Jeff Pearlman

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Monthly Archives: March 2013

Florida Gulf Coast

Florida Gulf Coast was hammered by Florida tonight.

The dream is dead.

The glory has ended.

The players will return to campus, enjoy a brief pep rally, then fade from color to black and white. It happened to Mouse McFadden, it happened to Fennis Dembo, it happened to Taylor Coppenrath. It happens to them all. I’ve seen it before, I’ll see it again.

And yet …

This feels different. Florida Gulf Coast wasn’t Cleveland State or Wyoming or Vermont. It was a school 98% of us had never heard of; a school that didn’t exist until 1997; a school in its second year of March Madness eligibility. We’ll be talking about this one for a long time. It’ll be a reference point for one coach after another after another. “You guys don’t think we can win. Well, lemme tell you about Florida Gulf Coast in the spring of 2013 …”

I’m sad the run has ended, because without Florida Gulf Coast, the tournament no longer interests me. I’m numb to watching Duke-Louisville or Florida-Michigan. It’s dull and repetitive; big-money, big-booster teams featuring myriad players only in college as an NBA gateway.

But I’m also not sad, because the magic was real and lasting and amazing. No matter what becomes of Chase Fieler (European pro, accountant, dog walker), we’ll all recall that dunk against Georgetown—the dunk heard around the world. Most important, I’ll never again sleep on a No. 15 seed. I’ll never again think a team has no shot whatsoever.

Thanks to Florida Gulf Coast, I’m a changed man.

Well, not really. But I’m a changed fan.

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Bruce Kulick

Way back when I started doing The Quaz, I thought Bruce Kulick—former KISS guitarist and one of the true greats of the medium—would make an excellent interview. Yet, for some reason, I waited and waited and waited and waited. Kulick, after all, is a busy man. Not only is he the lead guitarist for Grand Funk Railroad, but he regularly works on (and releases) his own material. There always seems to be this project or that event or this gig.

And yet, when I finally reached out, Bruce was gracious and, ultimately, fantastic. Best known for his dynamic 12-year run with KISS, Kulick also toured with Meat Loaf, formed a band with (gasp!) pre-cheese Michael Bolton and rolls with Grand Funk.

Here, he talks about life with KISS, what makes a great guitarist, how it felt to lose Eric Carr (his KISS bandmate) and why he’d gladly strap on a dress and join Celine Dion’s Las Vegas show.

One can visit Bruce’s website here, and follow him on Twitter here. His albums and merchandise are available here.

Bruce, I hear you calling. Welcome to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Bruce, I’m gonna start with a weird question, but one I’ve always wondered about. When I see boy bands performing, I always think, “There’s no way in hell the members actually like this music.” I mean, I suppose maybe—maybe—Jordan Knight liked “Please Don’t Go Girl” when he and the New Kids on the Block were 16. But, at age 40, I have to think he feels like vomiting.

You’re an insanely gifted guitarist with a remarkable skill set. When you were with KISS, were you ever—ever—like, “Dear God, if I have to play the solo from Plaster Caster again I’m going to rip my head off? What I mean is, did you even like KISS’ music? Were you hot and cold on it? Mixed? Thrilled? Or, ultimately, is a gig a gig?

BRUCE KULICK: Obviously, bands that perform hits … at every show it can be uninspiring to perform. But keep in mind that being on stage for people requires you to be connected to the crowd (at least that is something I believe in), and no matter how many times I played “Rock N Roll All Night” with KISS, for example, or “We’re An American Band” with Grand Funk, the crowd wants to hear it.

So the adrenaline—and the crowd—keeps it fresh and fun. At least for me. I kind of believe that playing guitar on stage beats some other factory job, you know …

J.P.: Much has been written about your career, almost nothing of your background. Bruce, I know you were born in 1953, somewhere in Brooklyn. But, well, that’s pretty much it. So, Bruce, how did you develop your love for music? Where did that come from? Did you have a musical family? How about an “ah-ha, I’m really good!” moment?

B.K.: It’s funny that recently I have been hearing from one of my grade-school classmates That is crazy! Brooklyn was a wonderful place to grow up. I moved to Queens when I was 10, and I met many good musicians there as I got older. The Beatles on Ed Sullivan did it for me. My brother was always fooling around on the guitar with help from some of the folk artists around, and, man, did the Fab Four change the world as we know it. I am still an avid fan—I collect many Beatle items. The British Invasion of music that followed the Beatles kept me very happy and busy.

I do have family members with talent. Cousins, uncles and my mom sang, and my dad played trumpet—so something in the genes for sure was happening. The “ah-ha moment” was when I was about 16 in Queens, and I could play some Beatle songs well, and the girls were coming around hanging outside my parents’ place. My friends encouraged me to play on, and I did!

J.P.: From 1979-80 you were the guitarist in Blackjack, with a lead singer named Michael Bolton. This strikes me as really, really … odd, because I picture Bolton with the long flowing hair and the covers. Were you guys good? And is Michael Bolton, at heart, a rock and roll guy?

B.K.: We were molded after a Bad Company kind of band—strong singer playing blues rock music. Michael became famous when he switched up and became your mother’s favorite singer—but he rocks at heart and I learned a lot working with him in Blackjack. I made many contacts that would help me later in my career. I still keep in touch with Michael sometimes.

