Counting Toothpicks

A few years ago my friend was at my house and he knocked over a cup of toothpicks. The toothpicks fell on the floor and scattered everywhere. He looked down at the mess he created and said, “Aw man, I just dropped thirty-two toothpicks on the ground!”

I thought that was an oddly specific thing to say, so I counted the toothpicks. Lo and behold, there were exactly thirty-two toothpicks. I was amazed. A real life Rain Man in my own home! I had to test his skills. I grabbed a handful of change from my dresser, threw the coins on the floor, and asked him how many coins there were.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I just guessed how many toothpicks there were.”

And just like that, my sense of wonder shriveled away. I was duped. There is no magic in the world. Well played, Jon. Well played.

Critically Rated at 14/17

Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young

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A Bad Beach Bonfire

My old roommate and his girlfriend invited me to a bonfire last week. There’s a popular San Francisco spot on Ocean Beach with a bunch of fire pits available to the public. My roommate works at Beach Chalet which overlooks the fire pits. Each night he works he looks out and sees all the fires glowing in the distance and it inspired him to have a bonfire of his own.

So he called me up, invited me out, and he swooped by and picked me up, and the three of us went out to the beach with a box of wood. We parked the car, got out, and went in search of a fire pit. It was around 7:00 PM and it was already dark but we could see four other fires burning in the area. We walked around looking for a pit using the flashlights on our phones but couldn’t find any and gave up after a few minutes. We dug our own pit in the sand, while commenting how weird it was because I just saw the fire pits when I was there a few weeks earlier. Oh well, whatever, let’s dig a hole.

It was pretty windy out, but we managed to get the fire going. We laid out on the sand, cracked open some beers and a bottle of wine, listened to classic acoustic hits on Pandora, and caught up with each other. It was cold and breezy but the good company and roaring fire was making it an enjoyable evening.

And then a man emerged from the darkness and approached us. He clicked on a flashlight as he got near, revealing himself to be a cop. He asked what we were doing and where we were from. We answered by saying that we were having a fire and that we were locals. He retorted with, “Well, if you’re locals how come you didn’t know that fire season is over? Didn’t you think it was weird that you couldn’t find any fire pits?”

Ugh. Damnit. We failed. The cop went on to lecture us for a while before giving us an ultimatum: either get a citation or go to jail. We chose the citation. We turned off the music, sadly poured our precious booze over our beautiful fire, covered the embers with sand, and slinked away.

We walked in darkness back to the car. We glanced back over our shoulders and saw the cop approaching another bonfire. Those flames slowly died out as another citation was given. Cars get broken into, houses get robbed, people get killed, but rest assured the police are making bonfires on the beach a top priority. Your tax dollars at work.

Critically Rated at 5/17

Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young

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Watching TV With Subtitles On

My roommate has the unfortunate habit of watching TV with subtitles on. He always turns on closed captioning whenever he watches a movie or television show. He says it makes it easier to pay attention. I wholeheartedly disagree. Why would you watch an epic Marvel movie in high definition and turn on subtitles? A constant text scroll distracts the eye from the amazing visuals and special effects. I want to watch what’s happening, not read what I’m hearing.

He says that it’s normal. It’s not. That’s why you don’t see closed captioning in movie theaters. That’s why you have to go into the settings and manually activate it. It would come on automatically if the majority of people preferred it. But he insists on turning it on whenever we watch something. And inevitably halfway through the movie he stops watching. He’ll start playing on his phone or leave the room to lay down in his bed, leaving me to suffer through the unnecessary subtitles that he insisted he needed.

I understand that a lot of people like them. A lot of people like killing puppies too (they usually work at PETA). You have to recognize evil in order to stop it.

Critically Rated at 1/17

Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young

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Ben Foster’s Head

Ben Foster is an actor. He’s pretty successful at it. He’s had a pretty good career. But he has a weird shaped head. His head kind of flares out at the temples. They stick out almost as much as his ears. A head is not supposed to look like that. He needs to file down his skull a little bit but I don’t think you can do that. He’s doomed to have an unusually shaped head for the rest of his life. We need to acknowledge that Ben Foster has a weird shaped head. The world needs to know.

