Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Veggie-burden

If my wife and I take up smoking pot, then we will officially become hippies. We have already given up meat.

Well, at least for Lent.

Yes, my wife and I are using the most holy of Catholic seasons as a “trial run” to figure out whether or not we can give up meat on a full-time basis. After all, Jesus hated meat. (He was mostly a bread and fish kind of guy…ba, dum, ching!) Almost two weeks into our endeavor, I am fairly certain that we can do this, sporadic hankerings for a bacon double cheeseburger notwithstanding. Actually, that sounds pretty good. I am not sure if we can do this.

Let me also say that the news of our quest has been met with increased skepticism, and much hatred. Upon hearing that we are aiming to become vegetarians, people that we otherwise believe to love and trust us have reacted as if we pooped in the trunk of their car, and didn’t tell them for two weeks. “What?!…Why?!” I am fairly certain that people’s disdain for our meatlessness has less to do with their concern for the dietary ambitions of my wife and myself, and more to do with how our decision ultimately affects them. I am not a psychic, but here are some thoughts that were running through the minds of several people we know upon hearing of our decision:

Mother-in-law (Italian): Oh, just great. NOW what am I going to cook? Can’t do just fish, cause the boys don’t like fish. Can’t do just meat now, cause of these two idiots. And Jill won’t eat anything. Ughhh. This is just what I need, before Easter. People are coming over here for Easter, ya’ know! And we’re HAVING meat, I’ll tell you that much!

Sister & Brother-in-law (engaged): Oh, so what – now we need a vegetarian option at the reception? We’re not paying an extra $250 for a vegetarian option so that these two will be happy. This is OUR wedding, not theirs. They can bring a can of mixed fruit, for all we care.

Steve (cousin – has not heard yet, but will react as follows): What? Are you &%$#^&* kidding me? You’re not invited to our barbeque. Bitches.

Honestly, almost every person we tell is crushed by the news, as if we are abandoning some close-knit club of meat-eaters that we never knew we were a part of. It seems as though each person we tell is immediately stricken with some false nostalgia. They look up to the sky, and in their mind plays a cloudy, slow motion montage of all the fun we’ve had in the past with meat. Together. “There we are, laughing over some delicious burgers. Oh – and there’s all of us at the “Hot Dog Eating Contest” of 2001. Man, what a day. Aunt Carol came in fifth place, and Laura was the one cheering her on. (Wiping tear.) And there’s Mike, with pulled pork on his face from that day we tailgated at the Giants game. We were so drunk that day. I think it was meat-flavored beer. I’m gonna miss those two. (Montage ends abruptly, coming back to reality) Wait, no – I HATE those two! Good riddance…sellouts! (Running hysterically out of room)”

The frustration with our decision could also be chalked up to the fact that several other people in our family – including my sister Kelly and cousin Jackie – have what is called Siliacs Disease. People with siliacs are allergic to a substance called “gluten,” which is contained in pretty much everything in the entire universe. Bread contains gluten. Pasta has gluten. Most automobiles are made exclusively of gluten. In turn, many of our family functions have started to become “gluten free,” which basically means that Kelly and Jackie aren't invited, technically making them "gluten free free" parties. It is entirely possible that peoples' dislike for the path my wife and I have chosen is solely out of fear that all family functions from now will feature only marshmallow fluff and fat-free asparagus as the viable food options.

Of course, the main thing people want to know is why. But the thing is, people don’t really want to know why, because whatever you say will be construed as some kind of recruitment for them to do the same, and THEY’RE not giving up meat, so you can just shut the hell up! It’s virtually impossible to explain our reasons for trying to give up meat without sounding like Jehovah’s Witnesses on a Saturday morning. “Do you have any idea how many steroids and chemicals are in the meat we buy at stores? REPENT!” We are only left to tell people that we have given up meat because we are scared of the bird flu. Sometimes we even have to tell people that our decision was sparked because we know someone who has the bird flu. And salmonella poisoning. And also Mad Cow disease. This person is in bad shape.

Truth be told, while I am aware that it’s only been two weeks, giving up meat hasn’t been as difficult as I had envisioned, mainly due to the realization that we never ate that much meat in the first place. The only area of the day where I used to consistently eat meat was lunch; I would always bring a ham or turkey or corned beef sandwich to work. But there are plenty of non-meat options for the guy who brown-bags it everyday. For example, I have been making myself tuna wraps for the past two weeks. But that’s not the only option available. You can also put tuna on regular sandwich bread. Sometimes, you can even make tuna on a hard roll. I think I am going to throw up.

