#50 - Steaks Is High

If you have ever spoken to me for more than six minutes, it’s very likely that I have mentioned to you my love of CostCo. I have a deep and abiding passion for CostCo that is so great I have trouble containing it all within my body. I am an Executive Member at Costco, which is the top level of membership, but if they had a higher tier, I would sign up for that without even inquiring about the benefits. If I had a real job, I would gladly orchestrate some kind of arrangement whereby 90% of my money would be directly deposited at CostCo and in exchange I could just flash my membership tattoo and take whatever I wanted from the warehouse.

For me, shopping at CostCo is not an errand; it’s an event. I plan days around going to CostCo. Before I buy anything anywhere other than CostCo, I ask myself, “Should I wait and buy this from CostCo?” I bought my car from CostCo.

The CostCo here in Madison is brand spankin’ new—it only opened about two months ago—and I think our household has probably experienced about a 14% upturn in quality of life since that glorious day. Of course, mastering the CostCo lifestyle takes some planning and, sadly, it’s not the right fit for everyone. It takes time to extract the greatest benefits from a CostCo membership, and if you don’t practice restraint, CostCo can burn you.

I feel sad whenever I see someone who’s lost a bout with CostCo. CostCo doesn’t mean to hurt anyone. CostCo is a beneficial, but very powerful entity. Like the sun, or a strong medicine, CostCo is a force for good, but too much CostCo, or CostCo in the wrong hands, can be harmful.

The best place to spot people who’ve been burned by CostCo is in the parking lot. Peer into people’s carts and it’s easy to identify the things they came to buy, and the things they ended up buying.

See that guy over there? Check out his cart. He’s got diapers, milk, frozen pizzas, Luna bars, a telescope and a two-pack of wetsuits. Yep. He lost his head and now he’s paying the price. He’s going to feel that in the morning.

Because I have such a healthy respect for the power of the ‘Co, I consider and reconsider just about everything I buy there. There are certain items I restock on every time I go CostCoing: the baby green salad mix, Pellegrino water (the mercifully non-stingy cousin of Perrier,) milk, toothpaste, paper towels. Whenever we run out of any of these items, I head to the ‘Co to replenish. This roster of auto-buy items is extremely exclusive, and I am judicious about making changes to it. I flirted for months with the large, $20 hunks of authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano before taking the plunge. (If you store it properly, it’s a home run.) Recently, however, I made my boldest ever addition to the Master List: Big Beef.

I have been fascinated by CostCo’s giant, unbutchered, cryovaced packages of beef since I first entered the faith three years ago in San Diego. CostCo, if you haven’t been, sells everything in enormous sizes. So, where at a supermarket you could buy one ribeye steak for $8.99 per pound, at CostCo, you can buy five ribeye steaks for $6.99 per pound. The tradeoff being that while you’re paying less, you’re buying more. The essential question you must ask every time you buy food from CostCo is, “Will my small family possibly be able to consume all this before it goes bad? And furthermore, will we be left stoically cramming the last 12 pounds of plums down our gullets in a frantic attempt not to waste them?”

Because I’m aware of how tragically easy it might be to find oneself making, say, portobello mushrooms, the focus of every meal for a week, I’ve always gazed longingly at, but resisted purchasing, the massive sides ‘o beef on sale at the meat counter. CostCo sells uncut beef shoulders, strip steaks and ribeyes in 10-30 pound vacuum-sealed packages for below even the low, low prices they charge for butchered beef. Where you’d pay $6.99 per pound for four individual New York strip steaks, if you buy the entire 15-pound strip and butcher it yourself you pay only $4.99 per pound.

As a guy who relishes his role as chef de cuisine at Maison Connolly—not to mention one who is lavish and attentive in his appreciation of fine beef—I was attracted to the obvious benefits of getting quality meat at about half of supermarket cost. What I wasn’t sure I could do was 1. Butcher what looked like about a quarter cow, and 2. Store all that meat without it deteriorating into mealy undeliciousness.

However, on a recent trip, the discovery of a very manageable-looking 14-pound hunk of strip steak converged with the appearance of my tax return in the ol’ savings account, and I finally pulled the trigger on a Big Beef buy. Driving the meat home, I was in a full-on paroxysm of buyer’s remorse. Could I possibly do justice to the promise of this meat? Or had I violated my own rules and flown too close to the sun?