Critically Rated at 12/17

Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young

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What The Mandalorian Ending Means (Spoiler)

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Disney+ launched a few days ago. One of their original shows is The Mandalorian, the first live-action Star Wars series. Directed by Jon Favreau and starring Pedro Pascal as the titular bounty hunter, the show’s first episode has a twist ending that’s taken the internet by storm. I’ve seen several articles and YouTube videos trying to explain the ending and what it means. ***Spoiler Alert!!*** The target was Baby Yoda. And it means Disney is going to have a whole bunch of Baby Yoda merchandise available for the holiday season.

Critically Rated at 14/17

Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young

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Fire in Paradise

Fire in Paradise is a 2019 Netflix documentary about the devastating Camp Fire that destroyed the town of Paradise in California. Real survivors recount how they escaped with their lives, complete with actual video and hear 911 recordings. It’s tough to watch, particularly the tale of two teachers trying to calm their terrified students as the world burns around them. Or when a cop talks about the longest shift of his life. Or when an old woman talks about seeing fire and brimstone rain down from the sky.

One clear takeaway is that these fires are the new normal. And it’s our fault. They are a result of building where we shouldn’t be building, living where we shouldn’t be living, and climate change. Climate change. It always comes back to that. Listen to Greta. She might be onto something. The documentary is short, only 40 minutes long, so you have no excuse not to watch it. Watch it and hope you never have to experience it.

Critically Rated at 16/17

Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young

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Saying “We” About Your Team

There is an ongoing debate about whether or not a fan can say “we” when referring to their sports team of choice. Some people say you can’t say “we” because they aren’t on the team. I think that you can say “we” as long as you’re emotionally invested in your team.

I grew up as a San Francisco Giants fan. My parents are Giants fans, like my grandparents before them, practically my whole family are Giants Fans. I remember when the Giants won the World Series in 2010, my sister and I went to the victory parade, and my aunt thanked us for representing our family.

That’s what the San Francisco Giants mean to my family. They are a part of our identity. That allows me to say “we”. I’m entitled to it. They are a huge part of my life. We won the World Series three times in five years, and you can’t take that away from us.

Saying “we” about your team is totally acceptable as long as you don’t switch teams when yours doesn’t make the playoffs. We all know bandwagon fans that only support the Patriots (and once upon a time, the Yankees) because they have a lot of rings. Win or lose, your team is your team. When they win, you feel good. You’re sad when they lose. You get nostalgic when you watch old highlights or reminisce about where you were watching when the clinched the championship (unless you’re a Mariners fan).

On a side note: I think you can only have one team per sport or league. That’s a fair compromise. You can’t say “we” about everyone.

Critically Rated at 15/17

Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young

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Bathroom Line

I was just at my regular dive bar of choice after a stressful Friday at work. I had a quick round, paid out, and had to use the bathroom before I headed home. My bar isn’t usually too crowded, but it’s Fleet Week so the place was packed. I could see the two single-person bathrooms from where I was sitting and noticed there were three women chatting amongst themselves in front of the bathrooms. One of the bathrooms opened up one of the three women went in. A minute or two later she came back out and rejoined her conversation with her two friends. I got up, picked up my bag and things, and walked to the vacant bathroom and opened the door. And then the lady who just used the bathroom snapped at me and yelled that there was a line for the bathroom.

I blinked at her.

“She’s in line!” She slurred, pointing around one of her friends.

I said “OK”, stepped back, and let her friend go ahead of me. Then I turned back to the instigator and said my piece. Not sure of the exact phrasing but it was something like: “Just so you know, I was sitting down over there. I saw you three standing here and talking. I saw you use the bathroom. I saw you come out of the bathroom. Nobody else made a move for the bathroom. I got up, gathered my things and walked over here. I opened the door to the bathroom, and then you yelled at me that there was a line. If there was a line, she would have gone into the bathroom as soon as it opened up. That’s how bathrooms lines work. You didn’t have to yell and you didn’t have to be rude.”

