Tuesday, August 19, 2014

This Cookie Happened

On a recent trip to the grocery store I was pushing my shopping cart about when I noticed a woman handing out cookie samples on the far end of the produce aisle.  Ignoring the bananas, apples, broccoli, carrots, and other various forms of healthy fare, I made a beeline for the processed sweets.  When I got to the sample table I saw what, at first glance, looked like a bunch of ordinary Chips Ahoy! cookies.  I don’t mean to disparage Chips Ahoy!—quite the contrary, those and Oreos were my main source of sustenance throughout my grade school years—but when I see samples, I generally expect that it will be something a bit out of the ordinary.

Upon noticing me looking at the cookies the woman behind the table asked if I wanted to try one and pointed out that they were different flavors.  Ahhhh…these weren’t just ordinary Chips Ahoy! cookies after all.

“What flavors are there?” I asked, thinking there’s not really any way to improve upon Chips Ahoy! anyway.

“Well, the first one is birthday cake flavored, the next one is Oreo cream filled, the next one is…”  And honestly, I have no idea what the next one was; it could have contained jalapenos and nacho cheese for all I knew, because the moment she said that somewhere on our planet—indeed, directly in front of me—there existed a Chips Ahoy! cookie with Oreo cream filling, time stood still.  I stood transfixed, looking at the second cookie in the line.  At some point she stopped talking.

“I’m sorry, did you say that Chips Ahoy! cookie has Oreo cream inside it?” I asked, pointing incredulously at the cookie in question.

“Yes, would you like to try it?” she asked.

“Yes I would!” I said in a voice that was probably way too loud for that particular social interaction.

I picked up the cookie and took a bite.  When the morsels hit my taste buds the whole of the universe flashed before my eyes in an instant, as though I were Keir Dullea in 2001: A Space Odyssey. “My god, it’s full of cream!” I thought to myself.

“Would you like to try another sample?” the saleslady asked, rousing me from my euphoric trance.

“No thanks, but can you tell me where I can find a box of those?” I asked, trying not to go into a frenzy in front of the onion bin.

“It’s in the regular cookie aisle,” she said; and as soon as the words were out of her mouth I screamed, “Thank you!” and set off in that direction.

As I sped past the other shoppers on my way to meet my sweet-toothed destiny, I wondered what mad genius had come up with this idea.  Somewhere at Nabisco’s headquarters in East Hanover, New Jersey there must be an employee who makes Albert Einstein look like Curly Howard.  I wish I were a fly on the wall when this idea was first pitched at a product development meeting.

Head of Product Development: Okay everyone, Oreos and Chips Ahoy! are our two top sellers, but we need to come up with some new flavors to keep it interesting.

Worker #1: What about birthday cake flavored Chips Ahoy!?

Head of Product Development: Good one. Everything’s birthday cake flavored these days; might as well add one of our cookies to the mix.

Worker #2: What about watermelon Oreos?

Head of Product Development: Sounds disgusting, but hey, people try all kinds of weird stuff once, right? Let’s give it a go. What else we got?

Worker #3: What if we combine our two top sellers?

Head of Product Development: Huh? What?

Worker #3: What if we made a Chips Ahoy! cookie with Oreo cream filling on the inside?

POP!  BAM!  THWAP!  Three people sitting around the conference table have their heads simultaneously explode.  Two more have massive coronaries. The other six fall to the ground and genuflect.  Moments later the Head of Product Development resigns and gives Worker #3 his job. 

At least this is how I assume it all went down given the enormity of this invention, which in my mind rivals the light bulb, the airplane, and indoor plumbing. Certainly this invention is better than the cellphone. Think about it—what would you rather have in your hand right now, a cellphone or a Chips Ahoreo! cookie? (Note: The product is not actually called Chips Ahoreo! It’s called “Chips Ahoy! Oreo Crème filled.” I just came up with Chips Ahoreo! and it’s clearly a much better name. Nabisco, you can make the royalty checks out to “Andrew J. Schwartzberg.”)

In the days since purchasing this miracle of modern food science I’ve only eaten three of them. I know that’s hard to believe, but I’m pacing myself. You don’t climb Mt. Everest in one day and you don’t eat an entire box of the world’s most incredible cookie in one sitting. I am savoring them, delighting in them, and getting to know each cookie on an individual basis. I highly recommend that you do the same. But whatever you do, don’t purchase them from the Fry’s on the corner of Dobson and Ray. Those boxes are all mine.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Middle-aged Man vs. the Water Slide

This past weekend some good friends from California unexpectedly came to Arizona for a visit.  They gave us a call and invited us and our two boys to the swanky resort they were staying at to hang out at the pool. 

