Jeff Pearlman

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Please try this …

Sabika Sheikh: An exchange student from Pakistan who died today

Sabika Sheikh: An exchange student from Pakistan who died today

Do me a favor and try this.

Think of a person you love more than life itself. This is preferably someone under the age of, oh, 20. But it doesn’t have to be. Just picture someone in your head who you absolutely, positively live for; someone you would willingly die for. Picture his (or her) hair, smile, nose. Picture the sound of laughter. Picture the smell. Coming out of the bath. Cuddling at night with a book. Picture the greatest of greatest of great moments. The first birthday party. The high school graduation. Driver’s license. First date. First kiss. Try and remember all the stages of your time together.

Please. Close your eyes and commit to the above. Give it five or six minutes.

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That person is dead.

You found out earlier today. An unhinged teenager entered your loved one’s school and fired a bunch of rounds. You first heard on the news. Then you rushed to the scene. Then the police pulled you aside. You cried and cried and cried as you fell into the officer’s arms.

And now … you are here. You are all alone. And the person you would die for—is gone. Forever. You can’t even grasp that in your head. This morning, he existed. And now he doesn’t, and never will again. He is no more alive than the table and the wallpaper, and thought your faith has always been strong, you’re no longer so sure.

You can’t stop shaking and crying. You want to stab yourself. You need to scream and punch. You don’t understand how this happened; you don’t know how to ever go on. You are falling into a deep hole with no bottom. You have gone into your loved one’s room, to smell the clothing; to pick strands of hair from this morning’s brush. You place your mouth against his toothbrush. You smell his jar of cologne. The room feels so normal, and you know it isn’t. Your cherished comrade is no longer of this earth.

That person is dead.

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This is not a pro-gun or anti-NRA post. This is a, “Place yourself in the mindset to ask whether we’re doing enough about gun violence in America post.”

Don’t think of his as an issue; a political chess piece.

Think of the parents in Texas at this moment.

Think of their lives.

Of it all crashing down.

What should we do?

Furillo brings it

Furillo goes hard—despite the small crowd.

Furillo (far left) goes hard—despite the small crowd.

So a few hours ago the wife, kids and I cruised through an enormous weekend Asian food festival at the Orange County Fairgrounds. It was cool and yummy and fun, and toward the end Catherine said, “We can get dessert and then watch the music.”

We got dessert.

We walked over toward the music.

What greeted us was the scene depicted above. The song “Young, Wild & Free” was blasting from some speakers atop a stage. A woman in a cap and white T-shirt was doing cartwheels. A guy in a green shirt and jeans was dancing. Another guy stood toward the side of the stage, doing, well, something.

And then, leading the charge, was Furillo.

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I only learned his name toward the end, when I asked someone beneath a tent. It turns out Furillo is a Chicago-based “Hip-House Recording Artist & Music Video Director.” In this case, he was clearly the headliner—barking into a mic, waving his arms, imploring the attendees to sing along; to groove.

And about those attendees: There were, maybe, 15 people watching. Some paying attention, some tapping their feet, some checking their phones or nibbling on chicken. The music was loud, the enthusiasm, eh, less so. But here’s the thing, and it’s important: Furillo brought his A-game. The energy was on XXL. The passion was real and raw. I’ve seen acts respond to a small crowd by giving a small performance, but Furillo wouldn’t have it. He tried soooooo daaaaammmnnn haaaaarrd to get people up and moving. And while that proved to be a near-Herculean task, well, he refused to give up. Refused to quit.

As a guy who has been the name behind some pretty grim book events, I know how it feels to stand before a near-empty room.

Truth be told, I’ve packed it in more than once.

I’m guessing Furillo doesn’t have that in him.

He brings it.

PS: He’s also a pretty strong Instagram follow.

The plan

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The NRA has a plan. It’s happening now.

They know it.

We (mostly) know it.

A mass shooting occurs inside a school. People cry, shout, scream, demand change, blame the NRA, Tweet out photos of politicians with blood coating their hands. People insist we need to do better, note other countries where this doesn’t happen, wave flags, march in the streets.

The NRA stays silent.

That’s the plan. And it’s genius, because it always works.

The NRA knows it can’t win this PR battle. So it doesn’t even try. It hangs back while continuing to pay off lawmakers. Behind the scenes they’ll start making the necessary calls in the coming days—”How’s the campaign going? You got enough funding?” They’ll remind anyone on the fence that the other side of the barrier is filled with shards of glass and brick. You don’t want to go there.