When I got the beef home I immediately sliced open the package and laid it out on my board. It was an intimidating hunk of flesh to say the least, and I stood over it for some time steeling, not only my knife, but my nerves.

The meat was soft, and as I probed it gently with my fingers, visions of oblong, impossible-to-cook-evenly, money-wasting steaks filled my head. To improve butcherability I then made a very wise decision: I put the beef in my freezer. I checked the meat frequently as it chilled and after 90 minutes it had reached a welcome firmness without freezing. During this time, I also plugged in and cleaned out an unused fridge in the basement.

Readdressing the now firm hunk, I mapped out the cuts I wanted to make with my knife in the fat cap. First, I decided, I would cut my own “Ultimate Steak.” This was a two-and-a-half-inch thick, monstrous, marbled slab I sliced from the end of the strip. One side, of course, was clean cut from where my knife divided it from the rest of the meat, but the other side was all knobs and crannies and little wisps of fat and flesh that promised to crisp up to a nearly indecent degree of delicious. (You can see my baby on the far left in the picture below.)

Next, I cut out an almost equally ridiculous slab for Joy and Oliver to enjoy on “Ultimate Steak Night.” Cutting the meat wasn’t nearly as difficult as I’d feared. Especially after its repose in the freezer, the meat was about as hard to cut as, say, a wheel of cheese might be. There were no bones to contend with, and, of course, I take maintenance of my 8-inch Shun chef’s knife very seriously.

In the end, the $50 hunk of beef yielded my two “Ultimate Steaks,” two steak-for-two-sized steaks, four individual serving steaks, and one big honking roast. At this point I started to get excited. (I didn’t really plan to write about this purchase. The reason there are so many pictures, and that the pictures are so crappy, is that I was taking them with my phone and picture messaging my brother about my progress.) Looking at what I’d wrought I finally exhaled a little bit. It certainly seemed like I’d knocked down the big shot.

I mean, that roast alone would run you $30 at a supermarket, and you’d be stealing those four individual steaks for $20, so, in essence, in exchange for a little planning and philosophizing, I was getting the two “Ultimate Steaks” and the two steaks-for-two, for nothing!

Of course, if I couldn’t keep the meat in a way that prevented deterioration, I’d be throwing away everything I’d worked for—dishonoring my family and the animal who’d given its life to put food on our table. “Steaks” were high, so I turned my attention to storage solutions.

I’d actually tapped on the window of the butchers’ room at CostCo and solicited the meatcutter’s advice on keeping my meat in prime condition. He advised me that moisture was the main enemy and that I should dry the meat as much as possible before freezing. As I mentioned previously, I’d cleaned and activated an unused fridge in the basement, so I went down there and lay the steaks and roasts on their fat caps directly on the bars of the refrigerator shelf. This allowed air to circulate around the meat to the greatest possible degree and aided in drying. I then said goodbye to my meat for four days.

I checked on my babies periodically during that anxious time, and when they’d dried out considerably (see picture one below) and had just started thinking about becoming funky, I took them out, sealed them up with a $5 ziplock vacuum thingy and put them in the freezer. (Picture two below.)

I reserved my two “Ultimate Steaks,” for dinner that night and grilled them over hickory chunks—no charcoal, just wood. I served them with a grilled asparagus salad and pesto/roasted garlic mashed potatoes.

I built my fire in one corner of the grill and left the opposite side empty. Because a pure wood fire burns hotter and faster than charcoal, I seared the meat to crisp perfection on both sides, then moved it over to the cold side, covered the grill, and let it roast to just past"Pittsburgh rare." (This is a really great term describing a steak cooked very crisp outside and left quite rare inside.) I removed the meat directly to the serving plates, let them rest for five looooooong minutes, then doused them with extra virgin olive oil and sea salt and dug in.

I have honestly never had a better steak in my life.

I’ve been to a lot of great steakhouses: Peter Luger’s, Wolfgang’s, N9ne, Morton’s, Au Boeuf Couronne' in Paris. I also did a story a while back about attending BBQ U, so I got to eat a steak cooked by PBS grillmaster Steven Raichlen. And while I have possibly consumed better quality meat than I had on “Ultimate Steak Night,” I have never had a better all-around steak experience. The sense of ownership and participation in the meal, the fact that I nailed the cooking, the sense that I’d be able to replicate this success, and the fact that I was actually saving the family money all contributed to my net enjoyment.

