Jeff Pearlman

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DMV. Yeah, you know me …

Scene from a DMV line ...

Scene from a DMV line …

Went to the nearby DMV this morning to surrender my New York license and take the test for a California version. I made an appointment for 10:10 am, and arrived at, oh, 10:08. Here’s how it went down from there …

10:08—The line is very, very long.

10:20—Reach the desk. I tell the man I have an appointment. He asks for my confirmation number. I stare blankly. “Step to the side and check your e-mail. It’s there.” I step to the side and check my e-mail. It’s not there. “You can’t have this appointment withou—”

10:22—Co-worker sees this and has sympathy. Looks up my name, finds my appointment, sends me off with paperwork to fill out.

10:30—Paperwork completed, I’m directed toward a winding line that, I believe, will lead me to the test.



10:52—A woman—probably 60, with blond hair and lots of skin on her face—asks everyone to be patient, because one of the two cameras isn’t working.



11:20—Awesome moment. There’s a guy two or three people behind me. He’s oh, 21, with short brown hair and a pipe-cleaner’s build. He’s wearing a white collared short-sleeve shirt and dark khakis, and he has a tag dangling from his pocket that reads, ELDER [WHATEVER HIS NAME WAS]. He’s one of those Mormon missionary guys. Purely by coincidence, as I’m looking him over a woman walks by with a book in her right hand. The title: Why People Believe Weird Things.



11:55—I finally reach the front of the line. I’m greeted by a mean woman who keeps sneezing into her hand and taking slugs from a thermos of tea. I feel for her, because: A. She’s sick; B. She works in the DMV. I tell her I hope all goes better, and she perks up. “I’m not feeling well,” she says, “but it’s my last day working here, so I decided to come in.”

“Your last day?” I say. “That’s great!”

“Sir,” she said, “you have no idea.”

She takes my photo, and asks why I didn’t smile. I don’t answer, but we both know the reason: We’re living in hell.

12:00—I’m handed the test. It’s 30 questions, and I pass if I answer at least 24 correctly. I took a few online practice tests, but a lot of the material here is unfamiliar. Distances between cars and locking kids in vehicles and left turns into right lanes. I screw up an easy one by saying the BAC limit in California is .01, but I battle back by rightly noting you can’t lock young children in a car on a 90-degree day. Test takes about 15 minutes, and I’m giving myself, oh, a 60-percent chance of passing.

12:15—This is the craziest part. At the DMV, tests are graded by hand. Literally, someone grabs a pile of the tests, retreats to a desk and goes through the answers. It’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen, and it results in, oh, 40 of us standing in a small area, grumbling under our breaths.



12:55—Text the wife, tell her I won’t be able to pick up our son at 1:50 when school lets out. Her response: Fuck.

1 o’clock—I’m not sure if I’m alone in this, but there’s a game I play when I’m waiting in a long line and my mind is melting and I’m losing all sanity. It’s called PICK THE THREE WOMEN IN THIS ROOM I’D MOST LIKELY FOOL AROUND WITH. This dates back to, I believe, high school, and is both juvenile and sad. That said, I pick the blonde woman with the nice sweater, the brunette in the leggings and a woman who, at one point, says to someone in Spanish that she enjoys soap operas and corn. I think.


1:30—Guy standing in front of me likes talking to people. But he seems annoying. Turns to me and says, “So, you planning on watching the big game?” I don’t love where this is going? “The big game?” I reply. He looks as if my head has walked off my shoulders and into a sauna. “The Super Bowl!” he says. I shrug. “Nah. Don’t watch that stuff.”

1:40—Easily the greatest moment of the afternoon. I’m standing next to two women, and we’re all waiting for our test results. The one woman—50, blond, not on the list—starts going over the test questions, wondering if the kids can be locked in the car if a window’s down. The other woman—20s, brunette, not on the list—rightly believes that’s a no-no, but counters with a U-turn debate. I chime in, when suddenly the Mormon elder turns toward us and sternly notes, “There are people taking the test, and they can HEAR you!”