Eventually, they’ll emerge. They’ll insist we need an armed guard in every school, while simultaneously pushing for some do-nothing legislative change (bump stocks!) that either won’t go through or won’t do squat. They’ll appear on Fox’s lineup of shows, as the lemmings like Hannity and Laura nod and agree and roar over mental health.

Then, in a month or so, we’ll have another mass shooting. Might be at a school. Might be at a theme park or movie theater.

But we’ll have one.

And the cycle will begin again.

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Jamie Altman

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I have now been an adjunct journalism professor for the past, oh, seven or eight years, spreading (non) knowledge and (non) inspiration to young minds at Manhattanville College, SUNY Purchase and, of late, Chapman University out here in Southern California.

The gigs tend to be mixed bags of (mostly) joy and (a dash or two of) frustration. I absolutely love talking journalism. I love passionate dialogue. I love amazing guest speakers. I love when a student enters the classroom lacking confidence, then months later departs with an A paper and a zeal for the written word. And, sure, there are potholes—iPhone addicts; no-shows; arguers. But, mostly, I don’t walk toward my class. I run.

I digress.

In all of my years as a teacher, few students have brought greater satisfaction than Jamie Altman, a soon-to-be Chapman graduate and outgoing editor of The Panther, the school’s student newspaper. Jamie was everything you’d want in a pupil—inquisitive, dogged, naturally talented. She took this stuff very seriously, and would work a story and work a story until she felt as if it were just right. Even in my sports journalism course (a subject she, admittedly, knows little about), Jamie stood out.

This past semester, I served as a quasi-adviser to The Panther, and—for my money—the newspaper was one of the best in the nation. The coverage of the Koch Foundation alone was award-worthy, times 1,000.

Hence, it with a mix of pride and sadness that I invite Jamie to be the 360th Quaz Q&A. You can follow her on Twitter here, and please wish her well as she flies off to San Francisco to live with her aunt and work in public relations.

Jamie Altman—you’ll be missed …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, so Jamie, you graduate from college in a few days—and, then, the real world. And I wonder how you feel about this, because we live in this uncertain age—politically, socially, environmentally, on and on. And I could see it being sorta ominous and scary. So … where you at?

JAMIE ALTMAN: I grew up watching “A League of Their Own” every year with my softball team (back when a certain “you look like a little penis with a hat on” remark flew right over my head). Lots of life lessons in that movie, but this is the big one: “It’s supposed to be hard. The hard is what makes it great.”

Another anecdote: My dad and I used to be roller coaster junkies. The bigger, faster, scarier the better. We used to wait in these long lines at Six Flags for 90-degree drops, ridiculous velocity, corkscrews—you name it. I’d always bounce around and get butterflies in my stomach and look anxiously up at my dad, a professional public speaker who thrives in nerve-wracking settings. “It’s OK to be nervous,” he would say. “It means it’s important.”

That’s a long way of saying that I’m scared as hell. You only get one shot at this, and odds are it won’t go the way you want it to. I got lucky, and I landed my first-choice job in my favorite city and I’m living with my aunt, who is my best friend. But even so, I’m a mess. I’m breaking out, I’ve got dandruff, my hair falls out in the shower. As excited as I am, my life is drastically changing, and that freaks me out. But it means it’s important, and it’s especially important today, with all that crap going on that you mentioned before. It’s easy to get down and feel frustrated and helpless when we lose net neutrality, or DACA gets repealed—or whatever. Sometimes I can’t even read the news because it depresses me too much. But when something makes you anxious or scared, it means it’s important. Life is supposed to be hard—it’s what makes it great.

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J.P.: You’re a journalism student and editor of the campus newspaper. But you’re not going into journalism. Um, what the fuck?

J.A.: Saw this one coming as soon as you asked if I wanted to do this. I guess the simplest way to answer this question is that I lost my passion for it.

I tell people that I had wanted to do journalism since the womb. I wrote a letter to my principal in fifth grade asking if there could be a school newspaper and if I could be editor-in-chief. I sent out a monthly “Altmanac” to my family members, writing articles about my family and school. I created my own student paper in middle school, took journalism every year of high school, became editor-in-chief, went to summer journalism camp, got a journalism scholarship to Chapman, and, well, you know what’s happened here.