Take a look back at the picture of my “Ultimate Steak” above. See that little pointy endpiece? Can you imagine how smoky, fatty, crispy that got? I had chills when ate that.

So, in the end, The Great Steak experiment has yielded no less than a significant lump sum improvement in the quality of our lives. I’m now getting custom butchered, dry-aged beef for less than $5 a pound. It’s damn near a superpower.

#49 - Things I Love and Hate Around My Neighborhood #2: My Neighbors

We are very lucky around here to have an awesome roster of neighbors. I'm pretty much surrounded on all sides by people I have a genuine affection for. Just yesterday, I was hanging out on the floor with Max, when I looked out the window and found Danielle, my right-side neighbor, mowing my lawn for me! It was great.

Now, lest you think she was mowing my lawn because it was becoming an eyesore, I will explain the history behind this. First of all: our lawns adjoin. They're a consecutive patch of grass undivided by anything other than different choices in fertilizer. Secondly, when we first moved in here, it took me about a year to buy my own lawnmower since we were so damn poor. Because of this, I used to borrow their lawnmower, and whenever I did, I'd give them a little touch up out front to say thanks.

Nowadays, I not only have a lawnmower, but I have an awesome electric lawnmower which is very quiet and works like a dream. Not infrequently, when I get deeply involved in my mowing, I will feel a little silly turning around in the middle of this undivided patch of grass for no obvious reason, so I'll just mow both lawns. When Danielle mowed my lawn, she was paying me back for this.

But as much as I love Danielle and her husband George and the lesbian cop/hairdresser duo across the street, this post is about my newlywed neighbors on the left: Aaron and Ericka (and sister Missy.) I freakin' LOVE those guys.

I think because I've had bad neighbors in the past, my love for my current crop is especially intense. In San Diego, we lived next to a couple of yuppy dicks who did NOTHING to stop their shitty little yappy dogs from barking at anything on the street. If a leaf fell off a tree, they'd come out and bark at it. When the mailman did his rounds, they'd rush out into the yard and bark the entire time he was visible to them. It was so bad, the cool couple across the street used to stand in their yard yelling "Bark, bark, bark, bark!" into a megaphone until the yuppies would finally corral the dogs and bring them inside.

I also had some prime neighbors when I lived in Bed Stuy. At the time, I was working 400 hours a week at Maxim Magazine and rode my bike from Brooklyn to midtown every day. I basically never got home before 11:00 pm, and yet, no matter what time I finally got home, my neighbors--and their many, many infant children--were always out on the stoop drinking Mountain Dew, screaming and playing in the garbage.

I will say, when Aaron and Ericka (and sister Missy) moved in, I experienced a little trepidation. This was because the first thing Ericka did was unload about 500 scrap metal sculptures and strew them about the front yard. (See the back yard below.) Then, when all that stuff was unloaded, she started hauling in a couple dozen truckloads of unsculpted scrap: chunks of fence, castoff farm machinery, gates, wire crates, basically, anything that was made of metal.

Was I 100% excited to have a whole garden of rusty, sharp, two-year-old-eye-level poky things spring up next door overnight? No. But I've not only gotten used to it, I've grown to love it.

Aaron and Ericka (and sister Missy) are contributors. Aaron is a blacksmith. (Yes. The kind with enormous forearms and fireproof hands.) Sister Missy is a jewelery maker. And Ericka is a scrap metal sculptor. And while you might look twice at the stack of abandoned bicycles and half-bicycles piled up along the side of the garage, I find having neighbors who do things and create things and think things infinitely preferable to people who are boring.

On Saturday, Ericka and Aaron got married. And I think their wedding preparations say a lot about why I like them so much.

Remember the preparations for your wedding? Remember what you brought to the ceremony? Flowers. Maybe a cake? Monogrammed flasks for your groomsmen?

Check out what Aaron and Ericka had:

Big buckets of sand? Check.

Cement-packed lengths of PVC pipe connected by chains? Check.

Welder's tank? Smoke hood? Wire brush? Check, check, check.

Does it take some getting used to living next a constantly-evolving monument to art and the reuse of found materials? Of course. Does their dog occasionally try to eat my dog? Yes. Is it weird to see sparks shooting out of their garage because Ericka's welding in there? I suppose so. But it's never boring and their wedding was awesome and I'm glad they're my neighbors.

PS: In these trying economic times, it may behoove you to reread an older post. 21 Ways To Thrive In A Recessed Economy.

