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NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 3: Out of town tourists check a subway map on April 3, 2023 in New York City. Officials in New York City expect 61 million tourists to visit in 2023, an increase of 9% over 2022 figures of 56.4 million. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

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 salsa, the jinx police, bands you should like but don’t, The Rock, and more.

Your letters:

Daniel:

My wife and I are headed to the US Open this year. As with any good vacation, we're putting a lot of thought into all the food we're going to eat. We're staying in Brooklyn, and Peter Luger is on our radar. We're kind of torn on it though, mainly out of a general skepticism of more touristy restaurants. What are your thoughts on those kinds of landmark restaurants? When you travel, do you tend to visit the old stalwarts? Or are you more the type to talk to locals and see what they recommend?

You mentioned Peter Luger, so I have to link up that viral Pete Wells takedown from four years ago. You know a definitive takedown when you’re reading it, and that’s one of them. Has that stopped me from being curious about eating at Peter Luger? No, because I like steak and because I’m morbidly curious to see if it’s as unpleasant as Wells made it out to be.

Otherwise, I have no set rules for dining out while traveling. Sometimes I want to hit up the big tourist spots, because many of those restaurants get talked up for a reason. If you’ve lived long enough, you have a pretty good instinct for which of those restaurants are legit (Katz’s Deli in New York, for example), which are overpriced tourist traps (anything in Times Square), and which fall somewhere in between (Luger, probably). Because of the foodie revolution, you can get way too far up your own ass about meal planning on the road, hellbent on eating at places that are only five stars but are also somehow hidden gems, and shunning name-brand places because you’d look like—GASP!—a tourist eating in one.

But there’s no shame in being a tourist. It’s OK to be out of place, because you are. It’s OK to eat at bullshit restaurants, especially if you forgot to make a reservation anywhere. It’s OK to take selfies with obvious landmarks. It’s OK to stare at Google Maps as you’re walking down the street, with every local passing by keenly aware that you don’t know where you’re going. People have made "tourist" into such an insult (entire thinkpieces have been constructed around the notion) that no one dares to look like one. But no matter how well-intentioned you are, you WILL look like one, regardless of where you eat, drink, sleep, and gawk. It’s unavoidable. So just eat where you feel like eating, and don’t beat yourself up over it.

Paul:

When preparing a meal for yourself and your lady (thinking only you two and not the kids), do you have a cadence you follow? I'm not sure if it's because my wife is a lefty or she usually sits to my left at the table typically but I ALWAYS prepare her plate to the left of the two I'm working on. Am I an insane person?

Sounds like you’re being considerate, which is its own form of insanity. As for me, I have not eaten a formal dinner at home with my wife in like three years. That shit doesn’t happen when you’ve been married for decades, as we have. If we ever do eat dinner on our own, it’s not because we planned it that way. It’s because the kids ditched us to hang out with their friends, so we end up just eating leftovers or takeout around the kitchen island together.

I remember my wife and I had one in-home date during the pandemic. I saw the idea in some WaPo “spice up your pandemic!”–type article and was like, Honey, let’s do it. Let’s dress up for a night out, but it’s at home! Then we ate some chicken and watched TV. We did not do the tango and then make furious love until 3 a.m., because you can only spice up a pandemic so much.

But to answer Paul as best I can, I do sometimes plate dinner when I’m cooking for the whole family, mostly to make sure that no one child takes all the goddamn food for themselves. Because they will if I leave them unsupervised. These are my children, after all. They like their food. So I have to ration out the pilaf to make sure that no one, especially me, gets fucked over.

The twist is that I do NOT prepare my wife’s dinner for her on family dinner night. This was by her request. She wants control over her plate, mostly because wants a mom portion of food. She doesn’t want her husband loading her up with a dad portion, so I leave her plate empty and then I get my food, often before she’s served herself. If she gives me The Look because I went first, I remind her that she refused my chivalry, which means I get to prioritize my food if I please. And I do. Come dinnertime, the only plate that I really care about is my own. That big piece of chicken is mine, and I’m claiming it before one of these other fuckers does. There are five people and a dog in this family. You do what you have to do to survive.

Padraic:

Do you think there is a day in the calendar year that you haven’t had sex? Or, what was the last one? February 29th seems like the trick answer.

I don’t think I’ve ever gotten laid on Christmas, although it wouldn’t have been from a lack of effort. I’m sure there are other bare spots on my sexual calendar, but there’s not gonna be any rhyme or reason to them. It’s not like I won’t fuck on 9/11 because that would dishonor our troops. I’ll take a lay any day of the week, and have. Really Padraic, you’re asking me if I’ve had a lot of sex in my lifetime. That’s your real question, and I’m too much of a gentleman to answer it.