I studied abroad in Paris during my sophomore year, knowing that the summer before junior year was the summerfor internships. But email after email, I got rejection letters. I started stalking the people who did get these internships—what did they have that I didn’t?—and I realized that they just wanted it more. I didn’t want internships that started at midnight and ended at 6 a.m. I didn’t want to move out to the middle of nowhere. I didn’t want to just freelance. What I did want was to live in San Francisco, work semi-normal hours, make enough money to travel, shop and eat out, and have a family. I don’t love journalism enough to sacrifice any of that.

Journalism is harder than ever these days, and that’s what makes it great (according to Tom Hanks). But you have to really want it. And I only kind of wanted it.

PS: My parents had a similar reaction when I told them two years ago (after they’d had a couple margaritas) that I didn’t want to pursue journalism anymore: “What the fuck?!”

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J.P.: The big story for you and yours this year was Chapman accepting money from the Koch Foundation. The school says it won’t be impacted by outside forces. You’ve covered this at length. Now, as you leave, what’s your take? Is Chapman wrong? Is Chapman right? Are there unclear factors?

J.A.: Ralph Wilson, a co-founder of UnKoch My Campus, told us that The Panther’s ability to view Chapman’s donor agreement with the Charles Koch Foundation is the most progress he’s ever seen at a private university. Coming from someone who has essentially devoted his recent post-grad life to studying these donations in higher education, that’s big. And it should be recognized that we even got the opportunity to view the documents.

My problem with Chapman’s acceptance of the donations doesn’t even really come from what’s in those donor agreements—t’s more about the universal issue. Seemingly every week, there’s a new Koch-related problem at a university. George Mason. Florida State. Wake Forest. Arizona State. Whitman College. University of Kansas. Montana State. The list goes on.

It’s impossible to ignore what’s going on at these other universities, and doing so is not only irresponsible—it’s dangerous. We wrote about this in our latest editorial, ‘Where there’s Koch, there’s fire.’ On a smaller scale, it’s like saying, ‘That friend has never stabbed me in the back, and I know for a fact that she won’t, even though she’s stabbed every single one of my friends in the back.’ It just doesn’t compute.

J.P.: This is gonna sound weird, but I remember being your age and thinking, “Jesus, 45 … 46—that’s old.” And now I’m 46, and I sit there advising the student paper, and I forget that there’s this 20-year gap. But I’m guessing, from your end, I must seem super ancient. So I was wondering—do I? And, on a larger scale, what does getting older look like to you? Is it scary? No biggie?

J.A.: You’re not ancient at all—I mean, you’re 13 years younger than my parents, who still seem young in a way to me. We laugh a lot in the newsroom about you being a ‘dad’ not because you’re old but because you make dumb dad jokes, use an absolutely ridiculous photo editing app and talk about how things were ‘back in the day.’ But it’s all ENDEARING, not ancient. It’s actually seen as cool in college—there’s this one frat house at Chapman called the ‘dad house,’ and they did this whole photoshoot posing in front of a grill with skewers. It was odd. College is weird.

But you actually remind me a lot of my dad, who is a teenage boy at heart and pretty popular among my friends (with two daughters and two sisters, he likes to think of himself as ‘one of the girls,’ in the least creepy sense of the phrase). He got his first tennis racket for his Bar Mitzvah, and I kind of think he just stopped aging after that.

In terms of getting old, I worry less about becoming ancient and more about having regrets. For Christmas this year, my mom got me one of those inspirational life books about secrets for your 20s. The writer talks about this one night at a bar, when five people were invited to volunteer to perform air guitar onstage, and then a winner would be chosen to receive a free guitar. He wanted to so badly, but he was too scared, hesitated, and by the time he mustered up the courage, the five had already been chosen. And they all sucked. He knows he would’ve kicked ass and won that guitar. But he lost his chance. So I guess I’m more afraid of missing those air guitar moments because I’m too nervous to take risks. There’s only one opportunity to win that metaphorical guitar.

But old age doesn’t really worry me, not when I look at the quality of life my sweet 98-year-old Papa has. He plays bridge twice a week, attends music lessons, lunches every week with others in their 90s and takes walks every day. He has a martini every day at 5 p.m. Without fail. Fifty family and friends from around the country just flew to the Bay Area in February for a big party to celebrate his 98th. If that’s what getting old means, then I’m extremely down.