At this moment, three possible replies cross my mind:

A. “Bitch, I will go Garry Templeton on your spindly Mormon Whitey Herzog ass.”

B. “How can you be an elder when you’re 12?”

C. “OK.”

I love A. I mean, I r-e-a-l-l-y love A. But Elder almost certainly wouldn’t get the reference—nor would 98 percent of the other people in the room. So I just nod and slide to the side.

Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 11.08.04 PM1:50—”Mr. Pearlman! Mr. Pearlman!” I’m being called to the front! I’m being called to the front! I rush forward, where I’m greeted by a lovely Asian woman with big cheeks and a pretty smile. “Congratulations,” she says. “You passed. Now can I see your old license?”

“Sure,” I say.

I pull it out.

She takes it.

She punches a hole through the middle.

“Hey,” she says, “you have a nice day.

I am being stalked by a newspaper

The Orange County Register: Approved by the one and only Satan.

The Orange County Register: Approved by the one and only Satan.

I am being stalked by a newspaper, and it’s getting sorta creepy.

When we first moved to Southern California five months ago, I took my kids to an Angels game. While walking the concourse, I spotted a table. A sad table. A sad table with a woman selling Orange County Register subscriptions on the cheap. Because I’m a journalist and a newspaper loyalist, I morphed into the sucker who paid for a print subscription. It was a really cheap deal, and it came with an Angels T-shirt, and a couple of coupons, and …


I hate the Orange County Register. I don’t mean the bash the hard-working staffers who remain, but the paper is a shell of a shell of a shell of what it once was. Unless you’re particularly loyal to one of the writers, I can’t really think of a good reason for subscribing. It’s paper-thin (literally) and overloaded with crap fluff. The weekend opinion section is stuffed with irksome Grade-C right-leaning lunkheads. I mean, the paper is brutal.

And I can’t make it stop.

I called to cancel my subscription, oh, three months back, and couldn’t get a human on the phone.

I called again shortly thereafter, got a human on the phone, confirmed the cancellation—and it still comes. And comes. And comes. And comes. I mean, every morning I wake up, generally with a skip in my step. I call Norma for her walk, grab a poop bag, open the front door, step outside … and there it is. The damn Orange County Register.

Here’s the new beauty. Received this in an e-mail today …

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Please, dear God, make it stop. In fact—I’m being serious here. As readers know, I’m not a religious guy. But if somehow the Register stops coming to my home in the next, oh, two days, I’ll credit Jesus. I’ll accept Christ and eat the wafers and believe in miracles.

Because the Orange County Register ain’t just a newspaper.

It’s Satan.

Whitney Houston and bad tunes

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I recently had a couple of days of long driving, which I survived with This American Life podcasts and repeated plays of my iPhone’s music selection.

The singer who kept coming up: Whitney Houston.

I love Whitney Houston. I do, and I’m only slightly ashamed to admit such. It all goes back to boyhood and crushes, and how much I loved her debut album, and how I’d sit on my carpet and play the record over and over, trying to calculate how, even with the age difference, we could wind up married.

When I hear Whitney now, I flash back to that kid, 12 and geeky and madly in love with Whitney.

But one thing has changed. Well, just changed. During this trip, I started paying close attention to the lyrics from Houston’s hit songs. Like, you know how you hear songs, but don’t really listen-listen? That was my relationship with Whitney. Her voice had been enough for me. I know most of the words, but never bothered to process them.

Now, cruising along, I processed them.

And they’re awful. Like, so, so, so, so, so, so bad. Whoever was writing Whitney Houston’s material never missed a cliche, never skipped a morsel of cheese, never passed over a thought that’d been expressed in song 1,002 times before. Just listen to How Will I Know? Or Where Do Broken Hearts Go. Or You Give Good Love. They’re painful in their awfulness and simplicity. Just bad songs that, were they submitted in a college lyrics classed, would be stamped with a big red D.