(I'm a grown man who's been sexually active for decades. I’ve done all right; much better than 17-year-old Drew did.)

Jesse:

Are you still using MyFitnessPal to count calories? Anything you've learned since you started? I think the hardest thing for me is logging every stupid ingredient when I cook a recipe at home.

I still use an app to log calories, although I switched to a new one called LoseIt because MyFitnessPal started charging, which outraged me as an American. The one thing I learned throughout my time as a calorie counter is that I can’t ever increase my daily calorie baseline, despite the fact that I’ve lost the weight that I initially set out to lose. The nurse practitioner set me at 2,400 calories a day when I started, which turned out to cover a nice amount of food. So when I dropped a few bills, I thought that I could ratchet my allowance up to 3,000 calories a day, or somewhere within that range. Nope. That always shows up on the scale the next morning, which is true bullshit. I work out, man. I deserve an extra bacon cheeseburger on top of my 2,400. Otherwise I’ve settled into the groove and am more than happy to keep counting calories from here on out.

However, I’m no longer as exacting as I once was. I don’t scan cooking ingredients one by one anymore. If I’m making lemon chicken, I just look that dish up in the app’s database and then pick “homemade lemon chicken” out of the search results. I maintain the ethics while doing this. If I see an entry that says that one serving of lemon chicken is 100 calories, I know that’s a lie. I’ll pick a result that sounds much more realistic. Same deal when I count calories at a restaurant, too. I make an educated guesstimate, but I’m sure I’ve left some wiggle room. I’m entitled.

But still I do account for everything that goes in this mouth, save for your mom.

Adam:

A friend has long referred to me as "Mush" when it comes to gambling, a la A Bronx Tale. I tell him about an NFL bet I like and it loses? "Mush." I lose at the casino? "Mush." I told him to buy MSFT stock at $240 a year ago. It got up to $350 recently, I touted my own brilliance, and it has dropped like a rock since. "Mush." It's always annoyed me, but as you can tell by my Defector handle, I've embraced it to a degree over time. My friend was up at Saratoga Race Track on Saturday for the races and I asked him if he had any horses he liked. He replied that he had never lost a race until I texted him a pick. "Mush."

He is a huge Giants fan from the 80s, and Bill Parcells had a horse running who was undefeated and the favorite. I always play against the favorite, so I wanted to see if I could mush Parcells' horse and get a longshot home to win, while pissing my friend off at the same time. So before the race I text him, "Billy P's horse looking tough here" to no response. Race goes off. Maple Leaf Mel, Parcells' horse, is romping and is about ten feet from the finish line when he breaks at least one, if not two legs, and goes down and has to be euthanized in front of probably 30k people at the track. I didn't text my buddy again until today (Tuesday) and it was about something completely different. He texts back, "You killed Parcells' horse.”

So do you believe in someone's ability to affect the outcome of events by touting their picks, and am I indeed responsible for the death of Maple Leaf Mel? I just wanted a winner, not to kill a horse!

This shit is epidemic, especially online. Make one bad prediction—ONE—and a hundred dipshits will snitch tag the Freezing Cold Takes account or whatever and call you Johnny Mush every fucking day thereafter. The Jinx Police are out there. They never sleep, and they never shut the fuck up. This is the kind of back-and-forth that’s amusing between friends, but grows deeply annoying when it’s 50 million strangers all screaming JINX at one another. It’s hacky, tired, and beat as shit. These people’s brains are made of nothing but overused gifs.

Here’s the deal: EVERYONE is a mush. Everyone. That’s how gambling works. Unless you’re Ace Rothstein or some other Vegas sports betting God, the entire industry is set up so that everyone loses more often than they win. I lose more than I win, because that’s the system. It’s not because I am some fluky anti-god who magically curses teams because I threw down a sawbuck on them. Save for Clay Travis, no one is. You, the common bettor, have absolutely no karmic control over whether or not a team wins, or whether or not Bill Parcells’s mafia horse pulls a Barbaro at the track. All of that is make believe, and the only people who don’t think so—or enjoy pretending they believe it just to get off ancient jokes at your expense after a typical bad beat—are fucking cops.

That goes for YOU, reader. If you’re reading this and you’re like LOL Drew picked the Jets and Bucs to meet in the Super Bowl that one year Mush, kindly print out this post and then stick it up your ass.

Jordan:

Do you have any tips for aspiring bloggers for crafting good similes?

