us ever talking about consent in the context of sex or adult physical intimacy. I don't remember what prompted it, but one of the kids asked, "What's  wrong with Kobe Bryant?" I guess you don't really plan for these conversations, because we tried to skirt the issue, hoping they would drop it quickly. They didn't.

"He hurt at least one person very badly." (Silently hoping they drop it.)

"What did he do?"

"He touched a woman in ways she did not want be touched."

"Like what?"

And there we were. My kids have known about the existence of sex for a long time. The older two were in the room when the youngest was born. They know where babies come from, though I don't think they know all the mechanics of how they get there. They know about sperm and egg and which party contributes each one. They understand most of the biological facts of procreation, but I don't know if we've ever really talked about sex outside of procreation. It was a little disorienting that Kobe Bryant's death had me charging into this discussion with my kids.

We covered everything you might want a young person entering adolescence to know about consent in an intimate relationship. We talked about peer pressure and coercion. Emphasized that they don't owe their bodies to anyone, no matter how nice the other person has been. We told them that there's no point where they can't say, "stop." It doesn't matter if you've been dating, kissing, or moved on to something more, you can always say, "stop" and expect your partner to stop. Using ourselves as examples, we showed that no matter how much you believe that the person in front of you is the only person for you, there is always someone else who will love you the way you deserve. They were a little surprised that T and I had dated more than a couple other people before we met, though they knew I had been married once before. The point was that the fear of losing someone shouldn't be the driver for doing things you don't want to do. Anyone who makes you feel that way is proving to you that there's someone better out there. The bottom line is that your body is yours. Anyone making you feel otherwise through word or deed is someone you should consider removing from your life. You don't need to acquiesce or compromise.

It was a good talk. One that I'm glad we were able to have and will have again. The fact is, no amount of teaching consent will prevent what happened to that 19 year old woman in Colorado. She did exactly what we told our kids to do. She said no. She tried to leave. She made her unwillingness known. She was raped anyway. That's not her fault. Understanding consent isn't magic armor that will keep you from all harm. I only hope that it can be a tool that keeps people from the less visible harms that come into too many relationships.

Kobe Bryant is dead and feel terrible for his family, his friends, and even his fans. They lost someone dear to them. For me, his legacy will be in continuing to try to protect my kids from people who commit similar, silent, deniable crimes against vulnerable partners, and to make sure my son grows up to be a better man.

More Commentary on Wrestling with Kobe's Legacy:

Kobe Bryant and Complicated Legacies

It's Not "Too Soon" to Talk About the Kobe Bryant Rape Case

Monday, December 30, 2019

Recipe Post: Bacon Explosion and a Decade as "The Bacon Guy."

I read or heard once that every crew has "the ___ guy." I guess maybe this applies to all male or maybe mixed gender crews. I'll admit, I don't know as much about all female crews but I imagine there's a similar concept at play. There's the "fedora guy," the "indecisive guy," the "quiet guy," etc. Of course, these are just examples of types, your crew may not have a quiet guy or whatever. During my youth, I was the "funny guy." Then about 10 years ago, I somehow became the "bacon guy." I'm not sure how it happened but I'm pretty sure it had something to do with the Bacon Explosion. The thing is, I don't remember if I came the Bacon Guy because of the recipe or if I was sent the recipe because I was the bacon guy. What I do know is that for years my friends would send me bacon memes and bacon photos and bacon recipes on social media. They would also give me bacon ephemera on holidays or just randomly. Bacon chocolate, bacon mints, bacon body wash, I got it all. It was fun, and it was all somehow tied to the Bacon Explosion.

December is full of holidays. I learned about a ton of them at my kids' holiday show at our local theme park. One of them is today, December 30th, which is National Bacon Day, another in the long line of National Days. (Seriously, it seems like National Bike to Work Day happens 4-6 times/year). You may be thinking, "He's writing about another National -insert food- holiday? Didn't he just do this?" Well, yes. It's fun and I need a break from the more serious stuff so bear with me, OK? Thanks. After all, if you remember my old SAHD Kitchen posts, cooking posts aren't off brand for me. I promise I'll have something more uh...meaty coming up next month. (Get it? Meaty? Get it?) Besides, I couldn't pass up a chance to write about bacon. I'm the Bacon Guy.