(Maybe the only negative so far involving my own vegetarianism directly relates to the aforementioned lunch, because I am now consistently the guy at the office with the smelliest lunch. And that’s saying a lot, because some of my coworkers have been known to microwave Indian food at ten o’clock in the morning. But opening the tin foil on my tuna wrap pretty much trumps any smell in the entire office, and nothing lingers quite like the intoxicating scent of tuna fish. As yummy as tuna can be, smelling it when you have no intentions of actually eating it is not very fun. In fact, even if you are looking forward to eating tuna fish, smelling it can be somewhat of a turn off. On the contrary, the ham sandwiches I used to eat never sent people running for the exits. Of course, all this means that I have to eat lunch by myself, which is totally fine with me, so guess it’s not much of a negative after all.)

Furthermore, the nutrients we are missing by avoiding meat, such as protein, fat, and whatever else is inside meat, have been replaced by more natural options. For example, I just recently added protein shakes to my diet. My particular brand is called something like, “GNC Mega-Protein All-Natural 100% Whey Protein Maximum Bio-Whey Protein for Increased Performance in the Whey of Protein Powder,” and the flavor I chose is strawberry. It came in a container the size of one of our bedrooms, and I had to hook to the back of my truck to get it home. Between my protein shakes and never-ending supply of tuna wraps, I have so much protein in my system that getting a whiff of one of my farts is the equivalent of eating a T-bone steak.

But seriously, not eating meat has been a whirlwind of excitement. We have been shown nothing but love by our hippie brethren - a.k.a., Graham, Jason, Dan, and Louis – who have given us valuable advice as to how to go about our journey, such as “fall in love with mushrooms again,” and “don’t be scared of the fake bacon – it’s not that bad.” Our only hope – if we can actually do this permanently – is that everyone else we know will stop hating us. After all, we haven’t changed. Really! We’re not hippies – I was just kidding! We’re just trying to give up meat, that’s all.

Which reminds me, I need to go to the store and buy more tuna. And hopefully, score some pot.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

March Madness, and its leading madman

I have not yet written about college basketball this year, and I’ve only had the opportunity to watch a few games here and there. With March Madness on the immediate horizon, and with every sports fan in the nation cramming to learn about as many teams as possible heading into their office pool, I would not want to come across as an expert in the field, or even, OF the field. However, please let it be known that before I got married, I would consistently stay up to watch the midnight games on ESPN, and there was nothing you could tell me about the WAC Conference, or any other conference for that matter, that I didn’t already know. Now, most of the college ball I get to see is during commercial breaks of random reality television shows where people I’ve never heard of are dancing, or ice skating, or trying to lose two pounds in the span of seven weeks.

That said, I’ve brought in an expert to consult us all on this year’s NCAA Tournament – the one and only Dick Vitale! Dick is extremely busy during this time of the year, but I was able to convince him to join us by prank calling him in a whiney voice, and pretending I was Mike Krzyzewski, at which point he arrived at my house in approximately 17 minutes (from his vacation home in the Cayman Islands). Since coming to, and discovering the truth (while in handcuffs), he has calmed down considerably.

Me: Dicky V., welcome to “Big Time Sports!” It’s truly an honor to have you here.

Vitale: HEY! NO PROBLEM, MIKEEEY. IT’S SUCH A PLEASURE TO BE IN THE GREAT STATE OF NEW JERSEY, JUST FULL OF COLLEGE BASKETBALL TRADITION, AND TALENT! AS YOU KNOW, I HAVE TIES WITH RUTGERS UNIVERSITY, AND LET ME TELL YOU – GARY WATERS HAD THAT PROGRAM MOVING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION, NO MATTER WH…

Me: Dick, Dick – whoa. Whoa. Hold on for a sec. Can you do me and the readers a favor, and try not to speak in caps lock? It gets a little annoying after a while, and it takes up a lot of space.

Vitale: Ha ha! Sure thing, Mikeeeey, baby! You know me – the subject of college basketball gets me so excited, I can barely contain myself! And speaking of “contain,” how good is that UConn defense at containing the perimeter? Jim Calhoun really has his troops clamping down on opponents lately, and with the inside presence of Josh Boone and Hilton Armstrong, combined with the great scoring talents of NBA-ready Rudy Gay, as well as Rashad Anderson, the Huskies are going to be tough to beat come tournament time, baby!

