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I Can’t Stop Giving People The Thumbs Up

Prime Minister Boris Johnson alongside electric vehicles operations manager Agata Litwinowicz-Soltysiak during a visit to the National Express depot in Coventry. The Prime Minister is unveiling a shake-up of the bus sector which aims to see lower, simpler flat fares in towns and cities, turn-up-and-go services on main routes, and new flexible services to reconnect communities. Picture date: Monday March 15, 2021. PA Photo. See PA story POLITICS Bus. Photo credit should read: Steve Parsons/PA Wire
Steve Parsons/PA Wire

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 raising teens, hating incoming neighbors, Zoom calls, Denver, and more.

Your letters!


Fellow suburban dad here. To get home, I have to make a tough left at a busy intersection where there isn't a stoplight or a STOP sign. When incoming traffic finally lets me go, I have found myself giving the thank-you wave, and then morphing my hand into a thumbs up as I am completing the turn, as if to say, "Thanks, that was great!" Did I make this new move up? Do other drivers hate me after letting me go or do they feel even better for their kindess? Should I just stick to wave only? 

The wave is enough. If I wave and get a wave back, then that other driver and I are cool. No bad blood lingering from that exchange. More to the point, you have to avoid the thumbs up sign wherever you can. Since I too am a dad, I increasingly find myself giving the thumbs up in response to nearly goddamn everything. Did you do well on your AP Environmental Studies quiz? Thumbs up. You have to go to the grocery store? Thumbs up. You want me to walk the dog? Thumbs up, I’ll do it. Giving a thumbs up allows me to reply to my loved ones while maintaining my daily goal of saying zero words out loud. I’m like a monk, only somehow more abstinent. So I rely on the thumbs up to get my point across, and I look like a complete tool when I do it. The only time I should be giving a thumbs up is if I’m in a lake, ready to go waterskiing and signaling to the boat captain to punch the engine. ALL GOOD. Otherwise, no. Bad. Trump-esque. Big thumbs down to that move.

My wife told me I was giving the thumbs up too often and I’ve since had to rein that thumb in. This is shockingly hard. I’ll still reflexively give a thumbs up because a new Amazon package just arrived at the doorstep, and then I’ll angrily mutter NO! to myself, as if I’m about to take down a gunman. But I have made some progress. Just this weekend, I was about to give another thumbs up when, at the very last second, I checked my swing by tucking my thumb into my fist. A remarkable feat of self-discipline.

I still do a lot of dad things. I make dad sounds. I dish out dad facts like I’m the world’s dullest history professor. I listen to rock. I spend all of my time after dinner talking about what I just had for dinner (“That chicken was incredible! Love a good chicken dinner, honey!”). But I must draw a line, with my full hand, at the thumbs up sign. Both Siskel AND Ebert are dead now (DAD FACT!), which means that thumbs are no longer having A Moment. Gotta keep those babies holstered. Again, unless you’re waterskiing.


Why are there still divisions in the NBA? The playoff seedings are based on conference records, so why not just move to two super divisions and be done with it? In fact, hell, let all leagues move to conferences only!

That’ll never happen because divisions help with scheduling (which, in turn, helps reduce travel strain on players), plus you get to hang a fancy banner in your arena if you win one. Goes right next to the BILLY JOEL 18 CONSECUTIVE SELLOUTS banner. Glorious.

As Jeff said, divisions are annoying. They muddle up the playoff bracket and, especially in the NFL, really fuck with home field advantage. I don’t want playoff contraction. I’m fine with half a league getting in, and I roll my eyes at reborn purists who think pennant races are just the golly gee bestest. But I don’t want home playoff games and seeding at the mercy of alignment flukes. No one does, but try convincing the owners of that. These withered meat piles are all rich, weird, and above all else, stubborn. Tell Jerry Reinsdorf that he can’t drink bleach and he’ll buy a Clorox factory to attach to his kitchen to prove you wrong. Hence, division abolition is strictly a fantasy; the domain of sports talk radio filler.

Speaking of that filler, let’s talk about expansion for just a moment. The Seattle Kraken debuted just a year ago in the NHL, but other than hockey we’ve had no expansion of any kind in the major men’s team sports. MLB hasn’t expanded since 1998. The NBA hasn’t expanded since 2004, and that expansion was to bring back a team that already existed (the Charlotte Bobcats, who are now the Hornets again). And the NFL hasn’t expanded since 2002. So we’re due. You’re gonna get the Sonics back, plus a Vegas NBA team that won’t be anywhere near as cool (or as good, frankly) as UNLV’s 1990 team. You’re gonna get MLB lazily expanding into the Sun Belt, where no one will give a fuck.

