I had been living in Los Angeles for less than 18 months when we had the conversation. Gathered at a local bar, a few of us were toasting our friend Justin (not his real name). For, you see, as of that afternoon, Justin was no longer gainfully employed. And what I thought was going to be a somber occasion turned out to be quite the opposite.
"No, not fired," Justin explained, "I quit. I just couldn't take it anymore."
Like many of us in the group, Justin had showbiz dreams. A few, like myself, wanted to be writers, but most of them, like Justin, wanted to be actors. Which is why the news was so curious.
It's a cliché, but clichés are clichés for a reason: Because they are true. While working toward his big break as an actor, Justin worked as a waiter. And because there were so many aspiring actors and actresses, waiter jobs were tough to come by. Especially ones like the one Justin had.
He worked at a very famous, very expensive restaurant. The higher end the restaurant, of course, the better, because it meant larger checks. And the more expensive the bill was, the bigger the tip was.
This particular restaurant was considered a coup for a few reasons. In addition to the nice money one could make, the management was good to its help. And with so many employees wanting careers in show business, the management was very flexible when it came to scheduling and completely understanding when someone needed to quickly leave work because a last-second audition had popped up or show up late if a casting session ran long. Because of the restaurant's location, it often was frequented by studio executives, agents and casting directors, so while the chances of being "discovered" weren't amazing, they weren't dead either.
As waiter gigs in Hollywood go, this was a pretty big one. We were shocked he had willingly walked away.
Oh, he didn't get along with his direct supervisor. And it was a long drive from where he lived. But he could have dealt with those. But there was one thing he just couldn't stomach any longer.
"The water," he said. "I just couldn't do the water."
We looked at him, confused, as Justin continued.
"We charge for water. If you ask for water, I am supposed to ask bottled or sparkling. If they choose bottled, I bring out a big bottle and explain it is sourced from an aquifer in Sweden with a depth of 1,500 feet. So fresh and clean, it is untouched even by air until it gets harvested and bottled. It is $25 a bottle."
"OK," we say, "That's a bunch of baloney for rich people on corporate work accounts, but so what?"
"It's not true."
"I know, I'm sure it's not 1,500 feet or whatever in Sweden, but ..."
"No, none of it is true."
He then explained that the restaurant had something like 30 bottles of this high-end bottled water brand. When you ordered one, their job was to go to the back, grab one of the empty bottles, fill it with tap water and then come serve it.
"Haven't you ever noticed the cap is always off when we set the bottle down?"
Now that he mentioned it, yeah. The few times I'd been able to eat there for a business meeting, I remembered they made a big deal out of putting the cap down on the table, without ever actually seeing the cap removed.
"I just couldn't do it anymore. Felt so scummy, lying to people." There were lots of other things about the restaurant like that, he continued, but the water was the final straw. Charging $25 for tap water and passing it off as imported bottled water was the last straw. He couldn't do it anymore, so he quit.
"And no one ever caught on?" someone asked him.
"Nope. It's Hollywood, man. People look at the label, they don't care about what's inside."
I was thinking about that story this week as we head into Week 7 of the NFL season. At this point, players are, to paraphrase Dennis Green, what we thought they were. Oh, players will still go on runs, of course -- just think about what C.J. Anderson or Jeremy Hill did during the second half of last season -- but there's at least enough of a sample size in 2015 to make some judgments. And too often, I see players looking at the outside of the water bottle, not tasting what's in it.
When describing fantasy sports success once upon a time, another friend of mine used to say: Don't think of them as players. Think of them as statistical pieces of meat. Cold as that may be, there's some truth to that.
I've done this exercise for a number of years now and it's always popular. I call it "blind résumés" and without the benefit (or hindrance) of a name, here's the stats of some players. (All stats are from 2015, unless otherwise noted.)
