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Funbag

I Hope I Get Old Before I Die

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Time for your weekly edition of the Defector Funbag. Got something on your mind? Email the Funbag. And preorder Drew’s next book, The Night The Lights Went Out, while you’re at it. Today, we’re talking about free agent lineman busts, homemade pasta, numbers as letters, and more.

Before I get to into the bag and start talking about poop again, I just wanna tell you that the pub date for The Night The Lights Went Out got pushed back one week, to Oct. 12. HOWEVAH, our little private Twitch party for anyone who pre-orders the book is still very much on schedule. Join me next Monday (Sept. 20) for a SECRET Monday Night Football extravaganza, featuring me saying nasty shit about the Packers and Lions and answering all of your questions in real time. Not just anyone gets to attend this shit. You have to pre-order the book and then fill out this form to get your invite. And then we get to leave all the commoners behind.

That is all. And now … your letters:

Phil:

Will kids today have the same kind of cool stories growing up with boomer grandpas? Hard to imagine that they’ll have the same level of interesting stories to tell. Or is it that old people just don’t give a shit and that will make an impression on kids no matter what?

No interesting stories to tell? Did my generation not just live through 9/11, a pandemic, a 20-year war, a DIFFERENT 20-year war, Barack Obama winning the presidency followed immediately by Donald Trump, the advent of gay marriage, a second civil rights movement, legalized weed, and a blizzard caving in the Metrodome? Do those not count as interesting stories to tell? Trump accused a sitting Senator of offering to blow him and that story only lasted a DAY. I’ll have some shit to tell my grandkids, believe you me. All of that goes into the file. If boomers can milk World War II bone-dry, you better believe my people will do likewise with the shit we’ve been handed. We’ve lived through some extremely relevant times.

The thing I’m slowly learning is that I know this relevance so innately that there’ll come a time when I shouldn’t have to state that relevance for my descendants to believe it. Everyone online is desperate to be relevant right now, myself included. To MATTER. Eventually though, you can grow confident enough to let that relevance speak for itself, rather than constantly pointing it out to strangers.

I’m growing older in many predictable, superficial ways: I’m hard of hearing, I like to nap (on the couch, preferably with the dog nearby), I don’t think “Drivers License” is a very good song, I hate QR code menus, etc. You’ve probably witnessed me grapple with these changes, not always gracefully, in this very column. But aging goes much deeper than that, and I’m starting to show some of those more meaningful effects.

For example: I don’t have as much to say as I used to. I still yap way too much, of course. But after I do, I walk away realizing that I could’ve kept my trap shut and it wouldn’t have made a difference. When my wife looked at the proofs of the brain book, her biggest note was, “Um, don’t take this the wrong way, but there’s a lot of you in here.” Now that sounds funny given that the book is very much about me. But she was correct. I had a lot of superfluous, piddly-shit details about myself in there that couldn’t have been of any interest to anyone else. So I de-me’ed the book by 10 percent or so. There’s no need to answer EVERY question people might have about you, especially ones they never intended to ask. The best old people keep quiet all day long and then, when they finally say something, it’s either A) cool as shit or B) hilariously trivial. I’d like to spend an entire day saying nothing and then finally go, “Hey, we’re outta fucking eggs” at 10 p.m. That’s the dream. I wanna edit myself down to the basics and then recede into the background. I look forward to the quiet.

I’m also indulging in my peculiarities more often, without much care as to whether or not everyone around me thinks I’m a freakshow for having them. I wear a thin hoodie everywhere, even in deep heat. I’ve taken to buffing my fingernails every day like an old Italian man, as a way of unwinding after a stressful day on the job. I eat jam straight out of the jar as a regular treat. Apple butter, too. When I was a kid, my grandpa (mom’s side) drank straight buttermilk every day, which I thought was both strange and disgusting. But during the summer, my own father turned me onto Clamato on the rocks and I’m banking on that becoming the thing about me that freaks out my own kids and grandkids. You get older and you have a much better sense of what you really like (and what you don’t), and you stop worrying about how those tastes will affect your reputation. It’s a nice progression.

