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One Last Halloween In The Candy Trenches

Children Dressed For Halloween
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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 book, The Night The Lights Went Out, while you’re at it. Today, we're talking about quitting things, Kirk Herbstreit, $99 hamburgers, and more.

Your letters:


Would you go out all dressed up for Halloween for trick or treating if you could get away with it? 

Who says I couldn’t? Would YOU refuse a grown man in a gorilla outfit knocking at your door, asking for a fun-sized Kit Kat? You would not. You’d be like, That guy has something going on with him and I’d probably be rude to point it out. Then you’d give me my candy and alert the police. I win.

But I don’t do that. I’d never do that, because candy is bad for my figure, and because I’m super lazy when it comes to Halloween. I have a ton of respect for 20-somethings who go to Michael’s and then bust out the craft bin and cook up extremely clever homemade costumes, but I’ll never summon that kind of motivation again. It’s too much work and the resulting costume becomes uncomfortable after five minutes of wear. I am strictly a lazy dad who takes his dad tax when the kids walk through the door and then goes back to watching TV.

I’m bound to only get lazier from here, because last night was the last year I escort any of my kids out trick-or-treating. My youngest is in fifth grade and moves onto middle school next fall. He’s the last one going door to door. The other two don’t give a shit, or would rather go out with friends on Halloween. So this was my last year roaming the hood with one of my kids as they ping-ponged from door to door, grabbing an impolite number of Laffy Taffys.

I could go full Sportswriter Dad and posit this as bittersweet. Cue the Harry Chapin, etc. But I’ve been doing Halloween as a dad for 16 years now. I’ve eaten my fair share of candy and snapped my fair share of costume photos for posterity. Also, it rained last night and I was happy to get back inside once the candy circuit was over. I’m done and have no regrets. This is as natural an ending as you get in parenting. Like I said a few weeks ago, you get lot of lasts as your kid grows older, but that just means you’ve evolved to a newer and more comfortable place with both your kids and yourself. I’m ready for the changes. My wife is ready. My kids are definitely ready. This last Halloween paves the way for me and my wife to become an old, licentious couple who goes on their own Halloween party circuit with other liberated parents in the coming decades. Maybe I’ll wear a costume for THAT, but I sure as shit ain’t making one. I’mma buy my Winston Wolf costume right off the rack and then get high as balls.


Kirk Herbstreit talks SO much on TNF but I don’t hate him. Am I losing it?

You’re not losing it. I have a long-standing issue with talented studio guys crossing over to the booth, mostly because they do a lousy job of it: Chris Berman, Mike Tirico, Bob Costas, Steve Levy, Chris Meyers, Greg Gumbel, etc. These are different skill sets that appear to lend themselves to each other, but that’s rarely the case, if ever. I even get upset hearing Chris Fowler do play-by-play because Chris Fowler is the greatest studio guy of my lifetime and I want to see him behind a desk and not hear him presiding over a hyped-up Saturday night game that turns out to be ass.

Which brings us to Herbstreit, who teamed up with Fowler and Lee Corso for what was the greatest studio show in sports TV history (if you want to cite the Barkley incarnation of Inside The NBA as the best, I won’t argue with you). I loved College GameDay. Watched it religiously. So, to this day, I’m still immensely fond of the three guys that hosted it. It’s hard to retrofit that fondness into a shitty Thursday night game, with Herbstreit in the booth next to Al Michaels instead sitting next to Lee Corso outside of Jordan-Hare, and Amazon undergirding the entire broadcast with the cheapest production values outside of your local public access station.

But Herbstreit’s voice soothes me, and he actually DOES know some shit about the NFL game he’s presiding over, which is hard to fathom given his work schedule. He probably talks too much, but so does every other color guy. I’m used to it. Bad color guys are my comfort food, and tolerable color guys are nearly family to me. I say that knowing that Herbstreit has takes that make me want to burn an American flag, but whose family DOESN’T have such takemongers in it?

The more alarming development is that I may become, if I haven’t already, an old dude who forgives his fellow old dude broadcasters for anything, even well after they slip off. The reason Chris Berman still gets to do the world’s most unnecessary highlight package every Monday night is because old people love Chris Berman. Even though I grew up watching Berman on NFL Primetime, and LIKING him, I was still young enough to turn against him when the time was appropriate. I may not have that in me anymore. I don’t care that Corso is way too old and infirm to be doing television anymore. I don’t care that Troy Aikman talks like he’s got marbles in his mouth all game long. I still think Terry Bradshaw is fucking awful, but I’ve NEVER liked Terry Bradshaw, so I get a pass there. Thirty years from now, I’ll be gumming applesauce in a nursing home watching Wednesday Night Football on Freevee and telling all of my shuffleboard pals, “There’s my man Herbie! He always knows the deal!” Can’t wait.


