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Time for your weekly edition of the Defector Funbag. Got something on your mind? Email the Funbag. And buy Drew’s new book, The Night The Lights Went Out, while you’re at it. Today, we’re talking about space, a cashless future, cutting the edges off of ravioli, and more.

Merry Christmas, boys and girls. This is my last time hosting the Funbag this year. Liz Cook has the reins next week, and Ashley Feinberg will host the Jamboroo two days from now while I guzzle thumbprint cookies right from the tin. You can email Liz right here if you’d like to contribute to her effort in the coming days. Lucky you!

Now let’s get to your letters:

Matt:

Are candy canes severely overrated?

They’re shit. They’re garbage. They’re old-man candy shaped like a TikTok challenge. I can’t say if candy canes are overrated, given that I don’t ever see other adults eating them. Your boss Milton doesn’t go walking around the office sucking on a candy cane like it’s a giant lolly. You grow up and you realize that a candy cane exists to make you wash your hands. Also, the cane shape is pretty on a gingerbread house but impractical for actual eating. Once you get to the big curve, you’re fucked. Everyone over the age of seven knows it. Even my youngest kid thinks candy canes are a pain in the ass.

There’s only one thing to redeem candy canes and that, of course, is peppermint bark. Peppermint bark is delicious and only a fool would say otherwise. My wife used to make bark by unwrapping and crushing a bunch of candy canes out of the box, and then one day she spotted pre-crushed canes in a bag and realized what a sucker she’d been. So if you’re scoring at home, remember: Candy canes are stupid. Candy cane bits are super clutch.

Recommended

The 2021 Hater’s Guide To The Williams-Sonoma Catalog

Aaron:

I’m in the process of finishing up one of the more chaotic relationships I’ve ever been a part of and it’s been a pleasant surprise how amicable the whole process has been. The other person is more sentimental than me so I was on board when they asked for a “last meal” experience… At this last meal, this fully grown adult proceeds to trim the crust off of their RAVIOLI as if totally normal and not a behavior indicating family history of violent psychopathy. How closely did I cheat death?

LOL I’m pretty sure that trimming the crust off your ravioli does not mean you’re more liable to murder people. But it’s still really fucking weird, I’ll give you that. I understand trimming off sandwich crusts because I have kids and because the crust on packaged bread can be dry and flavorless. But ravioli edges are cooked pasta still in sauce. They’re not dry. They don’t crumble. They taste good. The edges balance out each bite so that you get a good proportion of pasta to filling. Cutting them off (how do you even do this without making a goddamn mess) isn’t gonna change much of anything in the dish. It’s a waste of time, not unlike your relationship was, AMIRITE?!

My wife got me a ravioli maker for my birthday this year. This was not an automated ravioli machine—presumably there’s one on sale right now at Williams-Sonoma for $699—but a hard plastic mold you press over two sheets of pasta and little scoops of fillings that line up with the cutouts. It was the right gift for me, since I’d grown hornier and hornier for making my own pasta during the pandemic. So I made ravioli for everyone that night and I will NEVER do it again. Ever. My wife won’t be insulted when she reads this because she bore eyewitness to The Great Struggle and agreed that we should leave the ravioli making to professionals. Just an unfathomable pain in the ass.

And I promise you someone in the comments will be like, “Bro, Drew is lightweight; it’s not that bad,” and they will be lying. I love stuffed pockets of food—ravioli, dumplings, bao, etc.—but I am formally retired from ever making them myself. Even with a special kitchen tool at your disposal, you still gotta fuss over every single one. And I need a LOT of ravioli, mind you. I don’t eat just one ravioli per bite. I fit as many in my mouth as that mouth can accommodate. That’s how I win dinner. I can’t make those or dumplings at a rate fast enough to keep up with my horrifying appetite, so I will gladly outsource that duty to my local Italian restaurant or Chinese takeout provider. If you expect me to make homemade wontons the next time you visit my house, [Eddie Murphy voice] you in for a motherfuckin’ surprise.

Joe:

I know you’ve addressed not drinking anymore and given advice and told people that they don’t need alcohol to have fun before. I’ve come to the realization that I do have a problem with alcohol. I don’t need it every day or get the shakes if I go a couple of days without it. My problem is that once I hit my second or third drink, that’s it. I’m going to drink as many as I can. Then after everyone leaves our place or my wife and I leave a party I become an asshole: a raging fucking dickhead. So with kids, including one who is almost 12, I’ve decided that I’m done. It makes me feel like shit when I do drink, it makes everyone around me miserable, it’s a terrible example for my kids and it’s just not fair to anyone in the house. My question then, is any advice on what to drink at social gatherings. With the holidays here, we have multiple engagements we have to get to and I would like to have a non-alcoholic drink to sip on and was wondering if you have any advice.