#49 - Things I Love and Hate Around My Neighborhood #1: The World's Scariest Playground

Greetings. Welcome to the world's scariest playground. (Click on the images to see them in their full luster.) We trust you will find plenty to occupy you in this haunting, staggeringly uninviting wonderland! You can get deep splinters just by gazing upon the massive main structure's weathered, graying facade. Or, if you prefer, you can achieve a nice sear on your tender young backside by attempting to use the slide. Do you think you can get to the bottom before your skin cleaves to its pockmarked metal surface?

You'll find that our main play structure is equipped with rusty chain link on one side, but no protection on the other side. This allows our young guests to develop their decision making abilities. Would you rather fall and break your arm, or get tetanus? It's all up to you!

If you tire of puncturing your skin, burning yourself, and falling down, there is also a dirtbox under the main structure. It's measurably more dificult to have fun with than a sandbox, but we flatter ourselves that it improves imagination and toughness. Also, if venture a few yards afield, you will find a pair of rusted out axles from a Honda civic. These are fun for either cutting yourself or just staring at. And, when you're done with that, you're invitied to invent a game involving our gallows! A rousing round of "Deep South" anyone?

In the end, however you choose to spend your time here at the World's Scariest Playground, we hope you'll make it snappy! We believe an active child is a happy child! Plus, about four minutes after you enter the playground, a mentally deficient, inbred farm boy who wears overalls and a dried pig head as a mask is going to show up to gut you with a hatchet.

#48 - The Wife's Old Yearbook Photos

In the same box in the same garage, I found a stack of my wife's old yearbook pictures. We laughed over some of the looks she tried on through the ages.

In 1987, Joy graduated second in her class from Bronx Science High School and went on to study chemistry at Syracuse. She was active in her church and loved the comedy of Marsha Warfield.

In 1959, Fresh out of high school, Joy was working in the secretarial pool at the Washington Post. She considered it the high point of her career when she helped typeset the headline announcing Liu Shaoqi's ascension to the presidency of China in the wake of The Great leap Forward.

It's odd how things that were once incredibly popular swiftly descend into ridiculousness. (Have you listened to Thriller lately? It was a horror song! What were we thinking?) 1954's fad of wearing giant, poorly-made prosthetic chins is one that leaves many children of the era shaking their heads.

Oh baby! 1973 was a boom year for Joy. A freshly-minted business major out of Wharton, she was making heaps of cash marketing a line of hair styling products made from the stones of African Amarula fruits. She was a regular at Studio 54 where everyone knew her as "Cha Cha."

#47 - The Fact That Whatever I Think Is Cool Now, I Will Be Embarrased About In Six Months

I've written before about the fact that I rarely do anything I don't feel witheringly embarrassed about a year later. And since Facebook came along, I've been presented with photo evidence of a lot of those things. Like the fact that I wore a fedora every day for the entirety of 7th grade, or that I went around in 5th grade trying to breakdance and telling people I was Puerto Rican.

It's hard for me to pinpoint exactly what I'm doing currently that I think is cool but which will make me want to gouge my eyeballs out in a year's time, but I can guarantee there's something.

Having said that though, I should add that I believe my willingness to fail daring greatly has allowed me to have some wonderful experiences too. Not every choice I've made or identity I've assumed has been a foul up. I was recently digging around the garage when I found a box containing my yearbook photos dating all the way back to 1950. Looking them over I was reminded that very occasionally I've actually managed to be kind of cool.

1950 was a hard time to be a young, black man, but I worked hard jerking soda at a corner drugstore in Harlem and spent lavishly at the Cotton Club on weekends. Good times.

In 1952 I discovered a new sport called "jogging." I ran hundreds of aimless miles every week and took a perverse pleasure in the astonished glances of the people I ran past.

1964 wasn't a banner year for me. My wife and I had an unexpected "miracle baby" and I had to work doubles at the car dealership. I missed a lot of baby Sarah's milestones trying to put food on the table, but when I'd come home late and stand over her crib watching her sleep it was sheer bliss.

I was the MAN in 1976! It was senior year, and I'd worked my way up to assistant managership at Fantastic Sam's Record Shop in the Village. I had the inside track on all the best concert tickets and with Washington Square Park only a few blocks away, I was a reliable source of good weed.