Thanks to the NFL’s quest to absorb the entire week with games, there are now multiple opportunities for everyone’s favorite team to take an L (Thursday nights, Saturdays in December, Sunday mornings overseas, Sunday afternoons, Sunday evenings, Sunday nights, Monday nights) How would you rank the pain of watching your team lose in each of the respective time slots from least to most painful?

I would have told you Sunday night a year ago when Michaels was still the voice of that broadcast, but I can’t. And I can’t tell you Thursday night either, even with Michaels in the fold, because the TNF schedule is engineered to displease everyone, even its participants.

So my answer is Monday night, especially now that ESPN has actual broadcasters in place for it. My team is 6-1, but that 1 came on a Monday night with everyone watching and I wanted crawl into a fucking hole by the end of the first half. Nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide. No games earlier in the day to distract people’s thoughts. Even though, via a scheduling quirk, there were concurrent Monday night games that particular week, the other one was a Titans-Bills game that, like my team’s game, was never competitive in the slightest. It’s acceptable to lose a barnburner showcase game, but to get run out of the building in front of all of America? Fucking kill me. I’d much rather lose during the 1:00 p.m. slate, because at least I’ve got seven more hours of neutral interest football coming to ease the sting.

In other news, the Packers are 3-5 and can suck my dick.


Next month's World Cup is my first since becoming an actual soccer fan over the last couple years, but I'm definitely conflicted. I know this is pretty much the biggest tournament in the world, and Team USA has a chance to make some noise this time, but I'm not sure I possess enough cognitive dissonance to ignore the massive reported human rights abuses in Qatar that made the tournament possible. How are you approaching this as a professional sports guy?

I’ll watch it, same as I watch every other World Cup that came before it. I’m not gonna glaze over the litany of ecological and human rights abuses that went into making this particular World Cup, but it’s not gonna compel me to stage some kind of impotent, one-man fan boycott. Those do nothing except deprive me of good television, and I’ve overlooked similar offenses that have gone into previous World Cups, the Olympics, the NFL, and all college sports. They’re the price of doing business, and if you’ve watched ANY sports over your lifetime, you’re as guilty of abetting the FIFAs of the world as I’ve been.

Being a sports fan of any kind is an exercise in cognitive dissonance, where I tweet “Oh that’s scary!” when Tua Tagovailoa goes into the fencing pose and then barely bat an eyelash when he’s back starting a month later. It’s just how it is, and clearly my interests are more in the sausage than how the sausage was made. No sense in pretending otherwise. So if I end up disgusted by this year’s World Cup, I can guarantee you it won’t be because Qatar imported de facto slaves to build its stadiums and then let them die, but because the schedule is annoying, the format is all mutated, and player attrition is already sky high. That is to say: I’m only mad at sports when the product is bad. If the product is good, Gianni Infantino can brain your grandma to death with a soccer ball and I’d still tune in like a fucking sheep.


Would you eat this ridiculous $99 gold-wrapped burger

Well let’s have a look at this bad boy.

There's gold in them thar beef
Image via Hotel West & Main

The copy in that linked article reads, “The Fireman Burger ($99) at Hook & Ladder Sky Bar & Kitchen features a Wagyu patty wrapped in gold, butter-poached lobster tail, arugula, onion rings, truffle aioli, Super Sharp three-year aged Cheddar bechamel sauce, and fresh shaved truffle.” Would I eat this? Yes. I’d ask them to hold the aioli, of course. And the béchamel, because I find béchamel overrated. But otherwise? Fuck yeah, I eat the gold lobster burger. I wouldn’t PAY for it, but Jeff didn’t ask me to. If it’s on his tab, I wouldn’t hesitate for a split second.

There are tons of novelty-priced, luxury menu items out there, and there have been ever since Daniel Boulud introduced the DB Bistro royale double truffle burger for $120 15 years ago. None of these foods ever live up to their respective price tags, and you’d be a fool to expect them to, but that doesn’t mean they’re all BAD. I could go the full commie and be like EWWW THAT BURGER LOOKS SO GROSS JUST LIKE CAPITALISM ITSELF EWWW, but fuck that. It’s got beef, and fried onions, truffles, and a fucking lobster tail. All of those things taste good, and the gold leaf adorning the burger tastes like nothing. So it’s an easy call. The logistics of eating a burger that’s taller than Yao Ming is where things get a little less easy, but I’m willing.


