Fixing Football

Whispering in the Dark

Fair-weather Fans, Gym Pickup Etiquette, and the NHL Lockout Nightmare

All that and more in this week's Bake Shop mailbag!

The summer may be winding down, but the Bake Shop never does! We’re here at to discuss your questions, concerns, rants, and confessions — and we never judge. The hours and the quality of the food may be unpredictable, and the girl behind the counter might sometimes be kind of a jerk, but hey, isn’t that part of the charm?

I’m a native South Florida kid who’s rooted for all South Florida sports (the Panthers being the newest addition) and the Gators (dad went to UF). I’m starting college at Penn soon, which gives me a natural out. My cousin and uncle, who are stuck with the Dolphins, insist it’s an all-or-nothing transition — either I adopt all Philly sports, and lose the Heat, or none, and stick with the Dolphins. Can I be an Eagles and a Heat fan? Would that make me the most obnoxious, hated sports fan ever?

— Brandon S.

It’s certainly up there on the Mid-’90s Joint Cowboys/Yankees Fan Memorial Scale of Affinity Insufferability; if the Eagles were to win a Super Bowl on your watch you’d be in all-time territory for sure.

Not to put any undue pressure on you during your first few days as a college student, but in order to properly address this question you need to think good and hard about where it is you intend to settle post-college. Sorry, but that sociology homework can wait. (Pro tip: The answer is always Marx.) If you’re ultimately going to head back down to sunny Florida, you may not want the pathos of Philadelphia clinging to your pasty Northern skin.

But if you think you’ll remain in Philadelphia or its environs longish-term, then you have a solid argument for picking up the Eagles (particularly since they’re an NFC team that won’t really conflict with Miami in the AFC). Philadelphia reminds me of Boston or Pittsburgh in that the sports fans in the city are so very … … … passionate. Succumb to them or face ongoing misery. It’s like joining a fraternity just so you don’t have to wait in line to get a beer.

I’m recently single and on the recommendation of friends have started going to spin classes at my gym in hopes of meeting cute girls or at least getting a good workout. What is the protocol about talking to women at the gym? Should I wait until after the class? Before? Basically, I’m afraid this will happen. Please tell me there’s hope.

— Sean P.

Everyone has their own gym game. Some of us sport all Lululemon everything and loll around on the yoga mats, stretching and twisting and looking flexible and attractive. Others moan and groan and exude pimply testosterone in their cutoff shirts and backward hats over by the scary free weights. There’s the hour-on-the-elliptical-while-paging-through-last-month’s-Lucky among us; there’s the sign-up-for-a-spin-bike-45-minutes-in-advance-and-wait-around-in-the-special-shoes types too.

We go to the gym to see and be seen by no one, or we loiter for hours, chatting it up with the regs. As a result, one person’s meet-cute by the lat pulldown machine is another’s sweaty invasion of privacy. I’d say your best bet is to attend enough classes that you begin to recognize people, so you can guess at how they might react to a casual “good workout today, eh?” and a smile at the end of the session. But just to be sure, I decided to poll a selection of my girlfriends to see what their opinion of gym flirtation might be. And I learned a few things in the process.

“Horses sweat, men perspire, ladies glow” is a bunch of bullshit.

I wish I could say I acquired that pearl of wisdom from a WASPy grandmother, but nope — it was via Jessie’s ballet teacher in some Baby-sitter’s Club book. (Hey, it takes a village!) Anyway, most of the women I wrote to seemed bewildered that anyone would want to talk them up in their haggard gym-going condition, even when I pointed out that if a guy thinks you’re cute when you look like that, imagine how smitten he’ll be when you pick up a hairbrush. (Things didn’t end too well for Miranda, however.)

“I would recoil in horror if someone tried to acknowledge that I was in their visual field,” said another friend, “let alone speak or, god forbid, touch me in a spin glass. It’s a safe space.”

Even friends aren’t exempt: “When I joined one gym in my neighborhood that a lot of my friends also used,” one person wrote, “I informed each of them that if they saw me they were to not say hi.”

The one woman who did get approached for her number at the gym was baffled. “Like honestly, when I am all dressed up and in predator mode at a bar no one asks for my number,” she wrote, “but when I look like a total monster covered in sweat, THIS is when you want to ask me out, guy?” (Later she admitted that “you know the guy can at least afford a gym membership, which is a plus.”)

Read visual cues — that is, if you can.

“Wait until I go to refill my water bottle, say hi, and then read the signs like you would in the real world,” wrote one friend. “If I shrug you off, back off; if I look interested, then maybe we can proceed from there.” (When I read her e-mail I could hear faint triple-snaps.)