I am also rarely surprised by anything anymore. I am, roughly, the 70 billionth person to ever live to be surprised by my own aging process. I have wrinkles forming on my ears and forehead now. I’ve gotten by on baby fat for so long that I figured I’d always be wrinkleproof. Turns out I am not. I went to my high school reunion in 2019 expecting everyone to look exactly the way they did in 1994, only to walk into a room of standard issue moms and dads. I somehow didn’t foresee all of that.

The rest I’ve now seen, and it barely fazes me. Right now Twitter is essentially a depression contest, with everyone screaming that civilization is in decline and seeing who can declare themselves the most run down by it. Those lamentations get old, and every generation before me has indulged in them. None of it is new. Evil is here. Evil has been here. Evil will be here. You fight it, and you protest it, but you can’t be my age and think it’s a brand new invention. You’ll only despair further if you do.

So bad news doesn’t shock me anymore. It doesn’t make me HAPPY, and I’m always gonna support and fund the younger people and candidates working to end it (rather than join the Substack hordes who make a mint off of complaining that everyone but them is soft). But it doesn’t throw me off-kilter, because I still have my own life to live and my own people to take care of. Whatever happens next, I’ll still get to be me regardless: a bit player in the goings-on of a hilariously larger and more powerful universe. Anthony Hopkins knows what’s up:

“You know, being significant, all that stuff. It’s okay. You play the game of life upon life itself. But there’s finally nothing to win, nothing to prove, nothing to win, nothing to lose, no sweat, no big deal. And that’s my philosophy. Ask nothing, expect nothing and accept everything. That’s it.”

There you have it. Understanding your own insignificance is what gives you the freedom to do what you like AND to absolutely not give a shit about every other pud, for better and for worse. That’s when you stop wishing you were young again.

This is not a universal epiphany—especially in a world where relevance is a dominant currency—but it’s not exactly a rare one either. One day you’ll have it, and then all the teens will roll their eyes at you the same way you used to roll your eyes at your elders. And then you’ll take a nap with the dog and forget about all of it.

Peter:

I’ve seen you mention a few times you make homemade pasta from time to time. Any tips? My first try at tagliatelle was….not good. First lesson learned: build a deeper and more structurally sound volcano for the eggs. It didn’t really progress well beyond that, so I’m wondering other things I should look out for when I try it again.

I had good luck making pasta because I followed a recipe from my wife’s college friend, Carmella. Here’s Carmella’s book for pasta-making novices, and I’ve posted the bedrock pasta recipe for it below. I use eggs for the pasta. I don’t get too worried about volcano integrity when I do.

I learned two big things while making pasta. The first thing was that you can never have enough extra flour on hand. You need to keep the dough workable, which means keeping the counter continually floured so that your shit never gets sticky. The second thing is that, as Carmella told my wife and me, it pays to have a pasta crank. The one we have is a Marcato, which retails for less than $100 and spares you the tedious bullshit of having to roll out the dough by hand 500 times over. One side of the machine makes flat sheets, the other side cuts it into thin strands. I have yet to work up the courage to use the strand cutter. I just roll out the sheets and then cut them by hand using a pizza cutter. The noodles aren’t uniform but that just adds to the handmade ambience of the proceedings.

You might take all this advice and still fuck up your homemade pasta a second time around. But that shouldn’t discourage you from keeping at it. Only kids expect to nail everything right the first time. You don’t have to have such high expectations of your own forays into becoming a pasta master. Keep making it, and then keep finishing it in fancy sauces (never just pour the sauce on top like a school lunchlady). You’ll hit paydirt eventually.

Jerry:

My girlfriend and I were walking through a parking lot and saw a car decorated to celebrate that student’s senior year of high school, with “2enior2” written on the back window in huge bubble letters. My girlfriend looked at me and said “NOT EVERY NUMBER CAN BE A LETTER”, and I have to say, I agree. I can see an I can become a 1, an E can be 3, and maybe even an I can be a 7! But a 2 as an S seems like a bridge too far to me. What numbers can be substituted for letters and where do you draw the line? 