And you’re gonna get, like, 40 NFL teams. It’s a lock. That’ll be Roger Goodell’s last big thing. He’s gonna give you the San Antonio Riverwalkers, the Toronto Snow Leopards, and the Munich Bavarians, and then he’ll say my work is done here and fuck off to his walk-in sweater closet for good. A 5-12 team will win the AFC European every year.


Our two older kids are teenagers now, and my wife and I are debating to what extent we need to put the beer, wine and liquor in our house on lockdown. We don't have a massive amount of alcohol in the house, but we do have your basic liquors (a bottle or two of gin, vodka, tequila, etc.) mostly for when people come over, and we always have some supply of beer and wine. Our kids are trustworthy and mostly stay out of trouble, but who knows what happens as they get older and have friends over? Do we need to lock all of this stuff up or do we just go on the honor system? The logistics of locking everything down are complex, and I wonder about the message that sends to our kids. Are you dealing with this?

We don’t lock up the booze. My wife and I talked about it briefly but ultimately ended up doing nothing. We babyproofed this house a decade ago, so we had no interest in spiritually going back to the days of plug covers and weird plastic locks. More to the point, we trusted our 16-year-old (17 a week from today!) enough to keep the liquor and beer in situ. I was raised on '80s music videos, so anytime I say to my wife, “Our daughter is so responsible, and her friends are such good kids!” a part of my brain cries out YOU’RE BEING WORKED and then I picture the girl and her crew all smoking krokodil behind my back.

So far, those fears have been misplaced. I started off dadhood expecting that the '80s parent/child dynamics would still be in effect. You can’t trust your children with anything. You have to monitor what they watch, and what they listen to, and who they hang out with. Let your guard down for a second and they’ll exploit it. But if you go into the teenage years expecting it to be war, that’s what you get. If you keep an open channel with your teenager instead, the bulk of that mistrust—gasp!—ceases to exist. There was a LOT of mistrust when our daughter was 14 (no one warns you about The Terrible 14s, but hoo shit), but we got through it, mostly by being as up front with one another as possible. The girl knows that we’re still learning to let her go, which means we’re not always gonna be consistent or, at least in her eyes, fair with our limitations.

On the other side, WE know that our kid is still learning how to be an adult, which means she’s gonna test out booze, and weed, and relationships. She’s gonna fuck up those things along the way, but we’re not gonna judge her for that because we once made those exact same mistakes ourselves. All we ask is that she stay safe, and to let us know if she might not be. We're her parents. We're not fucking cops. So if she wants to open up the liquor cabinet one night and try a shot of Tito’s, we’re not gonna stop her. How else will she learn that drinking room temperature vodka straight when you’re not a seasoned drinker makes you throw up instantly?

You gotta let teens do teen shit. You shouldn’t mix up pitchers of daiquiris for them and their friends every sleepover, but you can’t keep them in a box until they fuck off to college. You’re asking for dysfunction when you try that. Finding the right balance is a pain in the ass (again, those 14-year-olds), but you can find it. A few months ago, our kid said to us, “I wanna go to this party, but the parents might not be there and there might be booze.” The fact that she told us this was a triumph in and of itself. We let her go. She had her first Twisted Tea. Perfect entry-level teen drink. She did not throw up. I was very proud.

Also, she shares her location with us on her phone. That way, we’ll always know if she runs away to Vegas without telling us. Can never be too careful, you know.


When do you think Jerry Jones last said the n-word out loud?

Yesterday. To an escort.


Watching the NFL playoffs, it occurred to me that the audiences at football stadiums get to watch musical acts, or acrobats etc., but viewers at home get stuck with a panel of talking heads, all clothed like used car salespeople, yammering nonsense and promoting gambling. Does anyone enjoy these halftime panels? If networks really want to pump ad revenue and sponsor dollars, wouldn't a cool halftime show keep the eyeballs there better than, "This league ain't what it was in my day! Cowboys gotta score more!" especially during the playoffs? Or would that just cost too much in TV sports show math?

Have you REALLY ever enjoyed it when the NFL brings in three-fifths of Aerosmith to play before the first Monday night game of the season, or any other half-assed TV concert like that? Of course not.

I saw Ludacris perform live at halftime of a playoff game a couple of weeks ago. It was very fun. Luda got paid, the whole crowd screamed BITCH when he said MOVE, yada yada. I enjoyed it, but there’s no way I would’ve bothered to watch that set on TV. The Super Bowl halftime show is the only time I ever look forward to live music interrupting my sports, and even then I end up going, “That sucked.” A regular NFL halftime is only 12 minutes long. That’s barely enough time for me to piss, walk the dog, and whip up a plate of nachos. I don’t need some other viewing obligation packed into that window. I wanna be free to ignore whatever is happening on screen, and I do.