I was a little off kilter in '88. A promising high school pitcher who threw hard and was developing a curve ball, I broke my wrist in a car accident when my buddy Daniel had a few too many Miller Genuine Drafts before driving us home from a party at Jennifer's. The wrist didn't set quite right and the university of Delaware withdrew their scholarship offer. I'd yet to discover my love of dentistry, and adjusting to the idea of not playing pro ball was hard for me.

In 1990 I'd just started out in comedy and I was playing clubs all over Jersey and the outer boroughs. I was doing a lot of corny shtick--you know, horror movies, airplane food, the Do Not Remove tags on mattresses--but the club owners gave me free beer, and I'd lucked into a great apartment when my cousin died.

1994 was stupid fresh. I'd finally become confident enough in my manhood to tell my boys I wanted to be a dancer, and guess what? They were WAY more understanding than I'd expected.

I'd love to hear about the past of my readers too. Why don't you dig into your own garage and email your results to [email protected].

#46 - The Fact That No One Ever Called Me "The Kid"

It is with mounting sadness that I report I will probably never be known as "The Kid." I feel like, as a guy who spent an inordinate amount of time on sports fields, courts and pitches, that, at some point, some group of people might have had the decency to start calling me "The Kid." But no one ever did. I think part of the reason for this is that I've always been a bulky dude. I was considering the nature of guys who do come to be known as "The Kid" and I've arrived at the conclusion that "kidness" can be determined via the following equation:

kidness = lankiness ÷ (potential + inexperience)

So, while I've been both promising and inexperienced, I've never satisfied the lankiness requirement for "Kids." And now that I've reached an age where the nickname is quite hard to earn, I'm filled me with a kind of melancholy and resentment--like a man on his deathbed who suddenly wishes he'd tasted an olive and spent less time at the office. (Although to a lesser degree.)

So, to assuage my feelings of regret, I am compiling a list of way I might still come to be known as "The Kid." If you can think of any additional ploys I might use to earn the moniker, please add them in the comments section below.

Top Three Ways I Might Still Come To Be Known As "The Kid"
3. Lose a lot of weight and start playing sports enjoyed by older people: shuffleboard, lawn bowling, square dancing
2. Become a rapper. Name myself MC Theki D
1. Always dress as a young goat

#45 - Yay! It's Man Christmas!

Yay! Yay! Yes! It's here! Man Christmas is finally here! We're unwrapping a brand new NFL football season today and I couldn't be more psyched.

This is my absolute favorite day of the year. When I was little, Christmas, of course, was king. But by the time you age out of being likely to receive a gift as big or bigger than yourself, The Big Day loses a little bit of its luster. Since I've had kids Christmas has resurged somewhat, but I don't make pre-Christmas picks. I don't have a fantasy Christmas team. I don't sit around for 13 hours watching Christmas.

I like my birthday. I like Thanksgiving. I like baseball opening day. I LOVE the first day of the NCAA tournament. But I freaking ADORE the first NFL Sunday of the year. I *heart* it so hard it hurts. If they made First NFL Sunday of the Year scented air freshener I'd wear it as a cologne. Shoot, I might spray the whole can into a glass and drink it.

Today, I will watch as many football games as the networks care to put on. I don't understand this silly limit of broadcasting three games per Sunday. There is not a limit to the number of NFL football games I would watch. If they put on seven games, I would watch seven games. If they put on 15 games, I would watch 15 games. I record all Giant games and watch them at least twice.

My wife's got a big paper to write today, so she's going to the library and I'm going to be watching the kids. It's probably a bad idea to enshine this confession on my website, but I'll tell you this: If Max or Oliver plan to poison themselves or choke or break their arms falling down the stairs today, they better damn well do it at halftime.

In the days and weeks leading up to Man Christmas, I have, of course, been watching and rewatching and rerewatching all the Giant playoff games from last season's F-ing AWESOME championship run. The tempting, tantalizing win at Tampa. The defeat of Dallas and the weeping of Terell Owens after which the season's status as a success was assured. The unlikely and frigid victory at Lambeau Field following which I ran out into the snow in my socks, busted into my extremely surprised neighbor's house and ran laps around their living room with my index finger in the air. And then--and I'm getting chills as I write this--the historic, euphoric, beatific beating of the smug Bostonians which made the Gmen champions of the world.