Case No. 1:
Player A: 139 completions, 1,703 total yards, 14 passing TDs
Player B: 138 completions, 1,779 total yards, 13 passing TDs
Case No. 2:
Player C: 146 completions, 237 attempts, 1,524 passing yards, 7 TDs, 10 INTs
Player D: 151 completions, 228 attempts, 1,420 passing yards, 6 TDs, 8 INTs
Case No. 3. Here are some running backs:
Running back A: 86 carries for 390 yards, 3 rush TDs, 5 rushes of 20-plus yards
Running back B: 83 carries for 460 yards, 4 rush TDs, 3 rushes of 20-plus yards
Running back C: 89 carries for 403 yards, 3 rush TDs, 4 rushes of 20-plus yards
Now, Bell has about twice as many receiving yards as the other two, but still. Interesting, no?
Case No. 4:
Running Back D: 49 carries for 305 yards
Running Back E: 51 carries for 285 yards
Let's see who they are:
Running back D -- Todd Gurley's past two games
Running back E -- DeMarco Murray's best two-game stretch of last season in terms of yardage, when he was the top overall RB in fantasy
Just so you know what we are potentially dealing with here in Gurley.
Case No. 5. Let's look at some wideouts:
Wide receiver A: 154.6 PPR points on 52 catches for 726 yards and 5 TDs
Wide receiver B: 143.9 PPR points on 41 catches for 729 yards and 5 TDs
Both impressive, no? Let's reveal:
Wide receiver A -- DeAndre Hopkins through six games this season
Wide receiver B -- Antonio Brown through six games last season (in which he produced the best PPR season over the past five years)
Case No. 6:
Wide receiver C: 36 catches (48 targets) for 419 yards and 3 TDs
Wide receiver D: 27 catches (43 targets) for 362 yards and 2 TDs
Finally, lucky case No. 7:
Tight end A: 23 catches on 33 targets for 358 yards and 5 TDs (65.8 standard fantasy points)
Tight ends B & C: 33 catches on 42 targets for 500 yards and 2 TDs (62 standard fantasy points)
I mean, just call him Gary Barnkowski.
As we move forward in Week 7 and the rest of the season, here's hoping you do a little more tasting and a little less reading of the label.
A reminder that Love/Hate is always about expectations of players, but that for final start/sit questions, ALWAYS consult my flex rankings. Too often, I get questions like, "You have this guy ranked higher, but this other guy is in your Love list. Whom do I start?" If you're following my opinion, you start the guy ranked higher. Thanks as always to Jacob Nitzberg and Robert Nelson of ESPN Stats & Information for their help, and away we go!
Quarterbacks I love in Week 7
Carson Palmer, Cardinals: No, you can't have Popsicles for dinner. Start your quarterbacks against the Ravens. Don't fart on your sister. These are just some of the declarations I have made in the past 24 hours. In giving up the most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks, the Ravens have made fantasy studs out of the likes of Derek Carr, Josh McCown and Colin Kaepernick, among others. Those three, plus Andy Dalton, averaged 397 yards and three touchdowns versus the Ravens this season. Baltimore has struggled to get pressure on the QB, and Palmer averages a completion rate of more than 70 percent when not under pressure. At home on Monday Night Football, Palmer is an obvious name, but I'm putting him here because he's my No. 1 QB for the week and I love his price in daily as well.
Drew Brees, Saints: Here are the quarterbacks the Colts have faced the past four games: Marcus Mariota, Blake Bortles, Ryan Mallett/Brian Hoyer and Tom Brady. In those games, the Colts have given up an average of 335 yards a game and two touchdowns. Brees looks healthy and has had 10 days to prepare for a game that will be played indoors. Andrew Luck will have no issue moving the ball against New Orleans, so I expect this to be a shootout. As of this writing, I am the only ESPN ranker to have Brees as a top-five play.
Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins: Only Tom Brady has a longer active streak of games with multiple passing touchdowns than Tannehill. Dude has thrown two touchdown passes in four straight games and now faces a Texans team that is tied for the fourth-most touchdown passes allowed. Having finally freed Lamar Miller, the offense is now less one-dimensional and should be able to sustain longer drives, leading to more scoring. Tannehill is inside my top 10 this week.