J.P.: What’s the difference between a good guitarist and a great guitarist? Like, schmucks like myself attend concerts, listen to, oh, Eddie Van Halen play a solo and say, “He’s friggin’ awesome!” But, really, I’m just guessing. I mean, are John Oates and Tommy Shaw awesome? Is Bruce Kulick awesome? Was Ace awesome? I just don’t know, because it all sounds good to me. So, Bruce, what’s good vs. great? How can one tell?

B.K.: It is really relative. If Eddie Van Halen were in KISS, he wouldn’t fit. Ace would mess up Van Halen. You know, it’s not important who is good vs. who is great. It’s about moving people with your talent and performance. So what Ace might lack technically means nothing in context with KISS. He wouldn’t do what the right things for my era of KISS were, but I have to kind of capture his essence in KISS and interpret the solos. So there’s nothing to stress about and no reason to compare greatness—simply put, guitars are fun to play. And being the best is overrated.

J.P.: You were with KISS when you were in your 30s and the band was still awfully big. You’re currently the lead guitarist in Grand Funk Railroad, and you’re almost 60. I’m wondering, as a musician ages do expectations change? Do the things that give you satisfaction and fulfillment change? Is a state fair now as good as an area was then? And, while we’re on it, does skill change? Are guitarists like baseball players, where certain things get harder and harder to do over time?

B.K.: Unlike athletes, I feel that musicians are very fortunate. And although I am aware of some famous singers dropping the keys of the songs, so they can no longer reach the same notes, the music of McCartney, The Stones, The Who and many others are still kicking some serious ass.

I hope to rock till I drop, and these heritage artists that keep going make me smile. So come see me in my 80s!

J.P.: I’m excited to ask you something that’s long irked me: When KISS released the “Psycho Circus” album with the reunited band, I was—admittedly—excited. There’s just something about nostalgia and reunions that people dig. Well, as you know, I later find out that Ace and Peter barely played on the thing—that you did much guitar, etc … etc. This strikes me, in a way, as a bait and switch—telling fans one thing when it’s not reality. Am I wrong? And does it even matter?

B.K.: Well, honestly, although I wasn’t in the band, I was aware of some politics with that album. Gene and Paul didn’t really feel it was in their best interest to have Ace and Peter on all the performances. I was even brought in to play some bass! (Because Paul likes me playing bass and didn’t want Gene to stomp over his song. So forget reality. Remember when you heard that Paul took the solo on Taxman? A George song! Get it? [Jeff’s note: Honestly, not really].

J.P.: In 1977 you first tasted the big spotlight by touring with Meat Loaf on the “Bat Out of Hell” tour. I’m riveted by this. Was it fun? Weird? Did you dig the music? What do you recall from the experience, Bruce?

B.K.: I did think that album had great songs and themes. The concept of him and everything Meatloaf and Steinman created was very over the top, but different. I was happy to have that gig with my brother, but it was grueling. Great to learn how to go from being booed off stage to selling out arenas in two short years!  So much travel and so many shows. Meat was a mess after that long tour. But hey, I was on SNL back in the Belushi-Radner days! How cool is that …

J.P.: Greatest moment of your career? Absolute lowest?

B.K.: The greatest would be jamming for the Rock N Roll Fantasy Camp with Jack Bruce from Cream—two Cream songs, and we were improvising. I watched that video that night from my camera and cried. I jammed with one of my heroes and he dug me! Awesome!

Lowest, I guess, was the KISS reunion tour, but I took it as a challenge for me to get out there and create music.

J.P.: You’ve released three solo albums, and your work has been widely praised. And yet, it’s never been enormously commercially successful. I’m wondering—do you give a shit? What I mean is, are you releasing albums to make money? To draw new fans? Or, perhaps, for love of the music? What’s the motivation?

B.K.: I am very pleased at what I have done. The music moves my fans, and surprises the skeptics. The music business for someone like myself is not only about numbers. Find out what a solo disc from Mick Jagger sold. Or even Joe Perry. But they come from something way huge.  For me, I have profited from the discs, but it’s always been about sharing my talent with my fans.

J.P.: You were with KISS when Eric Carr died of cancer. I’ve been around teams when they’ve lost players, but never a band losing a member. What was that like? How did you cope? And what can you tell us about Eric beyond the standard “He was a hekuva guy …” clichés?

B.K.: It was like losing a family member. I was the closest in the group with him. It was surreal and horrible. But I had no way to save him. That was his fate. Eric loved the fans, and he was the kindest to them. He used to write back the fan letters. He would even call them and thank them. Yet, he was emotionally tortured by KISS as well and didn’t always understand the politics of being in a huge band. He will always be missed.

Eric Carr & Bruce Kulick.

QUAZ EXPRESS WITH BRUCE KULICK:

• Five greatest guitarists of your lifetime: Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Brian May. We already talked about Eddie Van Halen, but add him as the sixth.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I thought about how blessed my life has been playing guitar.

• Hall & Oates—Rock & Roll Hall of Fame worthy, or no?: Yes! Amazing songs and performances.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Faith No More, The Godfather II, Eric B and Rakim, microwaved popcorn, Valentine’s Day, Nashville, Roberto Alomar, Emeril Lagasse, Randy (Macho Man) Savage, canned peas, camping trips: Valentine’s Day, Godfather II, Faith No More, Nashville, Emeril Lagasse, Randy Savage, Roberto Alomar, popcorn, Eric B and Rakim, canned peas, camping trips. Camping trips really stink.

