WASHINGTON — During a recent trip to Nando's, a chain of very tasty Portuguese chicken restaurants, I asked the woman taking my order what's the best side dish:
"Get the Macho Peas," she said. "That's my definite No.1 seed. After that, you can't go wrong with the rice or the cucumber salad. But those are both weak No. 5 seeds next to the Macho Peas."
Last week a house inspector in my neighborhood told me he had overvalued a nice home in a crumbling rural Virginia neighborhood. "If you want to know the truth, I didn't feel like it belonged on the 4 line of my bracket -- way overseeded in my opinion. But I felt sorry for the guy."
I'm going to see my physician next week for a physical. I'm half-expecting her to say I'm on the bubble -- for hip replacement surgery.
Remember when you used to get a pencil and the guy in your office in charge of the NCAA pool would make paper copies of the men's basketball division I bracket for you? Yeah? And you'd fill it out, turn it in and watch the games enraptured by not only amazing 19-year-old kids playing the game -- but you could also swear profanely at those same kids in your living room when they incinerated your bracket?
Well, see, that's your grandpa's tournament. That's analog bracket-busting; we're all digital now.
It's all about an online service, usually owned by a corporate monolith, picking your teams for you because you've already entered 11 different brackets in six different groups.
It's about dangerous 12 seeds and overrated No. 3s. It's about the dreaded, play-in games, smell tests and, really, a very different, annoying language creeping into our lexicon on a daily basis.
For instance, a friend told me he was recently dumped by his girlfriend. Waiting for the obligatory "it's not you, it's me" line, it never came. Instead, he was told he needed more "quality wins" in his life, that once he actually got a "stronger program profile," she might talk about reconciling. After she left the restaurant, he said he wasn't sure whether to get a better job or schedule Iona.
The main perpetrators of this crime against humanity are, of course, Joe Lunardi of ESPN, Jerry Palm of our own CBS, Ken Pom of somewhere else and a bunch of algorithms that spit out something called R.P.I.s and Strength of Schedule Window Excel files.
They are all talented statistic analysts who, armed with laptops, have somehow gamed the system and have been able to astonishingly predict, often perfectly, what region each team will be sent to and what seed each team will earn before it is selected to the 68-team tournament.
Indeed, they do this way before CBS comes out with their Selection Sunday show at 6 p.m. this week.
Incidentally, as a companion venture, Darren Haines and I will join a panel of experts at Bar Louie at Gallery Place in D.C. from 5-7 p.m. Sunday to do our own WUSA9 bracketology event as the teams are simultaneously announced on CBS. Don't worry, Lunardi won't be there.
I don't hate these people. I mean, other than calibrating the game instead of celebrating it, they seem like decent human beings earning a good living. But they're like the people seated behind you at "The Sixth Sense," who have already seen the movie and decided to tell the person next to them Bruce Willis is already dead.
If Lunardi and Palm lived with me, I'm positive they would tell my children what their birthday presents were days before they opened them.
Of all the bracketology definitions, I still love the one from the Urban Dictionary:
"Bracketology is an example of adding the suffix 'ology' to a trivial task to make it sound scientific or difficult. Usage skyrockets during the month of March when any idiot with cable thinks they know everything about college basketball. At least until the boss' 13 year old daughter wins the office pool by picking the teams with the best looking jerseys."
Now, many coaches and schools have gotten used to the process and actually like to hear their chances of making the tournament and what kind of "work they need to do" in their conference postseason tournaments. Personally, I'd love this kind of prognostication in life:
If I'm on the "Last Four In" list, does that mean I'm going to survive the year or the decade?
And if I'm on the "First Four Out" list, do I need to stop eating bacon and cheese together to ensure I get off of mortality's bubble?
Mostly, I just want to get back to a normal sense of life where my servers are not calling the black bean soup at Whole Foods a No. 2 seed. And when I ask my colleague if my commentary was as bad as I thought it was, she agrees and gives me constructive criticism, rather than, "Stone-cold lock, you sucked."