So you're saying there's a chance: You know who's been really good this season? Blake Bortles has been really good. Well, at least as far as fantasy is concerned. He has more deep completions (20 yards or more) than any other QB, and he trails only Andy Dalton in fantasy points the past four weeks. The Bills have allowed multiple touchdown passes in five of six games this season . . . The Lions are one of two teams in the NFL to give up at least 15 fantasy points to an opposing QB in every single game this season, including Teddy Bridgewater, who got them for 18 in Week 2. Bridgewater faces them again this week and lands inside my top 15.
The price is right: As always, all players I listed above as "loves" are players I like specifically on DraftKings.com or in daily in general (prices and scoring systems vary from site to site), but here are a few additional players I like specific to their price points. All prices quoted are from DraftKings.
Andrew Luck isn't cheap ($7,600), but considering the top three QBs the Saints have faced (Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Carson Palmer) have averaged 306 yards, 2.3 TDs and 24 fantasy points, he's worth the money . . . I know I already listed Palmer, but at just $6,700, he should be a fixture in cash-game lineups . . . Philip Rivers just attempted 65 passes, gets Oakland's 31st-ranked pass defense and is just $6,500 . . . For those in need of salary relief, Zach Mettenberger is the minimum $5,000, faces a Falcons defense that is on the road and has allowed at least 16 points to every QB they've faced this season not named Kirk Cousins or Brandon Weeden. I actually kinda like Mettenberger.
Quarterbacks I hate in Week 7
Matthew Stafford, Lions: Last week's four-touchdown hero comes back to earth against the NFL's second-best scoring defense and a team that has given up the second-fewest passing plays of 20 yards or more. The Vikings are playing ball control these days - they are top 10 in time of possession, grinding it out with Adrian Peterson. I don't see the Vikes putting up huge numbers, meaning the Lions won't be in crazy comeback mode. Stafford will be OK, but he's outside my top 10 this week.
Joe Flacco, Ravens: Flacco is bad against the blitz, completing a league-worst 42 percent of his passes when facing it. Arizona blitzes at the fourth-highest rate in the league. I could see the Cardinals putting up big numbers and then Flacco having some junk-time value, but I hate counting on that.
Sam Bradford, Eagles: Overthrows or underthrows, say this for Sam Bradford: He mixes it up on ways to look terrible. I still believe in him as a viable fantasy quarterback, but not as much as I did in the preseason and not on the road against a red-hot Panthers defense that has given up one or fewer touchdown passes in four of five games this season.
Josh McCown, Browns: NO quarterback has more yards AND touchdowns during the past four weeks than McCown, so I get the temptation during a bye-week pinch. But resist it on the road against the Rams off their bye, a team that allows the third-fewest fantasy points to QBs, and that includes facing Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer. The Rams have given up just one 40-yard pass play this season and also feature a top-five pass rush (per Pro Football Focus), so I don't see a lot of deep plays developing.
Running backs I love in Week 7
Todd Gurley, Rams: It's not often a rookie who has played only two full games is your No. 1 player overall for the week, but Gurley is not your average guy. Dude is averaging an absurd 5.71 yards per rush and 3.91 yards before contact per rush, both of which are most among qualified RBs this season. The Browns, meanwhile, allow 4.97 yards per rush (second worst in the NFL) and 3.06 yards before contact per rush (third worst). He's also super-cheap in daily.
Latavius Murray, Raiders: You know what Latavius rhymes with? No, seriously, I'm asking. Makes it easier for bad puns. Anyway, off the bye and fully healthy, expect a big dose of Murray against a San Diego team that is allowing more than 5 yards a carry and an insane 3.76 yards before contact.
Frank Gore, Colts: The only running back with more carries and more yards per carry during the past four weeks is Devonta Freeman. If Gore converted the two goal-line fumbles -- I know, woulda, coulda, shoulda, but go with me here -- he'd currently be the fourth-best running back in fantasy. Dude got 15 touches in a game where Andrew Luck threw 50 times. The Saints have given up seven rushing touchdowns and remember, when in doubt, ____ > Rob Ryan.