Well first of all, I’m glad you’re quitting. I too could go days without drinking. But when I did drink, I was like Joe and drank until I started seeing double. That was my MO, and it’s not a rare one for alcoholics the world over. Those days without drinking give you the illusion of control over the habit, and then permission to overindulge once you indulge. A flawless rationale to a broken mind.

I do well at cocktail parties and bars now. The urge to drink booze faded in my brain long ago, but I do still need to have a glass of something in my hand. So I order rounds. That muscle memory hasn’t faded. Some bars and restaurants make it easy by having a mocktail menu, because mocktails are a thing now and are often quite tasty. But if you’re hanging out at a dive bar where the only beer on tap is piss warm Chango and the bartender looks at you like you’re a fucking alien if you order anything they haven’t got, your options are more limited. Lemme offer a few paltry suggestions. Prepare to be underwhelmed.

  • Club soda, the default bar order of most recovering alcoholics. I love seltzer, so ordering a club soda (with lime, to make it more cocktail-ey) is always easy for me. But it can get a little boring after a couple rounds, in which case I turn to…
  • Ginger ale. If a restaurant has fancy sodas on the menu now, that’s where I go. “Ooh, this one is made from pomelos!” Otherwise, gimme a Schweppes.
  • Decaf coffee. I’m on the verge of becoming a coffee-after-dinner person, which I am not emotionally ready for but is all but inevitable at this point. My ideal drink to replace alcohol is something that, like is alcohol, is not sweet and is an acquired taste. Coffee ticks off both of those boxes was obvious ease, so the die is cast. Coffee is my whiskey now.

One thing you’ll never catch me drinking in a bar these days is flat water. Waste of time. I need a drink with little more effort than that.

Carl:

Is it wrong for me to lament our march toward a cashless society? I love the occasional feeling of being flush, a roll of large bills in my pocket. 

I enjoy the sight of cash too. Nothing more exhilarating than seeing an ATM make all those ATM whirring sounds and then spit out a bunch of twenties for you. Makes me feel like I WON that money. Love to go bug-eyed at large amounts of cash laid out on blackjack tables, and folded neatly into a platinum money clip, and stuffed into giant duffel bags as I rob the Bellagio.

But I won’t miss cash when it’s gone. Parking meter apps eliminated my need for quarters, so all coins are now useless to me. And paper bills aren’t far behind because paying with them invariably results in more unwanted pocket change coming my way. Also, all-cash restaurants make me wanna tear my hair out. Just take my fucking card. Charge me the 30 cents extra to cover your transaction fee with Visa. It’s worth it, you shitbird. The only drawback, in my mind, to a cashless economy will come when all of the crypto freaks demand that all credit/debit card transactions be conducted exclusively using Nipplecoin. That’s all coming and I’d rather they leave my bank account the fuck alone.

John:

I live in San Francisco and I just visited my parents in Phoenix for a couple days and I want to know why is the food so terrible down here?

Don’t they have that one pizzeria? I heard that one’s pretty good. Otherwise, they live where good taste, in every respect, goes to die. If you want good food in Phoenix, get as far away from the white people there as you possibly can. I remember staying in Glendale once, which has NOTHING, and walking across to the proverbial other side of tracks into a small area that had Mexican food not cooked by people named Zakk. It did the job, which is all you can ask of Glendale. Asking for more will only break your heart.

Brian:

Regarding whether officials complain as much as other fans when watching another sport….the answer is….no, we unequivocally do not. Of course we’ll raise a question as to whether a call was correct or give a raised eyebrow when replay shows something was missed, but as far as going off on our brothers and sisters who deal with the same stuff we do from uninformed fans, coaches, parents, and media members who don’t know shit about shit? No, sorry, doesn’t happen. Hate to burst that bubble.

Noted. My apologies for thinking otherwise.

Noe:

A buddy went from being a know-it-all artsy dude to being unable to finish a movie in one sitting. He thinks he’s just dumb now. I think he, and everyone else our age, gets too much stimulation. Alternatively, he does love combat sports, so maybe Dana White poisoned his brain.