And yet … maybe that’s what makes Whitney Houston’s early work so fantastic. Before she killed her voice with crack and cigarettes, she could sing anything. Truly, anything. And it’d sound triumphant and broad and powerful and empowering. She brought emotion and shoved it into shit material. Repeatedly.

Anyhow, just thought I’d share.

Marshawn Lynch has nothing to say

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Toward the end of my time at Sports Illustrated, being around athletes started to make me feel quite pathetic.

In a way, it was more about me than them. I was reaching my early 30s, and I no longer enjoyed chasing people around, begging for five minutes of time, hoping so-and-so would grace me with his generally lame-and-boring insights on how he was able to take a wood stick and hit a small white object very, very hard. I hated it in strong and profound ways, so much so that I left the magazine to take a non-sports job with Newsday.

To be clear: I’m not saying I was better than anyone. I wasn’t. I’m just saying, well, I felt like a turd tool. Or a tool turd. Or … whatever.

Which leads me to Marshawn Lynch, the bruising Seattle Seahawks halfback who refuses to speak to the press—ever. As has now been reported, oh, 8,654,321 times, Lynch made his requisite appearance at yesterday’s Super Bowl Media Day, and answered every question with the exact same words: “I’m just here so I won’t be fined.”

No matter …

“I’m just here so I won’t be fined.”

… who asked …

“I’m just here so I won’t be fined.”

… Lynch stated the same thing repeatedly.

“I’m just here so I won’t be fined.”

But here’s the thing that just gets me: Why do reporters keep asking Lynch questions? Why don’t they simply ignore him? Act as if he doesn’t exist? I mean, I get the humor. But this isn’t merely about humor. It’s about the eternal power differential between media and athlete, and why the long and storied relationship exists. In this case (as in all cases), reporters are the kicked dogs, always returning to our owners, tail between legs. And here’s the other thing: I 100-percent guarantee Lynch enjoys this. It’s not merely about refusing to talk. It’s about watching people ask. Embracing the frustration. Knowing you’re a wealthy athlete, they’re not wealthy athletes.

Personally, I don’t give two shits whether Marshawn Lynch speaks or doesn’t speak.

I simply want my peers to stop asking the questions.

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Ken O’Brien

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Back when we were kids, growing up on Emerald Lane in Mahopac, N.Y. Matt Walker and I lived for the New York Jets. They were our team, and even though the green and white never sniffed a Super Bowl, we were as loyal as loyal gets. Name a player (even the worst friggin’ players) and we were diehards. Wesley Walker, Lance Mehl, Al Toon, Joe Klecko, Pat Leahy, Marty Lyons—those were our guys.

But no one was more important than Ken O’Brien.

In case you don’t remember, Ken spent 10 years as a Jet. He had absolutely breathtaking arm strength, looked off receivers well, took hits like the toughest of men. Did he always get rid of the ball, eh, quickly? No. But that was his only glaring weakness.

Oh, wait. He had one more weakness—something not of his doing. O’Brien was selected by the Jets with the 24th pick in the 1983 NFL Draft … three spots ahead of Dan Marino. So as the Dolphin legend went on to have a Hall of Fame career, Jet fans often wondered what could have been …

I never felt that way. Truly, I didn’t. O’Brien was a helluva player. He was my boyhood quarterback.

Anyhow, here Ken talks about the 1983 Draft, about the wacky life of a Philadelphia Eagle and how one adjusts when the cheering stops. He now lives in Manhattan Beach, and works in wealth management.

Ken O’Brien, screw the Hall of Fame. You’ve been Quazed …

JEFF PEARLMAN: I recently saw an ESPN 30 for 30 on the 1983 draft, and it’s always the same. Marino! Elway! Kelly! Studs! Eason, Blackledge—sorta busts. And Ken O’Brien—um, yeah. Strikes me as unfair to a really great NFL career. Bug you at all?

