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Bake Shop Mailbag: Doughnut Mysteries, Locker Room Etiquette, and Eli Manning’s (Speculative) Retirement Plans

The Bake Shop takes on cell phone angst, locker-room loitering, the San Jose Sharks, and much more.

When I was a kid, my dad would eat his cereal and read the newspaper for a good 20-30 minutes every morning before going to work. It was cool, normal, almost noble. Today, if I sit and read my phone for 20-30 minutes before going to work, I feel embarrassed about it. But why? It’s the same thing, both of us just finding out what’s going on in the world.
—Robert B.

Have you been eavesdropping on the excuses I make to the loved ones in my life?! “MOMMMMMuh, would you tell me to ‘put it away’ if it were the New York Times?” (Why am I saying New York Times? We never subscribed to that tabloid trash, because the preferred highbrow morning reading at the Baker haus in my youth was the dear, sweet Trentonian, Page 6 Girls and all.)

Anyway, I think the perceived difference here is that when you’re pecking away at your phone, you could be looking at anything, from Brock O’Hurn’s Instagram feed to Tinder to the comments section on a Martha Stewart appreciation forum. There’s no curation from the type of esteemed editor who signs all his emails “I remain,” and goes on NPR three times a week to discuss “this idea that … ” and green-lights anything having to do with new spins on falafel. When your phone is in your hand and the glaze has washed over your face, you are the gatekeeper. And that’s scary for anyone who knows either you or the phone industry well. Our devices are designed to distract us; they’re like little tiny casinos right in our palms. You can navigate to the most serious news site in the world and you’re still only an errant click away from looking at puppy pictures.

How did NBA player rep Michele Roberts’ comments about reporters in the locker room square with your experience?
—Anna A.

Here’s what Roberts had to say in a late February interview with’s Kate Fagan:

“Most of the time I go to the locker room, the players are there and there are like eight or nine reporters just standing there, just staring at them,” Roberts said. “And I think to myself, ‘OK, so this is media availability?’ If you don’t have a f-​-​-​ing question, leave, because it’s an incredible invasion of privacy. It’s a tremendous commitment that we’ve made to the media — are there ways we can tone it down? Of course. It’s very dangerous to suggest any limitation on media’s access to players, but let’s be real about some of this stuff.

“I’ve asked about a couple of these guys, ‘Does he ask you a question?’ ‘Nah, he just stands there.’ And when I go in there to talk to the guys, I see them trying to listen to my conversation, and I don’t think that’s the point of media availability. If nothing else, I would like to have a rule imposed, ‘If you have a question, ask it; if you don’t, leave.’ Sometimes, they’re waiting for the marquee players. I get that, but there is so much standing around.”

When I first read that interview, I felt shame and thought, Oh my god, Michele Roberts has totally watched me work. Milling around awkwardly in locker rooms was one of the weirdest things I had to get accustomed to when I started this job; it felt like the sports-reporter equivalent of hanging around in the office pantry waiting for your oatmeal to cook and making horrible, sub-elevator small talk with Patty from Compliance. So much shifting from side to side, so much furtive eye-darting, so much compulsive checking of your phone like you’re the first one in a party of six to arrive at a restaurant. And all because Carmelo Anthony takes nearly an hour to get showered and dressed after a game! (Just ask his poor mom.)

But it wasn’t until I read Sarah Kogod’s excellent and unyielding follow-up interview with Roberts, and then Bryan Curtis’s perfect rumination on the silly state of sports media that I felt a little less humiliated about this facet of my office life. As someone who isn’t on a specific team beat, I usually try to hang back quietly the first time I’m in a new place, just to take stock of the rhythms of the reporting, of whether the goalie speaks on game days, of where to go for the coach’s press conference. In other words, I “just stand there.” But the alternative isn’t always better: jumping in with questions while guys with same-hour deadlines don’t get a chance to ask theirs; standing in a scrum of 20 people that will be broadcast on the team website five minutes later just so you can seem busy. Sometimes you can glean so much more by attempting less, like a mom silently driving her kids to school and overhearing all the good gossip going on in the backseat.