• You and Tommy Thayer in 10 rounds of boxing. Who wins, and by what?: His head is huge. He might beat me, but I think I have a wild side. So maybe I win on points.

• The one KISS song you never, ever, ever need to hear/play again is …: Love Gun.

• Number of times in your life you’ve applied KISS makeup to your face (if ever): Never. I wore an Ace rubber mask for two minutes once and my friends nearly peed their pants.

• Why do so many musicians smoke cigarettes?: They think it’s Keith Richards cool. I hate them.

• Celine Dion calls—offers you $3 million annually to be the lead guitarist in her Vegas show. However, you have to work 360 days per year and dress in a pink evening gown. You in?: Could it be a purple one? If so, I’m in.

AJ
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Joe Biden *heart* Elena Della Donne

A few hours ago, while working out at the New York Sports Club, I had the horror of watching the above video—Joe Biden sending a congratulatory message to Elena Delle Donne, the University of Delaware’s star basketball player.

If you haven’t seen it, you absolutely must watch. It’s weird, creepy and, well, weird and creepy. I half expected Biden to follow up with, “I recall that time I rubbed coco oil across your back, whispering sweet nothings into your precious ear lobe as Air Supply’s ‘All Out of Love’ played gently in the background. The ocean was so blue, Elena, and the waves were but a dreamy subtext to the fantasy of us forever being together as one, holding hands as we walked into the eternal love of Blue Hens …”

Truth be told, I sorta get Biden’s infatuation with Elena Della Donne. I’m an old Blue Hen (as is Biden), and our college has never, ever, ever had an athlete of this caliber. Oh, Rich Gannon and Joe Flacco have enjoyed wonderful NFL careers. But Della Donne is, legitimately, one of the two or three best players in the nation; an undisputed All-American who will probably be the No. 2 overall pick in the upcoming WNBA Draft. She carried a perennially mediocre program to national prominence and, after she graduates, the Hens will certainly fall back to earth. An argument can be made that she has been the most impactful athlete in school history.

But I still find Joe Biden creepy.

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Spencer Dunkley

Spencer Dunkley battles Louisiville’s Clifford Rozier two decades ago.

This week marks the 20th anniversary of Delaware losing to Louisville in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. It was a huge day for me. I was a college journalist at the time, covering the game for the student newspaper. Though the Hens trailed by 18, they cut the lead to six toward the end. It was an excellent effort.

In memory of that team, I wrote a Facebook post a few days ago, accompanied by pictures of some clips from the ol’ paper. A friend of mine wrote a somewhat snarky comment about Spencer Dunkley, the team’s center, not playing especially well.

Dunkley responded by making fun of the “pussy” of the poster’s wife.

This is where things got weird. I told Dunkley I found his words to be beyond inappropriate. Spencer and I aren’t friends, but we’re Facebook friends, and I’ve dropped his (unique) name a couple of times in Sports Illustrated pieces.

I wrote this:

I’ve been a supporter over the years. I’ve dropped your name in SI multiple times, wrote a small thing when your son was born. But this really, really disgusted me.

Spencer, are you 12, talking about a man’s wife’s vagina because he tossed out a stupid basketball insult? Really?

You should strive for better.

Respectfully,

Jeff

He responded with this:

Jeff you my man. basketball is my wife

When I was 12 I would have whoop his ass.
I wrote this:
For insulting you about a basketball game from TWENTY years ago? Who cares. Seriously, Spencer. I get called shit all the time. All the time.
He wrote this:
You dont understand. You dont get it. You can write about it, but you dont get it.
I wrote this:
I get that what you wrote was immature, pathetic and without dignity; I get that there’s a right way to handle something and a wrong way; I get that you have a daughter, and if someone spoke of her the way you spoke of this man’s wife, you’d be furious.
He wrote this:
When you talk shit, write shit about athletes you open yourself up for a ass whoopin, mama cracks, wife cracks, tell your bitchass boyfriend keep my name out his mouth and he wont get his little feeling hurt. He does not know me. You will never get it. Your a writer im a warrior.
When you talk shit, write shit about athletes you open yourself up for a ass whoopin, mama cracks, wife cracks, tell your bitchass boyfriend keep my name out his mouth and he wont get his little feeling hurt. He does not know me. You will never get it. Your a writer im a warrior.

When you talk shit, write shit about athletes you open yourself up for a ass whoopin, mama cracks, wife cracks, tell your bitchass boyfriend keep my name out his mouth and he wont get his little feeling hurt. He does not know me. You will never get it. Your a writer im a warrior.

When you talk shit, write shit about athletes you open yourself up for a ass whoopin, mama cracks, wife cracks, tell your bitchass boyfriend keep my name out his mouth and he wont get his little feeling hurt. He does not know me. You will never get it. Your a writer im a warrior.

If my daughters man was talking shit and they ceacked on her. I would tell him shut the fuck up. Its all fun and games till the dog bites back.
And now, by my choice, we’re no longer Facebook friends.
Eh, go Blue Hens!

I was a college newspaper advisor

I am not one who likes to carry his anger.

