Monday, January 29, 2007

Teetotalers, Just Turn Around and Walk Away

I have what you call "writer's block." Looks like I spilled the beans on everything significant that happened to me over the last three months. (At least the stuff that won't get you fired for reading it at work. Wink!) So I've decided to point you to my BeerAdvocate profile.

For people who know my propensity for making lists, there could not have been a better site created than Beer Advocate. It allows one to digitally log beer into a computer database, which then sorts and ranks all the beers one has tried. Basically, whenever I am at liberty to record how much I love a certain beer (and yes, cool-kids, I sometimes drink with a pen and pad to write stuff down, sue me!), I can enter the scores on each of the categories (Appearance, Smell, Taste, Mouthfeel, Drinkability) and the computer machine will calculate what my favorite beers are -- and least favorite. More than just a log of the best beers, it also salvages the experiences of drinking a terrible beer by allowing me to trash it. I win either way!

Yes yes, I know. This is the apex of the masturbatory nature of blogs, where we just start throwing out information and/or lists that are of no interest to anyone else but he who posts it. But I am not doing this for prurient self-flaggelation. There are two reasons I put it out there for public consumption: one for you, one for me.

First, the reason for you. I love beer. I love it so much that it actually hurts me that 90% of Americans drink bad beer. Let's face it: Bud is shit. Labatt's is subpar. Miller is mediocre. For years, I put up with the adjuncts (which is when they use rice or corn to make the mash instead of barley) and the piss-yellow color of normal beers. Now, I'm not dismissing these out of hand; sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. I cut my teeth on Beast Ice and Natty Light, which is the beer equivalent of ramen noodles: you drink it cuz it's there and cuz it's cheap.

Many of you might say, "Bill Shannon, I drink good beer. I like Heineken / Guinness / Smithwick's / Blue Moon / Amstel. I don't need your guidance." Well, maybe not. But I submit that if you are willing to shell out the couple extra bucks for higher-end beers, maybe you're willing to follow me just a few steps further. You are already spending more than the average person at a bar for beer that, while perhaps trendy, is really in the lower tier of beers. I don't say this to sound condescending; I'm saying this because I want to help. It's one thing to have good beer; it's a completely different experience to have transcendent beer.

and I have talked about this, as we talk about beer almost all the time: right now the United States, on the whole, is making the best beer in the world. We are in the midst of an American Microbrew Revolution! Think of it, right in the same country in which you live, brewers are making some of the finest beers in the entire world. Germany, Belgium and England may have the history, but we are arguably doing it the best. So many fantastic breweries to choose from: Middle Ages, Victory, Stone, Dogfish Head, Smuttynose, Lagunitas, Brooklyn, Stoudts, Mendicino. They are all making phenomenal beers of all styles, and those are just the ones on the coasts. And even the second tier micros -- like Long Trail, Magic Hat, Saranac and Ithaca -- are starting to become available in retail grocery stores at good prices.

So if you get a chance, please give the site a few minutes of your time. It can likely direct you to a beer you will love. If you like the dark porters, stouts or strong ales, it can give you the highest rated. Or if you are a non-beer-lover, it will direct you to the best hefeweizens, belgian whites and lambics so as not to overwhelm you with that beer bite. I think it's worth exploring.

The second reason I put this link up there (and on my blogroll) is because you can read my beer reviews. It's not like you are going to find any fine writing, but you can sort the beers by my highest rated and maybe pick me up a sixpack or two here and there. (My birthday is coming soon, cough-cough.) Basically anything that rates 3.9 or above is in rarefied air.

Maybe you think this is the first step toward becoming a true alkie. I can understand. Due to the fratboy lifestyle and the stereotype of people like Billy Carter and Homer Simpson (who is otherwise heroic), beer has taken a backseat to wine and liquor in terms of class. But you betta recognize.

I would like to think that Javen and I have helped spread the good word of great beer to our many faithful companions (hetero!) and maybe challenged them to try new things. The gauntlet has been thrown down, American citizen, will you pick it up?

I am spoiled to live in Syracuse, which is truly one of the better beer towns on the East Coast. It's plentiful, it's affordable, it's available. People here flat-out know beer. Get on that gravy train, babies.

Ziggy sokky, ziggy sokky, Hoy! Hoy! Hoy!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Now You're All In Big, BIG Trouble...


Didn't expect that, did you? I've been gone for a while. You probably thought I was gone for good, huh? Probably hoped I was. Here you were, enjoying your day, having gone the better part of 3 months without one significant post in sight. Well I hope you enjoyed it while it lasted, punk. Because funtime is over.