It’s the stimulation. Anyone online has a ruined attention span. Like Noe’s friend, I have a hard time sitting through a movie from beginning to end with no breaks. I got a phone right next to me that’s forever beckoning, so I sometimes I pause the movie to check my phone and take a piss. Othertimes, I save part two of the movie for the next night so that I can dick around online instead.

I stopped getting all angsty about this years ago. It’s just how I do shit now. I still enjoy movies and TV the same way I did before, but you and I live at a stimulus buffet that’s open all hours. It’s gonna have an effect on your habits, but it doesn’t mean you’re any stupider. And it doesn’t mean life was better back in 1992. I experienced 1992 in real time. I know.

HALFTIME!

Tyler:

You’ve written about your time as a college football player (not playing much, trying and failing to fit in, etc.), but unless I’m mistaken, I haven’t read much about High School Football Drew. Many college athletes are the cream of the crop in high school, which is why they advance to the next level. Was this the case for you and if so, what was the adjustment like going from HS Football Drew to College Football Drew? What were your expectations going in?

My high school football career was not terribly different from my college football career. I wanted to play football because I loved the sport, but mostly because I wanted to be popular and get laid. I ended up achieving exactly none of those things, but that didn’t stop me from trying. Football players were the coolest people in the world to me and I wanted to be one.

I was not the cream of the crop on my high school team. I rode the bench all the way to my senior year and then, in training camp, I simply lined up with the starters on O-line and hoped the coaches would just go along with it. And they DID. I was a starter. I belonged. I went from hoping they wouldn’t notice I was starter to believing that a starting position was my right as a senior. I lasted about three or four games. I don’t remember much about those games. I don’t remember if I played well, although I can guess because I was the kind of high school lineman who had a panic attack anytime he was asked to pull. I rarely won practice drills. I was overweight and had all the agility of a blind, legless dog.

One day my position coach—a retired full-bird colonel—started rotating in a dude half my size in practice and I was like WHY ARE YOU GIVING THIS DWARF MY REPS? That other guy started working a platoon in games with me and eventually, Coach told me that I was being demoted to second string. I cried in front of him. Real tears. I didn’t think it was fair, and I thought crying in front of my own goddamn coach was a good way to make him understand what starting meant to me. He gave exactly no fucks. I never saw the field again except in garbage time.

Now here’s the funny part: I still wanted to play college football. At an Ivy League school, no less. I figured that college coaches might see something in me that my high school coaches, who benched me and saw me cry about it, did not. I sent out tapes to every school I applied to. I visited Yale, met with then-coach Carm Cozza, saw Calvin Hill’s Heisman sitting on a table in office, and heard him say to me, “I think you’d make a fine addition to our team.” That was all I needed. I was gonna be a D-IA college football guy. The BMOC.

Yale rejected me, as did every other school I applied to save for Michigan: a place even I knew I wasn’t good enough to play at. These days, I believe that I got asked into Carm Cozza’s office because he mistook me one of my teammates for me on the tape I sent in. I also believe that if I had applied early to Yale (I applied early to Cornell instead because I thought it had a prettier campus), they never would have figured out which lineman I was on that tape, and I would have gotten in. And then I would have gotten my spine ripped out during my first practice. One of the stranger bullets I’ve dodged.

Anyway, I went to Michigan assuming my college career was over. Then I transferred to Colby, which isn’t quite on the level of Michigan when it comes to athletics. They welcomed walk-ons at Colby, so I walked on and resumed my pursuit of whatever acid trip dream I had of being a Cool Football Guy.

I wouldn’t be the writer I am today, or the person I am, without football. Normally when ex-players say this, it’s with reverence for the game. The game made them better. The game made them tougher. Neither of those things are true in my case. I failed as a football player, and I don’t mean that in footballese, where “adversity” means suffering through four regular season losses on your way to a championship. Some failures are total. But they’re still useful in that you eventually, painfully, learn what you can’t do with your life and what you should be doing with it instead. So I learned that I was better off as a writer than a football player, and I also had a treasure trove of football memories/knowledge to draw on whenever I put pen to paper. Everything in life, even if it sucks, is useful.

Also, I love football. I saw the game for what it was when I played it, and of course I know the inherent evils at every level of the sport. But I’ll never stop loving it. Football is the fucking best.

Earl:

I can’t stand it anymore. I’ve sat by and watched and eaten some myself, but I’ve had it. Fuck bacon. But especially fuck the person that made other people think it’s the fucking goat of all meats. Let me say it again to refresh your memory: FUUUUCKKKK BACON.