When I’m mad about something, I write about it. Cliche as that sounds, it almost always works. For some reason, putting anger to pen is my release. Does it backfire? Sometimes. Mostly, though, it relieves me; sets my angst free.

I am angry.

I have been angry for, oh, seven months now. The anger has hung with me; followed me; tied itself around my neck. I’ve tried ridding myself of it—through conversation, through exercise, through positive mental imagery. Nothing has worked. So I’m here, at my laptop, on this blog, writing.

I am an adjunct journalism professor at Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y. I’m in my third year, and make—I believe—$2,500 per semester. I don’t do this for (obviously) money or (obviously) glory. I do it because I’m genuinely passionate about journalism, and when I think back to the teachers I had at the University of Delaware (specifically, Bill Fleischman, Chuck Stone and Ted Spiker), I recall inspiring men who made me want to leap from my seat and report and write and express and expose and emote. Like those three fantastic professors, I see journalism as, potentially, something beautiful and great. Despite the doom and gloom of 2013, I encourage my students to enter the field. It has, after all, given me a blissful life.

Beginning in the fall of 2011, I took over as advisor to The Touchstone, the school’s student newspaper. As far as I could tell, Manhattanville had never had a regularly published paper. In my first year at the school, it came out, oh, three times. Maybe four. Having attended Delaware, where our paper came out twice per week, I knew (and loved) what a quality student newspaper brings to a campus. First, of course, information. Second, a priceless and invaluable outlet for aspiring journalists. Literally, college writers need college clips to land jobs. Third—and perhaps most important—a sense of community. Back at Delaware, the Review was like its own little ink-stained fraternity. We’d stay up in the office until 3 … 4 in the morning, eating cold pizza, blasting Ween and Nirvana, debating over headlines and jump spaces and ad placement. It became my home away from home; the ugly, soda-stained orange couch became my second bed.

I had been blessed with some wonderful students at Manhattanville, and it pained me—truly pained me—that they were not offered this. So I asked to take over as advisor (unpaid position). And the college agreed. They said they would provide office space and allow complete editorial independence. I told them the paper would, initially, rely on financial assistance from the school (for printing costs), with the long-term goal of generating enough advertising revenue to be self-sufficient. I also told them I would, for the first year or so, work close up with the students, in order to teach them not merely how to be student journalists—but how to be journalists. Everyone was on board.

The first new Touchstone came out in September 2011. It was (I believe) 12 pages. The editor in chief was a student named Marina, a wonderful Brazilian woman who came from a journalism family. The executive editor, Julie, was an aspiring teacher with a magnificent eye for newspaper design and layout. There was a staff of, oh, 15 or so students—strong for a new endeavor. That initial edition was filled with errors and blunders. Bad headlines, run-on sentences, misidentified photographs—and I was as proud as a new parent. The students worked hard. Really hard. On deadline night, they were up until 3 am, eating cold pizza, blasting Tupac. I sat alongside Marina and Julie, exhausted, but also thrilled that, potentially, they were getting a taste of the bliss. A couple of days later I drove out to the Long Island printing press and picked up the paper. I helped the students hand out copies; thrilled by the pride in their faces. This meant something to them and, of course, to me.

Over the ensuing year, the paper came out (almost without fail) every two weeks. There were highs and lows, ups and downs. One columnist wrote a line about, “eating like we’re in Ethiopia” (or something like that), and several Ethiopian students complained. There was an ugly college incident involving racial slurs and a school bus, and the reporters covered it well. Some of the columns were blistering—the food here sucks, this college doesn’t care about us—and I encouraged it. A college newspaper is supposed to be a vent; a place to tee off; to express oneself. It’s a learning tool; a very important one.

Come year’s end, three editors landed top-shelf internships: One at MSNBC and the Rachel Maddow Show, one at Sports Illustrated, one at a Wall Street investment newspaper. I was giddy. Beyond giddy. Another staffer, our sports editor, was hired by NBC Sports. Again—giddy.

I didn’t love 4 am deadline nights; I didn’t love driving 1 1/2 hours to get the newspaper; I didn’t love the exhaustion. But, really, things could not have gone better. It was a wonderful start.

Summer came

Summer went.

Two days into the Fall 2012 semester, I called Marina (the editor) to ask about the newspaper’s first meeting.

“Are you still the advisor?” she said.

“Of course,” I said.

“You may want to check,” she said. “That’s not what I heard.”

I told her she was, surely, wrong. I mean, who dumps a free newspaper advisor? Especially one who helped revive a dead newspaper? Especially one who works in the field and has lots of contacts and loves, loves, loves, loves, loves, loves journalism? I mean, who would do that?

I e-mailed the dean of students.

The dean of students e-mailed me back. He said I should come in for a talk.

Fuck.

I came in for a talk. He stammered and stuttered; lots of “uhhh” and “ehhh.” He said it wasn’t his decision and wasn’t his call, but that the college placed another professor in charge of the newspaper; a professor who has spent the majority of his career doing public relations and consulting. Not that anything’s wrong with public relations and consulting. It’s just not journalism.

The dean told me it wasn’t his call.

“Whose call was it?” I asked.

He didn’t know. Or wouldn’t say.

“So I’ve been fired from an unpaid position?” I asked.