When it comes to high school graduates and swim teams decorating their cars, I’ll allow anything. They’re teens. They’re free to be enthusiastic little puppies who routinely botch alphanumerics. It’s when MLB or some other asshole league issues matching CHA2021NG GLORY t-shirts for every playoff team when my eyes go rolling into the back of my skull. If any brand out there is listening, and I know you are because I get your PR spam all the goddamn time, here is what I consider acceptable swaps:

1: I, L

2: Cursive Q

3: E

4: The word or word fragment “for”

5: S

6: Nothing. Maybe a lowercase b if I’m feeling generous

7: Nothing

8: Capital B, any word fragment that sounds like “ate”

9: If you try to make this a P I’ll cut you good

0: O

That’s the list. Anything past that and you’re just handing me a shitty vanity plate.

Mike:

Why is it that every time an O-lineman gets a big deal in free agency, they almost always turn into a scrub on their new team? Is it harder to bounce back from injuries as an O-lineman? Teams are desperate for left tackles? Do rookies take longer to develop as starters so teams will overpay for vets? It just seems like with other positions, when you sign a free agent you get more or less a known quantity. With O-linemen, it’s more likely than not he’ll finish the season ranked 84th at his position and will be off the team the next year. This is a thing, right? I’m not completely talking out of my ass here, am I?

Let’s do some very basic research to see if you aren’t. Most teams elect to keep those guys in-house with fat extensions, because that’s just smart business. Otherwise, it’s actually pretty rare for a big-name O-linemen to switch teams. Let’s check out a few who did:

RODGER SAFFOLD: Signed with the Titans in 2019 after playing for the Rams. Has not had his PFF rating drop below 70 since then.

ANDREW NORWELL: Signed with the Jags in 2018 after playing for the Panthers. Is still a good pass blocker but has had his run blocking steadily deteriorate.

NATE SOLDER: Left the Pats in 2018 to sign with the Giants. Had one good year with New York, then one shitty year, and then opted out of 2020.

TRENT WILLIAMS: Held out all of 2019 after the WFT did all kinds of WFT shit to him. Went to the Niners in 2020 and finished the year as the No. 1 rated tackle in the entire sport.

KEVIN ZEITLER: Signed a fat deal with the Browns in 2017 after starting his career with the Bengals. Has stayed good pretty much all the way since, even after being traded to the Giants and then signing with the Ravens.

I wanted to believe Mike’s thesis, but even this half-assed bit of data collection shows that good linemen tend to stay good. Not that my goddamn team would know that. No no no, they have to keep trotting fucking Garrett Bradbury out there to get his shit ruined on every third down. I WANT MY MONEY BACK.

HALFTIME!

Joe:

Forget the vaccine debate for a minute. Let’s say God announced that He would usher in eternal peace and happiness for everyone on earth if, on a specified day and time, everyone on earth was quiet for 30 seconds. What percentage of Americans would scream as loud as they could?

Half, and that’s an underestimate. There are so many candidates out there to defy the divine order: fake Evangelicals, God announcement truthers, teens, babies, boilerplate Gervais-style atheists, anyone off the grid, loud neighbors (like Fran), MMA fighters, and on and on. There’s nothing simple that this country can’t make needlessly complicated. Half this country refused to wear masks during the pandemic because they felt it was un-American to hide their faces. That it would be giving into the terrorists or something. That was a pretty good test run for what would happen if the Lord himself asked the US to shut the fuck up for half a minute. Excuse me God, but who are YOU to deny our freedom of speech? IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT LOUD THERE’S THE DOOR, JEHOVAH!

PJ:

Do you think Tiger Woods will ever sit down for a “Last Dance”-type documentary? One where he could really dive into some shit?

He’ll sit down for one of those, but there’s a catch. The Last Dance was a big-ass hit essentially because there was nothing else on TV at the time, and now every media outlet wants to replicate it and every athlete’s production company wants to offer one. So you’ll get a Tiger-fied Last Dance produced by Mark Steinberg, written by Mark Steinberg, and directed by Mark Steinberg. It’ll be twice as long as the Jordan documentary and one percent as interesting, because Tiger himself is not a very interesting person. And the big “reveal” of the documentary will be Tiger soberly confessing to the camera that he wasn’t sure if he could REALLY beat Rocco Mediate in that U.S. Open playoff. That’ll be all you get.

