Jeff Pearlman

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“It makes you wonder if …”

As I’ve mentioned here before, I hate CNN with all my passion.

I’m talking, specifically, about the network, and how a once-respected and trusted entity has turned to bullshit nonsense sludge of the worst degree. It’s amazing—I’m a liberal guy, and I even detest CNN more than Fox. Why? Because while Fox is clearly biased, at least its gurus know what they’re doing, and who they’re after.

CNN is just looking for viewers—content be damned.

Classic example from today is the above clip: Segment features a pilot and an air traffic controller sparring. OK, it’s not exactly news. In fact, it’s not news at all. It’s the sort of thing CNN loves this day—cheap, gossipy, worthless fluff. But … OK. Let’s allow CNN the argument that it’s important, because there have been a few crashes of late. The clip is played, the argument is heard … and then this fool starts talking …

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… and she says: “Considering the number of close calls we’ve had, it makes you wonder if there’s some tension going on in between pilots and air traffic control.”

Um … what? Really? A single exchange, somehow obtained by CNN, makes you wonder whether there’s an outbreak of hard feelings? One exchange gives you that idea? Really? Really?

Jon Stewart noted that 24-hour news networks only work when there’s war or catastrophe, and he’s right. Otherwise, CNN is left to speculate, guess, track down experts who aren’t experts. The network—once truly exceptional—is a joke, because it no longer cares about proper news coverage, or pursuing the tough stories. Hell, why do that when you can have this woman …

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… and this woman …

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… and this dude …

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… speculate and guess.

Glub.

The letter that broke my heart

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Because we’re moving, tons of old crap is popping up all over the house.

Blurry photos.

Party invitations.

My college acceptance letters.

Ah, the ol’ letters. The wife discovered them tonight, tucked in an envelope. Back in the winter of 1989, I applied to about 10 colleges, ranging from Miami to Syracuse to Albany to UMass to Delaware. The place I really wanted to attend was Penn State.

It was, I say with no exaggeration, my dream school. Huge campus, awesome sports, excellent media/journalism program. Were I to be admitted (and I presumed I’d get it), Penn State would be the spot for my four years. No doubt about it.

Then, the above letter came.

It started off great: “Congratulations of having been offered admission to Penn State’s College of the Liberal Arts …”

Fantastic!!!!!!!

“… at Altoona Campus.”

Um, what? Altoona? Where the hell was Altoona? I probably looked on the map, but lord knows I wasn’t going to spend two years in a remote outpost, feeling like a second-rate Nittany Lion. At first, I was heartbroken. Then, belligerent. I was an A- student! I’d scored a solid 1130 on the SATs! I was editor of the high school newspaper. Well, sports editor of the high school newspaper. But … still.

I’m sure I cried, and definitely complained. But here’s the best part—it proved to be a blessing. When I was rejected by Penn State, I turned to Delaware. A school with an amazing journalism program; with tons of writing opportunities; with a fantastic campus and tons of female students (hey, just being honest).

Twenty five years ago, I was thinking, “Altoona—fuck Altoona.”

In 2014, I thank goodness for its existence.

 

The Bee Crusher

Earlier this afternoon the wife told me there was an enormous bee hive by the deck.

I took a look—not a good scene. Big hive, a ton of bees resting on top. But we had family coming over for dinner. Something had to be done.

Enter: This guy …

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When I’m not writing books or blogging about the bathroom or Tweeting nonsense or watching Happy Days re-runs, I’m this guy: The Bee Crusher. My outfit in trademark pimped-out superhero: One black sneaker, one blue slipper. The Hoodie Footie my wife bought for Valentine’s Day. A towel around my head and two pink rubberized kitchen gloves on my hands.

Oh, most important—an autographed copy of Kostya Kennedy’s excellent Pete Rose biography (aka: the nearest available book).