Locker rooms are also inherently strange environments for those who aren’t actually part of the team. Sometimes you’re in the way of a dirty jersey being tossed into a laundry bin. Sometimes you’re waiting to ask just one highly specific, rug-that-ties-the-room-together question of a guy who the PR rep insists has “already left the building” but whom you can see laughing it up in the adjacent weight room every time a door swings open. Sometimes everyone around you suddenly sprints to a stall in the corner and then stands there avoiding eye contact for five minutes while an athlete slowly strips down to his spandex just inches from their faces and outstretched recorders, checks his phone, chats with an equipment manager, runs a hand through his sweaty hair, and finally announces that he’s done talking about the rumors that he’s requested a trade.

Sometimes you’re in a new city and don’t know if there’s an established if unwritten pecking order determining who gets to ask questions. Sometimes you stumble upon the holy grail — a friendly, thoughtful one-on-one interview with a guy while everyone else is distracted — and 30 seconds into it some chump comes along, asks zero questions, and lurkingly mooches off all of your research. Sometimes you are that chump. Sometimes an All-Star basketball player tosses a ball of tape toward a wastebasket and misses so egregiously that your instinct is to rib him like he’s a buddy — until you remember he’s never seen you before and probably wouldn’t remember if he had.

I say none of this to complain — there’s nothing anyone hates more than a sportswriter who bitches about his or her job — but more to try to describe the great weirdnesses of the environment, weirdnesses that seemed so unusual to Roberts in her early locker-room visits. After a while, you get so used to it, or are so stressed out about getting your job done, that you stop noticing when you get bonked in the head by an aggressive cameraman. There are ways to mitigate some of these issues: In the playoffs, most teams resort to holding press conferences for the major players, while in international events, the go-to setup is a “mixed zone.” (This is French for “media in a holding pen like cattle.”) But every variation has its problems, and there’s not always something wrong with approaching sports coverage somewhat like a talk radio caller: I’ll just hang [back] and listen.

There has been a wave of unexpected retirements in the NFL recently. Assuming that Eli hasn’t suffered concussions and isn’t worried about safety, what would be the most Eli-ish reason for him to unexpectedly retire?
—Connor E.

In ascending order of probability: 

  • To take the position of university president at Ole Miss
  • To replace Chris Christie as governor of New Jersey
  • To tour with the Wiggles
  • To spend more time in a motion-capture suit
  • To pursue his talk-show career, Strahan-style
  • Toys
  • Because Peyton did
  • To remain atop this analysis, FOREVER
  • Because he’s just beaten Tom Brady in the Super Bowl for a third time and he knows that comes around only every four years
  • To pursue his talk-show career, Tiki-style
  • Because football was becoming too much of a distraction from locker-room pranks

Damn near my entire look from high school in north Jersey in the early- to mid-90s is hip again: flannels, Birkenstocks, 3-bar hats, etc. But one item seems to not be coming back: the mushroom-head bowl cut. Why the heck not?
—Bobby T.

This is a fantastic question, really makes u think. In 1937, British fashion critic James Laver published a timeline of trends in Taste and Fashion that would eventually come to be known as Laver’s Law:

Indecent — 10 years before its time
Shameless — 5 years before its time
Outré (daring) — 1 year before its time
Smart — “Current Fashion”
Dowdy — 1 year after its time
Hideous — 10 years after its time
Ridiculous — 20 years after its time
Amusing — 30 years after its time
Quaint — 50 years after its time
Charming — 70 years after its time
Romantic — 100 years after its time
Beautiful — 150 years after its time

I live my own life stuck in the hinterlands between “Dowdy” and “Hideous” (also known as “The great barren yoga pants expanse”) and I’m totally cool with that. In general, Laver’s Law seems to have wildly compressed of late: Instead of 20-year trend cycles, it feels more like 20 minutes. But according to the original timeline, your circa-1994 haircut is still correctly in the “Ridiculous” phase. (This chart also explains why the repellently named “Hitler Youth” made such a comeback recently: It’s downright “Charming”!) But you’re right to note that the rest of your old go-to fashions — your Nirvana plaids and your Gamecocks hats and your quality footbeds — are back like an old graduate begging for one more spin with the beer bong. I don’t know why the mushroom bowl cut has resisted these aggro-cyclical pulls, but I am confident that it’s only a matter of time before one of the umpteen Fashion Weeks (that inexplicably take place more frequently than even Restaurant Weeks do) “introduces” us all to the bowl-cut renaissance. And I feel like it’ll be Marc Jacobs who does it.