“I’m not sure,” he said.

The editor, Marina, went to The Touchstone office. All the stuff belonging to the previous year’s staff was either removed or thrown out. Nobody told her about the change; nobody told any of the students about the change. A new editor was enlisted—without the new advisor ever telling the old editor she was, like me, dumped.

I was encouraged—by many—to quit the school. “To hell with them,” my mom said. “You don’t need it …”

“No,” the wife said. “You owe it to the students. And you love teaching.”

When I told the heads of my department about the happenings, they had no idea. We wound up having a meeting with the provost. She apologized, also said it wasn’t her call, but that the college was concerned about “the message.” What if prospective students, taking a campus tour, pick up the Touchstone and see a column about crappy food or bad policies? What then? I told her that journalism can’t be taught as public relations; that students must be able to voice their displeasure—and pleasure—in a free forum. A college newspaper is not a promotional pamphlet. A college newspaper is a newspaper.

To my great shock, I sat in front of her and my voice began to crack. Again, I told her, I made no money to do this; I certainly didn’t need to do this for my career. It was, 100 percent, about love, passion, developing journalists, seeing them published and, ultimately, hired. She nodded and smiled and empathized.

The meeting ended.

I was later told, by multiple college officials, that this came down to one thing, and one thing only: Image control.

I felt like I got over it. I really did. My class started its own online newspaper, The Pub Wrap, and that was fulfilling. I was told only my students could contribute; that it couldn’t compete with Touchstone. “Compete?” I said. “This isn’t a contest …”

I moved on; emotionally distanced myself from the college (I’m completing my final semester as we speak); tried to love my students without any of the lingering anger. I brought in some excellent guest speakers (Rick Jervis, a Pulitzer Prize winner; Amanda Sidman from the Today Show; Brian Mansfield of USA Today, Steve Cannella and Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated); had the students do a cool (well, I think it’s cool) final project; pushed the kids toward internships. My class evaluations were excellent. I am, I think, a good teacher.

I was fine.

Then the Touchstone came out. And it was brutal. A pamphlet. A PR pamphlet. Awful layout, no rhyme or reason; mugshots alongside every story. It looks like a bad high school newspaper, or a mediocre junior high school newspaper. (For the record, I don’t blame the students at all. At all. They’re new to this). I actually asked the provost for her take. “I thought it was quite good,” she said.

I was speechless.

And that’s when it hit me. The college doesn’t aspire to a quality student newspaper. It’s about safety. Easiness. Why have an established journalist advise students on journalism when you have a PR person advise students on journalism? Why aim for excellence when mediocrity is so comfortable? Hell, I could have helped my students put out a New York Times-quality product, and it wouldn’t have mattered. It was never about the journalism, per se, or the newspaper.

It was about mediocrity.

So now, Manhattanville’s student newspaper is back where it was two years ago. It’s come out two times thus far, with a dormant website, no Twitter presence, no sense of purpose. The clips are—from a career standpoint—relatively useless, because creativity and aggressiveness are clearly not encouraged. I read it and, literally, feel like crying. So much potential; so much opportunity.

So little interest.

What hurts most (and what, I suppose, inspires me to write this) is that this sort of stuff is going on everywhere. Journalism is, undeniably, under attack. Newspapers are closing. Corporate entities are stifling free press; colleges and universities are cracking down on student-generated publications. We, as a nation, are increasingly comfortable with the idea of limited voice.

It’s a dangerous path.

One, come semester’s end, I no longer want part of.

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Compliment Weirdness

Was in a store buying a suit the other day. The salesman said to me, “You look really young.”

I thought, “Great! I’m 40—but I don’t look 40!”

“You look 38,” he said. “Maybe even 37. How old are you?”

“I’m 40,” I said.

“Oh.”

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Sympathy for Rapists?

It’s OK to have sympathy for rapists.

I know, I know. Sympathy for rapists? How the hell can anyone have sympathy for rapists? Specifically, for Trent Mays and Ma’Lik Richmond, the Steubenville rapists? How can anyone wish anything but a lifetime of suffering upon them? How can you not want their existences to be non-stop misery? How can you not wish pain, death—a painful death—for them both?

I’m not entirely sure.

I think both kids are fucking scum. They scarred a girl forever; scarred her family forever—and got off easy with their relatively light sentences. Were my daughter the victim, I would likely walk to the Mays’ household with a sharp knife and awful intentions. I can’t even imagine … I can’t.

However, I do believe one need not feel guilty for, well, hurting for the two culprits and their families. Until a few months ago, these were kids with lives in front of them; with possibilities; with hopes; with aspirations. They were going to make something of themselves—or at least try. College. Jobs. Families. Vacations. Their parents were, likely, proud. Sons graduating high school; diplomas, caps and gowns.

Over.

It’s all over. In ruining a young woman’s life, these two creatures ruined their own lives, too. Though the boys will only spend limited time in detention, they are—forever—rapists. They’re registered sex offenders until death. That’ll be on their resumes; on their police records. When potential employers Google their names, they’ll find RAPIST first, 10th, 100th, 1,000th. As they should. (I’m not even remotely implying this comes close to what the destroyed young woman must live with. It’s not even in the same stratosphere)

Lastly, it’s important that we not overlook a major factor here: The nonsense, bullshit big-man-on-campus football culture that exists across America. I remember when I was in high school and the meathead quarterbacks and halfbacks and defensive linemen strutted the halls like kings. Girls wore their jerseys, guys bought them beer and weed, faculty members looked the other way. I thought it was inane when I was 18, watching jealously from the side, and I think it’s inane, now. It cultivates and breeds something ugly; a group-think, machismo mentality that reduces women to objects.