The pool was quite impressive—one of those large, meandering pools with different sections, structured in such a way as to make it impossible to see the whole pool from any one vantage point.  For the first 20 minutes or so we all just splashed about in the shallow end of one of the larger sections of the pool, and then my friend suggested we try out the water slide.  I was initially dubious, but my two boys were champing at the bit to try it out, so in an effort not to suck the fun out of the day, I relented.

The water slide was not connected to the larger pool structure, but was rather adjacent to its east end.  From the top of the slide you could not see the bottom of the slide or, for that matter, what it emptied into.  The slide was serpentine, and there was no way to know before the first time you went down what kind of twists and turns awaited you, or for that matter, if you would end up landing in a large, lush pool or a two-foot wide bucket meant for circus monkeys.   Frankly, it was a thing of mystery and I was more than a little surprised that my boys were willing to try it out, because they are usually skittish on anything but the most mundane of playground slides.  But hey, if they were suddenly feeling adventurous, I was willing to come along for the ride.

My Californian friend went first—a rock climber, snowboarder and general seeker of thrills, I’m sure the waterslide had a fear factor for him akin to my fear of getting a haircut—that is to say, pretty minimal.  My friend sat down and pushed himself forward at the top of the slide and didn’t go very far, so he did it again…and still didn’t go very far.  By the time he pushed himself a third time he was out of view due to the curvature of the slide. 

Waiting at the top, my boys and I expected to hear some sort of splash indicating that our friend had reached the bottom, but it never came.  Eventually, a hotel worker who was seated high enough above the slide to have a view of the bottom gave us the okay for the next person to go.  My five-year-old was next and he went through the same slow mechanics of pushing himself down the slide.  I was nervous for him, because I assumed at some point the slide would get steep enough to take him down quickly.  I dreaded hearing his tortured screams as he succumbed to gravity, but they never came.  Soon the hotel worker gave us the signal and my seven-year-old went next.  Starting from a sitting position he did the same slow push-crawl until he was out of view. 

No screams.  No splash.  No ominous music.  The only sound was the cascading water rushing down the labyrinthine slide.  I wondered if when I got to the bottom I would see three mangled bodies adrift in the water.

The hotel worker gave me the thumbs up and I sat down at the top of the slide.  I was anxious and sweating.  (Of course it was well over 100-degrees outside, so I would have been sweating regardless of the anxiousness.)  I started to push myself in the same manner as the three brave men who went before me.  I went around that first curve not sure of what I would see and what I saw was simply more of the curving slide.  So I kept on pushing myself expecting that at any moment the rushing water would take control of my body and propel me forward.  It did not.  I kept on sitting and pushing myself down the curving slide as water rushed under my body.  Eventually I reached the bottom and saw my predecessors calmly waiting for me (and not in the least bit mangled) in a medium-sized round pool about three feet deep.  It was anticlimactic…and everyone wanted to do it again.  We all felt we must have been doing something wrong and that there must be a way to go faster.

When it was next my turn I wondered if it would make a difference if I put myself in a lying rather than sitting position.  I asked the hotel worker about this and he just shrugged.  “Everybody does it different,” he said.

Determined to go a touch faster than a common garden snail, I put myself flat on my back and started scooting myself to see if the rushing water would whisk me away.  For the first five feet or so nothing happened and I was just about to give up hope, when suddenly I hit the first turn and my body was jettisoned forward by the cascading stream.  Like a dead pet hamster flushed down the toilet and torpedoing its way through the pipes, I was flung mercilessly down the winding slide and hurtled into the pool below.  Wow what an adrenaline rush! And wow did my spine connect with the slide hard!

Everyone wanted to do it again…and again…and again.  By the time we were done we all went down five or six times.  Each time was equal parts excitement, terror, joy, and pain.  My kids wanted to keep on going, but a little voice in the back of my head was quickly computing chiropractic and orthopedic bills, and the numbers had too many digits, so I directed us all back to the main pool.  Once there I noticed two large abrasions on my right arm from where I had apparently been strafed by the slide.  A few minutes later my wife said, “Whoa, you’ve got a big red mark on your back.”  This did not surprise me, seeing as how my back and the slide had become sparring partners for a good 15 minutes.

“Yeah, I’m going to feel this tomorrow morning,“ I said.  And as it turns out, I was wrong.  It did not take until the next morning for me to feel it.  About 10:30 that night I suddenly started to become aware of a dull ache in every muscle in my back (as well as several in my arms, legs, and chest).  By the next morning the ache was anything but dull.  Today, two days later, I’m still popping Tylenol like Tic-Tacs. 

