And He Doesn’t Even Like Pancakes

Part of my parents’ custody agreement was that my sister and I went to my dad’s, about an hour south of our place in Carney (an older suburb just across the city line from Baltimore), every other weekend. One of the highlights of that weekend, for me, was the one morning when he would make pancakes. Sometimes it was Saturday, sometimes it was Sunday, but almost every weekend we were there my dad made pancakes.

I love pancakes. My stepfather, with whom I lived with my mother, my sister and my stepsister, also regularly made pancakes. Pancakes are my breakfast of choice for my birthday, typically prepared by my stepfather, because I always woke up on my birthday morning at home.

But those pancakes made by my father every other weekend, something was special. He doesn’t really cook, though he’s always baked bread rather irregularly. His two specialties are super-spicy, homemade cheese-its, and pancakes. Those two items pretty much constitute my earliest food memories.

It wasn’t until I was an adult I found out my dad never really ate the pancakes*. They were just for my sister and I, because we loved them.

*Holy crap I just wrote the word “pancakes” seven times in four short paragraphs.

The Pierre Thomas Jersey

saints11:

By Alexander J. Hancock

A little over two weeks ago, I moved away from New Orleans after about 4 1/2 years living there. I wrote over a thousand words on my personal Tumblr about why I pursued a job in New York, why I accepted it and how I felt leaving New Orleans, with several asides reifying the city and its culture and the people that make it what it is. But I didn’t publish it. Because really, as always, it all comes down to the Saints.

When I took this new job, I knew I couldn’t afford to hire movers and none of my possessions was worth renting a Budget truck. So I moved in my car, selling most of my big items, giving away others and donating a number to Goodwill. But when I was finally packing up my car the day before leaving, it became clear that I still had too many possessions, so I started offloading even more stuff, with a large amount of that going to my neighbor, the godmother of the 3000 block of Dumaine Street, Ms. Barbara. 

Among everything I offloaded to Ms Barbara was a pair of 8”x10” Saints pictures—one of Marques Colston, my favorite athlete ever, and the other of Scott Fujita, both purchased for 20 bucks from Wal Mart in early 2009—that just couldn’t fit in the car. So I asked Ms. Barbara if she or her son Will, who is in his 30s and lives the other half of Ms. Barbara’s quintessentially New Orleanian double shotgun, would want them. She said, “Oh, honey, yes. Give those to me. Will’s got a whole room filled with Saints stuff, he’ll love these.” So I gave them to her.

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Closure

The NFL’s Concussion Crisis is Terrifying Because Football Players are People, Too

Former Atlanta Falcon Ray Easterling died on Thursday from a self-inflicted shotgun blast to the head. He was 62 years old and had long suffered from depression, insomnia and dementia—three ailments that occur in rates far greater in football players than the general population. And in addition to occurring more often, dementia—along with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, another illness appearing more regularly in retired football players—often takes hold much earlier in life. These are all relatively rare, old-people’s ailments; for football players, they’re common, young people’s illnesses.

Per the New York Times and other outlets, Easterling was a named plaintiff in a lawsuit against the NFL filed last summer. The lawsuit contended the league had known about the concussion risk in football for decades and done nothing to address it, ignoring, lying about and capitalizing from concussion-inducing hits in the game while not providing adequate treatment to concussed players. (As someone who recently suffered a sports-related concussion, I can attest that adequate treatment goes a hell of a long way to speeding up recovery time and generally helping with quality of life. And that’s with just one concussion, not one or more per year for several years.) In response, the league has taken a number of steps in recent years to address concussions in the sport, changing many of the rules to protect players, fining players guilty of illegal or dangerous hits and attempting to stamp out a widespread culture of bounties and intentionally injurious play. The efficacy of these steps isn’t quite certain, as they sometimes come off as cynical attempts to minimize legal liability in lawsuits such as Easterling’s by shifting the blame for violent hits from the league-as-arbiter-of-sport’s-culture to rogue players and teams. Still, they’re steps.

But despite any changes in rules, discipline or culture, football will continue to be violent, as that violence is inherent to the sport. For it to continue as tackle football as such, defenders will tackle, ballcarriers will attempt to barrel over tacklers and linemen will battle in the trenches, crashing into each other with all their might over and over and over again. No matter what, players will continue to suffer brain trauma. They know this, but the exciting, entertaining, beautiful, challenging and violent sport is worth it to them. The net result of this is that the Ray Easterlings of tomorrow will be the Austin Collies of today.

How will we, as fans, feel when the broken shell of Ray Lewis is taken out on a wheelchair to “throw” the first pitch at the Orioles’ Opening Day in 2042? How should we react to the future suicides of our current heroes? Is our fandom worth their future pain?