Me: Okay, well…guess that covers my question about Connecticut. But let’s get down to business here. Dick, you’ve been accused in the past of being somewhat of a cheerleader for Du…

Vitale: The BLUE DEVILS, baby! Hey, ya’ know, Mikey – people have certainly accused me of rooting for Coach K and Duke, but how can you NOT? They’re the most consistently excellent program in the nation, and I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t give them the respect and love that they deserve. They’re the NEW YORK YANKEES of college basketball! Just look at them this year – they’ve got the BEST PLAYER IN COLLEGE BASKETBALL in J.J. Redick, baby! They’ve got Shelden Williams on the inside blocking shots and grabbing boards! They’ve got diaper dandies Josh McRoberts and Greg Paulus making plays down the stretch! And most importantly, Mikey – they’ve got Coach K on the sidelines. They’ve got the tradition. They’ve got the No. 1 seed! They’ve got it ALL, baby!!!

Me: Wow. You’re spraying spit everywhere. I should have worn a protective visor.

Vitale: And hey – you know I give love to EVERYBODY! I mean, how about Texas? What a balanced attack they have, with four guys averaging double-figures in points! And Villanova…WOW, baby! They beat UConn! What great guard play they have, with Randy Foye, Mike Nardi, and of course, Allan Ray. Ya’ know, if you switch his name around, you get the name of another great Big East guard – Ray Allen, baby! What a coincidence! It’s like the stars are aligned! That’s why you gotta love college basketball!

Me: And also, for Pittsnogle.

Vitale: Oh, boy Mikey – how about Kevin Pittsnogle?! Don’t think I’d ever forget about Pittsnogle and that fabulous West Virginia team! They proved last year that they can go far in this tourney, and Mike Gansey is just deadly from the perimeter. And make no mistake – Kevin Pittsnogle is a household name. They’ve turned it into a VERB, baby! I think I just Pittsnogled all over myself!

Me: Yeah, we’ll get you a towel. Dick, which is the best conference in college basketball right now?

Vitale: Ya’ know, when you talk about the best conference, you HAVE to start with the powerhouse Big East. You’re talking about a conference that may get NINE teams in the tournament! They have FOUR teams ranked in the top-15 in the nation! But you can’t forget about the ACC either. Not with Duke in the mix, baby! THE DUKIES! Then there’s Roy Williams and the defending champion Tarheels. They’re diaper dandies, but they can all handle the rock, baby! Even teams like N.C. State and Boston College have proven they can play with the big boys! And ya’ gotta throw the Big 12 in there, with a great Texas team leading the way. Don’t forget - Bill Self’s Kansas team got off to a terrible start, but they’re back to playing fabulous basketball! Watch out for the Jayhawks come tourney time! And we can’t forget about the Big Ten – with Iowa, and Ohio State, and the experienced Illinois team led by Dee Brown. And John Calipari and Memphis catch a bad rap for beating up on Conference USA, but I’m telling you – that league is not as bad as people think. If a team like UAB can work their way into the tournament, watch out!

Me: Ya’ wanna throw the Patriot League in there while you’re at it?

Vitale: Ha ha! Holy Cross, BABY!

Me: Dick, what team is going win the NCAA Tournament?

Vitale: Wow, Mikey! I mean, there are so many great teams this year, it’s just amazing. What a talent pool! That’s why college basketball is the greatest game on earth, baby! You gotta talk about the powerhouses like Duke, and UConn. Those two teams have so much firepower, it’s gonna take an “A-plus” game from someone else to knock them off. But it can happen, especially when you talk about Villanova, and Pittsburgh, and even a solid Georgetown team, led by John Thompson THE THIRD, baby! They BEAT Duke already, so they’ll have all the confidence in the world heading into the tournament. And people talk about a team like Memphis playing cupcakes in Conference USA, but check their out-of-conference schedule – they beat UCLA AND Gonzaga, and only lost to Duke by THREE points! And speaking of the ‘Zags, it’s impossible to bet against them and their great star, Adam Morrison. What a player! What a mustache! And don’t count out George Washington, who have just beat up on the Atlantic 10 the entire season. Of course, there’s a team down in the great state of Texas that would have a problem if I didn’t mention them here, and they’re name is…TEXAS, baby! And don’t forget about Iowa, or even George Mason…

Me: So, Dick, what you’re basically saying is that every team in the NCAA tournament is going to win the NCAA tournament? I’m pretty sure they only have one trophy.

Vitale: I know, and what a shame it is! ONE trophy, Mikey?! If it were up to me, we’d have SIXTY-FIVE trophies, and I’d be honored to hand the first one to Coach K – Mike Krzyzewski. What a class act! What a wonderful human being. He’s the reason why college basketball is the greatest game on earth, baby!

Me: Well, I’m not exactly sure if you’ve shed any light on the upcoming NCAA Tournament for our readers, but I appreciate your time anyway. It’s difficult to get adequate information from the eternal college basketball optimist, but you’re certainly one of a kind, Mr. Vitale. Any final thoughts before I put the masking tape back over your mouth?