KEN O’BRIEN: You know, to be honest I know it’s there and three of the guys are in the Hall of Fame. So they’re great players, but they’re also all great guys. And we’ve had the chance to get together. It’s an honor to be friends of theirs and have competed against them. But you only control what you control. Every situation is different. What I had in New York was different than what other guys had. I’m not saying worse, but different. And inside that building things were done in ways that you didn’t always see on the outside. I played with great guys, and I wouldn’t change that at all. But as far as the perception—it is out there. I know it is. But I don’t lose any sleep over it. I know I did everything I could do. It’s a cliché, but I really tried to give 110 percent every day. I can’t look back much after that. I did my best. I’m comfortable with that.

J.P.: Blair Thomas once told me being a Jet back then was … different. And he sorta felt that, had Emmitt Smith been drafted by New York and Blair went to Dallas, everything about his career is different. Better.

K.O.: I think it sort of does. Blair was a great guy, and he was coming off being hurt a couple of times. So it took him, physically, a while to get to be 100 percent. But every organization is different. And you learn along the way. That was a time when I was young, and had I learned a little more and approached things differently, maybe I could have made the team better. I don’t know. You’re a sum of all your experiences.

J.P.: You were  a California kid—Jesuit High, Cal Davis. What was it like transitioning to New York? The frenzy? The cold? Worse than one would think? Easier?

K.O.: Well, my mom and dad are … my dad is from Kew Gardens, my mom is from Bay Ridge. My uncles are New York City cops. My entire family is back there, so it was fun going back. I got to spend more time with my aunts and uncles and cousins than I ever before did. When I was a kid we’d vacation in New York. I mean, in those days vacations with six kids were like Brady Bunch rides. So we didn’t do a ton of them. But when we went back, my uncles would take us around. One time we went to see the pitchers from the World Series team of 1969. They were doing an event at a park. Seaver, Ryan, Koosman. They’d take us to the Jet facility, and I actually met Joe Namath when I was a little kid. Small world.

So coming to New York as a player felt like coming home in many ways. That made it pretty easy.

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J.P.: When you played, the big knock was that you held onto the ball too long. 1. Fair? 2. Easier said than done?

K.O.: I mean, anyone’s opinion is fair, so I don’t blame that. But it’s what you’re asked to do on offense. Back then, maybe it was my deal, but I was supposed to stand in there, take a shot, get rid of the ball. The game has changed—now you see guys getting rid of the ball real quick. One-step slants, back-shoulder throws, all these things that are involved now that were not part of the game then. I think it’s the evolution of the game. For me, you do what the offense asks. I mean, I guess the easy answer is if I saw someone open sooner, I would have let the ball go sooner. But it’s sometimes being stubborn, too, because you always think there’s a chance to make a big play. So could I have been better at it? Yes. And we worked on it. But at the same time you’re trying to make the plays as guys get open, and you wanna hang in there as long as you can.

J.P.: I’m as fascinated by ends as beginning. In 1993 you went to camp with Green Bay, you were cut, then you spent the season in Philly with Randall Cunningham and Bubby Brister. Good? Bad? When did you know it was over?

K.O.: It started out strange at Green Bay. I was comfortable in New York. I knew my teammates, my coaches, the office managers, everyone. All the guys in the building. There’s a real comfort factor. Then you go to a new place, and you have no home and you’re starting over. It’s hard to explain, but it was hard for me.

When I finally got to Philly, well, I wish I’d stayed in New York for 20 years. Going to Philly was a great life experience, because Philly was so different than anything I’d seen in the world of football before. It was just crazy. It was run by the prisoners a bit. Buddy Ryan had just left and he bent over backward to give the players all sorta of controls. Especially defensive players. Then Richie Kotite came in and he was there and he had all the holdovers from Buddy’s era, and there was just some crazy funny stuff, things that would never happen in the 10 years in New York. There were just some outstanding stories …

J.P.: Wait! How about an example?