To you, what movie defines Gen X? I think for me two that stand out at Reality Bites and Empire Records

I have never seen Empire Records and almost certainly never will. That’s not out of principle or anything; it just looks like an extremely average movie. However I did see Reality Bites when it came out and was cited—at the time!—as the defining Gen X movie, and I fucking hated it. I never want to see it again. I don’t even like seeing the title of that movie anywhere.

Fortunately for me, the answer to Dustin’s question is neither of those movies. It’s Pulp Fiction.



What is the best kids sport to watch as a parent? I’m going to qualify this by saying age 10 and under. As a biased hockey parent (and now coach) watching full ice games with offsides, icing, and penalties, I’m going to nominate hockey.

Oh man, 10 and under? Any sport for kids that young is one I’ll judge almost exclusively by the length of the contest. Like swim meets. FUCK swim meets. Any kind of meet is death for parents. All parents know this innately. I need a game, and I need that game to have a clock. No exceptions. I may have three kids, but only one of them still plays team sports, so my personal experience here is limited to soccer, gymnastics, flag football, basketball, wrestling, swimming, and diving. Of that group, soccer wins hands down. Youth soccer games are short, they feature WAY more scoring than professional soccer (and I like pro soccer, to be clear), and you get to chill out on a nice field instead of inside a sweltering gym/indoor pool/dojo.

Also, my oldest son has been playing soccer since he was three. It’s all he cares about. He doesn‘t give a shit about other sports, or movies, or TV shows, or anything else. When I catch him on his phone after his allotted screen time is over, he’s watching soccer highlights. He wants to be a pro one day, and I have no interest in killing that dream, 80s movie parent-style. He’s gotten better every single year he’s been on the pitch, and the games he’s played in have grown accordingly more competitive as he’s grown older and more serious about the sport. I used to just watch his soccer games to watch HIM. Whenever he got a blow and sat on the bench for a few minutes, I’d take that as permission to whip out my phone and dick around. I don’t do that nearly as much as I used to, because the games themselves are well-played and often incredibly tense. I don’t scream at these games or get into fistfights with the refs (a lot of youth leagues crack down hard on that kind of shit now), but when these games are tied late, or just a goal separates the two sides? I’m invested. I’ll never include the play-by-play of these games in the mandatory “Ten Things I Think I Think” section of this column, but I love watching them and have basically ever since the boy turned nine or 10.

So my answer is soccer. I love soccer in all forms now. The USMNT still won’t win fuck all, but I don’t need them to.


Had you been given the choice, what would you have eaten on the last day you had your full sense of taste? 

For those of you who don’t know, I suffer from a tasting disorder as the result of a brain hemorrhage and subsequent cochlear implant surgery. I also can’t smell. So certain things no longer taste the same to me as they once did, particularly smoked foods and ice cream.

The good news is that I acquired this disorder three-plus years ago, and in the ensuing time my brain has adjusted to those losses, growing around and over them, like nature reclaiming cityscapes after mankind has been wiped off the face of the Earth. So I’m back to eating ice cream, smoked foods, and even cereal, which I lost for a rough patch. In the case of cereal, I was able to get back in thanks to swapping out regular milk for oat milk. In all other cases, I’ve learned to taste lost foods as they are now, instead of constantly comparing them to how they used to taste. My damaged palate has reimagined itself into something newer and more complete, which is a miracle of both biology and inner thought. That’s what disabled folks can do; they can adjust to their new selves until it feels natural. The only person you could be. And what used to feel normal ends up long forgotten. I enjoy food as it is now, and am much happier for it.

But if I’m being 100 percent honest, the taste of a good steak is still elusive to me. It’s for the best that I eat less meat, but my mind doesn’t quite see it that way. If I had known this affliction was coming my way all those years ago, I would’ve made myself an entire prime rib and eaten only the fat. And then I’d order a paint bucket-sized DQ Blizzard for dessert.


You admitted to once being a fellow nailbiter, and I’m trying to kick the habit myself. Clear nail polish and emery boards have helped, and my nails are longer than they’ve been in half a century. But I seem to have the self control of a banana slug. I still can’t resist picking at them, or putting my fingers in my mouth. What else can I try?

I stopped when I asked my therapist about it she said, “Why don’t you just try stopping?” And then I did. I’m making it sound like I was cured by the therapeutic equivalent of a jokey quote tweet. I’m making it sound way too easy. But there’s a background to that magical moment that’s much more extensive: I had been in therapy for over a YEAR before I even broached the subject of biting my nails, and I’d become a veteran of quitting things both during that process and well beforehand. I’d quit drinking. I’d quit my last job, of course. I’d successfully lost weight twice over by quitting certain foods, most notably a run of 14 years where I didn’t eat beef or pork. So I was ready to quit biting my nails because I had addressed the underlying neuroses that had led to me biting them in the first place, and because I instinctively knew how to quit things.