Side note: My personal “when is this hideous hairstyle going to come back?” revolves around the late-’80s short permy ’do that Molly Ringwald had circa Sixteen Candles — I need it back in my life. It’s on glorious display in the best YouTube video I’ve seen in years: This chronicle of a 1988 high school party broken up by Mom and Dad.


I am a San Jose Sharks fan. How depressed should I be?
—Carlos S.

Sharks fans have it extra tough because not only is the world looking pretty bleak right now, but no one is sympathetic to their plight. “Oh, you’re missing the playoffs for the second time in 18 years? Wahhh, poor you” is a standard — and totally understandable — response.

But what the Sharks have going on is a perfect storm of all the worst things that can happen to an otherwise good team: the window of opportunity slamming shut on your fingers; the dirty laundry aired out in public; the steering wheel coming off just as you’re negotiating a turn. Missing the playoffs is only part of a larger problem, that problem being that no one seems to know what exactly it is the Sharks are trying to be. Team beat writer David Pollak recently addressed just what went wrong for San Jose this season, and the short answer is: pretty much everything.

The good news, if you can call it that, is that sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you can enact necessary change. (I know: That’s not very good news.) But exactly who will be enacting that change is as up-in-the-air as this whole season has been; it’s unlikely that both Doug Wilson and Todd McLellan, or even either of them, will be back next year. Ultimately, you have to believe that in the right hands, the team has too much talent to be sunk for long. And hey — the Kings are currently out of playoff position. There are glimmers of beauty in the world after all.

This morning my family and I clambered out of our Manhattan hotel at 6:00 a.m. to stand in the people pens outside the “Today Show.” We’re probably not doing this again, especially not with an 8-year-old and a 5-year-old. We had a good spot on the railing which led to nothing when the intentional jet crash prevented Matt Lauer et al from joining us outside. What is the proper reaction to this emotionally? Are we even allowed to be disappointed? Or did we get exactly what we deserved?
—Phil K.

I think you’ve answered your own question here. (Though I’d stand outside for as long as it took if it meant I had a shot at even a droplet of Kathie and Hoda’s house wine, so I feel you.) But hey, there are always going to be tourists in New York who manage to sink even lower: At least you didn’t venture downtown with a selfie stick just to catch the goings-on around Manhattan.

As a Mets fan do you worry that we’ll look back on the Matt Harvey profile in New York Magazine as some kind of career peak?
—Ron M.

Short answer: As a Mets fan, I worry about everything. And an article that begins with “Ian Schrager wants Matt Harvey’s workout advice” and includes lines like:

  • “‘And he’s got great hair, too,’ Raspanti says, rubbing in a pomade called Rough Luxury.”
  • “‘I need my fix!’ he says as he walks through the door of Lure Fishbar, in Soho, for lunch and greets the hostesses with it’s-been-too-long hugs. ‘Is Capon working?’”
  • “‘When someone transcends the sport and becomes a brand in and of himself, he needs to keep in mind what the foundation of that celebrity is,’ the general manager says.”
  • “‘Matt’s a supernova, man.’”

… well, it’s kinda got the feel of Dow 36,000, ya know? Mets fans are so thirsty for Harvey to be back that they speak of him like he’s Joe Namath, feel personally offended when he’s not scheduled to pitch the season opener, and believe him to be an almost singular solution to the thousands of ongoing issues that hamper the team. (Hey, a few more endorsements and maybe he can get back all that Madoff money.) His exciting spring training outings (combined with the news that Zack Wheeler is out for the season) have only increased the sense of anticipation surrounding the Mets’ 26-year-old ace.