To Tiger, such an admission would represent genuine soul-baring, because he’s never admitted anything else except for the occasional bad day on the greens. Athletes now have such carefully managed brands that they can deliberately plot out some deviation from it and have that be presented as valuable candor. That, itself, is also part of the brand. Tom Vs. Time, etc. So you’re not getting anything useful from the bulk of these docs. They’re advertorials, they’re not terribly subtle about it, and they’re part of a greater culture where nothing and no one is ever allowed to be spontaneous. If Tiger ever gave a truly fantastic interview, it would be because he relapsed.

William:

You hate mayonnaise. What’s your take on using it for marinade/grilling?

I don’t care about mayo being used like that when it all cooks off anyway. I’ve had mayo people try to catch me with this sort of question before. BRO WHAT IF I TOLD YOU THAT THE PORTILLO’S CHOCOLATE CAKE IS MADE WITH MAYO BRO? I don’t eat raw flour but I’ll eat cake made from it, you know what I mean? All I taste is the finished product, not the mayonnaise itself. But put that shit on my sandwich and I will fucking kill you. And your children.

Jordan:

What are the ethics of changing your rooting interest if you have never lived in the city of that team?

You can’t. You must live with the consequences of your actions, even if they’re actions you took when you were 9 years old. TOUGH TITTY!

Ian:

If you showed someone from the 50’s or 60’s, a decade far enough back but still recent enough to have TV be commonplace, a clip from Endgame or even something with great effects that holds up like Jurassic Park, would they think it was real? We don’t know if maybe there is some part of your brain that instinctually knows something is fake. Even if it’s past the uncanny valley, would it still set that alarm off?

They would never think it’s real. Just because they’re from the past doesn’t mean they’re fucking imbeciles. Movie magic has existed since King Kong was made in 1933. You know what you’re looking at is a movie, and therefore you already know that the images up on the screen have been cannily manipulated. George McFly or whoever would be blown away by the effects of a 2021 blockbuster, but he wouldn’t lose object permanence and suddenly think the effects were REAL. There are too many other “it’s a movie!” cues—swelling music, costumes, great hair and makeup, clearly scripted dialogue—for anyone of any era to think the special effects are anything other than special effects.

Also, those effects aren’t THAT good. Our hypothetical ’50s audience member would wear out on CGI bullshit about as quickly as you and I have. You know when it’s real. Lemme take you back to 2016 and the shooting of The Revenant. Maybe you hated The Revenant. I don’t give a shit. All I know is that it looks better than nearly any other movie, and that’s because director Alejandro Iñárritu steadfastly refused to fake anything:

Some crewmembers believe a lot of misery could have been avoided — and money saved — if at least some parts of the movie had been conceived with computer-generated effects. “That’s exactly what I didn’t want,” counters Iñárritu. “If we ended up in greenscreen with coffee and everybody having a good time, everybody will be happy, but most likely the film would be a piece of shit.” 

Iñárritu was right, and the film he got as a result was better than any synthetic footage that could have replaced it. You can’t do better than real footage. The reason Fury Road is one of the greatest movies of all time is because the stunts were all real. The reason Nomadland won Best Picture was because all of its exteriors were actual exteriors. If studios had their way, they’d never shoot on location ever again, and every stunt would be staged via trackpad. AND HOW COME NO ONE FUCKS IN THE PICTURES ANYMORE?! I demand realer shit! I am a Dogma 69 guy now.

Kevin:

What’s your take on pre-programmed buttons for specific foods on microwaves and toasters? Everyone knows the popcorn button on their microwave is bullshit but I find the “bagel” toaster setting actually does a superior job of toasting my bagel vs. the conventional setting. Does anyone actually use the “Beverage” or “Meat” button on their microwave? How do they even work? Do people seriously put like a raw steak in their microwave and push the “Meat” button and expect it to come out perfectly prepared? Help me understand, Chopped champion!