I was pretty articulate about my points and my reasons were pretty valid. Her only retort was something about me not having thick skin. I guess I don’t. But I have to be nice to rude people all day at work, so I’m not going to take any bullshit when I’m off the clock.

I’m not a line cutter. There was no line. I’ll believe that until my heart stops beating and I take my final breath.

Another guy came up and tried to open the door to the other bathroom. I had to tell him that there’s a line and a line monitor and he needed approval from her. I’m petty, I know. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Critically Rated at 12/17

Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young

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Instant Pot

I bought an Instant Pot for my girlfriend and our lives instantly improved for the better. That’s not an exaggeration. Not even the slightest bit. In case you’ve been living under a rock, the Instant Pot is the miracle device that makes cooking easy and fast. It’s a crockpot on steroids. You can sauté, slow cook, pressure cook, even make yogurt if you feel so inclined.

We’ve only had it for a week and have already used it to make some amazing meals. We made a pasta dish, chicken tortilla soup, fish tacos, a pot roast, chicken with mashed cauliflower, and I even made some hard boiled eggs to stash in the fridge. I’m also a little ashamed to admit that we now enjoy watching Instant Pot recipe videos on YouTube. My algorithm now resembles that of a seventy year old grandmother and I’m ok with that as long as I’m supplied with more Instant Pot videos.

There’s a lot of hype about the Instant Pot. I’m here to tell you that the stories are true. It makes cooking more fun and less of a chore, and takes a quarter of the time it normally does. Like you can make fall-off-the-bone ribs in less than an hour compared to the six hours it takes in a crockpot. Enough said. The Instant Pot has officially replaced the George Foreman Grill as the essential household appliance. Get yours today. Join the cult. Drink the Kool-Aid.

Critically Rated at 16/17

Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young

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Outside Lands Reusable Cup

Man, Outside Lands was already two weeks ago? Time flies. For those who don’t know or need a reminder, Outside Lands is a three day music and arts festival in San Francisco. It’s held annually in Golden Gate Park, I live a few blocks away, and I go every year. This year they had reusable aluminum pints for sale. You buy a beer and for an extra six bucks you can get a reusable cup with the Outside Lands logo on it. The handle was a carabiner so you could clip it onto your bag or whatever. It was a great idea. Save the planet from unnecessary plastic and a cool souvenir. So I bought it on the first day with my first beer and I was stoked.

But apparently the OSL staff were completely unaware of what reusable means. I bought the cup so they could pour beer directly into it. Some venders did just that. Most venders did not. I brought my cup back on the second day of the festival and the first vendor I saw refused to use my reusable pint. She asked me when and where I bought it. I said I bought it at the same stand the day before. She said she couldn’t serve me a beer in it because I bought it yesterday. She said this while standing in front of a giant poster advertising the REUSABLE OUTSIDE LANDS ALUMINUM PINT. Whatever. I bought a pint in a plastic cup, then poured the pint into my aluminum cup, put the wasted plastic cup on her table, looked her in the eye, and took a sip. Refreshing and defiant. Delicious.

That seemed to be the theme of the remaining weekend. I would buy a beer and 75% of the venders would hand me a pint in plastic. I feel like I bought the cup for nothing but a souvenir. I wanted to reduce my carbon footprint with beer. They didn’t want me to. I’m still glad I bought it though. It’s a nice cheap vessel to drink booze with. I just wish they saved the plastic they were promised I would save. They used me. They should have used my cup.

