Hold the Artichoke

March 5, 2016
 "Remember, a writer writes, always."
Larry Donner (Billy Crystal) in "Throw Momma From the Train."
OK, that wasn’t a great movie.  It really wasn’t even a good movie.  It’s mostly memorable because Anne Ramsey ("Momma") was perfect casting.  It’s hard to imagine anyone else in that role, and it’s hard to imagine her playing anyone else.  She was nominated for an Academy Award for that memorable performance.
But, that quote above from the movie popped into my head over the weekend as I was pondering this brief article.  Now, it’s presumptuous to consider myself a "writer" after 6 months of publishing material on this site.  That’s a pretty short time.  However, I have noticed that, since I started writing, my brain works differently.  I am always trying to think of new material, new topics.  I look at people and events and think to myself, "I wonder if that would be interesting to anyone else?" "Would it make a worthwhile piece?"   So, a writer doesn’t literally always write…..but I think a writer is consistently thinking about writing.
Up to this point, virtually all of my material has been about baseball, and when it hasn’t, it has still been in some way related to sports.  However, I have noticed that there is certainly room for other topics in this space.  If you look at some of Bill’s articles, or "Hey Bill", or "Reader Posts", there are definitely other topics that get discussed.  Certainly, politics is a popular topic.  So, even though we all know what the primary focus of the site is, there does appear to be room for other topics.  So, as I’m still working on finalizing my next major project (which is coming, I promise), I’m always looking for short, quick articles to fill the gap.
Channeling my Inner Posnanski
It probably goes without saying that the #1 influence on my baseball thinking and writing is Bill James.  I’m still amazed that I get the opportunity to write on this site.  I’ve been reading him for over 40 years, and he has helped shaped the way I look at many things, even outside of baseball and sports.  Not that I always agree with him, of course.  That would be more than anyone could or should expect.  But I always respect the way that he approaches something, the way that he considers the options, and the manner in which he presents his findings.
So, he’s clearly #1 in my list of personal influences when it comes to writing.  But, #2 would have to be Joe Posnanski.  I’m always anticipating his next article or blog entry.  Like I do with Bill, I find myself eagerly looking forward to what he will write about next.  And, as is the case with Bill’s writings, I may not agree with everything he says, but that’s really beside the point.  I’m always interested in seeing what he will say, and I appreciate the manner in which he writes about the topics.   If Bill James is Babe Ruth, Joe Posnanski is Lou Gehrig. 
I do feel a certain connection to Posnanski.  Like him, I was born in Ohio, although he’s Cleveland-area and I’m Cincinnati/Dayton area, so that poses a bit of a dilemma on the football front.  However, Joe did spend a few years writing for the Cincinnati Post, and he wrote a fantastic book a few years back called "The Machine" about the Big Red Machine, which was the team I grew up admiring.  We’re close to the same age (I have a few years on him), he’s married with 2 kids (as am I), and he seems to have a certain affinity for "The Princess Bride".  I can certainly relate to him.
One specific thing I’ve noticed about his columns is that, while they are, of course, overwhelmingly about sports, he occasionally dips into his personal life and writes about his family.  It is in that vein that I decided I would post this, because I can’t believe I had this conversation.
Friday Nights
We tend to eat in most nights during the week.  Simple, family dinners, especially given everyone’s hectic schedules, seem to work best.  By the time Friday evening rolls around, though, we like to take a little break from the routine, so our ritual is that I will bring in something on my way home from work.  Chipotle is a common choice for the brood, sometimes it’s "Big Boy", sometimes Indian.  This past Friday the consensus was Penn Station East Coast Subs.  Now, I don’t know how familiar you are with Penn Station.  Even though it’s labeled "East Coast Subs", it’s headquartered in Cincinnati, OH.  Apparently it was originally inspired by Philly cheese steaks, and they specialize in grilled subs.  I believe you find Penn Stations mostly in the Midwest and the South.
When I bring in from Penn Station, it’s mostly a no-brainer.  Mostly.  My wife always gets the same thing – grilled artichoke with mushrooms, no mayo.  My daughter always gets the same thing – cheese bread with pizza sauce (basically, a pizza sub).  They know what they like, and they decided on their favorites a long time ago.  They’re as locked in as Von Miller on a quarterback, Bryce Harper on a pitch right down the middle, and Steph Curry on the rim after he takes a step or two over midcourt.  They’re easy.
My son……not so much.
My son is deliberate.  He likes to dabble.  He likes to experiment.  He likes to try different things.  He doesn’t have a favorite at any restaurant.  Each time I need to call in my order to somewhere, he wants to know all the options.  What’s on their menu?  Has it changed lately?  Did they add anything new?  So, I know that each Friday, I have to allow a little extra time to extract his choice.
I’m not complaining, mind you.  I can appreciate the fact that he wants to carefully consider his options.  He wants to make the perfect choice every time.  It’s that type of patience and careful consideration that led me to marry relatively late in life.  It’s like I tell people….if I had met my wife sooner, I would have married her…..but I hadn’t met her yet.  If I had settled for less earlier, I wouldn’t have ultimately made the right choice.  So, I can appreciate where the lad is coming from.
Anyway, I called to get everyone’s order so I could phone it in, and after confirming my wife and my daughter’s usual choices, here’s the way the rest of the conversation unfolded:
Me: "OK son, tonight it’s Penn Station.  What would you like?"
Him: "What did I have last time?  I bet you don’t remember." (Note – he likes to get in little digs like that)
Me: "I think you had a grilled chicken"
Him: "What else do they have?"
Me: "Let’s see….corned beef, turkey, tuna, veggie, cheese steak.  Pretty much anything."
Him: "I don’t know".
Me: "Your sister’s getting a pizza sub."
Him: "What’s mom getting?"
Me: "She’s getting her usual – grilled artichoke with mushrooms, no mayo"
Him: "Oooh.  That sounds amazing!"
Me: "So, is that what you want?"
Him: "Yeah.  Although, can you sub turkey for the artichoke?"
Pause for silence……
Me: "Um…you want a grilled artichoke, but substitute turkey for the artichoke?"
Him: "Yes.  That sounds amazing." (note – he likes to describe things as "amazing")
Me:  "Son, I believe they call that a grilled turkey."
Him: "Well, I really want the grilled artichoke, but I want turkey instead of the artichoke, is all".
Me: "So, what was the part that sounded so ‘amazing’ about the grilled artichoke when I first mentioned it?  The ‘grilled’ part?"
Me: "I think I need to order that as a grilled turkey.  So, let’s start with that.  What do you want on it?  Lettuce?  Tomato?"
Him: "Dad, I’m not going to go through it with you.  I told you what I want."
Me: "OK.  A grilled artichoke.  Hold the artichoke.  Sub with turkey?"
Him: "Yes"
Me: "OK.  Bye."
Him: "Bye Dad.  And thanks."
It felt an awful lot like that scene from "Five Easy Pieces" where Jack Nicholson was trying to get some plain toast but it wasn’t on the menu, and he went back and forth with the waitress over it, and he finally ordered a chicken salad sandwich on toast, but hold the chicken.  I think you remember the rest of the scene……
So, I thought about it for a little, and tried to put together what my son was trying to tell me.  He wasn’t trying to be difficult.  I recalled he once had ordered a grilled artichoke sub before.  And he liked it, but he wasn’t crazy about the artichoke.  So, he liked everything else that it came with…..just not the artichoke itself.  He liked the oregano, the provolone, the parmesan, and the mushrooms.  That’s what he wanted....with turkey.  So, I called it in as a grilled turkey, with those particular extras.  And, he loved it.
So, yes, a writer writes, always.  Except sometimes, the stories essentially write themselves.  If you have kids, you probably know exactly what I mean. 
You can’t make this stuff up.