You never realize how important the internet is to you until it is no longer available to you. When I moved out of my old place, I tried to get my Roadrunner hooked up to my old computer (that I got in 1999) and I found out during a late-night call to tech support that it wasn't working because I was still rocking Windows 98 (O.G. version) and I needed a new operating system for the drivers to work.

I naturally went through all the phases of grief: the denial, the self-loathing, the hunger, the itchy scalp. All the signs were there. I had no idea what to do. Then it occurred to me: why don't I just go down to Staples and drop the c-note on Windows XP? I done did it, and finally I'm back in the 21st Century. Miss me?

The worst part about not having the internet is having to sit silent, depriving all of you of my rapier's wit and searing insight with all the events of the world going on. This must be how people in a coma feel. It's no picnic.

So here is your boilerplate Bill Shannon Recap of what has been going on in my world over the last three months. I'll try to keep it brief:
  • I moved to a new residence. It's the bottom half of a house about 1.3 miles from my old house. I threw away roughly half of my belongings, and the place is actually looking decent. Not too cluttery, and it feels homey. (And not just because I am a "homey." Get it?) My mom would actually be somewhat proud of how this slovenly fool can actually keep up on manually washing the dishes and sweeping up every once in a while.
  • My job changed because my partner at work got a new job, so I've been under a ton of pressure at work, only because I'm the only one with experience. My heart rate and blood pressure are shooting right through the roof. But I don't take my job home with me, even though I wish I could sometimes to get some work done. My job is one of those things where you can get no momentum. As soon as you start something, like 15 other people call me or IM me to ask me to do something. It's nice to be wanted, but this is ridiculous!
  • I tried out for the World Series of Pop Culture in New York in mid-January. We got past the first "written" round but then didn't hear anything after that. I got to see my New Jersey cousins, though, which was great.
  • I lost and then gained back a few lbs. I was doing really well for a while and then just started eating like shit and stopped exercising. I'm planning on getting back on the horse pretty soon. And let's face it, even a couple pounds heavier, I'm still like a total hunk. Ironic note: I stopped drinking beer for a few days because I was feeling bloated and had some bad stuff going on in the gastro-intestinal area. Finally I had a beer and suddenly everything is kosher again. Jackpot! I heard a line from the show "Scrubs" that said something to the effect of, "It may be too early to drink, but it's never too early to start thinking about it." Amen to that. But moderation, folks. Always moderation.
  • I have been going psychotic with my beer intake, but not in that way. In other words, I don't get drunk a lot. But I have been going to the Party Source on Erie Blvd and picking up all sorts of mixed six-packs of exotic beers. That way I always have a nice stockpile of them. I try to have like 2 a night, because they are so delicious. And just like Javen once told me, I am getting into those dark, coffee-flavored porters for the cold, winter season. Ironically, I have decided that I hate winter ales. What a country! IPAs are still my main squeeze, of course, but I don't mind throwing in something a little darker every once in a while. I think it shows my tolerance.
  • A skunk died under my porch last week, and caused my entire apartment to reek alternately of a skunk's exploded anal gland and sour onions (that's what it smells like when it ages). The smell just left this afternoon. Here's some more irony for that ass: I have always had trouble smelling skunks. I don't know why. People would always say, "I smell a skunk" and I'd be all "Not me." But this was pretty unmistakeable. It's cold as shit out, too, and I had to leave windows open to get the stank outta there. It's finally safe, so stop on by.
  • I've been using a new shampoo that supposedly makes hair grow thicker, and I've heard from a couple different sources that it might actually be working. I'm very skeptical of those things, but who knows. Maybe it'll make the passage of time seem somewhat slower on my shiny melon.
  • I've been attempting the art of cooking lately, with pretty good results. I made a peanut butter pie the other day which I must say was off the hook like not guilty. Most stuff I make is out of a box but I'm at least getting into the flow of cooking a little more, and I think if I experiment, I might get good. I have a neat little dining area in my kitchen with stools in it and it's kind of cool to just eat there and crank some of my rap tapes. Oh yeah, since I live alone now, I can pretty much listen to whatever music I want to at full blast (or at least so it doesn't bug my landlords and crazy-bitch next door neighbor). I have been catching up on some of my old rap tapes that I haven't heard in a long time. Mixed results. I'm sure that blog's coming later.
  • The giving away of many of my clothes and possessions was kind of a weird thing. It was one of those things where I got rid of any questionable clothes, or ones that I either don't like anymore, or know don't fit me. This sounds like a no-brainer to most, but since I have no-brain, it's not for me. I am a notorious clutterbug-slash-packrat. Getting rid of clothes is tantamount to putting my kids in an orphanage. But I done did it. I had to; my place is way too small not to. I'm getting there. Slowly, but it's happening.