With great courage and supreme power, I tiptoed up to the hive … closer … closer … closer … closer—SLAM!!!!! I pushed the book up against the bees, utilizing every ounce of force to bring forth universal death. I held my stance for six … seven … eight seconds, then backed away.

Mission accomplished.

I am The Bee Crusher.

Drinking with John

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So Deadspin reported a few hours ago that John Rocker has an autograph table in Cooperstown, N.Y. for Hall of Fame weekend.

Eh … awesome.

I’ve used this space in the past to take shots at my ol’ chum, and I won’t do so again. Instead, let’s talk briefly about self awareness, and the lack thereof.

Ever since I met John in 1999, I’ve felt his biggest weakness (along with a racist perspective and a pretty straight fastball) was a lack of self awareness. He has just never seemed to understand who he is, or what his status in the world means. Absolute best-case scenario, John is a pretty good former closer who had a few solid seasons before flaming out. Baseball Reference likens his career to those of Mike Schooler and Ray Searage, and that sounds about right. He was a nice arm that didn’t last particularly long.

Yet, thanks in large part to the Sports Illustrated article of 1999, Rocker seems to see himself as some sort of icon; as a guy who represents a white, Southern, blue-collar outlook on sports and Americana. He pitches SPEAK ENGLISH T-shirts. He slams Obama. He wrote for a crazy right-wing website. Which, I guess, is all fine and dandy, save for the fact it’s turned him into a cave man, frozen forever in a block of ice and unable (unwilling?) to move forward. At some point, 90 percent of former athletes do what’s necessary to shed their old skins. They stop being Bears and Padres and Islanders and Knicks and start being accountants and bartenders and car salesmen. They leave behind the past in order to secure the future.

But not John Rocker. He’s there at Cooperstown, likely sitting alongside a pile of glossy photographs and a Sharpie, reminding folks of who he was, and who he’ll forever be.

Heaven is for Real … and I’m Damned to Hell

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So a few months ago, while walking through the nearby Salvation Army thrift shop with my kids, I stumbled upon a used copy of Heaven is for Real, the wildly popular book that has sold more than 8 million copies and seems to have a permanent spot on the New York Times’ best-seller’s list.

This, some would say, was an act of God.

Why, otherwise, would an agnostic Jew pick up the book, ask the sales woman for the price, hear, “All books are $2, hun” and purchase it? How else can this possibly be explained? Heaven is for Real would be my own personal awakening. I would read the story of a young boy’s visit to heaven, and I’d be inspired to pursue Jesus.

Orrrrrrr … I was a dude in a store, religion fascinates me and the thing was a couple of dollars.

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Either way, tonight while flying back from New Orleans, I finally had the chance to read Heaven is for Real. And, for the majority of the 162 pages, I was captivated. The 4-year-old kid, Colton Burpo, wakes from an emergency appendectomy and starts telling his dad—a pastor named Todd Burpo—about meeting God. And Jesus. And Mary. And dead relatives. And the unborn daughter his mom lost after two months. And Tupac.

Wait. Scratch that. Tupac does not appear.

It’s all a miracle, and little Colton keeps telling Pop more and more things he couldn’t have possibly known. What dead relatives looked like. What Jesus looked like. Why Jesus was sitting to the right of God, not the left. On and on and on with amazing, detailed observations.

Again: Captivating.

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But here’s the problem: To believe this book, you have to be a moron. Not merely a half moron. A full, all-in moron with an IQ below 30. Yes, that sounds mean. And it is mean. But if you buy into the message of Heaven is for Real, what you’re saying is that we’re all just contestants in a game show; that the meaning of life isn’t to help others, or to expand your horizons, or even to find love. No, it’s to reach the afterlife. And how do you reach the afterlife? By believing in Jesus with all your might. And how is this measured? By Jesus—who somehow floats around with a ubiquitous Belief Gauge and measures the internal belief system of every humanoid who has ever existed. Even, it turns out, aborted and lost fetuses. Who, I’m presuming, never attended Sunday School. Regardless, they can play, too.