COMMENTS (20 Comments, most recent shown first)

I agree that the upper part of this piece wasn't necessary, but I don't see it so harshly and I kind of liked it. This kind of casual lead-in is something that Dan often does, and I like it. My only quibble (and it did raise my eyebrows a bit) was the space and emphasis given to Posnanski -- nothing against him, just not thinking it was particularly relevant or applicable, including because I don't see him as any special purveyor of that -- and I think it's possible that he himself would agree. For example, Bill often mixes family stuff in what he writes too, as do many many others.....
12:06 PM Mar 7th
3 suggestions to improve this piece of writing:
1. Lose everything before "Friday Nights"
2. Tell us how old your son is
3. For the love of God, don't ever say "You can't make this stuff up."
11:58 AM Mar 7th
Pob: Nice job there. I was already giving him full credit, and myself 100 lashes with a wet noodle.

Jpc: Yes, it sure looks more like a double 'v' -- and I knew the French call it that, from a memorable scene in a cute old French film (Small Change). A little kid is showing off his knowledge of motorcycle brands, and one of the ones he says is "B-M-doublé-ve."
11:37 AM Mar 7th
The French version of W makes a little bit more sense - it's pronounced "double ve", where that e has an "accent aigu" (acute accent).

Basically, Double V, just the way it looks.
9:05 AM Mar 7th
My recollection is that Baseball Digest followed the usual magazine practice regarding cover dates, so that the March 1976 issue of BD would have come out in February at the latest. So, yeah, over 40 years is probably right. :-)
9:03 AM Mar 7th
Maris, re your comment:

"By the way, how many of you are realizing when you say the name of the letter "W" that it has a "U" in it, not to mention a "double"?"