“Everyone checks out each other at the gym,” another said. “If you see someone who you think is cute, catch her eye and just smile at her. This should not be hard to do; there are mirrors everywhere. If it is hard, then she doesn’t want to communicate.”

One woman was more sympathetic to the futility of these directives. “I just think the key thing is to take a moment and try to ascertain the mood of the woman in question before approaching,” she said. “I can hear the roars of male laughter as I write that.”

Indeed, it’s hard out there for a gymp. Even the observant must heed caution: Several friends warned me of awkward interactions that have taken place between would-be paramours and women who left their wedding rings in their lockers or at home — the men assume they’re single, the women forget that they don’t have a giant rock announcing their unavailability, and everyone loses. “At least check for a ring tan line!” one woman wrote.

Remember Patrick.

Patrick is the character played by Elijah Wood in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind who erases Kate Winslet’s memories of her relationship with Jim Carrey and then tries to woo her by re-creating all of her most romantic moments except with himself in place of Jim Carrey. Spoiler alert: The attempt falls flat, proving that you can do or say all the right things but unless that little je ne sais quoi is there, it’s useless.

One girl wrote me a whole paragraph about how men really shouldn’t bug women at the gym, and then followed it up by complaining that she was disappointed that a dude she was often partners with in one exercise class “never small-talked me to find out more details about if I was single, etc.”

“Sooo,” she concluded, realizing her contradiction, “like so many other things in life, it might just come down to how hot the guy is. Sorry!”

If you’re a creep, sheeeeee’s runnnnnning out the dooooooooor. (Or he’s walking, as the case may be.)

To wrap this up, here are the three best stories about total gym creepery I received. You should probably avoid getting yourself into any of these situations.

3. “A guy came up to me and asked if I would punch him in the stomach while he did sit-ups. (!!!) I looked at him like he was an alien for a little bit. But then I went and punched him in the stomach while he did sit-ups. Pretty sure I never talked to him again after that.”

2. “One time [an Equinox trainer who was kind of sketchily giving her free lessons because he had no other clients at the time] was stretching me out and had my leg over my head stretching my hamstrings and looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘I could be penetrating you right now.’ lol.”

1. My very favorite:

“The worst example of gym social interaction I’ve ever seen was at a Boston gym that shall not be named, when Derek Jeter and his friend hopped on treadmills to walk to warm up and a guy literally thirty seconds after they got on started walking on the treadmill next to Jeter. He then pulled the fake look to his side. “Oh my goodness, I never thought I’d be next to DEREK JETER on a treadmill, this is unreal, what a coincidence. I’M A HUGE FAN.” Well, it’s not a coincidence when you have to wipe the drool off your treadmill as you talk and you clearly calculated the interaction. Jeter, for his part, was very polite while making it clear that he didn’t want to spend the afternoon chatting with the guy. Frankly, that’s how I picture most pickup lines at a gym (trying-too-hard awkwardness met with the ‘I have no interest in talking to you while I’m working out’ face), so I have a hard time seeing the romantic-comedy ending, but I believe it can happen — just not with the loser I saw trying to make conversation with Jeter.”

It’s like a DirecTV commercial: “DON’T be the loser she saw trying to make conversation with Jeter,” and you’ll be just fine.

The Commish of the NHL frequents the same Manhattan diner as I do. The owner is a huge Ranger Fan. I have asked the owner to ban the Commish from the premises until a deal is done. The owner, unfortunately, is siding with the Commish. Should I institute a boycott of the diner? Food is very good, and pricing is even better. (Bettman enjoys the pricing!)

— Rog D.

I say you remain at the diner — they’re taking away your favorite game, don’t let them get your value-priced hash browns too! Once the deadline nears and the prospect of losing games heightens, the owner will eventually panic and the two of you can collude on how to handle Gary from there.

More important, though, this would be the perfect Seinfeld episode. Rog D. is George, loyal diner patron and exasperated fan who makes his pals promise to boycott the diner after the owner sides with Gary Bettman. (I’m imagining him doing the Jack Burns “I’m watching you” signal from across the room.) But a few days later Jerry realizes he left something at the forbidden café, goes back to get it, decides to have just one last meal, and is recognized by Bettman — who says he’s always secretly had a passion for stand-up comedy, and would Jerry just give him a few minutes of his time to listen to a few jokes, and yada yada yada …

And then I’m not totally sure how it all works out BUT I do know there’s definitely a climactic scene in which George gets to the diner and realizes he’s been betrayed as the camera pans to Elaine having a grand old time in a back booth: laughing, wearing a tuque, and smoking stogies with Mark Messier and Brendan Shanahan. Also, there would obviously be some shared backstory between Bettman and Kramer, and ALSO, wouldn’t J. Peterman make a perfect NHL owner?!