Networks, knowing that I’d never change away from any football game for any reason, are similarly cramped for time. They have to jam in 500 ads, highlights of the first half, and the premiere of the new Mandalorian trailer. There’s no time in there for a Ludacris show. There’s only enough spare time to have Terry Bradshaw change his own colostomy bag on the air while getting Jalen Hurts’s name wrong. None of this bothers me because I never actually watch it. It’s wallpaper. Everything is wallpaper now. Unless THIS is the halftime show…



My non-sports-fan wife wanted to know what the ManningCast was all about, so we watched it for five minutes before I wanted to stick knives in my ears and eyes. That I chose to go back to Joe Buck and Troy Aikman speaks volumes. Here's my question: Since she likes the ManningCast, what other "football but not football" content could I point her to in order to foster at least an understanding, if not love, for my favorite sport?

Don’t bother looking for that kind of stuff. Your wife doesn’t have to understand or love football for your sake. Lord knows my wife doesn’t. Let her sort all that out on her own, without you pulling an NFL Women’s Summit of your own in a needless attempt to get her more into something she either A) isn’t that into, or B) is content to admire from a distance. If Mrs. Chris is like, “Now that I like the ManningCast, let’s see what those Dr. Pepper commercials with Brian Bosworth are all about,” she can go on that journey (term loosely used) without your assistance. She’s a grown adult. Otherwise, enjoy her little side gig with the Mannings for what it is.

By the way, I also can’t watch the ManningCast. This is a shame, because Peyton has a lot of interesting shit to say about both football and how teams work. But I can’t watch a game and listen to people do a three-hour podcast overlaying it. I need to be a 19-year-old Adderall fiend to take in that much shit all at once. Instead, gimme Troy Aikman leaving a million …AND…s dangling in the air, like wind chimes hanging by your door. That’s far less mentally taxing.


I’ve been watching a lot of Chopped lately, one thing I noticed is the contestants work up sweat. Is it me, or are the dripping sweat into the food they’re cooking?

I sweat into my food when I cooked it on that show. They keep the studio nice and chilly, but that’s not gonna keep you from perspiring when you’re frantically dicing pattypan squash while stirring rice with a free bare foot. It’s unavoidable, and everyone in the restaurant world understands and accepts it. You, the consumer, should go ahead and accept it as well. Cooking is work, and work is sweat.

You might think that Food Network judges would penalize the sweat, given that you’ve seen them chop contestants for touching a plate after handling raw chicken. But they don’t, because then they’d have to chop everyone. Hell, they’d have to chop everyone if they punished every BIG mistake, too. I cut myself on my episode (which made me feel like Joseph Ossai after he shoved Patrick Mahomes out of bounds), and so did ANOTHER contestant. Neither of us got eliminated. I don’t think the other contestant’s bleeding even made the final cut of that episode. I also served one of my wild boar entrées raw (to Maneet Chauhan; she noticed), but that also didn’t make it into the cut. Some things in the kitchen can’t be avoided. That’s why they ALSO didn’t show the part where I accidentally spilled pavlova cream all over my balls.


Here's a stupid question: when you are on a Zoom or (shudders) Microsoft Teams meeting, where are you looking? Are you looking at whoever is talking? Are you looking at yourself in the corner to make sure you look good? Or are you looking/talking at the camera on your computer like an ESPN correspondent? 

I hide the self view so that I never worry about that. If I look into the webcam, I usually miss anyway. I know this because Defector has me record birthday videos for Accomplices (PLUG ALERT: you can get one of these from us if you level up right here). Whenever I try looking into the camera for these videos, I fail. I know that sounds impossible, but it’s true. I replay the video and see that I’m looking UP from the camera somehow. Or I’m looking to the left for reasons I can’t explain. Maybe one day I’ll learn how to see. It would help a lot, given that I’m deaf.

With the self-view hidden on Zoom though, I don’t have to worry about any of that shit. I can stare right at my monitor, fuck around online, and not give a fuck. Very freeing. It also reminds me that no one cares how you look on Zoom as much as you do. Everyone else on a Zoom call is a two-inch box on your screen. Unless you take your dick out or your pet comes into the office for a visit, I’m not paying you any heed on that call. Stare wherever you want to stare. No one will judge you for it.


Is it just me, or are seats in sports arenas a lot tighter than they used to be? While attending a game at Little Caesars arena in Detroit back in 2018, the seats were so tight that me and my wife had to leave early because we kept getting cramps in our legs. Please tell me I'm not crazy and that there is a conspiracy by big stadium to make seats smaller in order to maximize profits! 

