Sunday, September 25, 2011

Fantasy world becomes reality

Editor’s Note: Prominent SBG enthusiast Fred “XMan” Stevens unexpectedly passed away on Feb. 16, 2011. He is profoundly missed. The following type of blog entry is part of a periodic SBG series called “From the XMan Chronicles” that will recount tales involving the XMan.

From the XMan Chronicles:

For the past couple of years, my father, cousin (who is like a brother) and I have played fantasy golf. Before that sentence immediately stops any reasonable person from reading, please keep in mind that actual money is exchanged in fantasy golf.

This year, 70 players ponied up a $50 entrance fee with additional side bets to create a total kitty of $5,200. Basically, how the fantasy-golf pool works is that you pick a golfer each week and you get his prize money, but you can't pick the same player twice. This year presented a strange fantasy-golf dynamic, though, because my dad unexpectedly passed away in February.

When that happened, I vowed to study fantasy golf as much as humanly possible to somehow win the pool in remembrance of my father. And get a load of this:

It worked. Today was the final day of fantasy golf, and I held on to win $1,300 for the overall crown and an additional $350 from other side bets. I've never won that much in anything.

But it wasn't about the money. It was about my dad.Throughout the day, I was stressing if I could win the pool because a top competitor had Luke Donald, who missed being in a playoff by a mere stroke. As I was stressing, a big problem was that I went to a 6-year-old's birthday party and did not watch the golf or see many updates.

Eventually, the news came via a text message that the final result was too close to call and I'd have to see the PGA Tour's prize-money distribution to see if I won. After that news, I walked back to the party and participated in a game of water-balloon toss with my 4-year-old Chloe.

During the balloon toss, I had an array of thoughts that nearly made me weep. Would XMan be proud of my fantasy-golf obsession? Could I somehow pay someone $100,000 for five minutes with him? Why isn't balloon toss at all parties?

Playing balloon toss with a loved one is a beautiful thing, enjoyable and pure. Could anything be better?

Strange things happened today to make me wonder if fantasy-golf spirituality exists. It ended up that the final result was too close to call because the person on my heels was the son of the golf pool's founder. The actual winner of the PGA tournament was Bill Haas, the son of famous golfer Jay Haas.

Today was all about fathers and sons, fantasy golf and balloon toss. Simultaneously to this, my brother Fred did his best Roy Hobbs imitation to hit three home runs in a softball doubleheader, and the lowly Cleveland Browns improved to 2-1 to have their first winning record in four years.

What would the XMan say about all of this? Well, that's pretty obvious. He'd simply say, "You got to be kidding me. It's all luck."

Friday, September 23, 2011

Who is the Tapatio man?

Does God exist? Is there life beyond our solar system? Why do humans exist?

All of those questions are simple to answer, but I've been struggling with a more serious question for quite some time: Who is the Tapatio man?

Through intense anecdotal evidence, I have discovered that Tapatio is the most common hot sauce. Often when I ask, "Can I have hot sauce?" Tapatio is delivered. Yet even with omnipotent Tapatio, no one knows the back story to the Tapatio man.

Seriously, the Tapatio man's story should exist somewhere. He's selling out more and more each day, and he's going mainstream. This year, Tapatio-flavored Doritos, Ruffles and Fritos even hit the market.I would like to think that he created his magical sauce when he realized that life needs a little spice. He then aptly mixed water, red peppers, salt, spices, garlic, acetic acid, xanthan gum and sodium benzoate and concocted a glorious flavor. But I have no proof that's what happened.

Was he a cowboy? A ladies' man? Was he a plain-food eater converted into a spicy-food lover? I do not know. The Tapatio website doesn't really help.

I guess some mysteries can never be answered. The Tapatio man remains intriguing and mysterious. Perhaps the xanthan gum is his secret ingredient.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Polack becomes wine guru

I asked myself a critical question last weekend: "Can a normal human being become a wine connoisseur in a mere weekend?"

Well, the answer is "no." But when the human being is me - a Polack from Cleveland - and when the weekend is Labor Day weekend, it is possible. And, yes, I now am a wine connoisseur.

Accompanied by a stunning and sophisticated lady, I toured Santa Barbara Wine Country and partook in 16 - yes, 16 - wineries or tasting rooms. For those familiar with this wine country, I toured Firestone, Zaca Mesa, Foxen, Tres Hermanas, Kenneth Volk, Cambria, Stolpman, Rusack, Beckman, Gainey, Somasara, Piedrasassi, Palmina, Flying Goat, Longoria and Ampelos.

The final six in the above list were in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto, which is in an industrial park. I liked those the best.

During this wine-crazed weekend, I tasted 105 (this is no exaggeration) wines. Is that possible, you might ask? Well, it happened. Of those 105, I tasted 96 of them and actually drank nine of them.Obviously, wine tastings are ridiculously detailed. If someone put as much focus in any other drink or food item, such as having a "soft drink tasting," everyone would laugh. Perspective can often be lost during wine tastings, and they can be hilarious.

At the Palmina wine room, for example, the guy pouring the wine verbally assaulted my sophisticated lady friend when she washed out her glass with water. "Don't you understand you just messed up the pH balance?" he said aghast as he rolled his eyes.

A few moments later, I asked him, "What is your stance on ice cubs in reds? Yeah or nay?"

Up until this past weekend, the most information I ever got on wine was when I saw the 2004 documentary "Wine for the Confused" with John Cleese. I loved the movie. It proved that nearly all serious wine drinkers could not tell the difference between a white or red wine when blindfolded and that serious wine drinkers also could not tell the difference between expensive or inexpensive wines.

In Santa Barbara, I did discover that I like lighter and smooth red wines, typically Pinot Noirs, and that I like white wines that are not quite as dry as Chardonnays, but not quite as fruity as typical Pinot Grigios. I like something in between those two.

Am I a pretentious wine snob now? No, I am not. But I can pretend to be.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Michael Scott, AKA my brother Fred, is officially off the market as he married his longtime girlfriend Judi on Saturday.

I had observed last year that Fred had developed strikingly similar characteristics as the lead character in "The Office." During the recent week I spent in Cleveland, I learned that most everyone who knows him feels the same thing. He accepts this fact, and as he and Judi were introduced at their wedding reception in Westlake, Ohio, the theme song from "The Office" played in the background.

My daughters and I truly enjoyed our week in Cleveland, and the wedding ceremony and reception were a good climax to a fun-filled week. I am a big fan of marriage, and believe when in doubt, people should get married. Nowadays, the convention is to get married later in life, but I believe marriages should start precisely at age 18.

In all seriousness, Fred and Judi are excellent friends and mates. There is no doubt with the impending success of their union. Now that I think of it, they've actually been together for 91 years.The only questionable thing that happened with the marriage is that the day after the wedding, my brother had appeared to morph from Michael Scott to Rich Little.

The problem there was that he didn't do any impressions, but he had the same corny humor as Little. This manifested itself in 1-800-JOKES. Someone asked about a longtime friend who apparently sleeps around a lot, and Fred/Rich Little said, "Well, it's really easy to reach her ... if you call 1-800-SLUT."

For the rest of the conversation, he supplied answers with all 1-800-REPLIES. My cousin, apply nicnamed "Know-It-All," informed him that 1-800 numbers typically have seven digits after the 800. My brother then did simple math in his head to give us 1-800-ANSWERS with the proper digits.