Ray Easterling played only seven seasons in the NFL, helping the Falcons set team and league records. For his troubles, he got depression and dementia, leading to his suicide. (Granted, there is a very good chance Easterling was genetically predisposed to these ailments; we do not know his family history. The caveat is that football does not cause these issues, but it exacerbates and accelerates them.) His is the human face of a sport that is more often reduced to the ultimate goal of athletics: wins and losses. Fans and pundits dissect and analyze and criticize players’ performances based on their stat lines, reducing their existences to quantifiable measures that obscure the fact that these are regular, hard-working, freakishly athletic human beings with histories, families, feelings and futures.

Let’s take a fairly typical player (one of my favorites) as an example: Jabari Greer, a former undrafted free agent who recently received a contract extension from the Saints. As an engaged member of his hometown community and a talented, funny writer, Greer has proven himself to be more than just a talented cover corner. As a Saints fan, I love having him on our team and in our city. But on top of that he is, quite simply, a human being. He seems like a pretty good guy. The idea that his quality of life and his intellectual power might be reduced significantly when his football career ends is deeply saddening.

When you start to think of these players as human beings rather than stat lines and spots on a depth chart, you can’t help but wish them the best. All of them. I don’t like the Falcons and think Roddy White is an ass, but he’s still a person whom I would hate to see fall victim to any sort of catastrophic injury or slowly-degenerating ailment.

We often discuss football in terms inspired by warfare. Teams are run with military-level secrecy; games are war; linemen battle in the trenches; quarterbacks throw bombs. On another level, the sport is very much at war with itself as its inherent violence threatens the long term viability of the NFL’s presently unimaginable profitability. And as fans we continue to cheer it on as these men destroy themselves for the competition, inspiring us with pure enjoyment and community pride.

But the players are not just players. They are people. Let us not forget that.

The Hell Do I Do With This?

Last night I had a shit time sleeping. Just couldn’t turn the old brain off as I lay there thinking about the beach and adventures and work and anything else. As I started to drift off, I wrote about 200 words of the beginning of a story. This is particularly odd, because I rarely think about, let alone compose sentences for, fiction anymore, despite writing killer fiction being The Dream. What’s more, this was most definitely set in New Orleans, and I’ve vowed many times that my next piece of non-Eater writing has to be non-New Orleanian. At this stage in my (nascent) career, I need to take proactive steps not to become yet another New Orleans-based local color writer. Don’t know if you know this, but we have a lot of those here. I don’t want to be stuck in the purgatory of local color.

Anyway, kind of liking the sentences I was constructing in my head, I decided to type out some notes on my phone so that I could remember them in the morning. Here’s how my memo read:

Hungry sweaty street. Small street slides into intersection like a crick feeding a river. Why the hell is he wearing a jacket anyway? No, this is esplanade. Cigarette. Sex.

While these notes help me remember what I was thinking about in my head as I dozed off, I’m pretty sure that this handful of stream-of-consciousness phrases is better than any piece of proper fiction I could write.

How to Improve Your Life

Everything is better with a fried egg. Toast is great, toast with a fried egg is better. A croque monsieur is great, but a croque madame is even better. Pizza and pasta, both of these are great as well. But they’re both taken to unspeakable heights of wonder and deliciousness when you put a fried egg on top. Burgers, too, are delicious, but with fried eggs they are so very much better.

Bad hangover? Have a fried egg. So broke you can barely afford any food? Don’t buy ramen, buy eggs, and fry them. Going through a bad break up? Have a fried egg. Boss screams at you for no reason. Have a fried egg—and offer to make her one as well.

In case you didn’t get my thesis here—everything in life is better with a fried egg. A fried egg makes the lows a little less low, and makes the highs infinitely better. The gross becomes tasty, the tasty becomes heavenly, with only the addition of a single, simple, fried egg.

“To be only slightly hyperbolic, the Saints are my life”: Alexander J. Hancock on what the Saints mean to him.

saints11:

This is another in our continuing series of essays answering the question “What do the New Orleans Saints mean to you?” In it, Alexander J. Hancock of NOLA Eater explains Saints fandom—and New Orleans itself—as an essential part of our cultural identify.

So, I’ll be completely honest. I have no real reason to love the Saints, especially not with the obsessive intensity I feel for them. I live in New Orleans, but I haven’t really lived here for that long. The truth is, I didn’t even grow up a football fan. I’m from Baltimore, born only three years after the Baltimore Colts’ alcoholic owner, Bob Irsay, packed up the team in a bunch of Mayflower moving vans and stole away to Indianapolis in the middle of the night. For a couple of years in the early ’90s, we had the Stallions, a CFL (yes, Canadian Football League) team. They’re now the Montreal Alouettes. And when I was 10, Baltimore did to Cleveland what Indianapolis had previously done to them and stole the Browns. But by that point I was a devoted and obsessive soccer player, and there was little room in my life for football.

But then in 2008 I moved to New Orleans, and the Saints started to mean something to me. For one, I watched more football than I ever had before and learned to love watching games—any game with any team—in bars with friends or at home alone. So I started to understand and appreciate the sport to the point that I think I’m a relatively knowledgeable fan. But that’s not really it. The Saints mean so much more than that to me. To be only slightly hyperbolic, the Saints are my life.