The Bacon Explosion was invented by BBQ Addicts back in 2008. I don't remember how it came to mu attention. I remember someone sending it to me and saying I should give it a try. Or maybe I heard about it on NPR. Who knows. What is clear is that I had to try it.

I made my first Bacon Explosion for the 2009 Super Bowl. It was clear right away that I'd have to improvise some things as I did not have a smoker, which is called for in the original recipe, and that's what I want to focus on for you here today. If you just wanted to make a bacon explosion, you could find the steps on the BBQ Addicts site. I want to offer you something else. After making these in my kitchen for ten years, I would like to share some tweaks to the original recipe that work for the typical home cook. So I'll document my latest attempt and let you know where my approach differs from the original recipe.

What you'll need:

2 pounds of your favorite bacon
1 pound of uncased sausage
BBQ rub
BBQ sauce

Baking sheet, deep is better
Rack for over the baking sheet.

Prep time: About an hour
Cook time: About 3 hours

Step 1: Lay down a bacon weave. The original recipe says 5x5 for the weave. I say just make a square and don't worry about how many slices that is.

The first difference between my approach and the original is in the bacon. The original calls for only thick cut bacon. What I've found is that it's better if you use regular thin bacon for the outer weave. Because you slow cook it, the inside of the weave doesn't cook the same way you might be used to for bacon. It's cooked, but it's more like ham than bacon and thicker bacon cooks even less evenly on the inside of the weave. So I prefer thin bacon for the weave. It gives a better texture.

Step 2: Dust your weave with some of your rub.

A sweeter rub is nice as it counter points the saltiness of the bacon. If you don't have rub, you can make your own or use other spices. In a pinch, I've used Old Bay or a mix of paprika, chili powder or other things. I've never tried brown sugar, but I bet that would be good too.

Step 3: Add sausage layer over the weave.

This is another place where I deviate from the original. BBQ Addicts wants two pounds of sausage. For me, that much sausage causes the sausage to dominate the dish and takes away from the bacon. This is a bacon recipe. We want bacon to be the primary experience, so I only use one pound of sausage. I used to buy cased sausage and cut the casing off. Lately I've been buying uncased sausage. You can use whatever you like. I like using Italian, but if you want more of a breakfast taste you could use breakfast sausage. Spread the sausage all the way out to the edges.

Step 4: This isn't really step 4, it's more of a concurrent step if you can swing it. You want to cook up the rest of your pound-plus of bacon. Cook it up how you like it. I like mine crispy. Take all that yummy bacon and crumble a layer over your sausage. Remember to only snack on bacon from the plate. Once you put it on the sausage, it's on raw pork and you can't eat it until after it's all cooked. Next, drizzle your favorite BBQ sauce over the crumbled bacon layer.

Step 5: From the top, carefully but firmly roll the sausage layer towards you, rolling up the crumbled bacon in the sausage. This will give you a pinwheel of bacon and sausage. Make sure you roll it tight, take your time.

Step 6: Roll the sausage tube back up in the weave. Here, you don't want much overlap for the reason I mentioned above. Any bacon in the weave that isn't expose to the outside won't cook up the way you want. You just want enough overlap to keep it closed up at the seam. If you end up with an extra apron, cut it off and enjoy your bonus bacon snack. BBQ Addicts says to do another layer of rubin the outside of the weave, which is good, but I usually forget and I don't think it changes all that much. 

Trim the extra and cook it up as a snack

Not quite ready
Now you're ready to get cooking. The original wants you to put it in a smoker at 225 for about 2 and a half hours. I didn't have a smoker so I had to use my oven. I still set it to 225. In order to get some air flow and to allow the grease to drip off, you want to put it on a rack over a deep baking sheet. Bake it for an hour, then flip it over. After the second hour, check it for an internal temperature of at least 160. I usually need to flip it again and give it another 30-40 minutes. Once you get to 160 you're ready for the last step.

The original recipe wants you to get to an internal temp of 165. That's where they end the cooking. For me, the weave is still not cooked to where I like it at this point. So when I get to 160, I turn the oven to broil. If you have two broil settings you can do about 5 minutes on each side on low broil. If you only have a high broil setting then go for 2 minutes on each side or until the outer layer looks how you want it.

Last, baste the whole thing in BBQ sauce and you're ready to serve. Go ahead and treat yourself to the crispy end, it's the best slice.