Critically Rated at 8/17

Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young

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Mr. Pibb

Mr. Pibb is the Coca-Cola Company’s version of Dr Pepper. Well, it was. Apparently they changed the formula and the name. It’s Pibb Xtra now. It’s been that way since 2001. I had no idea. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

I always thought that Mr. Pibb got the short end of the stick. It’s supposed to be a clone of Dr Pepper, but it doesn’t have an equal name. Dr Pepper sounds important, like a soda that went to med school. Mr. Pibb has a generic title. It should have been Pibb, M.D. or Professor Pibb. Something with more clout. Now it’s Pibb Xtra which sounds more like a Mountain Dew clone. Extreme.

Critically Rated at 9/17

Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young

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Social Justice Vigilante

I was taking the train to work this morning. It was one of those new SF Muni trains, the ones with a long bench-like seat along the side of the car and another long bench-like seat mirroring it on the other side. It was the morning commute and it was fairly crowded. This older man, probably in his mid sixties, got on the train and looked around for a seat. He gestured at a mid-thirties business man sitting close by to me, and asked him to move his bag so he could have a seat. The businessman slowly pulled off his headphones, gazed up from the MacBook on his lap, looked the old man in the eyes and said “No.”

The old guy looked back incredulously and asked again to make sure he was hearing this correctly. “You won’t move your bag so I can have a seat?”

And the businessman repeated himself. “No, I’m not going to move my bag. It has important things in it.”

And this is the moment that I got myself involved. I pride myself of being a social justice vigilante. I looked over at the businessman and said “You’re really not going to move your bag?”

He shook his head and repeated “No.”

Keep in mind: this is during morning rush hour. There are a bunch of people standing up without seats, and this jackass is taking up two seats unapologetically and proudly. So I went off on him. “What makes you so special? I really want to know. Your bag is more important than other people? Do you want your own train car too? You are an asshole.”

I have to mention that I didn’t yell any of this. This was me calmly telling an asshole that he is an asshole, and the people nodding in agreement with me made him realize that he is in fact an asshole.

The older guy jumped back in: “You can’t be take up a seat for your bag. You’re also manspreading quite a bit!”

This younger street kid got up and offered his seat to the older guy. The older guy took it, and wouldn’t you know it, now the older guy and the businessman were on opposite benches facing each other. Older guy kept glaring at the businessman, things seemed to settle down, I went back to staring at my phone, and a few stops later I noticed the businessman slowly pick up his bag and place it under his seat by his feet. And that my friends, is what we call character development.

It was one of my finer Muni moments.

Critically Rated at 14/17

Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young

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Fire Pit

My girlfriend and I moved into our friend’s house in San Francisco’s Sunset District. It’s not a big place but we have a backyard and that’s pretty rare for the city. So we decided to take advantage of it. We did a little landscaping, strung up some lights, and bought a fire pit. Now we have a pretty cool spot to hang out and entertain guests.

Our backyard is still a work in progress, but the fire pit will be the centerpiece. It’s not the fanciest fire pit. It doesn’t have a ledge or anyplace to put down drinks but I have no problem holding a beer in my hand. I’m actually pretty good at holding beers.

We got the fire pit about two weeks ago and we’ve already used it six times. So far it’s been a good investment. We bought a box of Duraflame firelogs and have been using those. I prefer real wood but firelogs are easier to deal with. You light it and it burns for hours without needing to stoke the flames or poke the logs. Just set it and forget it. What a great slogan. They should steal that from Ron Popeil.

Critically Rated at 15/17

Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young

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Secret Shoppers Suck

So I work at a corporate restaurant as a server and bartender. I’ve been there for 11+ years. They have Secret Shoppers, which basically means that once a month a private company would send in spies posing as customers to make sure that the employee hits all the proper steps of service. Did the server mention a specific cocktail, appetizer, entree, dessert, ask if they were a club member, etc…

Well, long story short: I got Secret Shopped. And I failed. It’s my fault for not hitting all the steps of service, but the Secret Shoppers are normally pretty obvious and these ones were not. I got a final written warning so I could get fired if I fail again. That’s all on me, that’s fine, I have another job. But my general manager also got a final written warning because our restaurant failed two months in a row. His job is in jeopardy because I didn’t do mine. I wrote him an email and apologized.