I certainly do, because one of the little legendary stories in my family concerned my uncle as a 4 year old being taught the alphabet, going through letters one by one, repeating each one back to his mother (my grandmother). When she got near the end, she says "Double-U," to which her young son replied, "Double-Me!"

I am still vaguely conscious of this story every time I hear that letter spoken...
12:36 AM Mar 7th
"The Machine" was a decent book. But not fantastic.
11:54 PM Mar 6th
How about this:
Going up to the clubhouse, you say "We only have 3 in our foursome today."
8:25 PM Mar 6th

Nice story. I can relate. When my granddaughter was younger and we went to Starbucks, she always wanted an iced hot chocolate. If she was within earshot, I said it that way. If she wasn't, I would order chocolate milk with ice.
6:11 PM Mar 6th
In my 'early' days I usually didn't even notice who wrote any given article; it was as though everything was by 'the magazine,' as though no individuals were involved. Pretty much the only time I noticed was in magazines like SPORT where Letters to the Editor would praise or bitch about some of the writers (usually the latter), and then I'd notice when other articles were by those guys.

Now it's the opposite: I barely start reading something until checking who wrote it.
12:33 PM Mar 6th
Hi MarisFan,

To be fair, it wasn't until years later that I realized that the Baseball Digest article was his, because I wasn't really familiar with him at the time of that article. I think it was in the '82 Abstract, which is the first Abstract I owned (and the first one he didn't self-publish), where he wrote something called "In Defense of Range Factor" where he revisited the topic, and the light bulb went on in my head, and I realized, "Oh....he's THAT guy!" :)
11:31 AM Mar 6th
Dan: So, darn if you weren't right on the 'math'!!

I didn't realize Bill had things published as early as that!
11:22 AM Mar 6th
As a longtime deli employee I can attest that people order " artichoke sub_- no artichoke" all the time. It is quite uncommon as a matter of fact to get an order with no changes or special instructions. I know that many people will consider this a real reach but I suspect that this inclination toward orders laden with " specs" is a reflection of an increasingly narcissistic society...
10:49 AM Mar 6th
Thanks for another good read, Dan. Like you, Bill & Poz are the two main pillars of my baseball reading. I love Joe's pieces about his daughters, and encourage you to write more about your kids, not only for your readers but for your kids, as well.

Joe's pieces are little slices in time- snapshots- that give insight to his thoughts and feelings as a parent as well as to the character & development of the daughter he's writing about. For them, these will become, years from now, priceless little gems that aid them in understanding who they are, how they developed, and how other people see them, as well as to pull back the curtain on their dad's mind- to show the thought processes that were behind how they were parented.
9:25 AM Mar 6th
OK.... Just looked it up. That Baseball Digest article was in the March 1976 issue, so I guess I should have said "about 40 years", or something like that.

Happy anniversary......
8:25 AM Mar 6th
I meant "year", not "yeat".
8:04 AM Mar 6th
Hi Marisfan,

Thanks for the comments.

Regarding the math, though.....I did use an accurate figure. I have been reading Bill for over 40 years, because the earliest piece of his that I recall reading was an article in Baseball Digest called "Fielding Statistics Do Make Sense!", where he wrote about Range Factor, and I believe it appeared in 1975. So, if I have that yeat right, it's been a little over 40 years.

8:02 AM Mar 6th
(BTW, kidding about the math!
But I do think you meant 30.)
4:41 AM Mar 6th
Neat little vignette.
And really, I think it's as much a story about linguistics as it is about kids.

Words and phrases often take on usages that send them away from their basic meanings, to the point that we don't even notice that those words or phrases are in there. Let's see, what's an example: When we talk about "hammering out" something, are we aware that we said the name of a tool? I'm sure not. When we talking about someone being "on the ropes," are we thinking "ropes," or boxing? For me, the expression is so disconnected from its individual words that one time when I was watching an old boxing match on youtube, I was thinking, he's got him on the ropes -- and it took a "doh" moment for me to realize that that's exactly where the expression comes from, and there really are 'ropes' involved.

I think we're so used to stuff like that, that we can sometimes inadvertently make up our own such meanings, sometimes unknowingly -- and I'd guess kids especially do it. I guess that to your son, "grilled artichoke" meant that whole mix of stuff, and the fact that it included a key ingredient called artichoke was incidental, so, why should anyone think it's weird if he wants "grilled artichoke" without artichoke in it?

By the way, how many of you are realizing when you say the name of the letter "W" that it has a "U" in it, not to mention a "double"?
2:00 AM Mar 6th
You are a writer!

But sometimes your math isn't that good. You meant "over 30 years"! :-)
1:42 AM Mar 6th
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