So there it is, a decade of tweaking and improving on the ultimate BBQ-bacon recipe. I've brought these to every super bowl party I've attended in the last ten years. My cousin used to insist that I bring one to Thanksgiving each year. It's made me a hit at workplace parties. I'm the Bacon Guy.

I've also experimented with it in various ways (pics and serving suggestions below). I made little ones that I called bacon grenades. I made on with turkey bacon and chicken sausage for my wife who doesn't eat mammals. I tried a cheeseburger explosion with ground beef and cheese in the middle, but at 225 the cheese didn't melt right and I hadn't thought of adding the broiler step. I want to revisit that one.

However you make it, I hope you enjoy it.

You can make any day a holiday, give your office or classroom something to celebrate, or just enjoy yourself by checking out every National Day at the National Today website.

More pics and serving suggestions:

For breakfast

Turkey bacon explosion

Bacon grenades

As a burrito

Thursday, November 28, 2019

National Men Make Dinner Day: Non-Traditional Thanksgiving Tradition (Making Sushi)

Ready to make dinner
National Men Make Dinner Day happened on November 1st. I'm conflicted. I make dinner roughly half the time at my house, down from 99% of the time back when I was a stay at home dad. So from that angle, I can't fathom that we need such a 1950s Mad Men era holiday.

I can imagine Don Draper doing his Don Draper incredulous squint and saying, "What's next, National Women Go to Work Day?" Then Peggy gives him a scornful look, Pete says something about how his wife would be a disaster in a workplace and only women who can't catch a man end up working, Harry chuckles, Peggy gives a short feminist speech that leaves everyone silent until Don comes around and supports her.

I think I'm off on a tangent.


The other side of this is that it wouldn't exist if it wasn't needed. Even though the country is trending towards men holding up more of their end at home, it looks like many aren't making dinner. So anything that gets guys cooking is probably a good thing. So National Men Make Dinner Day is a thing, and it's not my place to go against the grain of a National Day of things. So, I set about planning on making a dinner. The problem was, I didn't know about National Men Make Dinner Day until a few days after November 1st.

Lucky for me, I was nudged to write something about it anyway. So here we are at the meat of the matter. Making dinner. But what? Something mom used to make? Sure. OK. The thing is, I felt like for this illustrious day dedicated to men who maybe don't cook all that often, I should try something new. I learned how to cook from my abuelita, my step-dad and my mom. So I knew how to make all the primary dishes they made. What could I make that would be a new challenge?

Then came Thanksgiving.

All our plans with family fell through and neither T or I really felt like cooking a whole meal. I've done Thanksgiving dinner before, so I didn't think that was going to get me material. Then T had a great idea, Kidsgiving. The kids would plan the menu and cook the meal (with some guidance from the adults). The kids gave me the master stroke, they decided that for Thanksgiving, they wanted to make sushi. I was in. I've never made sushi. I'm Japanese. Mom made sushi. Grandma made sushi. I never made it. Sushi. For Thanksgiving. Let's go.

We made a pot of sticky rice the night before and stuck it in the fridge. We picked up some sashimi grade salmon, an avocado, a cucumber and some nori. That's what I wanted. The kids decided to make tuna salad. In a roll. T looked it up, apparently it's a thing they do in Japan. Like how people here will put hot dogs and chili into a tortilla and call it a burrito. T made a test batch the night before. It was...fine. I left the tuna making to Lou, who's a pro at tuna.

I've never used a sushi roller before. I have made burritos. So like, I'm all set, right? No. But there are similarities.

There are two main styles we wanted to try to replicate. They have real Japanese names (Uramaki and Futomaki) but we called them rice on the outside and rice on the inside. We made one of each style for each filling. I'll go through some of the steps below, but I will tell you this isn't a recipe or guide. It's documenting an attempt.


Making rolls is a great way to start learning to make sushi. Let's be real, you're not making it as much ass assembling it. In that way, it is a lot like making burritos. A good burrito is all about making the fillings well and then hoping it all stays inside the tortilla. For sushi rolls, you have to make sure you get the rice right, some vinegar in the rice cooker does the trick. Don't ask me how much, look it up. All I can tell you is, some.