K.O.: It was every day. Guys were on their own schedules, they showed up when they wanted to. There was a race one day … this is a great one. It was late in the year and Philly had an offense vs. defense type deal. That’s what Buddy had instilled—defense would win games, offense just couldn’t screw it up. That’s the short version of the impression I got when I talked with other guys. Because I never played for Buddy. And Zeke Bratkowski was the quarterback coach, and he had that job with the Jets. I became friends with Mark Bavaro and Herschel Walker—go down the list and there were a bunch of really good guys there. It was an opportunity to be with some quality guys. And one day at practice I was walking with Herschel, and we had a defensive back named Mark McMillian. He’s a little guy, probably one of the really fast corners in the league. And a bunch of guys were giving Herschel a hard time, and Herschel never said anything. And they were laughing at him, calling him an old man. Herschel and I were close to the same age, and he was so accomplished. They didn’t even know he’d won the Heisman Trophy. They had no idea all he’d accomplished. And Herschel didn’t say a word. It was snowing, we were practicing outside, and Mark challenged Herschel to a race. And I was taking bets, and I was putting everything on Herschel. I promoted him. And he gets out and they get on the field, and Richie Kotite and Bud Carson are holding some DO NOT CROSS tape. And they’ve got down jackets on, gloves, hats. It’s freezing out. And here comes McMillian, and he’s got his tights on. Everyone else is freezing, but Mark has the tights on. And Herschel doesn’t show up. He’s not there. He’s not coming out. And they’re all making fun. “Your buddy’s not coming out. Hahahaha.” And finally here comes Herschel, and he’s coming out like he’s going to practice, gear on—shoulder pads, pants, helmet. And they’re like, ‘He’s not gonna run!” Making fun. And he walks up to the line and says, “OK, you ready to go?” And they get down to race, and guys are lined up—offense on one side, defense on the other.

On your mark …

Get set …

Go …

And when they said “Go,” the look on the kid’s face after five yards was disbelief. Herschel comes up and he’s gone. And Mark knows at five yards he’s done. This speeding bullet goes by. And Herschel beats him, and Coach Kotite has the money in his hand, Herschel jogs by, grabs it, jogs into the locker room and practice is over. That was it. Everyone was laughing. It was the funniest thing you’d ever seen. The poor kid had no idea he was with a world-class sprinter.

Every week something like that would happen. The Eagles were the Animal House of the NFL.

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J.P.: A lot has been made of concussions and the afterlife of football players. How are you? What do you think of the lawsuits? Concerned for yourself?

K.O.: Fortunately I’m OK. I just turned 54. When I turned 50 I was fine. You do have aches and pains, but maybe that’s just getting old. Your back, your knees, everything else. I’m not what I used to be, but I don’t think anyone would notice anything falling apart on me just yet.

As far as the concussions and lawsuits, I think there are a lot of guys out there who are much worse. You run into former players occasionally and you wish there was something in place where they could get some help. I know they’re fighting for it, I know it’s a big money deal—but at the end of the day it’s the right thing to do to help guys get through this. It’s just the right thing to do. A lot of them can’t get the right medical insurance, and they need help. I actually went into this business because I wanted to help people after seeing people go sideways.

J.P.: You played in front of 50,000 people, adrenaline, fame, perks. How did you adjust when it ended?

K.O.: The main thing that I learned—it’s hard to replace the passion. I mean, it’s not like when you’re playing football you’re working. Every day you’re doing something you enjoy doing. You’re working out, you’re developing a game plan, you’re throwing a football. Are you’re around guys who become your best friends. There’s a reason why football is so popular—people love it, and we loved playing it. I certainly did. So how do you replace that passion? It’s very hard. Do you want to go and work in a bank? Maybe, but it’s not the same. You’re punching in, you’re working 8-to-5. I bounced around a lot, trying to find something that gives me satisfaction. It took time. But you also need things outside of work—family, kids, travel, hobbies. Because you’ll never fully replace what you had. It’s probably impossible. You’re only passionate about so many things.

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At UC Davis back in the day.

J.P.: People always say when they’re playing, “This will haunt me.” Do you feel haunted by never making a Super Bowl? Do you care?