As I prepare to celebrate Man Christmas today I am also reminded of more difficult times; specifically, the 2006 New York Giant season which left all Big Blue fans black and blue. I felt so betrayed and flayed by that team that I actually invoked a self-enforced sports embargo for a period of three months. I wrote about this experience for The Weekly Standard and I'm including the text below.

When I read the piece today, on this high holiest of occasions, it reminded me how fickle sports fandom really is, and that while it may be the king of cliches, it's truly never over until it's over.

Happy Man Christmas to each of you and may Eli Manning bless you.

I Wish I Knew How to Quit You
A Sports Addict Goes Cold Turkey, by Chris Connolly

Hello. My name is Chris Connolly and I’m a sports addict.

I say I am a sports addict because, even though I recently succeeded in abstaining from all sports for several months, one never really stops being a sports addict. One is always just one drag bunt or one foul shot away from sitting in the tub with sports radio blaring while re-reading analysis of games one watched the night before.

I did some things I’m not particularly proud of during my addiction. At my wedding, our photographer made a pocket-sized boxscore out of cardboard and held it up at the back of the room so I could track the progress of a baseball game. Three years later, while my wife was in labor with our first child, I had my brother sending me text messages with updates on Yankees/Red Sox.

Talk about the “crack” of the bat…

I was pretty much a full-time sports fan. Which is to say, I consumed sports information all the time. I listened to sports radio during the day, watched sporting events at night, and had radios all over the house that I flipped on and off as I went from room to room. I would even go to sleep listening to games on a walkman. I doubt there was a major—or minor—occurrence in the American sports world over the last 10 years that I didn’t know about within 15 minutes.

Did I know my sports fandom was over the top? Of course. But I never felt compelled to do anything about it until recently. After all, people devote time to things a lot more ridiculous than knowing who the Yankees’ top third base prospect is. (Eric Duncan.)

Until a few months ago, I was a highly functional, even highly happy, sports addict. I was like a sea anemone letting my tendrils drift in a rich current of sports data. Then, one fall day in November, the 2006 New York Giants motored by and sheared off my tender little appendages.

If you don’t recall, the 2006 New York Giants were a trainwreck—or, to keep the metaphor going, a shipwreck. Actually, thinking about it now, if you took a train and shot it off into the sea, the resulting carnage would mimic last season’s campaign quite nicely.

Every football team tries to create an identity. Even non-sports fans probably know that the Steelers cast themselves as a gritty, hard-nosed bunch and the Raiders as a gang of thugs. And the Giants? Well, the Giants are stupid.

Stocked with as much talent as any team in the league, the 2006 New York Giants specialized in drama, bickering and snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. With an unflagging commitment to knuckleheadedness they engineered some of the most staggering come from ahead losses of all time.

And the G Men didn’t leave their team identity on the field either. Not by a long shot. It would have been impossible for them to be stupider off the field than on it, but they managed to battle to a tie: There was criticism of coach Tom Coughlin via the media on more than one occasion; Michael Strahan, the team’s defensive leader, who wasn’t even playing due to injury, nearly-assaulted a female journalist at a press conference; mid-season, the team’s MVP-candidate, Tiki Barber, announced his retirement for no reason; and while this freakshow spiralled around him, head coach Tom Coughlin stubbornly brayed his team watchword… discipline.

Have you ever heard those stories about surgery patients who wake up in the middle of operations unable to do anything but suffer horribly until the anesthesia wears off? That’s what watching the Giants was like.

Every Sunday, I would wake up to find myself sitting in front of the TV while this gang of millionaire morons plied their trade. When I wasn’t kicking the ottoman through the living room wall, I was fielding calls from my father and brothers who—being similarly afflicted—would phone me to gnash their teeth and cry.

Since sports are all about numbers, let’s look at it this way: Generally, I kick my ottoman through the living room wall once, maybe twice, per sport season. So, let’s say 1.5 for football, 1.5 for baseball, and 1.5 for a combination of basketball/soccer and other games. This puts my lifetime annual OKA at 4.5. During just the 2006 football season, that number spiked to 4.0. I was sure the league would test me for steroids.

Then on November 26th the Giants played the Tennessee Titans. Addicts can generally site a moment when they hit rock bottom; this was mine.

It started out well for the G Men. Dominating the game, they established a 21-0 lead by the end of the third quarter and showed no signs of slowing. My phone was silent, my heart was beating normally—even the ottoman exuded a quiet confidence.

Then the sleeping Giants woke.

“Now hang on here!” They seemed to say. “21-0? This doesn’t seem right.”