For all rolls, cover your sushi roller with plastic wrap. keep a small bowl of water near by to keep your fingers damp, which helps keep the rice from sticking to you. The plastic wrap can be used to keep your sushi wrapped and for storage if you plan to eat it later rather than right away.

For the filling, we cut the cucumber, avocado and salmon into thins strips.

For uramaki (rice on the outside) you use a half sheet of nori. Cover it completely with rice, then add toppings if you want. We put on sesame seeds.

Next you flip over the nori and put in your fillings. Here we have the raw salmon, avocado and cucumber.

Next comes the rolling, and like the burrito, it's the hardest part. You need to roll it tight and you need to try to get it to stay rolled. We got better over the course of the four rolls, but we never got great at it.

I found that the uramaki keeps its shape the best because you're not relying on the nori to stay rolled up on its own.


This one was harder to get right. The basics are the same as the uramaki, but without flipping the nori. It's also thicker and more prone to having the filling squish out when you roll it. For the futomaki (rice on the outside), you just put everything down on the same side. Instead of spreading the rice to the edges, you leave about an inch of bare nori at the top. People who have made hand rolled cigarettes will recognize why we're leaving that inch up top. Once all your fillings are in, roll it like you did the uramaki, but you will likely have to pause to make sure you don't roll your bamboo roller into the sushi. That makes the technique a little different. when you reach the last inch, use your water to dampen the nori and seal it up. Our wraps weren't really tight enough and trying to re-roll them made things worse, not better. Still they looked nice on the plate before I cut them.

You can see, I tried making one with salmon on the outside like one often sees. It worked out pretty well. Cutting them into slices was tough until I remembered we had been given a sushi knife for Christmas a couple years ago, but had never used it. Having a fresh, sharp knife helped, but the lack of structural integrity of the rolls was clearly evident. They fell apart, especially the futomaki. But they were delicious.

So maybe I didn't make a whole dinner here. It could have been. There was enough to make a meal. This was a side dish for Japanese-American Thanksgiving. My mom, who for many years tried to convince us to BBQ a salmon rather than make turkey, would have been proud. She also would have teased me for not following directions. I'm excited to try it again. So men, get out there and make dinner.

Want to know what National Whatever Day we're celebrating every day? Check out National Today and find something to celebrate every day.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Myles Garrett Fight a Teachable Moment

My kids go to bed around 8:00pm. Occasionally they are allowed to stay up later depending on what's going on that night, a school event or a World Series game or what have you. Once they're in bed, we expect them to stay there unless they have to attend to some bodily function. Other reasons for getting up are generally met with skepticism and encouragement to get some rest.

Last night was a little different. I was happy when Buddy emerged from his room shortly after lights out complaining of an itchy foot. Something was unfolding on Thursday Night Football that I thought would be immediately applicable to his life.

Buddy has had the typical struggles at school with conflict resolution. Nothing extreme. Just the normal things you might expect from boys in  public school, at least from my experience. Lately he's been dealing with some bullying and some peer pressure about "snitching." We've always told him to find an adult rather than get in a fight. Sadly, that message hasn't always been reinforced by the adults around him when he has sought their help. Instead, he has often been left to fend for himself, and then gotten reprimanded for his actions. Though all of that, we have encouraged him to find ways to avoid fighting. Specifically, we want him to extract himself from conflict as soon as he recognizes it. Argument getting heated? Walk away. Someone looking like they want to fight? Walk away. Someone getting physical? Defend yourself to the extent necessary to safely get away. The theme is that you are going to face points in any conflict where you can end it by disengaging and walking away instead of risking making things worse.

The problem is, he's a kid so it's hard for him to remember these things in the moment. Let's be real, a lot of adults, when faced with fight or flight, don't make the decision we'd all prefer. Add in the school environment and it becomes very difficult for kids to avoid conflict when it's thrust upon them.

The other factor is that while I don't want him fighting, I do think he's a allowed to defend himself and I don't want to hear complaints about how he does it. I have long held the belief that if you pick a fight with someone, you don't get to complain about their response. If there's an outcome to the fight that you feel would go too far, don't start the fight. I was one of the few people who wrote defending LeGarrette Blount back in in 2009. Don't bully people. Don't tease them every day until they explode. If you do, you need to accept that one day things may go very badly for you. I don't mean school shooters or anything that extreme, that's a whole other level that is way more layered than what I'm addressing here. I mean more the A Christmas Story type of bullying and response.