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J.P.: Did college live up to what you were hoping for? I mean, we were all high school seniors at one point, psyched and giddy for the next four years. Well, did you get what you anticipated? Was it worth it?

J.A.: I actually said, day one, “I do not want to become editor-in-chief.” I knew that, as an editor, you didn’t get to write as much, and writing was my passion. I thought that I would just write for The Panther every semester. Well, that clearly didn’t happen, as a I became an assistant editor second semester of freshman year and gradually started to accept my fate.

Socially, I actually thought that I would be way more involved in my sorority, which seems extremely ridiculous now looking back, a year after I dropped out of the chapter. Friendships and relationships were way too dependent on going out and partying, something I just really hated. I don’t regret joining though. My sister and I actually had a falling out right before I left for school freshman year, and then I joined the same sorority she was in. I really believe that my first semester in that sorority helped repair our relationship and bring us closer again. So everything happens for a reason. (That’s the only cliche thing I’ll say. I promise.)

And of course, the most unexpected thing—my mid-college crisis, as I lovingly call it now, when I realized I didn’t want to be a journalist anymore. I pretty much gave all my loved ones heart attacks that summer as I gradually told them the news.

J.P.: I often felt you weren’t entirely thrilled by the journalism program at Chapman; that you wanted more. So, looking back, what worked? What didn’t work?

J.A.: I wish I had majored in something other than journalism, because there’s only so much you can learn in a classroom. Writing for an award-winning newspaper that averages 15,000 to 20,000 page views a week, that’s what you need. At a certain point, you need to get out of the classroom and just write, report, do.

But it’s not that simple, and things unfortunately get political and everything becomes a power struggle. When a new professor was hired to teach The Panther class at the beginning of this academic year, the adviser-editor relationship didn’t work anymore. Suddenly, we had a student-run newspaper staff that was being graded by a professor who had very different goals and ideas than the editor (me). It didn’t work. When The Panther separated from the English department at the beginning of this semester and became completely independent, it was the best thing to happen to the publication. That power play stuff is toxic, and when you work as tirelessly as our staff does, it’s just not something you want anywhere near your newsroom.

J.P.: Do students care about student newspapers? I mean, back when I was at Delaware everyone picked up The Review. But you have grown up in a non-pick-up-the-paper age. Do you ever feel like you’re screaming into the wind?

J.A.: Yes, a lot of times, and it can be frustrating. But people care about things when it affects them or someone they know. For example, we just published a guest column from a graduating senior who wrote about his experience being sexually assaulted by his boss, and about how the school sided with his assailant. That blew up (it’s still blowing up) because it’s something that happened to someone who people care about.

One of the biggest arguments we’ve had in the newsroom was about whether to write our most recent editorial about the Koch donations. My managing editor Rebeccah and I were both heated about what President Daniele Struppa had said about not caring what happens at other universities. But others in the newsroom, who haven’t spent the last year reporting on and researching this topic, weren’t as passionate. “Chapman students don’t care about this as much as we do,” they said.

This sparked a whole ‘nother conversation about the role of a student newspaper. Do we only write things that students care about, or do we write things that students need to care about? I side more on the latter, and that’s how I’ve carried out my editorship.

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J.P.: Back to Koch—you’ve obviously spent a lot of time on these pieces, and that includes dealing with Daniele Struppa, the university president who solicited and received the funding. How has he been? What sort of reaction has he had to your work?

J.A.: To his credit, Struppa has always been a big proponent of our work. I’m sure there have been times when he wasn’t happy with an article or five (especially when we inevitably make a mistake), but he respects us as a newspaper and free press in general. That said, he was not happy with our article after we had viewed the donor agreement because of our quotes from Ralph Wilson, who I mentioned earlier. While we were intending to represent both sides fairly and get an expert source to analyze the main points of the donor agreement, Struppa thought we were trying to prove something that wasn’t there. I don’t necessarily agree with that, and I especially don’t agree with what he wrote in his guest column, that there had been unanimous agreement that there were no “strings” in the contracts. I wasn’t there, but I’d bet my first-born child that Rebeccah never said anything like that. There’s no way in hell that a journalist would make that kind of comment when looking at those documents. So that peeved me a little.

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

J.A.: When I was studying abroad for a semester in Paris, my best friend and I traveled to Switzerland one weekend. On a clear morning, we were the first ones to take a gondola up 7,000 feet to Mount Pilatus in Lucerne. For a good 15 minutes, we were the only ones on top of that mountain. We could see out for miles—the snow-covered mountains, the tiny town of Lucerne, the expansive lake. And it was dead silent. I still get chills thinking about it.