Actually, Curb Your Enthusiasm might be even better. Bettman may have met his match in NHLPA rep Donald Fehr, but there would really be no more worthy adversary for him than Larry David. Imagine the narrowing of eyes! It’s perfect! They could even somehow play off the L.A. Kings having just won the Stanley Cup. Imagine Susie Essman cursing out Dustin Penner?! I’m now going to spend the rest of the day upset that this isn’t already in the works.

Do you feel like weighing in on the Psy’s Gangnam Style phenomenon? (63 million views and counting!)

As a proud Korean-Canadian, my cultures were involved in a fascinating mash-up when Canadian Nelly Furtado covered Psy’s hit.

The only thing more discombobulating was the sudden engagement of Chad and Avril. Could you also tell me what the official nickname is for them? Chavril? Nickavril? Lavigneback? Krogvil?

— Rob K.

I … I somehow completely missed the entire Gangnam Style wave and now I see that it’s become such a force that he’s been written about by the Associated Press, Wall Street Journal (“the closest Western comparison that Kang can think of is Andy Samberg’s sketch troupe Lonely Island”), and The Atlantic, just to name a few. It’s interesting to read that Psy has recently been speaking with Justin Bieber manager and impresario Scooter Braun, who was just brilliantly profiled in The New Yorker. I feel so out of the loop. Is this what it’s like to get old?

As for the songbird lovebirds, I like “the Canadian Royal Couple.” I feel like our neighbors to the north reacted to this marriage in much the same way the Swedes do when you ask them about the Swedish Chef. Can’t Nickelback be Norwegian?

I think the ’12/’13 NHL season is lost. I see no chance of the owners and players working out a new deal by the September 15 deadline. Winter isn’t the same without hockey and I thought I’d start following the KHL to fill the time. As a NY Rangers fan who adores Lundqvist and the captaincy of Ryan Callahan, who do you suggest I follow in the Russian league?

— Liz R.

While a prolonged lockout would be a dismal situation, there are some ways in which it could be more palatable than the last few NHL labor stoppages. For one thing, following favorite players as they competed in alternate leagues (however far-flung or diluted) would be much easier in this age of sketchy Internet feeds and translated blogs. (Most soccer fans I know have been navigating this stuff for years.)

Because the KHL would be one major destination for many of the NHL’s best and/or most Russian players, it’s worth waiting to see where the dust (and the dusters) settle before going all-in on the league. (Rest assured, though, that if a work stoppage takes place I will turn Coldhearted into a spare, bleak KHL hockey column that’s just called “Cold.”) Also, I’m too scared to do some digging and potentially confront a reality in which the answers to “Who is the Henrik Lundqvist of the KHL?” and “Who is the Ryan Callahan?” are somehow both Alexander Radulov.

Until then, I’d recommend a few people on Twitter to help you get your fill of news, commentary, and translated interviews with Russian players and KHL league officials. (The Washington Capitals blog Russian Machine Never Breaks also lives up to its name.)

That last tweet refers to the Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin (last year’s league MVP) and reminded me of something that The Sporting News‘s Sean Gentille wrote the other day. “The initial Malkin Escape From Metallurg must never be forgotten and should already be a documentary,” he said, referring to the time in 2006 that Malkin was basically smuggled out of Russia via Finland in order to come play for the NHL. (The Pensblog called it “The Magnitogorsk Redemption”).

“If Malkin escaped during the Twitter era,” Gentille noted, “it would be a seminal event.”

I think about this all the time — what certain world events/movie launches/big dunks of the recent past would have been like with Twitter. (Usually the answer is “way more annoying,” but still.) Which brings us to …

Marty Brodeur: he of the sister-wife. Why don’t more fans make fun of this? Way more fun than the Martayy … Martayy chant.

— Matt C.

Matt is referring to the fact that in 2003, it came out that Martin Brodeur had been having an affair with his sister-in-law (his wife’s brother’s wife, not his wife’s sister, but still) when his wife filed for divorce during the playoffs. It reminds me of the Malkin Escape, in a way: While the story definitely made a big splash at the time, I can only imagine what it would be like on Twitter if that happened now.