Okay, now that you have the lowdown, let me just give you a few things that have been up in my head over the last three months:

  • Has you seen the Bruce Campbell "Old Spice" commercial? The one about "experience"? I can't stop watching it. Not only does it star cult movie hero Bruce Campbell, but the words are great. It might not be that impressive out of context, but I was watching the Giants-Eagles game at Will's with Jaime, Phelps and Toast, and it came on to a reverentially hushed response. One of those moments, you know? It was the perfect absurdist non-sequitur to throw my football mojo off just a little bit. Well done, Old Spice!
  • Here are some albums I like that I've heard recently: Ghostface Killah's "More Fish" (quite good) The Shins' "Wincing the Night Away" (not great, but good), Metal Fingers' "Special Herbs Box Set" (amazing), Ray LaMontagne's "Till the Sun Turns Black" (almost sounds like early Van Morrison). There are others I can't think of right now. I haven't bought many CD's lately.
  • Best TV shows right now: "How I Met Your Mother" (caught a marathon Christmas weekend and love it), "The Office" (the most consistently laugh-out-loud funny show on TV), "30 Rock" (has really grown on me), "The Wire" (like a novel), "American Idol" (obviously, although the judges are real assholes this year, more than usual), "Extras" ("Are you havin' a laugh?" is my new catchphrase), "The Colbert Report" (Stephen is an amazing comedian), "SNL" (always hit-or-miss, but the Jeremy Piven and Alec Baldwin episodes were suprisingly good), "Wonder Showzen" (hard to find, but goddammit I love it), "5 Reasons You Can't Blame..." (now that ESPN Classic is ceasing original programming -- RIP "Cheap Seats" -- this one will probably go out the door), "Stella" and "The State" (my sister let me watch these on her video iPod and I forgot how hilarious those shows were), "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" (my sister just introduced me to this show and I really like it, like half "Curb Your Enthusiasm," half "Stella"), "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" (only 15-mins long, and sometimes very crude, but it always makes me laugh out loud).
  • Javen and The Hoff and I went to see the Chargers and Bills in Buffalo in December, and although the Bills lost, it was a good time. Since I've been on hiatus, I haven't been able to go over the fun sports stuff. I think J.P. Losman is going to be a very good QB for the Bills. The light turned on about halfway through the season. He still makes mistakes, but I'm so much more confident in him now. I think the AFC Championship game between the Colts and Patriots is one of the best second halves of football I've seen in a long time. (Sorry, that last sentence was very Peter King of me.) Syracuse basketball sucks, and they will be lucky to make the tourney this year. They don't have a leader and lack character. No one is stepping up. I'm rooting for them, but the outlook is grim.
  • I am currently obsessed with Crossword puzzles. And not the easy ones in the back of the TV Guide, but the big bastards in the Sunday New York Times. I'm still not very good, and still have to cheat by looking in the back or in a crossword dictionary, but I enjoy the mental challenge. I think it's making me smarter.
  • Since I've been out for so long, I haven't gotten the chance to express my love for Opie & Anthony. A few months ago, I could only hear them on XM (which is the greatest as well, to be continued in a future blog), but now they are on regular radio in Syracuse, too. I still like getting the "dirty" feed when they are done with their free-radio broadcast, but in my opinion, they are like ten times better than Stern, as least how he was over the last 5 years or so. (I haven't heard his Sirius show.) I really like their sensibility, and plus, you have to give respect to a radio show that frequently has Brian Regan (aka the greatest stand up comic in the world) on their show. Listen to it for like a week, and I think you will like it. I don't have any stake or interest in them getting popular, I just think they are a really good listen.

Okay, so this has been the most meandering, poorly constructed blog in the history of blogs. Fine, I admit it. I had a lot pent up, and now it's out of my system. The next posts you see will be of the high quality to which you are accustomed. I have held this site up as the apogee of internet prose, and dammit, I won't let you down. Well, yeah I probably will.

Until later. I have to get back to cooking my falafel.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

One Class Act

[Note: I meant to post this Monday, but only got internet access today.]

I want to kiss LaDainian Tomlinson. (And for all you non-football fans out there, that's a man. And no, my hiatus is not because I've just come back from a month in Fire Island.) I've always admired his style of play and his humble, workmanlike style. He has been arguably the best player in the NFL over the last 5 seasons, and clearly the best running back.

Imagine this: imagine a soft-spoken, polite NFL player, with hardly ever a bad word to say about anyone. He is unusually humble -- which must be hard given how incredibly gifted he is -- and tends to have a smile on his boyish face.

If it sounds like I have a slight hetero man-crush, it's because I think I do.

Now imagine that this mild-mannered Superman actually decided, completely against his character, to voice his opinion about an opposing team. Well he did, and he did it about a team that sports media perpetually assures us is one of the "classiest" organizations in sports.