If you ask the big-time writers about this, they’ll tell you that metaphors beat similes any day of the week. So I try to limit similes where I can. But I have deadlines to honor, so sometimes I have to opt for a simile instead. Similes are good for jokes (“he looks like a jack-o-lantern on November 15th”), but also for analogous precision. Writers traffic in imagery, so the more detailed the simile, the deeper it’s gonna hit in the reader’s mind. If you keep it too general, that simile will melt away quickly, like a sugar pill on your tongue.

The way you find those details is by remaining observant. The best writers notice everything they can and then note it, because everything is connected, even if it may not seem that way. Part of this job is to make those connections, because those connections are what life is made of. So if I notice that Ron DeSantis’s bangs are just BARELY staying in place during the GOP debate, I’m gonna remember that, and then I’m gonna unconsciously add it to my mental archive of other things that are hanging on for dear life: rock climbers, a drop of condensation at the bottom of a water glass, Jimmy Carter, etc. Everything out there is like something else, which is why similes exist to begin with.

HALFTIME!

Tim:

Is Drew Henson a football guy or a baseball guy?

That’s 100 percent dependent on which sport you follow more closely. Because I only watch playoff baseball (and not a ton of it at that), I have no detailed memory of Drew Henson’s career with the Yankees. But I very much DO remember Lloyd Carr forcing Tom Brady to split time with Henson at Michigan because Henson was the more heralded recruit. And then I remember Henson signing with the Cowboys because Jerry likes shiny things. This is because I’m a football person, so everything I encounter is viewed through that prism first, and through everything else thereafter.

Michael:

Is it easier to get a laugh when giving a wedding toast or delivering a eulogy?

A eulogy, because everyone at a funeral wants a break from all the grief. You can tell the gentlest joke during a eulogy and still get a laugh out of the room because you’re giving everyone there permission to smile; to feel normal for just a moment. It’s only human.

By contrast, everyone at a wedding just wants your toast to end so that they can get back to drinking. It’s always a tougher room than the best man thinks it’s gonna be. Does that stop your buddy Larry from giving everyone his best 20-minute set anyway? Sure doesn’t.

Justin:

I'm at a Mexican restaurant. A basket of tortilla chips arrives upon my table, alongside a bowl of fresh spicy salsa. We dip the chips into the salsa. We eat. We repeat. You know how this goes. More chips are delivered, with more salsa. Shortly later, the chips are gone; yet some salsa remains. Then the meal arrives! I start eating it, it is pretty outstanding. However, it could use some salsa. I take my fork, which I have just been using to eat my meal, and I dip it into the salsa bowl, to fork some salsa onto my enchiladas or my beans or whatever. 

The question is: is that okay? Is that salsa bowl temporarily mine to do whatever the fuck I want with it? Can I... can I drink from it? I am focused on the general rules here, for a moderately nice restaurant. This question kept me awake the other night. 

Of course you can eat that leftover salsa. Pour it on your enchiladas, drink it, smear it all over your body. That shit is yours to do with as you please. No one at the table or on the restaurant’s waitstaff will give the barest fuck. I have asked servers to take the chip basket away: the “I’m afraid I’ll just eat too many!” move that all suburbanites pull. But I always ask them to leave the salsa, if they look like they’re gonna take that with the chips. I use every part of the salsa, as should you.

And who doesn’t love it when a Mexican joint offers you a FLIGHT of salsas? I remember being mesmerized when I first encountered the salsa bar at Baja Fresh, and that was Baja Fresh, man. Didn’t matter. You give me a curated tasting of salsas, or barbecue sauces, or hot sauces at any restaurant and I will be rapt. I’m definitely using them with every course, dessert included. Really wanna explore the flavor profiles going on here.

Joe:

Who do you think loses more golf balls over the course of their life: An average weekend hacker (less frequent but WAY more prone to shanking stuff), or a tour golfer (much more frequent player; way way way more accurate though).

It’s the pro, even though I hate that answer. Pros have to start out as common hacks, only they have to play a lot more than regular dopes in order to climb up the ladder. So I have to factor in all of the balls they’ve lost along the way. And then, once they turn pro, they don’t HAVE to go hunting for lost balls anymore, because they get that shit for free. I have scavenged for lost golf balls in the woods, in creek beds, and under country club dining terraces. This is because golf balls are the most expensive commodity on earth outside of saffron. No weekend golfer is ever gonna let one go if they can help it. This is where I’d like to play a quick game of Let’s Remember Some Ball Retrievers:

If you had to sum up my amateur golfing career in a single image, that’s the one.

David:

When getting an oil change, they always come out and show you the dipstick. I get the conceptual reason for doing this. It’s proof that they actually filled your tank up with oil. But I’ve never seen anyone actually look at the stick for verification purposes. It’s always just a customer going, “Uh ya. Great, thanks” Kind of like when they open a bottle of wine and make you taste it. No one’s gonna question this. No question here. But what gives.