Over the game’s final 10 minutes they put on an incredible display of fumbling, holding and interceptitude. When the smoke cleared, the bewildered Titans had won, 24-21, and my ottoman had been reduced to kindling.

The phone rang, but I couldn’t answer. I went into the kitchen and tried to prepare dinner, but my hands were numb. I thought about going for a drive, but decided it would probably end in my death. Instead, I took a shower.

Normally, as I’ve said, I listen to sports radio in the shower. But this day, the very thought left me queasy. I made the water as hot as possible and let it run over my shoulders. For the first time in probably a decade, there was no chatter to accompany the rushing water.

Out of the silence, a realization came: I was wasting my time.

I was investing hours of emotion and study into something that returned only pain. For me, as well as my furniture.

I did the math:

I’m 33 and started paying attention to sports at about 10. I closely follow three teams: the Giants, Knicks and Yankees. This means, over the last 23 years, I’ve followed 69 seasons of basketball, baseball and football.

The Knicks last won a championship the year I was born, 1973, so I didn’t share in that glory. The Giants won Superbowls in ’86 and ’90, both of which rocked. The Yankees, probably the most successful team in the history of sports, won in ’77 and ’78. But I don’t remember those years. They also won in ’96, ’98, ’99 and 2000. Sadly, for all but one of those years, I lived in Europe and could only follow the games via newspaper reports my grandmother mailed me.

So, to sum up, out of 69 hand-wringing seasons, I have shared in the joy of only 3 championships. Every other campaign has ended in failure. And guess what? Compared to sports fans from other cities, I’m cleaning up!

Wasn’t there a better way to spend my time, I wondered? What if I took all my sports hours and worked on my abs? What if I worked on reading the classics? Hell, what if I just worked on work!?!

I decided then and there to find out. I declared a three-month moratorium on sports fandom. I would not read, watch, listen to, or talk about sports.

I called my brother to tell him about my experiment.

“Oh, you’re experimenting with giving up sports? Are you conducting a corollary study about what it’s like to be a homosexual raising a child?”

I was off to a good start.

As with most addiction battles, the first effects of withdrawl were physical. I’d get in the shower and reach for the radio, or I’d turn on the TV and begin to tune in a sports channel. But once I got past the blunt force desire to absorb sports, I discovered the true seed of my addiction—I missed the background noise.

Accustomed to the calming drip of sports info in my ear, I had tremendous trouble sleeping. I lay restlessly tossing in bed while thoughts raced through my skull. Unchecked by updates on the misdeeds of erstwhile running backs, ideas and fears plagued me ceaselessly. I realized that for the last decade or so, I’d been immersed in a constant and inoculating flow of sports information. I missed the drone.

My addiction, I swiftly realized, was two-fold. Yes, I yearned to know what was happening to my teams, but I could deal with those cravings. What I really wanted was to get back into The Matrix of the sports community.

Some people are always listening to music. Others flip on soap operas or the weather channel when they’re alone. I listen to sports radio. It’s a calming background buzz that keeps me from thinking full-time about work woes, money, or Iraq. It’s also a place to share debate with like-minded people around the world.

Talk radio has been called America’s Last Neighborhood, and during my experiment I realized this could not be more accurate. Although we’ve never met, I know far more about Jerome in Manhattan and Mike in the Bronx—callers to my favorite radio station—than I do about my flesh-and-blood neighbors.

There’s a man named Frank who lives next door to me. I know exactly two things about him: 1. He watches truck racing day and night, and 2. For some reason, he carefully leaves a four-inch strip of grass unmowed where his lawn borders my driveway. Beyond that, we might as well live in different countries.

On the radio it’s a different story. I know my fellow listeners hopes and dreams.

There was a woman named Doris Bauer, or “Doris in Rego Park,” who used to call New York’s WFAN. She was a passionate Mets fan whose commentaries were frequently interrupted by bouts of wheezing and coughing. She championed the Mets shamelessly, good times and bad, and I always looked forward to her nightly appearances.

A few years ago, at 1:00 am, the hour Doris usually called, her favorite host reported the news that she’d passed away. Lying in bed listening, I wanted to cry. It felt exactly like I’d lost a friend.

I learned a lot during my sports embargo. I rode my bike, tore through my library reserve list, and started to embrace those late night thoughts rather than banishing them with an onslaught of white noise.