Ugh.

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Alexcia James

When I kicked off this Quaz nearly two years ago, the goal wasn’t to line up one big-named celebrity after another and ask questions. No, it was to find folks who’ve had unique/interesting/different/noteworthy existences, and pick their brains. The name itself—Quaz—stands for “quasi-famous,” and while some of the 94 interviewees have been, indeed, famous, many are simply riveting folks with great stories.

Like Alexcia James.

Alexcia is the reigning Miss Black Iowa and two months away from receiving her Doctorate of Nursing Practice from the University of Iowa. I stumbled upon her one day on Twitter, and immediately thought: A. Who knew there was a Miss Black Iowa?; B. This reeks of Quaz.

What I found was a woman who would make any parent proud; an intelligent, insightful 27-year old who approaches life with both confidence and wisdom. I say this sans one iota of exaggeration: Should my daughter wind up like Alexcia James, I’d be elated.

Here, Miss Black Iowa talks about why, in fact, we have a Miss Black Iowa; what it’s like waving and smiling from a float and whether pageants should ever exist. Alexcia loves New York, Rascall Flatts and the food at Cowboys, Monticello, Arkansas’ finest seafood buffet.

You can follow Alexcia on Twitter here, and learn more about the Miss Black Iowa competition here.

Alexcia James, you are officially crowned Miss Quaz 2013 …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Alexcia, I’m going to start you with one I’ve longed to ask someone who has competed in pageants. I have a daughter, and I hate the idea of her entering beauty pageants, because it seems so, well superficial. I know they ask a couple of dull questions, but mostly it seems to be about beautiful women in bathing suits and evening gowns. Tell me, Alexcia, what—if anything–I’m missing. And what have you gotten out of competing in pageants.

ALEXCIA JAMES: Jeff, the idea of bathing suits and dresses is a common misconception of the pageant community. Unfortunately, the world only sees the glitz and glam of pageant life. I think one of the most important things to do before entering any pageant system is to research their history, their purpose, and what they stand for. For many pageant systems the final product that you see on your television is after months of preparation, winning in your local community and continuing to be of service in that community. For pageants such as the Miss Black USA pageant, the entire process takes place over a week. This includes preliminary competitions in talent, athletic wear, evening wear, and an interview process, all while learning choreographed numbers for the production and doing public appearances and community service endeavors. The interview process is actually one of the most important components of the competition. In many pageants, it accounts for the largest percentage of points. During the interview the judges get to know who you are as person, what your goals are, and what you aspire to be in life. As a potential winner, you will be representing the organization, to do that you must be more than pretty face. The talent portion is also worth a significant portion of your total score. Most people have practiced, their talent for months perfecting every aspect of it. The bathing suit and evening gown are worth only a small percent, essentially you can score perfect in those categories and still lose the pageant if you are not well prepared for your talent and interview categories. The goal is to be a well rounded contestant.

J.P.: Before learning of you via Twitter, I didn’t know there was a such thing as Miss Black Iowa or, to be honest, Miss Black Anything. My question: Why? I come from a very small, white, conservative town, and I can hear these people saying, “Why does there have to be a Miss Black Iowa? There’s no Miss White Iowa.” Blah, blah, blah. Alexcia, how would you explain it to these people? What’s the reasoning?

A.J.: Again, very common question and, to some extent, I can understand the discontent that surrounds the title. In looking back, the Miss Black USA organization was formed to showcase the heritage and diversity of African-American women throughout the world. The African-American woman comes from many different shapes, sizes, backgrounds, shades, but is still multi-talented and intelligent. Often times, African-American women have a difficult time competing and advancing in mainstream pageant systems. For example, looking at the Miss USA and Miss America systems, there are typically very few minority women represented. I do not think it is because we are any less capable or beautiful, but our beauty may be seen as different in their eyes. No offense to those systems, of course. I think they all have a place in the pageant scene.

J.P.: Here’s what I know about you, Alexcia. You’re 25, you’re from Monticello, Arkansas, you attended the University of Iowa on an academic scholarship and you were once crowned Little Miss Drew County. But those are mere facts. Alexcia, what has been your life path? As in, how did you get here?

A.J.: Well, I am now 27 and will be finishing my Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) program in May of this year. I graduated from Monticello High School as a teenager and decided to come to Iowa to start my nursing education. During my undergraduate years, I was a resident assistant, part of the Black Student Union, president of Voices of Soul gospel choir and part of University of Iowa Association of Nursing Students (UIANS).

I graduated with my BSN in May of 2008, struggled a bit to get started in my nursing career and finally started working at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in February 2009. I began graduate school in 2010, thus I’ve been working full time and going to school full time for the past 2 1/2 years. With my Miss Black Iowa role, for a while I was also completing community service activities with various organization and making public appearances on the weekend. So, needless to say, this girl has been busy, but life is slowing down a bit now as I prepare for graduation and look out for the next phase of my life—Alexcia James, DNP Adult Gerontological Nurse Practitioner.