I imagine I’ll still be feeling the pain for a few more days, but that’s okay.  Despite the beating my 44-year-old body took, going down that water slide was the most exhilarating experience I’ve had in decades.  For now though, I’ll stick to the excitement I get from playing Scrabble and watching reruns of “Taxi.”  Maybe when I’m 64 I’ll try bungee jumping.

Friday, August 1, 2014

An Open Letter to Doug Franz

(Note: For those readers not in the know, Doug Franz is the co-host of the Doug & Wolf Show-- a sports talk show on 98.7 FM on weekday mornings in the Phoenix-metro area.)
Dear Doug,

I am a longtime listener of the Doug & Wolf show and tune in faithfully every morning during my work commute from about 7:30 to 8:10.  I am also a diehard baseball fan and stats geek.  While I am also a big football fan, baseball is my first love.   During the summer months I often get frustrated at the disproportionate amount of football talk compared to baseball talk.  On some mornings I hear about nothing but football (other than Paul’s Arizona sport’s desk updates) for my entire commute.  Indeed, I often chuckle to myself around 7:50 or so when you say, “Coming up at 8:00, the mandatory football fix,” as though you hadn’t already been talking about football for the previous 20 minutes.

It is for this reason that I am compelled to present a counterargument to the thesis you presented this morning that listeners want to hear you guys talk about football more than baseball.  (I know that oversimplifies what you were saying, but that was the gist of it.)

First off, I should point out that I understand that when you say, “you” want to hear about football, you mean the collective “you,” as opposed to me, specifically.  (I’m not a psychopath.)  Given the nature of your job I get that the radio station has a responsibility to cater programming to the majority of listeners.  And perhaps it is true that overall more listeners want to hear about football than baseball, but I would conjecture that people who are sports fans generally would love to hear more about baseball during baseball season.

The argument you gave for people not caring about baseball as much as football seemed faulty.  As proof of this disinterest in baseball you pointed out that only 20,000 people attended last night’s Diamondbacks – Pirates game.  The implication here was that since the Cardinals sell out the 63,400-seat University of Phoenix Stadium for every game, but only 20,000 chose to go to this particular Dbacks game, people in this town are more interested in football. 

But let’s think about the mathematics of this premise.  Cardinals fans have only eight opportunities to see their team at home during the regular season every year; if they sell out every game, that adds up to an annual attendance of 507,200.  Diamondbacks fans have 81 opportunities to see their team at home during the regular season every year.  Even if they only brought in 20,000 fans per game (and that’s a very low estimate) that still adds up to 1,620,000 seats filled for the season—or more than three times as many as will have attended Cardinals games.  (And obviously, in both cases, a large amount of this number is repeat fans.)

The other point that should not be lost here is that since the Cardinals only have eight home games, each game takes on the quality of being a special event much more so than a random Diamondbacks game among 81 home games.  And let’s keep in mind that seven of the Cardinals’ eight games last year were played on a Sunday, making it much easier for people to attend.  The fact that only 20,000 people attended a Diamondbacks game on a weekday night, two-thirds of the way through a season in which they are currently 13 games below .500, when most people have work the next morning, and many kids are already back in school,  does not somehow prove that people have no interest in baseball—it proves that people have lives that need attention and perhaps they’ve already been to five Diamondbacks games this season (which quickly gets expensive for a middle class family of four) so it didn’t seem like the best idea to go to this particular one.  (Okay, it doesn’t actually prove that last part, but you get my point.)

Another argument you gave to prove your point, which seemed riddled with illogic was (and I’m paraphrasing here), “Would more people watch a World Series between the Pirates and Brewers (as though it were 1997—and yes, I know you noted the fallacy of that pairing) or a Super Bowl between the Steelers and Packers?”  First off, the Steelers and Packers are two of the most storied franchises in the history of football and the Brewers and Pirates are, well…not their baseball equivalents.  Secondly, the Super Bowl is an event that has become an annual cultural touchstone, for which the entire country practically shuts down for that one day.  The World Series takes place over the course of a week or two, and again, the final game could be played on a random weekday night, so there would be no way it could garner the type of ratings that the Super Bowl could. 

Having said all this—and man, I said way more than I set out to—I have no idea if people would switch the channel more so if you were talking about Andrew McCutchen than if you were talking about Ben Roethlisberger.  My hunch is you may already have some folks switching the channel because of football talk overload, but hey, you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

Personally, I won’t switch despite not getting the level of baseball talk I desire, because I enjoy the witty repartee between you and Wolf and you never know when your partner is going to go rogue, which is always amusing.  Of course, the second you guys start talking about hockey the radio gets turned off, so thanks for doing that only four times per year.

Respectfully yours,