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This. I’ve been thinking about this for a while. Many thanks to the folks at Saints 11 for posting.

Thoughts on the New Year

I should note that I woke up at 2AM this morning and haven’t yet gotten any sleep. This is not going to be the most articulate or logically consistent essay I’ve ever written, but dammit I’ve got big feelings and I want to express them.

New Year’s as a holiday is not really my thing. I’ve never truly celebrated a New Year’s Eve and actually enjoyed it. It’s always seemed like a pretty arbitrary excuse for serious drinking. And while I’m a big fan of serious drinking, New Year’s has never seemed worth being anything other than another night out. Of all the drinking holidays—Halloween, Mardi Gras, Independence Day—New Year’s Eve is my least favorite. I’m not a fan of New Year’s Resolutions—I think they’re gimmicky and rarely followed through upon.

But for the day job, I conducted a survey of friends and associates about their food and dining experiences from the last year, finishing with a question that asked them to make predictions for the year ahead. While many of the responses to this were goofy, they were all generally positive, hopeful. Going through these responses, when combined with a pretty serious lack of a sleep, some good coffee and even better music, made me think for the first time that there’s actually some value in marking the arrival of a new year.

Before I get too far, I should confess that,  for the last two years, I’ve declared each to be the year of something. 2010 was the Year of the Alex, in which I was trying to be more assertive and make more autonomous decisions based on my own needs, desires and feelings; and 2011 was the Year of Good Decisions, in which, basically, I was trying to do the same. This system, while it’s kind of fun and whimsical, is either only a half step above or even a half step below regular resolutions. It’s a gimmick, and the similarity of my goals for both 2010 and 2011 suggests I did a shit job of actually following through. It was fun to say, but I wasn’t really productively marking the coming of a new year. I was just riffing on regular resolutions in an insincere way.

Yet, as I said, I’m starting to think that there’s real value in taking a moment at the end of the year, really stopping, and looking back at the year that was in an effort to look towards the year that will be. While the year ahead can be pretty scary—have I mentioned that in the Year of Good Decisions I actually made some pretty terrible ones, and am starting 2012 in pretty serious debt?—the act of physically, intellectually stopping to look ahead is an essentially hopeful one. It reminds me, honestly, of everybody stopping all at once to sing the chorus of Rainbow Connection.

(Oh. Right. When I said earlier that I was listening to good music while forming these thoughts, I was actually listening to the Muppets soundtrack.)

Seriously, though, that’s probably the most hopeful song in the history of music, with only slight hyperbole there. To wit:

Rainbows are visions, but only illusions,
and rainbows have nothing to hide.
So we’ve been told and some choose to believe it.
I know they’re wrong, wait and see.
Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection.
The lovers, the dreamers and me

Right? Feels pretty effing good. But the music’s not all that uplifting. It’s kinda mournful and makes me feel like, man, there’s something good out there and fuck if I can’t find it. “What’s so amazing that keeps us stargazing?” No idea, but dammit I’m gonna keep looking. And then there’s the key change to a major and the song accuses the listener of having been half asleep and of hearing voices:

Is this the sweet sound that called the young sailors?
The voice might be one and the same.
I’ve heard it too many times to ignore it.
It’s something that I’m supposed to be.
Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection.
The lovers, the dreamers and me.

That’s how the new year makes me feel. But New Year’s as a holiday is still stupid.

Oh, and 2012? It’s the Year of Good Work.

-AJH

Here’s a Thing About Foodie Culture

I kinda-sorta spaced out last night at a food-based fundraiser. I’m still new to the whole New Media thing, so I’m not exactly comfortable attending events like that. Until some other New Media friends got there, I was on my own. And since I’m no good at mingling, I just wandered, ate and drank a little.

And yeah, I spaced out and ended up watching a noteworthy local chef cook for about 10-15 minutes, just staring. I’m sure it creeped him out. I found myself on the wrong side of his table, on the cooking side, not the serving side. On the serving side, the dishes are pretty and the foodies are oohing and ahhing*. On the cooking side, shit gets real.

I had this thought: Cooking, as a profession, is a shitty and gritty endeavor. The whole celebrity chef-driven, fancy-pants obsession with food (of which I am a key player, I admit) is, in the end, quite superficial. On Chopped or whatever, the cooking competitions are exciting, sexy, intense, but ultimately (and purely) they’re just entertainment. That’s not what it’s really like. The reality of the thing, when you’re sweating your ass off over an open flame, working with hot-fucking-oil, trying to feed 1500 do-gooders who showed up to the fundraiser to hob-nob with celebrity chefs support the kids, is that it’s really quite unglamorous. But maybe that’s where the glamor comes from.

Take all this with a grain of salt, though. I haven’t actually cooked in a kitchen in years, and even then I was no good at it. I also recognize that many, if not most, of foodie types have worked in the service industry, and that’s a good thing.

*Spell check recognizes “oohing” but not “ahhing.” Really, spell check?