My toaster oven has eight different cooking options on it, including COOKIES, which I have never used. I use BAKE and TOAST and that’s it. My microwave has 15 settings on it including SNACKS (juh?), and I only use three of them: SENSOR REHEAT, POPCORN (ours actually does a capable job of it), and SOFTEN, which offers options for softening chocolate and cream cheese but NOT butter, which makes no goddamn sense to me. Really, the only button on any microwave worth a shit is +30 button. It’s the LAST CHANNEL button of microwaves.

Al these superfluous buttons are there for the sales floor. I have a SLOW COOK button on my oven. Have I ever used it? No. Would I go “Honey! Did you see this oven can slow cook shit?” if I were checking it out on the floor of Best Buy? Yes. That’s how they gitcha.

Email of the week!

Brett:

I’m from central Pennsylvania. My parents live just outside of Hershey, and I go home every third weekend in October when the leaves are at their most beautiful. My closest friend still lives there and when I go home, we watch the Philadelphia Eagles, we talk about the Philadelphia Eagles, and we smoke meats and cigarettes. Every time I go home, we eat out once so that I can get what I truly believe are the two delicacies of our home: Stromboli that has mustard in its innards along with marinara, and truly fantastic wings. A dry rub BBQ wing with a side dipping sauce of mango habanero is a great way to marry flavors and decide how much hell you want in each bite. It’s glorious, it’s sometimes masochistic, and it’s my home.

As a guy who served on the Afghan-Pakistani border in 2003-2004, over the last three weeks I’ve been contacted by a lot of people. People I’ve not talked to in decades. People I talk to most every day. They ask me, “How are you doing? I’m thinking of you,” and, “With everything that is going on I want to let you know that I’m here to talk if you want to.” These messages feel like unsportsmanlike conduct penalties that have been waived off. At the same time, on every social media channel I see numbers telling me to call them if I’m suicidal. I’m barely suicidal and I hope these messages reach the veterans who are actually so. But man, do they feel to me like a suggestion and not an answer. There has to be a better, more nuanced message for us. It’s not ‘ghost pepper’ or ‘mild’. It’s not suicide wings or life. We must, as a society, bring better messages to those who served that are not so stark.

This end of the war has been a singular moment in my life. I have not done well over the past few weeks. Initially I described this as a nightmare 18 years deferred. If you’ve ever done cocaine—really done a night full of cocaine—you know how it feels to defer the dawn until the dawn is literally shining through your window. For me, what has happened in Afghanistan these past weeks is Sunday Morning Coming Down. It’s a Come to Jesus moment for a kid who just trusted that his time in the military would pan out. I came from a conservative household that followed the gentle fist of Ronald Reagan. My sister served. I served. We killed, either directly or indirectly. Some of our friends died, all directly. And some of our friends lived: maimed, injured, ill, distraught. 

Through these moments there’s been one central theme that has coalesced in my gut and I’d like to share it with you: You are to blame. We fucking went out there and did what we could and tried our fucking hardest every single day. When you join the military, you buy into the government. And in a glorious Democracy such as ours, YOU are the government. You never did jack shit to ensure we were being used correctly, used judiciously, and called back when we should have been long ago. If you feel horror right now, good. But you should have felt that horror long ago. Twenty years. Twenty years. You let this go for twenty years and thousands of soldiers died. And tens of thousands are fucking shells of who they were before. If you really, really, give a fuck, do better next time. We lost this one. I hope we can do better for the next generation of servicemembers.

As you think about the end of the war, please know that the only way this ever gets better is if we all realize what we’ve done as a society. And so I come back to those mango habanero wings. The entire time I served over there they were all I wanted. All I wanted was to come back and know that taste again and simply survive. But the longer I’ve been back, all I want is for more mouths to fucking burn and feel the pain. Not insane pain, but enough pain to appreciate the flavor and make a measured decision about what you want in terms of what you send your countrymen and women to do overseas. It’s not simple, but if you can handle the complexity of a dry BBQ rub with a side dipping sauce, I think you can handle some nuanced thought about who we elect and what they believe in.

Okay now I’m fazed.