K.O.: I wouldn’t say haunted. But the goal every year was to make it. You feel unfulfilled in that regard, especially because we came close. It does matter, but it’s one of those things where I know my teammates gave everything they had, and I did. We fell short, but we fell short fighting. Whether it was a play or running out of time, it didn’t work out. if you didn’t give it everything you had, it’d hurt.

J.P.: I remember when you left New York and they brought in Boomer Esiason, gave him your number, and it struck me as disrespectful to a longtime quarterback. Did I read that wrongly?

K.O.: You know, I never really spent any time thinking about it. It really wasn’t a big thing for me. Number doesn’t mean anything to me. They actually called later down the line, and someone with the organization apologized and said they made a mistake. But I said, ‘No big deal.’ There are a lot of things to lose sleep over. That’s not one of them.

Now if you ask my wife, she might have a slightly different opinion.

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• The world needs to know—what was it like playing with Nuu Faaola?: Ha. It was exciting every day. It was like I was back in the tropics.

• Who’s the most underrated guy you ever played with?: Dan Alexander, our offensive guard. Dan played at LSU as a defensive lineman. He came to the Jets when they had the Sack Exchange, moved to offensive guard and stayed there for ages. He was terrific. Plus, he had a great mustache.

• How often are you recognized?: Um, as I get older and further removed from it not as much as I used to. But every once in a while someone says something nice about an old guy that makes me feel good.

• Five greatest quarterbacks of your lifetime: Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw, John Elway, Dan Marino. And, ooh boy, Tom Brady and Brett Favre and Peyton Manning are all there. But I’m going Bert Jones. He had a rifle. Plus, I’ve gone hunting with him. You can’t ignore hunting buddies with strong arms.

• Three reasons one should make Manhattan Beach home?: I don’t think they should. Pass it by. It’s full. There’s no room for anybody else here. I’m not publicizing it; saying that you should come live down here. You should go to Laguna. It’s so much better.

• How’d you meet your wife?: We grew up together. I met her the first time when we were in seventh grade.

• What’s your Super Bowl prediction?: Tough one. Pete Carroll is a good friend, he lives down the street. But I really like Tom Brady. I’m not good at predictions, but whoever can put pressure on the quarterback will win. I think Seattle will find a way. Somehow. They have a lot of speed in every area. They find ways defensively to do it.

• What are the five ugliest NFL uniforms?: Um, not including throwbacks. I think the Bengals uniform is horrendous. I don’t like the color for Carolina. Tampa Bay doesn’t do anything for me. And put the Dolphins up there, too. I hate the Dolphins on general principle.

• Because he was drafted before Jerry Rice and got hurt early, people forget about Al Toon. How good was he?: He was a freak. He was a really good friend, first, and we’ve kept in touch. But as far as a player, he was a freak. He could do everything. He was like a quarterback in that he understood the whole offensive scheme. We could communicate with just a look. He made some unbelievable catches all the time in practices, games. He could do whatever he had to do to get open, deceptively strong. And when he had someone chasing him, no one caught him. The longer he played, the better he would have been in people’s memories. But he’s one of the best.

• Are the Jets cursed?: No. Todd Bowles is an interesting hire. They’re really happy with him as the new coach. Rex has a way about him—he’s a great player’s coach, but if it doesn’t click after a while people stop listening. It got to the point. But the Jets need to settle on a quarterback and have confidence in him. The last three games or so, Geno Smith played well and looked like he got it. I haven’t watched film to know he’s the guy to take us there. But I sure hope so.

The greatest game

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I’ve been a sports journalist for more than two decades, and I’ve covered some absolutely amazing games. Off the top of my head, there was the first post-9.11 ballgame at Shea Stadium, when Mike Piazza homered for the win. There was also the Robin Ventura walk-off. There was Delaware beating Drexel to reach its first-ever NCAA Tournament. There was Cal Ripken, Jr.’s final All-Star Game. There were World Series moments, NBA playoff moments. On and on and on.