Doug Martin, Buccaneers: The past two weeks, the Redskins have been gashed by the run, giving up 346 rushing yards and two scores to opposing running backs. Ride the -- wait, what are we calling him? Dougernaut? Really? No, that can't be it, can it? It is? Honestly? You know what, I take this back.
So you're saying there's a chance: With Melvin Gordon continuing to struggle and fumble and not score and get benched -- and I may be a bitter Gordon owner -- Danny Woodhead continues to get it done. The Raiders actually play decent run defense, but Woodhead keeps getting work and, as our player card notes, faces a Raiders team that has allowed the 10th-most receptions per game to backs. It should be a passing game and Woodhead will be a nice part of it. ... We don't know who will start and get the majority of work for the Cowboys, but current reports say Christine Michael will get a good shot to be the guy. So, definitely risky, but the Giants have allowed 139 rushing yards per game during their past two. ... Speaking of the Giants, Shane Vereen should get back to being a decent PPR play, as the Cowboys are top six in receiving yards, receptions and receiving touchdowns to opposing running backs this season. ... The Falcons are tied with the Lions for the most rushing touchdowns allowed, so I could see Antonio Andrews get in for a score in this one.
The price is right: Certainly, all of the guys I mentioned above I like in daily (Gurley is just $5,000 on DraftKings!), but here are a few other players I like relative to their prices. As always, prices are from DraftKings.com. ... If you're going top shelf, I like Adrian Peterson at $7,600 against a Lions team that is tied with Atlanta for the most rushing touchdowns allowed. ... Whether it's Joseph Randle or Christine Michael, Darren McFadden will get the passing-down work and with DK's PPR scoring, he should have no problem earning value on his $3,100 price. ... I know I already mentioned Frank Gore, but at $4,900, he should be in a lot of lineups. ... Lamar Miller at $4,600 is a nice price given the matchup with Houston and the fact the Dolphins now let him touch the ball.
Running backs I hate in Week 7
Charcandrick West and Knile Davis, Chiefs: Neither guy impressed last week, and the way you beat the Steelers is through the air. Pittsburgh has given up just one touchdown to running backs this season.
Melvin Gordon, Chargers: Maybe if I put him in here, he'll actually go off, the way so many of my hates did last week. Yeesh, that was not good. But you just can't trust him. No non-quarterback has more fumbles this year than Gordon, he has yet to score, Woodhead has played well and it's not a cake matchup. The Raiders are giving up the fourth-fewest yards per carry.
Jonathan Stewart, Panthers: I actually have him ranked inside my top 20 because it's so brutal for running backs this week, but I'm more of a believer in his four games of fewer than 65 yards rushing with no scores than I am of last week, especially against an Eagles D that is third best in the NFL in yards per rush allowed (3.53) and has given up just one rushing touchdown.
Wide receivers I love in Week 7
Donte Moncrief, Colts: Moncrief has a receiving touchdown in all four of the games started by Andrew Luck, and in those games, Luck has targeted Moncrief more than any other Colt. As you may have heard, I'm not a fan of the Saints' defense.
Mike Evans, Buccaneers: I know, I know. He has been bad. But hear me out here. Four of the past five passing touchdowns against Washington have gone to players at least 6-foot-3. Evans is 6-foot-5. The Washington secondary is banged up and Evans is coming off a bye. It's a bit of a gut call here, but I think Evans gets back on track this week.
John Brown, Cardinals: See Palmer, Carson. The Ravens are tied for the most touchdowns on deep passes this season.
Jarvis Landry, Dolphins: He's second in the NFL in red zone targets and he's facing a Texans team tied for the third-most red zone passing touchdowns allowed in the past three weeks.