But while the Mets have a truly exciting group of pitchers set for this season — even without Wheeler, they’ve got youngsters like Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Rafael Montero, and Steven Matz — their offense is unexciting enough that the team is once again moving in the fences, the better to swing for ’em. But let’s not get bogged down in the details. The best part about being a Mets fan is feeling fantastic each year between April and June, and there’s no better avatar for that hopeless optimism than Matt Harvey and his roughly luxurious hair.

SUBJECT: Pet Snake – Dealbreaker? 

BODY: To be clear, the young man (27) who owns the pet snake is normal in all other life aspects and shows no other signs of being a “snake guy.” The snake in question is a ball python and lives in a cage in his bedroom.

—Leanne F.

Great moments in subject lines! I like imagining that the snake owner here is the same guy who wrote in about whether a girl having a River Phoenix quote tattooed on her rib is a deal breaker. The heart wants what the heart wants! Some of us eat our peas one at a time, others spend hours on Twitter arguing about boy band breakups or obscure zoning ordinances, and still others feel best when they’re feeding live tiny mice to a slithering Biblical beast. We all have our odd quirks and enthusiasms, and the key to a successful relationship — whether it’s a friendship, a relationship, or the forced togetherness of a family — is giving others the space to indulge theirs. Who’s to say that owning a snake is any weirder than sharing one’s home with a slobbery, germ-ridden, foul-breathed, fur-shedding golden retriever?

But many humans are genetically predisposed to fear and distrust snakes, and it’s totally understandable if operating in the same bedroom as one just isn’t for you. In that case, it’s not worth giving up just yet: perhaps the cage could be moved to a more neutral location as a compromise. But if it’s not the snake itself that raises the hair on your arms, but simply the idea of it, then you might want to examine whether you’re using the poor ball python as some sort of excuse. After all, far better to date a “snake guy” than a guy who’s a snake — although if you catch your dude browsing Kingsnake After Dark, there’s a great chance that he may be both.

What led you to partner with @TheRoyalHalf to start a bakery and sell the best donuts within 50 miles in Centerville, South Dakota?
—Drew C.


Bake-ShopDrew C.
After our previous collaboration, Half Baked, ended in heartbreak for me, I decided that I’d rather invest in an enterprise that makes delicious doughnuts as a commentary on the highly caloric emptiness of being a sports fan.

I had a half baked idea to make end of OT shootouts a little bit better. If a game goes to the shootout, the participating shooters should be allowed to remove their helmets to attempt their penalty shot. It’s a no risk play in hockey, the league and the players get at least a little better recognition from the casual fan, who loses?
—Jesse H.

If the NHL has its way, shootouts will become more and more rare: The NHL Board of Governors recently voted to recommend a change in the format of overtime hockey. Currently, after five minutes of sudden-death four-on-four play, the game moves to a shootout. Under the proposed format, teams would play four-on-four, then three-on-three, and only then would a shootout take place.1


The specifics are still up in the air — some favor five-minute periods for each state of play, while others prefer the setup that’s been tested in minor league hockey this season: At least seven minutes of four-on-four followed by roughly three minutes of three-on-three play.

Studies have shown that this would reduce the number of games that go into a shootout, which makes most NHL fans happy. (Most NHL fans hate being happy, though, so I’m not sure how they would actually react to this development.) But gimmick-wise, three-on-three hockey really doesn’t seem too far off from one-on-one.

I’m biased, because I am weird and don’t hate shootouts: Sure, I wish the NHL would go by international rules (a.k.a. “the Oshie”) and I wish it would abandon the current standings point system, but ending an otherwise endless game with glorified penalty shots is fine by me. (In February a few friends and I bought standing-room-only tickets to a Penguins-Blackhawks game that ended in a shootout, and it was one of the most fun in-arena atmospheres I’ve been a part of. KAAAAAANER!) So hey, go one shamless step further and let the guys decide whether they want to go helmetless while skating in for their shot. MAY THE FLOW BE WITH YOU! Just don’t let Taylor Hall get anywhere near this, because he has a way of ruining everything.