So that's the background for last night when we saw a football fight unlike anything most of us have ever seen. I want to be clear, Myles Garrett should be suspended for at least the rest of this season and maybe more. When he is eligible, reinstatement should come with conditions like having taken and passed anger management training. What he did was inexcusable. At the same time, Mason Rudolph needs to take accountability for his part in the melee. It was Rupdolph who first went after Garrett's head and helmet, and it was Rudolph who pursued Garrett at a point where the fight could have been over.

It's this last point that I went over with Buddy. That there were several points during the altercation where each party faced a decision to let it end, or to keep fighting. In each instance, they made the wrong choice. Here's a breakdown of what I told him and how I think this fight provides a good teachable moment on de-escalation.

Moment 1: The Tackle

It's not really a dirty tackle, but it continues on past the quarterback releasing the ball. He's not injured and it's a tackle, not a high impact hit. It's not late, Garrett simply finishes the play. You can see why Rudolph might be annoyed, but there's nothing to get super angry about. It seems like Rudolph's reaction has more to do with previous hits to Steelers players and Rudolph's own frustration with throwing four interceptions. It could have been over right here with no fight at all, but Rudolph lost his cool.

Moment 2: Rudolph's Poor Choice

So the tackle is over and Mason Rudolph, with less than 30 seconds left in the game, has a choice. He can get up and maybe voice his displeasure at the tackle, letting the clock run and mercifully ending the game, or trying to rip Garrett's helmet off. He goes for the latter. This is a bad idea for many reasons. One of those reasons is that Garrett is much bigger an much more used to hitting people than is Rudolph.

Moment 3: Garrett Retaliates

At this point Garrett is able to extract himself with head and helmet still attached to his shoulders. Unscathed, Garrett could have gotten up, done a little dance or whatever defensive players like to do after getting to the QB and let the clock run out. Instead, Garrett decides to show Rudolph how pulling off a helmet should go. He picks Rudolph up by the face mask, then throws him back down and comes away with the helmet.

Moment 4: Rudolph the Helmetless QB Can't Take a Hint

At this point the scuffle is effectively broken up. #66 David DeCastro and #71 Matt Feiler have Garrett locked up and are between him and Rudolph. Rudolph is again faced with a choice. Because the ball was thrown across the field and because Garrett's retaliation was so visible, there's a chance Rudolph's initial action went unnoticed, or will be overlooked. If he stops now, it's a penalty against Cleveland or at worst, offsetting penalties and the game likely ends on the next play. Instead, having a bad day in which he could not prove his skill throwing a football, he decides to prove he's a tough guy. Again, this is a monumentally bad idea for several reasons, not the least of which is that he's deciding to go after the much bigger man who just tackled him and then won the ensuing helmet-pull-off competition. It also misses an opportunity to end the altercation before it gets worse for everyone. This is the big point here. Each of these moments are opportunities to end things before they get worse.

Moment 5: Garrett Does the Unthinkable

Fueled by anger and frustration, and perhaps emboldened by the two 300 pound men between him and his target, Rudolph decides to go after Garrett. Maybe he just wants to talk. Garrett is now faced with his own decision. He could drop the helmet and walk away. He could throw the helmet down field like Kyle Turley. He could have done literally anything other than what he did and this story might be over in 24-hours. Instead, he decides to use the helmet as a weapon and club Rudolph in the head. It's completely over the top. It's completely uncalled for. It's shocking. But it's not a complete surprise given how things had been escalating. I'll emphasize again, there's no way Garrett should have swung that helmet. There's no defense for it. At the same time, both players had multiple opportunities to walk away. By not taking those opportunities, they both bear some responsibility for what happened.

After all this, Rudolph's teammates subdued Garrett by punching him in and near the face mask several times, pinning him to the ground and then kicking and punching him in the head. Rudolph continued to half heartedly pursue the scuffle until being knocked down again by one of Garrett's teammates. Garrett, his teammate and the Steelers player who kicked Garrett in the head have all been suspended. Garrett is out for at least the rest of the season and possibly longer. For now, Rudolph has escaped a suspension but is likely to be fined.