So you're saying there's a chance: Allen Hurns now has a receiving touchdown in each of his past four games and cherrio, good chap, gets the Bills in London. Buffalo has given up the third-most passing touchdowns this season. ... Vontae Davis should probably be on Brandin Cooks, meaning Willie Snead gets a nice matchup with a Colts team that has allowed multiple touchdown passes in four of the past five games. ... Martavis Bryant sure looked good, didn't he? Regardless of whom the quarterback is, it's easy to get excited about a matchup with K.C. The Chiefs are giving up 227 yards a game to opposing wideouts, worst in the NFL. ... With DeSean Jackson out, Jamison Crowder should get at least eight targets for the fourth straight game and I expect Washington to be able to move the ball against Tampa Bay. ... With Zach Mettenberger at quarterback, the Titans will throw deeper than they would with Marcus Mariota, which means Dorial Green-Beckham could be worth a flier in deeper leagues.
The price is right: Again, I like all the guys listed above for daily as well, but other players I like in daily (all prices from DraftKings) include Larry Fitzgerald ($7,400), who is still undervalued, especially against Baltimore. ... Same for Keenan Allen ($7,700), who, assuming he plays, gets a dream matchup with Oakland. ... I wouldn't want to play him in a cash game, but I'm intrigued by Tavon Austin ($4,500) in a tournament, as the Rams take on a Cleveland secondary that has struggled recently. ... I'm a Stefon Diggs believer, especially at $4,200 and against the Lions.
Wide receivers I hate in Week 7
Jordan Matthews, Eagles: The Panthers' defense has been terrific this season (fifth-fewest points to opposing wideouts) and Bradford just spreads it around too much to trust Matthews until we see it more consistently.
Brandin Cooks, Saints: Vontae > Brandin.
Anquan Boldin, 49ers: With their season on the brink, I expect the Seahawks' defense to come to play in this one. Against a defense that doesn't give up a lot of touchdowns to opposing wide receivers (just one this season), I have Boldin outside my top 30.
Kendall Wright, Titans: The same reason I think DGB is interesting above is why I don't love Wright this week. Mettenberger likes to throw deep and his game isn't as suited for Wright as Mariota's.
Tight ends I love in Week 7
Gary Barnidge, Browns: Just putting him in here because he has proved to be matchup proof. I didn't like him last week and, boy, was I wrong. Yes, it was just three receptions, but he made them count. He has scored at least 13 points in four straight games. The only other tight end to have a streak that long in the past five seasons is Jimmy Graham in 2013. I mean ... dude ... Gary Barnkowski!
Jason Witten, Cowboys: He always kills the Giants and it's not as though Matt Cassel is throwing deep, you know? Witten has at least six targets in all five of his games this season, best among tight ends. He has scored in four of his past five against the G-Men, including multiple touchdowns in three of them. New York gives up the fourth-most yards per game to opposing tight ends.
Charles Clay, Bills: Literally, there's no one left to throw to.
So you're saying there's a chance: You know to always start your tight ends against Oakland and while Antonio Gates is the obvious name, I like Ladarius Green in this one as well, as San Diego will be throwing quite a bit and its receiving corps is banged up. ... The Lions have given up four touchdowns in six games to opposing tight ends, including one to Kyle Rudolph in Week 2.
The price is right: As always, all prices are from DraftKings.com. For those playing daily, I am sure the ownership will be very high on Antonio Gates ($5,000), a very reasonable price considering the matchup with an Oakland team that has given up six touchdowns to opposing tight ends in just five games. ... With no Jamaal Charles and possibly Jeremy Maclin, too, because of a concussion, it should be a big week for Travis Kelce ($4,900) facing a Steelers squad that coughs up the third-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends.
Tight ends I hate in Week 7
Crockett Gillmore, Ravens: The Cardinals are one of just two teams not to allow a receiving score to a TE this season and have allowed just 13 total fantasy points to opposing tight ends.
Heath Miller, Steelers: The Chiefs have allowed fewer than 35 yards to opposing tight ends in five of six games this season, so Miller isn't a good play no matter who is at QB.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- always demands to see the cap taken off. He is a paid spokesman for DraftKings.com and the creator of RotoPass.com, a website that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. You also might have heard: He has written a book.