I don’t really have a lowest moment, just kind of a lowest period in my life, which was last semester during that transitional period at The Panther I mentioned before. I don’t need to go into much detail, but it wasn’t great. Lost 15 pounds, started seeing a therapist, cried in my driveway more times than I’d like to admit. I wouldn’t wish how I felt during those months on anyone.

J.P.: What do you see in the future for journalism? Are you grim? Upbeat? Neither? Both? And can you see ever again having the itch to be a reporter or editor?

J.A.: My response to this question is usually this: Journalism isn’t dying. It’s just print journalism. But people will always want the news. So in that sense, I’m not grim. Media outlets just have to keep up with the trends and the way people want to receivethe news, because that’s what’s changing. But people still care, and despite what our president says, most people still recognize the importance of that fourth estate. But local news? That’s going to shit. I don’t know what to say about that. It makes me sad. I don’t see much of a future there.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH JAMIE ALTMAN:

• What are your three random talents?: 1. Dance Dance Revolution (I’m extremely unathletic and uncoordinated); 2 Sudoku; 3. Egyptian War card game (I have insane slapping instincts)

Best advice you’ve ever received?: Can I list the best advice I’ve received from each of my family members? All impactful.

“The bad days make the good days seem all the better.” — Becky Altman, mother

“Everyone’s too wrapped up in worrying about what others think of them to actually notice your insecurities.” — Rick Altman, father

“Whenever you feel ugly, just wear lip gloss, blush and sunglasses.” — Jody Altman, aunt/best friend

“Stop being a bitch.” — Erica Altman, sister

• One question you would ask Tim McGraw were he here right now?:  What were you thinking in the first take of the first scene you filmed for the first movie you did?

• You told me you had a professor who took students to drink. Did I disappoint you by just bringing cookies to class?: Yes.

• Do you feel like my generation sorta fucked it all up?: No, I think my generation will sorta fuck it all up. We’re too lazy. Standards will fall. But I also lose hope for anyone who doesn’t know the difference between your/you’re, so in that case, I worry about all generations.

• If you were playing for the Mets in the 1986 NLCS, do you complain about Mike Scott scuffing? Or let it go?: Complain. I’m definitely the “let me speak to your manager” type.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): oregano, Pizza Press, Demi Lovato, “Saving Private Ryan,” eBay, Orange, Cal., antique stores, Childish Gambino, The Panther’s newsroom dog, old tires, Sam Darnold: Newsroom dog, Pizza Press, Childish Gambino, “Saving Private Ryan,” oregano, Demi Lovato, Orange, eBay, antique stores, Sam Darnold (sorry, had to look him up), old tires

• Celine Dion calls. She wants you to move into her house for a year and serve as her personal stenographer. You’ll be paid $50 million, but you have to shave your head, tattoo a picture of James Cameron across your back and legally change your name to Don Trump, Jr. You in?: No. I would rather die than become a professional transcriber. All the other stuff is irrelevant. Too dramatic?

• Three reasons to make Orange, Cal. one’s next vacation destination: 1. Sometimes cute dogs hang around the fountain in the Orange Plaza; 2. It’s 15 minutes from the beach; 3. There are two In-N-Outs. (Sorry, that was hard.)

• Can I borrow $8?: Sure, what’s your Venmo?

I challenge Brian Kemp to a fight

Brian Kemp is running for governor of Georgia.

He’s a tough-talking conservative who likes guns and trucks and trucks and guns. He spends most of his money trying to show us all that he’s no candy-ass pussy liberal; that he’ll shoot anyone in the face who even tries to take away his rifle. Hell, just watch his desperate-attempts-to-prove-his-manhood ads.

I’m challenging him to a fight.

I’m being serious. I’m a 6-foot-2, 190-pound sportswriting wuss. I’ve gotten in one fight ever, and my ass was kicked (alas, I was in middle school. But still). I don’t even believe in fighting. Or punching. It’s not a reasonable way to settle arguments.

But, in this case, I’ll make an exception.