As a parent, the lesson here is that in any conflict there are always opportunities to walk away. There is almost always an out. It may not feel great in the moment. You might feel like you're being a punk or losing face. Those are temporary feelings. If you can look past the moment and think even briefly about the possible consequences of your next action, you'll be able to avoid a lot of potential trouble. Continuing to fight in that moment rarely leads to a real win, but could end up with long term negative consequences.

I was satisfied that I had an opportunity to share this lesson with my son in that moment. I hope he can use it today at school. I want him to understand and recognize all the times he doesn't have to fight. Part of that is to keep him safe and on the right side of society. Part of it so I know I can back him up and trust him when he feels like does have to fight, though I hope that never happens.

As is often the case, after he went back to bed I realized that the same lesson applies to all of us in all of our relationships, that I need to apply this same lesson when I'm frustrated with a kid who won't clean up or is refusing to brush their teeth. I need to be able to see where I'm letting my bad day or my need to be in charge lead me down a destructive path. There's no chance of me hitting them, but I don't want to say things or behave in ways that could damage our relationship long term.

Myles Garrett's actions last night were terrible, but hopefully it's something we can all learn from.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Home Sweet Homefield

It a dump. It's a sewer. It's old. It's ugly. It's cramped. There's a infield on the football field. There's football lines in the outfield.

The complaints about the Oakland Alameda County Ring Central MacAfee Network Associates O Dot Coliseum are numerous and well known. It was one of the last cookie cutter stadiums of the 1960s. Built to house multiple sports, it's the last multi-use facility still home to both a major league baseball team and an NFL football team. The football team that shall not be named is leaving next year, but the stadium will remain largely the same, still encumbered but the monstrosity in center field that ruined the park's aesthetic and its wind patterns. The A's, the buildings last tenant, have done a lot to improve the park over the last couple years, but the reputation remains.

I remember the Coli the way it was. I'll never forget walking across the bridge from the train the first time. I was somewhere between 4 and 5 years old. Before the monstrosity, there was just a simple chainlink fence across center field. To prevent people from watching for free, the fence had those long plastic slats pushed through the chainlink so that you could only see the field if you walked by really fast. The effect was similar to a Zoetrope. You could see the players warming up on the field but the frame rate was so slow that they looked like films of ball players from the 1920s.

That fence was a time machine connecting baseball's past with its present in the mind of a small boy.

It was magic.

That was 1981 and I've been coming to the grey lady ever since. After my dad left, I went with my mom during the heady and wonderful Haas years. I fell in love with Mac, Canseco and Walt Weiss. I was crazy about Rickey. I liked that Carney Lansford looked like an actual carney. I always wanted a batting helmet with a huge jaw guard like Terry Steinbach wore. I remember that my biggest take away from the 1989 World Series is that its existence likely saved my mom from being on the collapsed Cypress Freeway the day of the earthquake. She had elected to work late in San Francisco to avoid traffic. Like a great many others who made the same choice, baseball may have literally saved their lives.

My mom wasn't really a fan. She took me to games because it was something to do. She liked going, but didn't know anything about the game. I remember throwing a tantrum one time on the train because there were no seats. I don't know why I was so worked up. Even in the moment I couldn't figure out why I was so desperate for a seat near a window, but I also couldn't stop myself. Being a kid can be really weird. I did not get a malt cup that day, and I learned to stand on the train in silence.

My grandmother was the opposite of my mom. She was a fan, knew all the players, looked up the box scores each day and listened to games on the radio, but she never went. She would get free tickets at the senior center and give them me and my best friend. She'd drop us off at the gate with $5 each for malts and a soda. Then he and I, all of 10 and 8 years of age, would go in and spend four hours on our own. We would sit in the nearly empty third deck and when the soda was gone and the ice was gone and the sun was beating down, we'd fill the cups up with water from the fountain, return to our seats and dump 32oz over our heads. We never thought to try to move down to better seats. Grandma would listen on the radio and at the bottom of the 8th, she'd drive back to the Coli to pick us up. It wasn't until 2001 when my grandmother finally attended her first game since the Charlie Finley era. We put her in the wheel chair and pushed her up to the 300s for game 3 of the 2001 ALDS. The Jeter Flip Game. As 45,000 people went from manic frenzy to dead silent I told her, "Well grandma, you picked a hell of a game to come out to. People are going to talk about that forever."