Vitale: Oh, Mikey baby! It’s been a pleasure to talk college basketball with you here today! I know we had our problems at the beginning, but you’re really a great guy! And what a KIDNAPPER you are! You’re the J.J. Redick of kidnappers, I’m telling you! And speaking of Redick, let me t…mmmmfffhhh! Mmmfffhhhh! MMMMFFFFHHHH!!

Me: (Note to self: NEXT year, abduct Jay Bilas.)

Friday, March 03, 2006

The Brotherhood of the Ill-fitting Pants

Today I am going back to Old Navy to return a pair of pants. I am not exactly sure what compelled me to purchase these pants in the first place, besides the fact they were on the sale rack and were technically my size. But they are tight. They are very tight. They are extremely tight. They are also khakis, and when I initially tried them on at home, I am fairly certain that, to an imaginary person who was standing 20 feet away, I would have appeared as someone who was not wearing any pants at all, and who was also naturally hairless with no genitalia.

I can tell within a nanosecond of trying on pants whether or not they are going to be too tight, which makes the fact that I don’t just try them on in the store all the more inexplicable. But I hate trying on pants in stores. It strips away at the remnants of my masculinity. In fact, not too long ago, while in Kohl’s, my wife made me try on pants, and accidentally sent me to the women’s dressing room. You would think that would be impossible, and a complete fabrication for the sole purpose of this rant, but it is true. In fact, it is becoming increasingly difficult to determine whether or not a dressing room is for a) men, b) women, c) both, d) employees, or e) the boiler. There are no signs anymore. No one was in there at the time, but while I was stuck in another pair of extremely tight pants, I heard a congregation of female voices outside the door. Holy crap. I knew I should have tried these on at home. I had to wait in my stall until it seemed as though everyone else was in theirs, and then I high-tailed it out of there. My wife thought that was hilarious, and I would have too, had the pants fit. But I was in no mood for shenanigans.

So the second I stepped into my most recent purchase, I knew it. These are too freakin’ tight! Not only are they too tight, but they take the actual shape of my legs, meaning they get tighter as they go down, eventually choking my ankles. They might as well have had elastic bands on the ankles. In fact, the person who made these pants is probably the same moron who created sweatpants with the elastic ankle bands. (“They go great with tube socks!”) Who the hell would wear such a thing? If there is an iota of a chance that someone will see my socks while I am standing up, you might as well go back to the drawing board with those things. Does anyone have any idea what an idiot I look like wearing pants with tight ankles? Besides the fact that my legs are three miles long, I wear a size 13 shoe. It looks like I have clown shoes on when I wear pants with tight ankles. Better yet, it looks like I am on stilts with clown shoes attached to the bottom. I belong in the freakin’ circus.

But I tried to talk myself into it, not wanting to go back to the store to return them. I even asked my wife’s advice. I walked by her, frustrated and shirtless, and said, “What do you think…Are they too tight?” She said, “Ummm…No, no. They’ll be good for work.” Now granted, my place of employment has a dress code, although nobody actually abides by it. Well, it’s not so much a dress code as it is, “Please get dressed before you come to work.” And even that notion has been violated during the summer months, when certain half-shirts have revealed more skin than I’d ever like to see. Because I tuck my shirt in and sometimes wear a tie, I am the Cary Grant of the office. But even I would be arrested if I wore these pants into work.

Tight pants have become the bane of my existence. I am so frustrated. I would say that for every 10 pairs of pants I buy, 10 of them are too tight. Most of them I have to return, but sometimes I am so annoyed at the situation that I just give some pairs away to charity. And I can’t even feel good about that, because I picture a truckload of clothes arriving in some third-world country, and somebody tossing my donated pants to a tall Ethiopian boy, who excitedly puts them on and says, “These are too tight. I look like an idiot.” (He speaks English in my imagination.)

Really though, I just can’t figure out the consumer target of pants manufacturers. Who in their right mind would wear a pair of “nut-huggers” that almost become like “onesies” at the ankles? Who, I ask? Yet almost every pair of pants I see meets this criteria. I come from a generation of teenagers that wore the baggiest pants imaginable, and wore them around the groin area instead of the waist. Now I am trying to be a professional man, and cannot locate the balance between “upstart teenager who sags his pants” and “corporate honcho who reveals his socks at the water cooler.” There has to be a happy medium, but I have yet to find an outlet that sells happy-medium type work pants. Does anybody sell pants that will fit my waist, yet hang off my legs a bit and cover a portion of my clown shoes at the bottom? Does anybody sell pants that, if the wind blows, you will see a ripple in my pants, instead of an up-close view of my balls?

If so, please let me know. I will even swallow my pride and try them on in the store, if you can point me to the appropriate dressing room.