Other things I think about in this vein, in no particular order: Imus in the Morning would have been doomed from the start; Anthony Mason would have been an incredible tweeter; EVERYTHING ABOUT BILL CLINTON; June 17, 1994, would have broken the Internet; I am so glad we didn’t have to deal with awful Elian Gonzalez memes; Game 6 of Sabres-Stars would have led to the first Twitter-based spree killings; and we probably would have known way earlier that Tom Cruise was a total weirdo.

How should I tell my 8-year-old niece that her bake sale email address is taken? Should I use the jersey number metaphor?

— Jesse S.

Looks like someone’s family didn’t build them a big enough digital trust fund. Invest in the future. Not only should you use the metaphor — “Sally, today we’re going to learn about the dark intersection of superstition, idolatry, alpha-beta hierarchy, and marketing: the jersey number!” — you should go one step further and treat this as an opportunity for your niece to learn about finance.

Nothing is ever “taken,” you can explain to her. It’s always available for a price. When Eli Manning wanted punter Jeff Feagles’s no. 10 in 2004, he paid for it by sending Feagles and his family on an all-expenses-paid Florida vacation. (I imagine them getting to the hotel room and finding Eli already in there, jumping on the bed with ice cream on his face.) When Plaxico Burress wanted Feagles’s no. 17 the next season, he promised him he’d cover his kitchen renovations in exchange. (He never actually did, which led to this absolutely unreal sentence in a Toronto Star look at the jersey-number barter system: “Burress, who was sentenced to a two-year jail term on weapons charges, is wearing a different — and longer — number now.” I’m sorry, but did you just tough talk a dead guy?)

Tell her to make me an offer I can’t refuse and the e-mail is hers. Here’s a hint: I’m not interested in college savings accounts for my unborn children. This is more like it.

I just saw that Taylor Swift is dating Conor Kennedy. Taylor Swift, America’s sweetheart-turned-crazy-girl, picks up a Kennedy boy four years younger than her, while he deals with his mother’s tragic suicide. And then she buys a house in Hyannis Port right next door. W. T. F.?!?!?!?

— John K.

I’ve always suspected that Taylor Swift is some sort of malevolent robot, but this seals the deal. She’s indisputably programmed to take over the world — and in the mind of whomever designed her, becoming a Kennedy is a crucial stepping stone along that path. (Clearly it was the same guy who invented The Arnold.)

She will stop at nothing: A few weeks ago, when Conor Kennedy’s cousin Kyle got married in Boston, he and Swift crashed the wedding. “I personally went up to Ms. Swift, whose entrance distracted the entire event, politely introduced myself to her, and asked her as nicely as I could to leave,” the mother of the bride told the New York Daily News. “It was like talking to a ghost. She seemed to look right past me.” CHILLING. Those Deerfield disciplinarians will be no match for this drone.

Unsurprisingly, some of the best commentary on the Swift-Kennedy summer loving could be found deep in the comment threads of the website Dlisted. “It’s like when that reporter dates Officer Doofy in Scary Movie so that she can get insider information on the murders.”

Sadly, the rumors that Swift plunked down five mil for a house “across from Ethel’s driveway” are beginning to be questioned/debunked; something still doesn’t add up for me, though. Speaking of The Arnold, I think maybe Swiftnet has become self-aware. That eyeliner. I’m pretty sure it’s her fuel. Control her eyeliner and you can control her. Hurry, before she controls you.

How would the Baker family react if you came home and introduced Tim Tebow to the family as your new boyfriend?

— Anthony Z.

My mom is already writing me an e-mail filled with questions punctuated by periods about whether Tim and I want the pasta or the fish at my cousin’s wedding in Buffalo this October. My brother would give him a head nod and go back to playing video games. And my father would stare at him in amazement, then shake his head and mutter, “I’m telling you, the necks on these guys,” something he says during about 85 percent of the player head-shot intros on TV. (New York’s other two quarterbacks are the 15 percent.)

I just got out of a shitty seven year relationship, the last three of which we spent living together in a new city where we still have not made any friends. Therefore, we are living very awkwardly together, e.g. the movie The Break-Up, except I’m like a hotter male version of Jennifer Aniston. Short of eating Doritos and smoking weed every night, what the heck should I do?? I’m miserable and have nowhere to go.

— Dave C.

Have you thought about joining a gym?

Filed Under: Bake Shop, Current Events, NHL Lockout, NHL Playoffs, NHL Viewing Guide, Series, Sports

Katie Baker is a staff writer at Grantland.

Archive @ katiebakes