Coincidentally, the pathway to eternal life is paved with all the exact beliefs held by the Burpo family. And, if you don’t share those feelings, well, you’re fucked. You will rot in hell with the devil. That means you, moderate Catholic. And you, Southern Baptist who attends for the free post-sermon buffet. You, Jew. You, Muslim. You Hindu. You, agnostic. You’re all destined to be repeatedly raped by thorn-cocked Gulbuth The Rampant and reminded, for eternity, how wrong you were.

But … Jesus and God love you. They do.

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But you know who they love the most? Like, the mostest of the most? Todd Burpo. According to Colton, Jesus zaps Todd with prayer power. Let me say that again—because it’s in the book: Jesus zaps Todd with prayer power.

Not to be confused with book-selling power.

Which he also has.

Final thought: Colton Burpo is now 15. And—to be blunt—Heaven is for Real better be real, because it’s a pretty fucked-up thing to put on a kid. Yeah, all was cute and adorable when he was 4 and looking like a Lipnicki. But now the lad enters high school. He’s gonna start wanting to get laid. Maybe add a THUG LIFE tatt to his chest. He’s gonna be known as the crazy kid from the book. People will stare. And mock. And prod.

Lord knows.

Fuck My Husband

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So I was sitting in a coffee shop the other day, and an adjacent table was occupied by a writer named Ashley Brechtel. We began to chat, and she told me about her life and dreams and goals and hopes—and the dickhead husband who treated her like garbage. Ashley is 30, and is trying to do something dramatic: Break away and start anew. She’s an awfully good travel writer (this is her site) who aspires to go to Thailand and chase her dreams. One problem: Dough. Or, really, lack thereof.

Hence, Ashley started a Kickstarter page to raise funds. I donated, and I encourage others to as well. This is more than a young woman taking a trip. It’s a journalistic life changer.

Anyhow, this is the link to her appropriately named FUCK MY HUSBAND Kickstarter page. And here, in her own words, is the wonderful Ashley Brechtel (she’s a cool Twitter follow, too) …

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As an adult, when something traumatic happens in your life, you find yourself going home. Back to that place where your mom is waiting with a comforting hug and greets you each morning with a cup of coffee and a nudge to eat something. Sure, you begrudgingly run into childhood acquaintances at Wal-Mart and exchange false pleasantries. And, unfortunately, slathering yourself in bug spray every time you go outside is a necessity. But those small nuances are worth it because you’re home.

Home for me is Waveland, Mississippi, and my trauma stems from my husband of nine years walking out on me unexpectedly. While coming home is comforting, it’s also painful. As I write this in my favorite little coffee shop with its original hardwood floors and friendly patrons, it’s hard to push the fishing pier around the corner from my mind. It’s where my husband asked me to marry him when we were both 20-years old. When I leave here I’ll pass the parking lot where we shared our first kiss four years earlier. Each road I drive down holds a memory. When you marry your high school sweetheart there is no true escape.

My husband has been a part of every decision I’ve made for more than 13 years now. I’ve passed up scholarships because they were too far away from him. I’ve moved all over the world and country to fulfill his career goals. At the time, these decisions seemed romantic, but now I see they were foolish. I have never embarked on an adventure that didn’t involve him in some aspect … but that’s about to change.

My husband has asked for a break from me and our marriage for three months while he decides what he wants. As I let this new reality sink in I’ve been forced to ask myself what I want. I want to write my own story. I want, for the first time in my life, to go on an adventure that I created just for me. I want to not cry and not feel sorry for myself. I want to be happy again. That’s why I’ve started a Kickstarter Project. My goal is to go on a journey of self-discovery on my I. I raise the money. I choose the location. I make my own story.

Since I’ve made this decision, I’ve found the strength and confidence that’s been missing since he left. And while I’m still scared about my future I’m also excited about what opportunities await me.