Here's what happened: After the game was over, and New England had beaten (or rather escaped) the mistake-prone and unprepared San Diego Chargers by three points, many of the Patriots' players went to the middle of the field and began doing a mockery of the Chargers? Shawne "Lights-Out" Merriman by imitating his "electrocution dance" that he performs after recording a big tackle. Tomlinson saw this and tried to go to the middle of the field to address some of the Patriots' players. He was clearly angry. This is what L.T. had to say after the game.

"I would never react in that way. I was very upset," Tomlinson said. "When you go to the middle of our field and start doing the dance Shawne Merriman is known for, that is disrespectful. They showed no class and maybe that comes from the head coach."

That's your MVP speaking, folks. I love the fact that L.T. spoke up.

First of all, the guy never says a bad word -- or any word for that matter. So you know that when he says something, it's well thought out. It's not like this is Terrell Owens or Joey Porter or Warren Sapp or some other loudmouthed bag of douche crying "disrespect wolf!" after the game. This is one of the players who is as known for his class and integrity as he is for his touchdowns. So hopefully, this will give L.T.'s observation the merit it deserves.

I will admit that I think most celebration dances -- such as Merriman's, the Giants' "jump-shot" and that Dog Crawling on the Ground thing the Bears do -- are idiotic, especially when performed after a non-touchdown. And Merriman himself has proven to be a man of questionable character, getting busted for 'roids and mailing a remote and popcorn to the Dolphins' Jason Taylor, telling him to enjoy watching him in the playoffs. But for a team that was so very lucky to come out on top (anyone who watched the game knows that the Pats got completely outplayed, but just got the benefit of about a dozen Charger f-ckups), to start showing up the other team by gathering around and cackling while shaking their bodies in spasmodic glee.

The Patriots have long been an organization whose class has been severely overestimated. Everyone in the sports media has labeled them with the "classy" tag. This makes no sense to me. Bill Belichick has long been known as a bad person who cheats. (I will never forget him ordering Giants LB Harry Reasons to kick the ball that had been spotted in Super Bowl XXV while the Bills were driving. I have it on tape.) He is known for alienating numerous former allies (Bill Parcells, Lawyer Milloy, Eric Mangini), and being a crybaby to criticism, like the time he told Tom
Jackson to "go f-ck [him]self" when he tried to shake his hand after criticizing him.

Here is a list of things that the Patriots have done during Belichick's tenure:

  • Bill Belichick's behavior toward other coaches (Parcells, Mangini)
  • Belichick's comments about (the admittedly loud-mouthed) Freddy
    Mitchell after the Pats-Eagles Super Bowl
  • The Patriots waving Terrible Towels after beating Pittsburgh in the AFC
    title game in 2004
  • Mike Vrabel doing the Eagles' arm-flap in that Super Bowl after scoring
  • Tom Brady calling out Marty Schottenheimer (incorrectly) after the last
    Chargers/Patriots game, with no recourse
  • Yesterday's antics at midfield of the Chargers game, which New England
    was lucky to win

Yes, the mark of a champion. A smug, assholish champion.

Yet for some reason, the sports media, from Peter King to Phil "Brady's Fluffer" Simms to Dick Vitale, consider the Patriots to be completely above reproach. That somehow, everything they do is justified "because they win." How come the same praise has never been afforded to the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons, or the White-House-era Dallas Cowboys, or the Miami Hurricanes of the 1990s? Is it because they keep their disdain for other teams covert, while the others are more brash and outspoken? Because they praise the teams they are about to play the week before a game, but then trash them
the week after? I find it interesting that former Dolphins/current Alabama coach Nick Saban was trashed for his lack of character in his deal to go to the Crimson Tide, yet not once was it mentioned ? as it had been so many times before ? that he is part of the Belichick "Coaching Tree." Hmmmm...

This has extended to Beantown fans as well. The Patriots (and other Boston fans) had long garned the sympathy of otherwise neutral sports fans due to their suffering and self-deprecation. I personally rooted for the Red Sox when they played the Yankees in 2004, because I felt that Yankees fans had (and still have) a sense of entitlement. That somehow they are above reproach. But interestingly, many Boston/New England fans have taken all the goodwill that had been afforded them and squandered it, choosing not to win with grace, but with all the arrogance of the worst Yankee fan.

Yes, Red Sox Nation, you are just as bad as Yankee fans. And I never thought it was possible. You always wore humility so much better.

Here's hoping that LaDainian Tomlinson's observation does not fall on deaf ears, and that sports fans will finally realize that the emperor has no clothes. Or at least that the Emperor himself dresses like a homeless guy.