When I was a 19 year old college student looking for a way to connect with my 6 year old brother, I brought him to baseball games. It became our thing and for years we never missed an opening day. Our best year, we made it to over 40 ball games. During that time the coliseum was my refuge. When I had an afternoon to myself, or if I needed to escape and be alone, I'd head to game. It was a great place to be anonymously social. You could almost always find someone to chat with, or you could sit with your headphones on and listen to Bill and Ken describe the action. I got to know the some of the vendors, particularly Joyce who ran the Pyramid Ales stand on the main concourse. I worked for Pyramid at the time, so I always liked chatting with Joyce and grabbing a familiar beer.

Much later, I started bringing my family to games. When I was teaching and had summers off we made a habit of attending a couple games every home stand. It got to the point where my kids felt so at home, they'd run off as soon as we got through the gates. It took a few talking to's and a few tears for them to understand that even though it was familiar, it was still a big public place full of people we don't know. But I was thrilled that they felt so welcome and at ease in this place I'd been frequenting since I was their age. They love game days. Some of it is the baseball. Some of it is being together as a family. A lot of it is knowing that "ballpark rules" apply and they're going to get some kind of treat, usually a malt cup or cotton candy.

We got season tickets this year. It's the first time I've had season tickets to anything. It's been everything I'd hoped. We had a great time going to games and the A's made the playoffs. On Wednesday, Buddy and I will attend the first home playoff game I've been to since Jeremy didn't slide. I wish I could have captured his reaction when I told him. He has no idea that the coliseum is ragged. He's been to a few stadiums, but he's never complained about Oakland. All he sees are the improvements and the opportunity to hang out with his friends and family.

My house is 96 years old. The floors need work. The water pressure is unreliable. There's mold on the back wall. The windows all need to be replaced. It's a mess because we have three kids and two old dogs and two working parents and everything that comes with all of that. It's not a beautiful house, but it's the one I want to live in because it's home. The Coli was built in 1966 and it still works for me. I know there's fans who feel differently. The team wants a new stadium and they're working on getting one, though that's a whole other ordeal. For teams, stadiums are less about places to play and more about real estate development in the surrounding area. The players probably want a new home. I hear the locker rooms and training rooms are the really out dated parts of the building. I've only seen glimpses, but it does seem a bit dreary.

I want the players to be happy. I want my fellow fans to be happy.

For me though, I don't need a new stadium. I've been to a lot of parks. Some major league, some minor league. They all have basically the same plastic seats and the same types of concessions. The prices vary, but the views are largely the same. Once I sit down, I could be anywhere and the surrounding structure fades into the background. Whenever the new place is built, I'm sure I'll enjoy it. I'll go to the park and marvel at its newness and its amenities. I'll look forward to seeing the fans with whom I've developed friendships. I'll sing the songs and drink the beer and hope I still get to see Joyce. It will be nice, but it won't be home. Home will always be that dingy old concrete mausoleum where I was allowed to run free and then eventually let my kids do the same.

If home is where the heart is, then mine will always reside at 7000 Coliseum Way, just over the BART bridge. Where you can forever enjoy "beer while you're walkin', beer while you're talkin'," and it always smells like bacon wrapped sausage.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

It's OK to Love a Sports Writer

I couldn't find a relevant banner photo, so I'm using this one because we look happy.
I had a cool experience recently. My sports fan alter ego on Twitter (@RallyLamb) has been slowly picking up traction. I set up the account because I wanted to interact with local sports fans, but I didn't want those of you who follow me for my writing on parenting to suddenly get hit with 100 hot takes per game for 162 baseball games. On a summer evening last year, I got an alert that made my heart jump a bit. My favorite sports writer, Susan Slusser followed me. Look, it’s a small thing, but it’s one of the reasons I do any of this. I don’t make much money from writing. I started because I just needed to do it, it’s my heritage. Later, as I gained a small audience I was motivated by the opportunities I had to meet cool people and do cool stuff. Being followed by a writer I’ve been reading for over twenty years, less than four months into creating this account, was pretty cool. Then I saw that I had a DM, “Hi there, I’m looking for people to talk to for a story on the new ticket strategy and liked your response - would you be ok with a quick interview by phone?”

Dude! Susan Slusser wanted to talk to me for a story! I was in the driveway at the time and my wife came out to the front porch like, “Hey, why are you dancing?” Uh, because I’m going to get to talk to Susan Slusser, that’s why. (I had also gotten an RT from Dan Szymborski at the same moment so I was definitely winning Twitter that day.)