Quality Inn, room 235

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Woke up a few moments ago not knowing where I was.

I hate when that happens. I’m on my fifth day of travel, third different motel. They’ve all been sorta grungy and grim. Here, in Gulfport, Mississippi, room 235 of the Quality Inn is surely like room 203 of the Quality Inn, and room 118 of the Quality Inn. The air conditioning unit makes a soothing hum, but the smell reminds me of a cardboard box that was soaked by a night of steady rain. The shower head is coming off the wall, and was probably installed 15 years ago. The carpet is a shade of dark booger, surely to hide a lifetime of stains and real boogers. The remote control is jarringly sticky, which immediately causes me to wonder whether the guy here before me was jerking off to some skin flick on Channel XX3.

There are hairs here and there. If you look close enough (as I, regrettably, do) you’ll see many strands, surely from many people. The sight immediately grosses me out, though I’m not entirely sure why (from a logical standpoint). You can’t get sick from someone else’s hair. It’s just … hair.

I sometimes wonder how the art is picked out for motels. It’s always the same—a picture that exists, but goes unseen. It’s neither ugly enough to be offensive nor beautiful enough to be noteworthy. I can picture some Quality Inn executive assistant to the assistant executive, walking through a warehouse in Topeka, coming upon a stack of 10,000 prints—$3 a pop, bulk—and saying, “OK, we’ll take those.”

When hotels are beautiful, they’re one of my joys. I love walking into a clean room, with neat folds and beautiful views and, just maybe, a mint or two waiting on a brilliant white pillowcase. But when I’m in room 235 of the Quality Inn, a motel visit is merely a motel visit.

I arrive. I plop down my suitcase. I brush my teeth. I go to sleep. I wake up.

And, hopefully, I recognize my whereabouts.

Andrew Stratman, a coffee shop and great music …

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As I write this, I’m sitting in the Mockingbird Cafe in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi—watching a future star.

His name is Andrew Stratman. He’s a 27-year-old country singer from Vienna, Missouri. He’s a gritty looking dude with a husky, sandpaper voice, a pulled-down backward baseball cap, a black T-shirt and a dream.

The guy absolutely kicks ass.

I’m not just saying that. I used to cover music for The Tennessean. I’ve seen tons and tons and tons of acts in small clubs, in bars, in dives. Some have been amazing, some OK. some terrible. Here, in front of six or seven of us, I’m witnessing the best of the bunch.

Take a listen …

The man drives from gig to gig in his Dodge truck. He worked construction in the past, some different blue-collar jobs here and there. Not long ago, he decided to chase his dream and pursue music. He’s decided to give it all he has, with dreams of making it a career.

I like his odds.

I also love surprises like this. I was sitting in this coffee shop, going through clips, enjoying the drinks but drifting toward sleepiness. Then the music starts, and suddenly I’m thrown into the pure pleasure that is the great live show.

Happy evening.

Coffee Shops

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As we speak, I’m sitting inside a quaint little coffee shop called the Mockingbird Cafe in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

Before a few hours ago, I never heard of Bay St. Louis or the Mockingbird Cafe. I certainly didn’t know there was a coffee shop here, or that it’d feature cool paintings of superheroes, like these …

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I love coffee shops. Starbucks are fine, but I’m more into independent ones with their own little idiosyncrasies. Different drink mixes. A barista with 101 donkey tattoos. Funky music. Fans on the ceiling. Unique chairs. I love the illusion of social interaction, which isn’t always an illusion. I’ve had some amazing conversations in coffee shops, oftentimes with other writers struggling through projects and procrastinating through life. There’s a bond in coffee shops. Not among patrons merely seeking out java, but the regular denizens, who call such places their second home.

Here in Mississippi, I stand out as a fast-talking New Yorker with liberal beliefs and a Jewish star dangling from his neck. Inside the cocoon of the coffee shop, however, I fit perfectly in.

I’m home.

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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