Today, however, one game trumped them all.

It was the Wolverines against the Grizzlies, a battle of Niguel Aliso NJBL foes held inside the Laguna Niguel High gymnasium at 11 am. The Grizzlies entered as the best team in the league. The Wolverines came in with an 0-7 record.

Their starting point guard: 8-year-old Emmett Pearlman.

Christ, it’s been a rough season. The Wolverines are a bad team, with a roster of one great player, two very good players and five kids who never experienced organized ball before this year. One of those newbies happens to be my son, who is also the youngest and shortest Wolverine. Emmett is actually a solid athlete—quick, curious, inspired by defense. But he has yet to grasp the rhythm of basketball. The flow confuses him, the transition from offense to defense trips him up a bit. His reaction time can be measured in hours, not seconds—though its improved dramatically. Through seven games, his line is about 0.0 ppg, 2 apg, 4 turnovers per game. I think he hauled in three rebounds, all by accident. However, he’s (in my mind) one of the Wolverines’ top defenders. To my delight, he loves holding people scoreless.

Anyhow, despite the losing, the kids are mostly happy. Emmett has loved being a part of the team, and if setbacks get him down (and I don’t think they do), the disappointment lasts for three seconds. He’s always psyched to get into his black-and-aqua uniform and lace up his sneakers. It’s a thrill; one I recall well from my boyhood.

Today’s game looked to be a blowout. During warmups the other team was precise and sharp. Their coach also coaches the varsity at the nearby high school. There were no Vegas odds on the game, but the Grizz were a solid 18-point favorite.

Then some amazing shit happened …

The Grizz couldn’t hit shots. The Grizz couldn’t rebound. Our best player, ol’ No. 42, was on fire, stealing balls repeatedly, hitting layups, slashing to the hoop. A kid named Austin, who had yet to score this season, hit a magical jumper. Emmett—who rarely shoots—took two shots from just outside the paint. He missed both, but barely.

For some reason, this league plays five eight-minute periods, with a running clock. Midway through the fourth period, we were down by five. Then three. Then one. Early in the fifth, the Wolverines somehow grabbed a one-point lead, and held it …

… for a while. Emmett was on the court nearly the entire game, often dribbling the ball up, then passing off to a scorer. He never looked uncomfortable, though sometimes he forgets to dribble out of trouble. As the remaining time dripped from three minutes to two minutes to on, I found myself cheering loudly, applauding, standing up and living with each shot. I’m not that type of sports parent. Like, not at all. I don’t care about winning or losing—as long as it’s fun.

But I really wanted this win.

Sadly, the Grizz took the lead with, oh, 55 seconds left. Our team fought, fought, fought—but could never regain the advantage. Emmett had a chance to shoot at the end, but sorta froze.

Ultimately, the Wolverines lost again, by just one point. Afterward, a couple of kids had tears in their eyes. The coaches looked somewhat dejected. I was exhausted and a tad sad.

Mostly, though, I was euphoric.

A great game is a great game.

Even when your boy loses.

A sad farewell to Sunna …

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My daughter Casey is 11. Earlier today, she lost a tooth—one of the few baby teeth remaining in her mouth. We were at a restaurant when it happened, and as we walked out she pulled me aside to say she knows there’s no such thing as the Tooth Fairy.

As weird as this might sound (she is, after all, nearly a teenager), the revelation broke my heart. Even since Casey lost her first tooth, I’ve been sneaking into her room at night and leaving some sort of gift (candy, a little toy, etc) along with a note from Sunna, her personal tooth fairy. Casey always loved this, and would come into our bedroom and show us Sunna’s warm, compassionate words.


Anyhow, tonight I bought a Cadbury bar at a gas station, and will probably slide it beneath her pillow along with a $5 bill. I’ll include the following note, which I just finished writing … with tears in my eyes.

Watching a child grow is so rewarding.

Watching a child grow is so heartbreaking.