Other than that, in my free time I love to read, listen to music, go to movies and travel.

My goal is visit somewhere out of the country after graduation, I love learning about different cultures. I think it would be amazing to visit Africa, Italy, Germany, Paris or even Istanbul.

J.P.: So I was reading the Miss Black Iowa website, and it sounds like you took over the position with some, well, controversy. The site says: “On Saturday, April 2, 2011, Alexcia James, a graduate student at the University of Iowa in the Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) program, assumed title of Miss Black Iowa USA 2011 with enthusiasm and humility. She will finish the yearlong reign first started by RayVynn Schauf of Waterloo. As of April 1, 2011, due to noncompliance with the Miss Black Iowa Year of Service Guide and noncompliance with other performance obligations, RayVynn Schauf is no longer the 2011 Miss Black Iowa USA Delegate/Spokesperson.

According to pageant rules, in the event that a delegate is unable to fulfill her role, the 1st runner-up assumes the responsibility of the crown.” Alexcia, save for the time Vanessa Williams posed for Playboy, I’ve never heard of a pageant winner unable to finish her term. What happened? And how did you feel stepping in? Mixed emotions? Excited? And did you have to compete again for 2012?

A.J.: Honestly, I was not given information on the exact reasons she was asked to resign. I simply received a call saying, “You understand as first runner-up, if for any reason the current winner is unable to fulfill the duties of her crown, you would be asked to take on the role as Miss Black Iowa?” I was speechless at that moment, but I said yes, and the rest is history. I had three months to prepare for the national competition in Washington, DC, and immediately began doing appearances and community service activities. I was excited, but also a little uneasy because during the initial competition the current winner and I had become friends. I did reach out to her on a few occasions to see how she was, but honestly, I have not spoken to her since I took over the role. I did not have to compete in 2012 and a decision was made to have me continue my reign for the next year as well.

J.P.: I’m gonna ask one I’ve never heard asked during the Miss America telecast. On your bio page, you say, “If you dare to dream the possibilities are limitless.” But how can you tell that to, oh, the kid growing up in the slums of Gary, Indiana, single-parent, no money, crap education? Or to someone living in poverty in the Ukraine without a morsel of hope? If we’re being 100% honest here, doesn’t “daring to dream” sometimes get smacked back to earth by harsh, cold, cruel reality?

A.J.: Unfortunately, the world can often deal you a horrible hand. However, I believe immensely that your dreams are your own, no matter your circumstance. You must never let anyone or anything take that away from you. Call me an optimist, but I truly believe that hope is what keeps the spirit going when the body is weak.

J.P.: I’m an agnostic Jew … pretty sure God doesn’t exist. Tell me why I’m wrong.

A.J.: I cannot tell you that your beliefs are wrong. I can simply say that I believe there is a God and I believe in him with all my heart. I try very hard not to be judgmental of the beliefs of other people. One of the great things about our country is that we have the right to believe in what we want.

J.P.: As we speak, you’re a graduate student in the Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) program. What is it about nursing that appeals to you? What’s the calling? And when did you first realize it was what you wanted to do?

A.J.: It is hard to put into words what it is about nursing that I love so much. I guess the simplest way to say would be the feeling of the connection you get from helping people at a vulnerable moment in life. For many people, one of the most challenging times in life. I also get the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life and I think it keeps me grounded. I first realized it was what I wanted to do my senior year of high school. Up until that point, I was sure I wanted to be a heart surgeon. During that year, I was hospitalized with an atrial septal defect that had to be repaired. One nurse, in particular, was amazing. She was very knowledgeable and seemed to really care for me and my mother. I appreciated her so much, it dawned on me at that moment that was what I wanted to do with my life.

J.P.: Greatest moment of your life? Lowest?

A.J.: Greatest moment had to be receiving my Bachelors of Science degree in Nursing. I was the first person in my family to go to college and obtain my degree. My entire family drove up from Arkansas to be here; it was a great moment for me and for all them that helped me get there.

Hmmm—when I go back and think about it the lowest moment was looking for a job after graduation. I wanted to be a big shot and move to Chicago. I was actually hired at Northwestern hospital in Chicago in August, but due to financial problems I was unable to find a place. I ultimately got a call saying the position was no longer available. I was devastated, but in the end it all worked out. I had some great friends here in Iowa and a wonderful support system that took me right on at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. See, God does exist. :)

J.P.: I’m guessing, by now, you’ve participated in some parades. Whenever I see pageant winners in parades, waving and smiling, I always—without fail—think, “Dang, smiling and waving that long seems horribly exhausting.” Am I wrong? And, besides that, what, exactly, does Miss Black Iowa do?

A.J.: Yeah, the parades can get very long. At some points your lips start quivering and you have to look down for a second to relax them. The parades are also a ton of fun, especially with the kids. Usually, the little girls are so captivated by the crown, you can see the innocence and sincerity in their eyes when they look up at you. The Miss Black Iowa organization is partnered with the American Heart Association. I participate in many events educating people about heart disease.

I have spoken at conferences, participated in health fairs, spoken on panels … you name it. It helps that I work as a cardiac nurse in my profession. I think it has really given me an opportunity to have a more hands-on approach. Outside of that, I’ve also been on radio stations to discuss topics within our community. I am also called on to serve as a judge in other competitions or just show up and help out.