For the latter, my central tenet is “one day at time.” That phrase often caroms between being a hoary cliché and an empty mantra, so it’s easy to forget the practical applications of it. It breaks down the task in front of me. If I say to myself, “Oh man I can’t drink for the rest of my life! That’s at least, like, 100 more days,” then the effort feels too daunting to overcome. But if I set goal of not drinking TODAY, and today only, suddenly that’s a lot more manageable. Then I get to the next day, set the same goal, and repeat the process. It starts out rough; the mind inevitably strays to what it knows is missing. But as one day comes after the other, the brain adjusts and adapts the abstinence as more normal. I’m not naïve enough to believe that this is the case for everyone. Some hardcore alcoholics have to work VERY hard to stay clean, even years after they’ve quit. But even for those people, keeping their goals limited to what they can accomplish in a single day is a more helpful approach than looking upon sobriety as a mountain they have to eat all in one sitting.


A couple of weeks ago you answered a question from reader and Defector subscriber Ben, which asked: how do you watch football? What should you be looking for? Now, with the hockey season upon us, and some of us actively expanding sports watching beyond football, can you please pose this same question, but in hockey form to Lauren

I can and did. Here’s Lauren Theisen with a primer on how to watch olde time hukky:

Watching hockey can be a more passive, reflective experience than most other sports. You're never going to be able to closely track a three-inch puck traveling at 90 mph as well as you would a 30-yard pass downfield. You can watch very closely and try and keep up as best you can, but I love letting the game wash over me instead. Let the sound of the skates, the poetry of the announcers (when they're good) and the "oooh"s of the crowd fill up your mind, and don't worry about trying to anticipate when the goal's going to come. If done right, you can get absorbed in the smooth beauty of the skating and the game's unparalleled soundtrack, and maybe even forget that the point of the game is to score.

If you don't necessarily feel like watching hockey the way a college sophomore looks at a lava lamp, there are more analytical ways to approach it as well. It's harder when you're at the mercy of TV cameras, but in person it can be revealing to keep your eyes on one superstar and try to comprehend his feel for the game. Does he follow that old coach's maxim, "Skate to where the puck's going to be, not where it is?" If he does, those actions will likely unlock a greater understanding of how players orbit the action, and how little bounces can butterfly effect across the entire rink.

When that's not possible, or just something you're not feeling, it helps to break a goal up into its ancestral parts. To score, you have to shoot from a dangerous area. To get to a dangerous area, you have to stretch or confuse the defense to the point that they're unable to impede you. To attempt that feat, you need possession of the puck. To get possession of the puck, you have to be strong enough to repel the opposition when they try and enter their own dangerous areas. It's all connected from the moment the puck drops on a faceoff. Look at the spacing of the attacking players, how they open up passing lanes that the defense then tries to close. Look at how the offense tries to cause the kind of traffic that will block the goalie's view of the action, while the defense tries to cause the kind of traffic that will stop pucks from getting through. Watch how D-men catalyze the transition from protect to attack when they interrupt play. And in the second period, when the players on the bench are farthest from their own goalies, watch how teams are forced to delicately execute line changes at a time when turnovers would leave them especially vulnerable. You're not going to be able to absorb all this in real time, but after a goal is scored, you can almost always go back and pinpoint the weakness or stroke of bad luck that allowed it to happen.

One last thing you need to know: In the NHL, they go to commercial breaks at the first whistle under 14 minutes, 10 minutes, and six minutes of the period, except after goals, after icings, or during power plays. Time your bathroom trips accordingly.

Well shit, now I really wanna watch some hockey.

Email of the week!


My high school years were unremarkable. I passed them with a couple of pretty good friends, and at the end of the day, we all knew that high school was but a way station. We graduated and we all went our separate ways. We didn’t really stay in touch, and if we reunited, we wouldn’t have a lot to reminisce about.

Except… there was one fart.

We were all eating pizza in one friend’s basement and watching a movie or something. I don’t remember, and I doubt they do either. After a bunch of greasy pizza, I let out a high-pitched fart. We all looked at each other and said, “Reeling in the Years?!” I had farted the guitar lick that opens Steely Dan’s “Reeling in the Years.”

We don’t communicate often, but when I do get an email from one of these friends, it inevitably starts with. “I just heard Steely Dan on the radio.” We don’t talk a lot, I doubt we will ever meet up again in person, and I’m pretty sure that the last time my friend hears this song on the radio (and who listens to terrestrial radio anymore?), it will be the last time that I cross his mind. I’m ok with that; it’s my legacy for this friend group.

And a good one!

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