The Secret Shopper system is to blame. Yeah, it makes sense from a corporate standpoint but it’s a terrible way to run a restaurant. People go out to eat to enjoy themselves. They don’t want their server to harass them into buying souvenir glassware, to add guacamole to their nachos for an additional charge, to tell them to buy a shirt, to upgrade their fries to cheesy bacon fries, to save room for dessert, to sign up for our membership program, to round up your check for charity. I literally have to do all that stuff to pass the Secret Shopper. I have to bug 99% of my tables on the slight chance that one of them is a Secret Shopper.

Secret Shoppers aren’t professional spies. They are bored people who sign up for the program so they can eat at for free in exchange for writing a report. They can get people fired for this. I get that I deserve to. My boss doesn’t though. His livelihood is threatened because a random couple wanted free food. Hope those chicken tenders were worth it. Secret Shoppers suck.

Critically Rated at 1/17

Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young

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Sneeze Emphasizer

There’s a guy that I worked with that I really respected. He seemed very professional yet personal. Friendly personality, responsible, reliable, smart but not arrogant… basically a coworker you actually want to work with. I respected him because I thought he was well kept and had everything together. And then I heard him sneeze and realized the sad truth. He is a sneeze emphasizer.

He can’t just sneeze. He has to vocalize it and draw attention to himself. He makes a weird sound when he inhales to preface the sneeze and signal it’s arrival. Then the sneeze itself is accompanied with an actual achoo. He uses his vocal chords and there’s a verbal achoo. He’s not saying “Achoo!” He’s actively amplifying the sound to be as loud as possible.

It’s physical. He uses his full body. He leans back, flails his arms, and whips his head forward as he sneezes. He’ll pause for a second or two to see if he can get a “Bless you!” or “Gesundheit!” and sneeze again and again until he gets one. It’s not allergies. It’s attention.

I can’t respect myself if I respect a sneeze emphasizer. I don’t need that type of negativity in my life.

Critically Rated at 4/17

Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young

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Taco Bell Cantina

I had some time to kill after work one day last week and I decided to explore the area. I came across a Taco Bell Cantina and decided to give it a shot. Taco Bell Cantina is like a fancy Taco Bell. They have the standard Taco Bell menu items, but they also have shareable meal baskets and alcohol. There’s no hard liquor but there’s beer, wine, and sangria. Alcohol is alcohol, and alcohol definitely makes Taco Bell better.

The layout of Taco Bell Cantinas are also a little different. They don’t have drive-through so you have to walk in to order. Flat screen TVs line the walls playing sports. There are big communal tables so you sometimes have to sit next to a stranger but it makes the restaurant feel more open and inviting. It definitely has a cooler vibe than your standard Taco Bell.

That being said, a Taco Bell Cantina is basically a Taco Bell that sells booze. That makes it better for me. The food isn’t any better. But I like beer and I like the fact that I can get a beer with my meal in lieu of Pepsi. Would I go back? Yeah, probably. But I’m not making it a priority.

Critically Rated at 10/17

Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young

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Words with Friends

Words with Friends is a mobile multiplayer word game for smartphones and tablets. It’s basically like Scrabble in that you get tiles with letters on them, you use those tiles to spell out words, trying to maximize your points by strategically placing your tiles. It was first released in 2009, and it was one of the top mobile games of 2010 and 2011. That’s when I used to play it. I was pretty addicted for a solid six months. Then I got bored of it and deleted it and forgot about it for years. You might be wondering why I am suddenly talking about Words with Friends after such an extended hiatus.

Well, you can blame Debbie for that. Debbie is a friend from work and she just discovered the game because she lives under a rock. And Debbie decided to challenge me to a game. And I decided to accept her challenge because I’m a sucker. And now I’m addicted again. I challenged another friend to a game and I started another game against the computer. It’s only been a few hours but I’m already regretting my decision. Once an addict, always an addict. Fuck you, Debbie.

Critically Rated at 9/17

Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young

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