J.P.: How do you think having an African-American president has changed race relations and racial identity in this country? And have you felt the impact?

A.J.: I think having an African-American president has broken some barriers and changed stereotypes commonly associated with racism. Years ago, the idea of an African-American president was unthinkable. President Obama has instilled hopes and dreams into a community, he speaks to a future generation of people where race will not matter. Unfortunately, that time is not today, but I think each day our nation challenges racism and allows equality to prevail we come one step closer.

QUAZ EXPRESS WITH ALEXCIA JAMES:

• Have you ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Yes! On a plane ride to LAS Vegas, the turbulence was horrible. I was sure there was something the pilot was not telling us, however, no one else seemed to be alarmed. I’m a bit of a scaredy cat.

• Five reasons to make Monticello, Arkansas his/her next vacation destination?: I actually wouldn’t recommend that—no offense to my hometown. I love it for giving me a stable environment to grow up and mature. My family still lives there so it will always be home for me. However, there is absolutely nothing to do there. There’s plenty of open field for hunting, the local movie theatre, and a bowling alley. There are a few great restaurantsmy favorites being Cowboys, a local seafood buffet, and the Breaker Drive Inn, a local fast food spot.

Other than that, your options for entertainment are limited. It’s a good rest stop on your way to somewhere else.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): the smell of roses, Usher, Bill Clinton, stethoscopes, roasted vegetables, the number 23, snow, the Iowa women’s volleyball team, Steve Jobs, Ridley Scott, RayVynn Schauf, Heavy D, the banjo, New York City, strawberry milk, Lou Gehrig, iPhone 5: The smell of roses, New York City, stethoscopes, iPhone 5, Bill Clinton, RayVynn Schauf, Steve Jobs, Usher, Lou Gehrig, roasted vegetables, Ridley Scott, Iowa Women’s Volleyball, Heavy D., strawberry milk, the number 23, banjo, snow.

• Where is your crown at this very moment?: In a case in my bedroom with my sash.

• Five things you carry in your purse?: iPhone, lip gloss, hand sanitizer, planner, wallet.

• Where did the name “Alexcia” come from?: My great-grandmother’s name was Lexi. She passed away when my grandmother was 5. My mom wanted her name to be a part of mine, thus everyone in my family calls me Lexi.

• Would you rather date a guy with perpetual tuna fish breath or a pack-day smoker?: Hmm, hard decision because I hate both. I think I’m gonna go with tuna fish breath because you’re killing yourself with the toxins from cigarettes. Plus, I can start keeping a pack of gum in my purse.

• All-time favorite song lyric?: Don’t laugh, but Rascall Flatts—Broken Road chorus: “Every long lost road, led to me to where you are, others that broke my heart, they were like northern stars, pointing me on my way, into your loving arms, This much I know is true, that God blessed the broken road that lead me straight to you.” I know I’m a sappy, hopeless romantic.

• Worst pick-up line you’ve ever heard?:

Guy: Hey, you look beautiful.

Me: Thank you.

Guy: You know I can levitate? I can take you to another level.

• I don’t want my son playing tackle football. He loves the game. What should I do?: Tough decision. I understand the concern for his safety. However, if it is truly his passion and talent it may be something to consider. Sports generally instill a sense of discipline and teamwork. Maybe he can just be the kicker.

AJ
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Delivery

It’s 2:29 am, and I’ve just sent off the manuscript of my sixth book to my editor.

I need a nap.

A long, long, long, long, long, long nap.

People tend to offer their congratulatory wishes when this happens, and I always appreciate it. Yet I’m never in a congratulatory mood. The book needs to be edited, fact checked, legally checked, cut, pasted, twisted, turned. I’m working with a new editor, who might hate my style of writing (long lead-ins; meandering life stories). Even if he loves my style of writing, he’ll return the manuscript with 8,021,321 red marks—each one am incision to my wrists.

I never do this justice, but writing a book is the closest (physically) I’ll come to delivering a baby. You nurture the thing for 1 1/2 years (or so); soothe it, caress it, try and make it perfect. I haven’t gone a day without working on this project (or, at the very least) thinking about it. One becomes obsessed and consumed and absorbed. I want it to be perfect, though perfection doesn’t exist. I want it to be loved, but also discussed, but also respected. And yet, mostly, I want to feel good about it. Which I sorta do and sorta don’t.

Fuck—I’m doing a bad job here. Writing a book drives a person to the brink of insanity. You’re inside your own head, lost in thought, trapped in desperation, trying to find the perfect word, even if there is no perfect word. I used to be this outgoing guy who craved companionship. Now, thanks to another visit to book hell, I’m a hermit, sitting alone in the corner of a Starbucks, snarling at the high school kids who dare talk loudly on their cell phones. I wear the same clothes repeatedly, I rarely shave, I probably smell like crap and I’ve taken to drinking coffee (something I never used to do). Heck, I’m one foot away from whores and crack pipes.

Now I need something else to do.

Showtime Book
Love Me, Hate Me Barry Bonds Book
Sweetness Walter Peyton Book
The Bad Guys Won Book
The Rocket that Fell to Earth Book
Boys Will Be Boys Book

Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life