The seats aren’t smaller, but they are often closer together in order to improve sightlines, especially in the upper decks. Go to the 700 level of any new stadium and it’s like summiting K2 because the seats are nearly on top of one another. I went to a Wizards game ages ago with my older son and we had seats in the front of the upper deck. Normally, those are kick-ass seats, because they’re in a front row. Not the front row, but a front row. But there wasn’t enough leg room between my seat and the concrete balustrade, so I had to turn my feet to fit in while sitting down. This was not comfortable, so I ended up standing up more than any Wizards fan has ever stood up for that team. You’d have thought it was Game 7 of the Finals, I spent so much time on my feet. I apologized to the people seated behind me many, many times.

So while I respect stadium and arena designers for trying to get better views for those in the cheap seats, I know that they give no fucks at all about the big and the tall. Those seats, like all the clothing on sale at Banana Republic, are designed strictly with little tiny people in mind. It’s America’s worst discrimination problem right now.


I lived in Denver for a year and it was the worst year of my life. Everything about Denver reminds me of that shitty year. Even now, years later, I try to avoid layovers at DIA. I’m sure Denver is a magical, lovely place for a lot of people… but fuck Denver. I assume everyone has at least one place like Denver is for me. What is the place in the US the most people NEVER want to go back to? 

Like, in aggregate? Let’s say Florida. I have no proof of this. In fact, Florida’s population is currently exploding thanks to people who enjoy its climate, its tax breaks, and its lust for eradicating both civil rights education and the gay population. But I have to think that the people who have left that state—or any state that is actively working to silence, disenfranchise, and outright harm anyone who doesn’t look like the Capital One café guy—are quite pleased with their decision. Denver is fucking paradise compared to those places.

Now I really wanna know what Denver did to Mike. Had to be about a woman. You don’t skip out on whole airports unless Garett Bolles stole your girl.


In 2016, my wife and I (both approaching 50, no kids) got fed up with living in a subdivision and moved to the country. It's been absolutely great. There are empty lots on either side of us and a farm behind us, so we don't really have neighbors. Or we didn't. Someone bought one of the lots and has been building a house. It's finished now, so I expect the new people to move in any day. I happened to be outside one day and met the husband, plus did some light internet stalking. The couple is nearing retirement age and has grown kids & grandkids, but it'll just be the two of them living there. They seem fine, I guess.

The problem is, in my mind, they are just going to be awful: holding Trump rallies, letting their yippy dogs run and crap all over my yard, yelling at us for playing music outside at 8pm, etc. I don't want to hate these people before even getting to know them, and I fear that the first little thing that goes wrong will seem 100x worse due to some slights I've made up. Help me stay calm.

Stay calm. First of all, you already met the husband and liked him, which is like 99 percent of it. Second, you can’t move out of the city and not expect all that available farmland to be snatched up and built up, because that’s what America has been doing to the land for the entirety of its lifespan. Third, if you go into this steeling for a fight, you’re already putting yourself in the wrong mindset. Same as with raising a teen! You’re begging to be annoyed by everything you notice about these people, doing both yourself and them a disservice in the process. Let them give you a reason to hate them before you start battling them in your mind. If they turn out to be Nazis or some shit, you can deal with it then. Otherwise, have a glass of wine and chill out. Tell your wife about your angst and she’ll help assuage it too, probably by telling you to get over yourself.

I have to get over myself constantly. It’s a whole skill set I’ve had to learn in middle age. I have spent far too many years working myself up over arguments I either never have or end up regretting I had. Don’t do the same. You still have a lot of acreage to roam about, so use it to get out of your head a little. Distract yourself and suddenly you’ll wonder why you were so stressed out to begin with.

Email of the week!


When I was a young man, maybe 10 years old, my sister (probably six or seven) loved watching The Sound of Music. On repeat. Every day all day. I didn’t mind it, though I was more into Back to the Future. Many years later I watched The Sound of Music live televised event onNBC. About halfway through, all these Nazis showed up. And my first thought was, “When the hell did they let Nazis in The Sound of Music?” I learned two things:

1 - I’m generally good at seeing the good in things and generally bad at acknowledging the bad.

2 - Back in the day, the only way for us to watch The Sound of Music was on VHS, and it’s a long movie, so it takes two tapes to capture the whole experience. I’m not sure my sister or I ever took the time to plug in the second tape.

PS: For many years now I have developed an obnoxious habit. Whenever someone starts a sentence with “So….” I will sing back to them “a needle pulling thread!” It usually takes a couple seconds before they get the joke, and the response has never been positive. Worth it.

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