I don’t need a gun to be tough. Or a truck. Or some nonsense scare language against illegal immigrants. Give me a ring, some gloves and Brian Kemp in front of me, and I will pound Mr. Toughie into paste. By the end of the first three minutes, he’ll be crying on the ground, begging for the massacre to end. See, punks like Brian Kemp (and Donald Trump) are only “tough” when they’re standing before a TV camera, or a mic, trying to convince people that they’re these Captain America-esque defenders of truth. Punk didn’t serve a day in the military. Punk has never held any sort of blue-collar job. I’m willing to bet someone mows his lawn and prunes his trees.

He’s just an image.

Just another con.

Bring it, Kemp.

Bring it.

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Aaron Schlossberg hides behind an umbrella

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In case you missed this gem, Aaron Schlossberg went into deep hiding today—behind his umbrella.

The disgusting, gross, nasty, hateful, bigoted New York City-based attorney made waves two days ago, when he went off on several Spanish-speaking employees at a Manhattan eatery. The video—caught mid-rant—went uber viral, and in a matter of hours ol’ Aaron was the talk and sight and sludge of the information superhighway. He was trending in New York and Chicago, in Los Angeles and Atlanta, in Detroit and Miami.

He was ubiquitous.

Everyone was talking about Aaron Schlossberg, and the talk was not kind and fuzzy. It turns out he has past experience of being an asshole, including this gem from a pro-Trump rally a bunch of months back.

But here’s the best part (and why, come day’s end, I love the Internet): There’s no more closet for guys like this to hide. There’s no shadow; no little corner of the world where he can spew hate and remain cocooned. I’m sure, pre-May 2018, Aaron came off as this respectable attorney, here for the needs of his clients. He’s young, handsome, well-educated, properly groomed. Were you (or I) to meet this guy in regards to a case, I’m sure he would have made a strong impression.

Well, that’s over.

There’s a part of me that wants to feel badly for people like Aaron Schlossberg. I mean, his career is probably done. His reputation is ruined. Sure, he can move to Mississippi, open a small practice and fit right in. But in the world of high-flying Big Apple business, it’s over. His name is cancer. Worse than cancer. Liquid shit in a blender. So, as a human, that strikes me as sad.

But then I think about it. I really think about it. This man planned on calling authorities to have people deported—based on their language. Think about that. Lives ruined. Families torn apart. Jesus, I don’t even like complaining about, oh, a dirty table at Starbucks, for fear that someone might get reprimanded. And this trash would have gladly seen existences destroyed.

So now, to see him cowering beneath an umbrella, dodging the press, crying about the unfairness of it all … well, fuck him.

Fuck him.

The sound of a drill

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Earlier today I went to the dentist to fix a cracked tooth.

Everyone was going along swimmingly. Numbing agent—check. Water—check. That stuff you wedge between the gum and the lip—check.

Then: The Drill.

God, I hate that noise. To me, it’s the dental equivalent of Jason Voorhees knocking at your door, axe in hand. It causes me hands to sweat, my heart to race. Then it comes closer and closer to my mouth. I usually do something with my hands to serve as a distractor. Tight fist. Pinch myself.

Drrrrrrrrr. Drrrrrrrr.

It rarely hurts.

It’s a funny thing, conditioning. All those years as a child, when a drill actually did hurt, has caused me to forever be terrified. Even though a trip to the dental office is no longer a big deal. Even though I’d say one of every 10 visits to the chair involves even a slight bit of pain. It’s who I am, and who we are.

My daughter, however, see the dentist as little more than an annoying side trip.

Weird.

The greatest game

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So early this morning the 49ers faced the Eagles in an utterly meaningless game of flag football.

I know this to be true, because I’m usually the 49ers’ assistant coach. Only today our excellent head coach was in Syracuse walking for his masters degree. Hence, I was in charge of … well, a very small group of 11- and 12-year olds.

We are not a good team. Or even a slightly good team. Our best player quit, one of our other best players has only showed up twice. We generally have but seven available kids for a game of six on six. Which made today sort of disconcerting, because we were one kid short of a complete lineup.

Yup—the 49ers would take the field with just five participants.

This was scary.

This was unchartered.

This was … awesome.