OK.

Nick:

What’s the greater human achievement: setting foot on the moon or the discovery and use of penicillin?

The moon. If you’re cynical, you can view human space exploration as an exercise in hubris that wastes unfathomable amounts of money. You can also, without question, go fuck yourself. Bet you’re real fun at parties, you fucking loser. The discovery of penicillin is one of the great feats of human ground work, but I’m still in greater reverence of what mankind has achieved off this planet. Not only did we evolve into intelligent life forms, but we engineered a way to leave Earth itself and set foot on other celestial bodies. Our moon itself is a relatively boring and chemically inert place, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that we did it. Walking on the moon, along with all space exploration, represents the most important thing mankind has ever done. We have robots on Mars. Right now. They can see Mars. They can HEAR Mars. If humans can manage that feat, then you yourself are probably capable of much more than you realize.

I just watched The Farthest, the PBS documentary about the Voyager probes, which are the first and so far only manmade objects to leave the solar system and will exist in interstellar space for millions and perhaps billions of years to come. Those probes are unmanned, but have still increased human knowledge of the outer planets by multitudes. They’re the reason we know that Jupiter has rings, that other moons can have water and volcanoes, and that Uranus spins on its side, and that Neptune has its own giant spot. These findings aren’t not just grist for trivia. This is important, in ways both quantifiable and intangible. Ask any scientist. I don’t believe we’ll ever live off of Earth, but understanding the composition, behavior, and dynamics of its neighbors is vital to life here.

More importantly, it represents both the ambition of mankind and its ability to fulfill that ambition. It’s very easy to get bogged down in Earth’s bullshit. I know. I have Twitter and everyone there is constantly giving each other reasons to feel like absolute shit about everything, all the time. I fucking hate it. Meanwhile, this is potentially the greatest—and only?—intelligent civilization in the history of the universe. You can think, you can see, and you can dream. And what better use is there for all of those faculties than reaching out across space and time and SUCCEEDING? People go to church for comfort, to remember that there are things beyond themselves and beyond the grasp of everyday living. I think about space in the same way. It takes me out of the day and sends me somewhere else, and I’m forever grateful for that.

Will:

If you could get rid of one sports fan term/phrase, what would it be? For me it would hands down be “burger” as in “Ohio State dropped a 50-burger the other day.” Not to be dramatic, but it literally ruins my day when I hear someone say that.

I like burger! Rich Eisen used to use it on NFL GameDay and I knew right away that I had to use it myself. Sorry to ruin your day, Will. You can hang a 40-burger on me as punishment.

Anyway, my answer is “analytics,” because that term is used exclusively on television by people who don’t know what the fuck it means.

PJ:

If you had the power to transport yourself to anytime in history and witness 30 minutes of that time & place, would you choose to see what happened in that hallway that night, or would you go with something bigger, like JFK driving through Dealey Plaza in 1963 or being on that ranch in Roswell, NM when the UFOs supposedly crashed. I originally thought something around the time of Jesus, but I’m not sure 30 minutes would get you any clearer picture in that area.

I’d go to New York City in the year 1900 and walk around. Maybe watch some folks get shot and left in the street to die. It’d be way cool.

Email of the week!

M:

I was listening to the Distraction podcast and the question came up of what does a president do with the jersey presented to him by a winning team visiting the White House. I can actually provide an answer to that. In college, I was an intern in the White House. It was in a department of lesser importance so instead of being in or around the actual White House, we were in a nondescript office building a few blocks away. Anyways, on the same level as the department I worked in was the department that dealt with all the gifts and random shit people would send POTUS. The short answer is that Lindsey Adler was right and there’s an archive where all the stuff is cataloged and socked away never to be seen again.

However, for whatever reason, some amount of the stuff was kept in this office building in a giant storage room which I got to poke through occasionally. There was definitely some weird shit in there but in true curdled brain remember-some-guys fashion, the one thing I saw that has stuck with me all these years was a suit sent by former (then current) NBA player Al Harrington. It wasn’t like a team logo suit or even a fancy designer suit. Just a charcoal Calvin Klein suit, the kind you buy in separate pants and jacket at a Macys. My extremely cursory review of this item was enough to determine that it was far too large for our commander-in-chief. It’s confounded me to this day why Al Harrington would sent an oversized suit to the president.

Well like I said, if we can go to the moon, then we can convince a random president to wear the suit of a pedestrian former NBA star.