But most importantly, I learned that sports fandom is about more than your team. Sports fans are a family. We share the same goals, contemplate the same issues and rely on one another for support and debate.

A team is more than a collection of athletes—it’s a geographically unbounded neighborhood. Sports fans root for uniforms first, athletes second. This is why we can hate the players on our teams, and still love our teams. This is why, sometimes, when a guy you like is on a team you like, he becomes an immortal.

Why do wins and losses matter? Because they matter to the people in your neighborhood, they matter to your friends—even the ones in Rego Park you’ve never met.

I’m a sports addict, yes. But I know now it’s not such a bad thing. In the future, if I can restrict myself to the actual games and stay away from the pre-games, post-games and game reports, I think I’ll be okay.

That said, the other day, I got an email from my brother that got my heart racing. The subject line: “NFL camps open in 100 days!”

Yeah, I could quit any time.

#44 - Baby Toys

It may be anathema to write this as someone who derives a portion of his income from the advertisements in parenting magazines, but here it goes: I am done with baby toys.

I’ll buy my kids toys, sure, but not until they’re mature enough to recognize them as such and explain to me how they plan to use them. I’ve now raised nearly four years worth of kid, and shelled out four years worth of dough on innumerable toys that currently lie in dusty heaps around the house, and I can unequivocally state that not one of my boys has ever spent more than 40 seconds playing with anything anyone deliberately designed or manufactured as a “toy.”

As I write this, I am on babysitting duty. I’m stationed at a laptop on a small desk in our playroom and Max, my 9-month-old, is fending for himself on the floor. In the playroom there is a large wicker “Moses basket” which used to house an infant Max, but now sits atop a shelf filled with all the second-tier toys we’re letting lie fallow in the hope that the boys will forget about them and then approach them with renewed vigor at a later date.

At some point this morning, or possibly last night, the Moses basket was dragged off the shelf by one of my sons and its contents spilled out onto the floor. This means that right now, sprawled across the floor of the playroom, is pretty much every toy in our entire house. There are a few sundry items in the living room, yes; and a couple diversions up where the boys sleep, but I’d guess that about 90% of the toys we own are now in a huge pile on the floor of this room. And sitting in the middle of this incredible, mind-blowing heap of expensive playware is my son Max, who is entertaining himself with... a sheet of notebook paper.

I am not a big betting man. But one bet I would take is that if you were to strew the floor of a laboratory with all the child-developmental-specialist-designed Toys of the Year from the last 50 years, and then you added a remote control and a Sharpie, and you left my kids in there for 3 minutes, when you got back to the lab, Max would be chewing the remote, and Oliver would be holding the Sharpie. If you put in a dog toy, they’d be fighting over that.

Although it’s a contributing factor, seeing Max sitting in a $700 heap of toys playing with a sheet of paper was not the genesis of my plans for a toy embargo. In fact, I’ve been “toying” with the idea ever since what we call The Box Box Incident.

TBBI, involved Oliver and a set of the most beautifully illustrated and conceived alphabet nesting boxes you’ve ever seen. I don’t know who made the boxes, and I think you now know that I consider toy design to be probably the world’s most useless and unnecessary occupation, but whoever made these stacking boxes was an unmitigated genius. The boxes are big—when you stack all ten they make a tower about three feet high—and while they follow the familiar formula of illustrating each letter with a different animal, they eschew the tired antelopes and zebras of the animal kingdom in favor of underrepresented and vastly more interesting creatures like the periwinkle, the xanthos, the ermine and the cuttlefish.

When I first saw the boxes—I believe they were a gift from Nana Sylvia, thank you Nana Sylvia—I was enchanted. I thought to myself, “Well, that’s the end of that. Those are surely the finest toys ever made and Oliver will never play with anything else ever again.”

Given my thoughts you can imagine the impact it had on me when I watched my son leave the artfully, impeccably, creatively crafted boxes entirely untouched and spend the next 45 minutes playing with… the box the boxes came in!

I don’t know how he even differentiates between the box’s box and the boxes themselves, but I’ll tell you this, for every second he spent playing with the actual boxes, he spent 10 playing with their packaging. So if you’re ever lucky enough to receive an invite to Casa Connolly, please prepare yourself for the fact that all my kids’ playthings come from Staples and the recycling bin. It’s not because I’m cheap or weird, it’s how they like it.

Here's a bonus picture of the lads playing, naturally, with boxes.