Here’s Sunna’s final note …

My dearest love, Princess Casey …

I love you. I love your teeth. I’ve loved being your tooth fairy for the last nine years. I’ve seen you blossom from a little girl to a young woman, and it makes my heart glow with pride.

But I think it’s time …

There comes a point when girls stop believing in me. This always breaks my heart, because it signifies the conclusion of something precious and sweet. I’ve now fluttered into your room more than 20 times. I know exactly how you sleep (soundly, always facing the same side) and how to take your tooth without waking you from a deep, beautiful slumber. The decorations and paint colors have changed through the years, but—in many ways—you have not. You remain sweet and passionate and dreamy. I’d never before been the tooth fairy to a girl who hangs socks and weird objects from her wall. You’re special. You think differently.

I understand why you no longer believe there’s a tooth fairy. You’re older, you’re wiser, you’re harder to dazzle. But, dear Casey, let me say this: Whether I’m a magical fairy who flies into your room or merely a loving parent shoving stuff beneath your pillow, I’m still Sunna. I represent wonderment and magic and—most of all—goodness.

Please, Casey, as you age, don’t stop believing in those things. Be enraptured by the beautiful. Find magic in the magical. And always look for the goodness in people. It’s there, even if sometimes it takes a while to find.

I have loved being your tooth fairy. Please, never forget me.

I will never forget you.

Love always,


The slide

Photo on 1-24-15 at 8.10 AM

The scene from my window. 8:01 am.

Last night I was driving from Erie to Penn State. It’s about a 3 1/2-hour trek, and midway through the snow started to fall.

At first, I was unalarmed. But then it really started coming down.

thicker …



I was, oh, 45 miles from Penn State, and very few cars were on the highway. Before long, I was unable to see the road. Everything was white. Before I had kids, I—without fail—would have kept driving. Slowly and steadily, yes, but I would have continued.

On this road, though, and on this night, I decided to pull off onto the Clearfield exit and toward the glowing Comfort Inn light. As I turned right onto the ramp, my car started skidding downward. There was an oil tanker about 150 yards away, and the car skidded closer and closer and closed. The brakes weren’t working. I heard my dad’s voice in my head, from long ago. “Pump the breaks! Pump the breaks!” I pumped—nothing.

Kept pumping. Kept pumping.

Finally, about 20 yards from the tanker, my car slowed and, ultimately, stopped.

I like living in California.

The Harrisville Burger King

Photo on 1-23-15 at 10.13 PM #3

I’m sitting in my rented Honda, in the parking lot of the Harrisville, Pa. Burger King, and I felt compelled to write this.

I pulled up because I’m hungry, it’s 10:11 pm and very little is open. I don’t like Burger King. It’s gross. But, again, I’m needing food.

Anyhow, I enter. The woman at the register looks at me. The skin around her mouth is  coasted with zits, in the way a BK hamburger bun is coated with seeds. Not merely teenage zits. Deep, dark, red zits. The kind you don’t really wanna see when you’re about to order food. I’m not making fun, just setting the scene. Acne sucks. I’ve been there.

I order a salad. “Salad bar’s closed,” she says.

OK, I order a grilled chicken sandwich. I ask her where we are.

“Harrisville,” she says.

“Famous for?” I ask.

She shrugs. A guy standing by the soda dispenser chimes in. “Hicks,” he says with a slight drawl. I look at him. He’s an employee who just got off break. After he speaks, he uses an index finger to pick his nose. “Your chicken will be ready in a moment,” he says. “It takes a minute.”

I use the time to go to the bathroom. One urinal is broken. The sink is brown, with a bunch of long hairs dangling over the drain. The manager walks in. He weighs no less than 400 pounds, and grunts when he moves. Again, I’m not making fun. Just the scene. He enters the toilet stall, and I rush out. Don’t need to hear.

I grab my food and exit.

“Have fun,” the nose picker says.

I return to the car. I start driving. Begrudgingly, I unwrap the sandwich and take a bite. The bun is soaking wet, and I spit it back into the paper.


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