You’re missing out on an easy opportunity to reinforce your guy cred by studying that dipstick. I totally look at it when the mechanic presents it. Is the oil clear? Does it reach the line? Does it contain hints of rose and coffee when I taste it? These are all important questions that I—a man raised on 50 million Valvoline ads as a child—want to answer for myself, so that other people come away thinking that I know how cars work. And yes, I also want proof that my $60 just paid for a tangible thing.

The best is when the mechanic gives me a little tutorial of the dipstick. “See sir, when you brought it in today, the oil had visible bacon bits in it, and only came up one millimeter on the stick. So we had to replace all of that with clean synthetic oil.” Hmmm yes good work there, Vinny. That’s precisely what I had planned to do in my garage, but I had to get my other car ready for Talladega. That’s the gearhead life for you.

(I do not know where my car’s oil pan is located.)

Kappy:

Over the past 10 years or so I've really gotten into current Americana music (Brandi Carlile, Caamp, Trampled by Turtles, Lumineers and such). Fleet Foxes and Avett Brothers fall into that genre, too. But no matter what I do, I can't get into either of them. Am I being a hipster about this, or can I just chalk this up to "nope not for me"? Do you have the same issue with any bands and music you should like but don't?

How long you got? I grew up with '80s thrash and should have the entire Anthrax back catalog memorized. I don’t. In fact, my favorite Anthrax song is one they recorded with a replacement singer John Bush, and was released after Nirvana happened. Otherwise I’ve passed on all of their canonical shit. I could hear AJ Daulerio groaning from the other side of Gchat when I told him this.

But it gets worse. Off the top of my head, here are more bands that should have my undying allegiance but don’t: Interpol, Frank Zappa, LCD Soundsystem, Modest Mouse, The Who (I fucking hate ALL of The Who’s studio work), Pink Floyd, Pantera, Judas Priest, Tool, old Aerosmith, the Velvet Underground, and R.E.M. I respect the majority of these bands, and even like a handful of their tracks. But some of them I flat out despise, with Frank Zappa and R.E.M. at the top of the list. When I hear Michael Stipe singing, I feel like I’m stuck in detention. And Zappa is even more painful. I genuinely hate that man’s music. Funny guy, awful music.

Bonus story: I’d heard of Portishead all throughout my life, and figured they were pretty cool. And then I heard “Dummy” for the first time recently and hated it so much that I had to leave the room. Worst band I’ve ever heard, and by a significant margin. No I’m not gonna read the comments on this post.

Steve:

Do we still have to call him Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson? He is one of the most successful and recognizable actors on the planet currently. We can just call him Dwayne Johnson now, right?

We can. It would be appropriate at this point in time. HOWEVER, to me he’s still The Rock and always will be. When I think about this man, I’d much rather think about his wrestling career than his acting career, because it gave me much more entertainment for my dollar. Outside of Moana, which barely counts because it isn’t live-action, I can’t remember liking a single Dwayne Johnson movie, if I can remember any of his movies at all.

That’s partially on me for being someone who’s never seen any of the Fast & Furious movies (this is not a point of pride, I swear; I genuinely want to watch the ones that everyone tells me are good). But also, when Dwayne Johnson was in the WWE, he was far more alive than he’s ever been in scripted movies. I don’t wanna watch The Rock be a boilerplate good guy in a basic-ass PG-13 action movie. I want him talking shit, cocking an eyebrow, and beating Mick Foley to death in front of Foley’s own family. Now THAT’S acting. That’s what that man was put on this earth to do.

Ryan:

If you have a carryout container from a restaurant with sauce left in it after eating the food, do you rinse it before throwing it away? It is worth noting our trash can is in our garage not outside.

I rinse it (unless my wife isn’t looking) and then I recycle it. You’re welcome for me saving your grandchildren from the ravages of climate change. I alone am this planet’s last line of defense.

Email of the week!

Chris:

Let's say y'all write another article about Aaron Rodgers and the piece goes viral, to the extent that it reaches his attention. In response, he goes into full "DEBATE ME, BRO" mode and challenges you to what would almost certainly be an incredibly frustrating podcast "debate." Would you take him up on that challenge and invite him on The Distraction, ruining Roth's day in the process? Or do you just tell him to fuck off?

I’d have no choice but to say yes. It’s Aaron Rodgers, man. I have to walk through that door if he opens it. Then we’d get on Zoom together and he would absolutely ruin my shit. You’d never wanna speak to me again after it.

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