First, to be clear: We sorta caught a break, in that the Eagles are the only team we’ve beaten this year. And while they had eight players ready to go, the coach began the season being handed a pretty poor deck of athletic cards. It’s actually my biggest criticism of NFL Flag. The league is awesome; the guy who runs it is stupendous; the uniforms are killer. But the athletic imbalance is jarring and dispiriting. One team, the friggin’ Redskins, returns a ton of their kids year after year. They hold multiple practices every week, and simultaneously play in two different leagues. Their coach shows up in Redskins garb, his players have armbands with all the calls, they somehow wound up with the league’s best runner from two seasons back (who at the time played for a different squad). They are, almost literally, unbeatable, and to play them is neither fun nor necessary. I get the importance of learning to lose. But when you have no remote chance … well, it sucks for the kids and the coaches and, in a way, the victorious players (because what’s the fun in kicking a three-legged dog?).

I digress.

Before the game I told the kids that, truly, this was awesome. Lose with five—no biggie. Somehow win with five—amazing. Best of all, it’d be a fun/quirky/unusual challenge. So, I insisted, enjoy it. Play hard, play fast, play loose, play creatively. Just go for it.

And that’s exactly what happened. I settled on five plays (a drop-back pass, a sweep, a reverse sweep, a fake reverse sweep and a run up the middle), and mix and matched who ran them, who would be the intended receiver. Their defenders were playing far back, so every time we did a handoff we’d gain five yards (or so) before encountering a potential flag puller. We have one kid, Braydon, who is insanely quick and fast—and twice he ran for what would be, by NFL standards, 100-yard touchdowns.

In fact, truth be told we could have run Braydon repeatedly and probably won by a big margin. But I didn’t want to do that. First, I think it’s important for everyone to be involved. Second, it wouldn’t be right or fair to the other team. Hell, there was a sizable part of me that sorta wanted the Eagles to win. Just because … losing to five players could be for some (potentially) embarrassing, and it’d be nice for a bad team to get a W.

Anyhow, the game was this really lovely back-and-forth affair, and the teams were tied, 12-12, with about a minute left when we got the ball back.

This was genuine excitement. What would happen? Could we do it? With just five?

On first down, we ran for a pretty solid gain. On second down, a pass fell incomplete. Now—it was third. The clock was ticking.

Twenty.

Nineteen

Eighteen.

We needed something big.

Braydon lined up behind center. He took the snap. Everyone went out. They rushed the passer, and Braydon dodged to his right, then his left. He drew back his arm and threw a deep pass to Elliot, an eternally smiling soft-handed kid who made this spectacular sideline grab. He darted past an opposing defender, then another.

He was running …

And running …

And running …

And …

He stepped out of bounds.

Game over.

The final score, 12-12, was absolutely perfect, and better than a victory.

It was fun and joyful and enriching and magical. The 49ers left happy. The Eagles left happy. The kids ran their butts off, but without a sliver of the all-too-common win-or-you’re-a-loser outlook.

The Redskins, I’m quite certain, would have been horrified.

I was giddy.

One photo and a rush of nostalgia

Screen Shot 2018-05-12 at 1.06.53 AM

So a few minutes ago I was digging through a bag I uncovered in our garage, when I came upon the above photograph.

The feelings hit me—hard.

This was taken in the summer of 1995, at a side-of-the-road produce stand somewhere in (I’m pretty sure) Florida. The woman with her back to the camera is Heather, my girlfriend at the time (and, to this day, someone I consider a good friend). The man in the white T-shirt is, well, a man in a white T-shirt. Never met him.

The craziest part is the car. It was a cherry red Geo Metro convertible, purchased, oh, a week earlier after my other vehicle died. A total impulse buy, I got the Geo off the lot, used, for—I believe—$3,000. At 6-foot-2, I was way too tall. Even worse, the thing was junk. The body was plastic-like. The back window was all scratched and of little use. Once you hit 50 mph, the auto started to shake. Brrr-brrr-brrr-brrr. A shit car for a shit 23-year old.

So why did I get it? Well … um … this trip to Florida. As dumb as it sounds in hindsight, I was young and itching to impress Heather. We’d planned for months on taking the drive from Tennessee (where I lived) to the Panhandle, and the idea of doing so in a convertible made me feel like The Man. Hell, what you don’t see in the image is (and I’m not making this up) a bunch of young kids coming up to us and saying, “Wow, mister! Neat car!”

If they only knew.

Not sure if I can put this into words the way it sounds in my head, but there’s something about being a guy in his early 20s, money in his pocket, girlfriend by his side, rolling through the warm breeze with the top down on his red convertible. Was I cool? Ha. No. Was the car cool? Also—ha. No.

But I was young and confident and staring at the world before me.

I hope my kids experience those highs, too.

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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