I forget how long it was until we did the interview. I know I spent the whole time rehearsing and editing my fan boy speech. I wanted to let her know how much her writing had meant to me over the years. How much I appreciated her work during the Twitter era, during most of which I was an out of market fan and relied on her reporting as my lifeline to the team. Once the interview was done, I half asked/half warned her that I was going to geek out for second. I told her about how much I respected her work and her career, she had also been president of the Baseball Writers Association of America (the people who vote on the Hall of Fame). I worry now that maybe I was being presumptuous of her experience, because I talked about how part of my admiration was due to my mom having been a journalist and knowing what she went through and how much harder I thought that might be in sports. I talked about how I thought it was super cool that my home team had four women covering them regularly (shout out Ann Killion, Melissa Lockard and Jane Lee). Maybe I over did it on the rah-rah women in sports feminism, but I was feeling it and I didn’t know if I’d ever have another chance to let her know how cool she is.

I guess I did OK as an interview subject. Susan (I call her that because according to my son, we are now close personal friends) sent me a message to let me know I’d be featured in the article. I was happy, but didn’t expect the first sentence to read, “As a sign-language interpreter and teacher with three children, Roberto Santiago figured season tickets for a sports team would be out of his reach.” So yeah, that was really cool.

Over the course of the season we tried to find a time to meet in person, but it never worked out. After all, when she’s at the game, she’s at work. It’s hard to visit anyone at work and I never wanted to be a bother. We were finally able to make it happen this season. Again, I didn’t want to bother her, or act like she owed me her time so I waited until I had a copy of her recent book so that when I reached out, I could at least show that I was supporting the cause. Yes, it’s still asking for her time while she’s working, but at least it’s a conversation starter.

She came down to the concourse to meet Buddy and I between innings. She was gracious and just as cool as she seems. I grew up around notable people, mostly writers and musicians, but I still get a little giddy meeting someone for the first time after reading them for so long. It was after this meeting that my son went on a routine about how we were all now totes BFFs and we should expect Susan at pizza night. He’s hilarious that way.

One thing that stands out for me in this experience is how we see sports writers and how they see themselves. Along with the book, I asked Susan to sign a baseball. She said she doesn’t like signing balls, that it seems weird because she doesn’t play. She agreed to sign for me because I’d also had the book. (See, I knew having the book as an opener was a good call). Throughout this whole experience, I kept thinking about the Seinfeld episode where George is asked who he reads.

Mr. Lippman: Who do you read?
George: I like Mike Lupica.
Mr. Lippman: Mike Lupica?
George: He’s a sports writer for the Daily News. I find him very insightful…
 Mr. Lippman: No, no, no. I mean authors.

I always loved this scene because of how it depicts the difference between what “literary” people consider writing, and what people who read consider writing. My favorite “authors” are mostly academics. Have you read any Dorothy Smith or William Labov? They rule. But if you ask me who I like to read, it’s a lot of sports writers. I’m super into Bill Barnwell. I really like reading Zach Lowe’s breakdowns of specific plays. I am dependent on Susan Slusser to keep me connected to the A’s. This was especially true when I lived in D.C. The A’s don’t get a ton of national attention even when they’re good, so it was Slusser and SFGate.com that kept me up on my home team. Most years I’d send a tweet to her at the end of the season thanking her for helping us transplanted fans stay abreast.

So right, she doesn’t play. She’s never taken a swing or recorded an out for the team. But to us fans, she’s as much the face or voice of the team as any player or manager. Really, she’s been even more a part of our experience of the team than any of the PsTBNL or managers who are hired to be fired. Slusser has been with us for twenty years. Can we say that about anyone associated with team other than Ken Korach or Billy Beane? Sure, the reporter isn’t the story. It’s only recently that journalists have become personalities, and even then that’s mostly screamers on TV. So no, we don’t know Susan Slusser outside of the glimpses we get through social media. We know a hell of a lot about the A’s because of her reporting, and I think it’s folly to try to completely separate the story form the story teller. In many ways, Susan Slusser is the A’s for us because she’s the source of most of our information about what’s happening with the team. So for me, meeting her was just as exciting as meeting any player past or present.

Susan Slusser is one of my favorite writers, and that’s as legit as anything else.