Jeff Pearlman

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Dear Joe Thomas

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Dear Joe Thomas:

Last night I watched your interview with Graham Bensinger, the one during which you said you’re already experiencing short-term memory loss. Specifically, you said this …

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And this …

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Joe, you don’t know me—and that’s precisely why you should be listening to me. You’re 32. You’ve had a long and illustrious NFL career. You’ve made millions of dollars. You have a wife. You have kids.

You need to retire—now.

What you are doing is not masculine or tough or impressive. You’re not standing up and taking one for the team. You’re not showing strength in the face of weakness. No, you are being selfish and unwise.

See, down the line that lovely wife and those beautiful kids—they’ll be the ones caring for you; suffering; reminding you that you already had a bowl of ice cream; reminding you the man paying a visit is Brian Hoyer—”Joe, you remember Brian. He played with you in Cleveland. In the National Football League. You were a lineman. For the Browns.”

I’ve seen this movie time after time, and it’s preposterously ugly. Google Jerry Eckwood. Google Dave Pear. Google Mark Gastineau. Google Harry Carson. Google Kevin Turner. You are damning the future of your family … and why? So you can make more millions to add to your millions? So you can go 4-12 this season, but improve to 8-8 in 2018?

Pro Bowls, Super Bowls, Hall of Fame—none of these things is worth the continued surrendering of your health. Oh, and the whole “damage is already done” thinking. Simply not true. This stuff gets worse. And worse. The more concussions you suffer, the more likely you are to wind up here.

Joe, you’re not old. You’re 32. You should have a long and fruitful post-football existence ahead of you.

Let’s begin today.

Best.

Jeff Pearlman

@jeffpearlman

PS: And if the Browns and the NFL aren’t pushing you out the door today—shame on them. Fucking shame.

The ESPN carnage

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As many of you have likely heard by now, ESPN is firing people left and right today. And it’s heartbreaking.

This isn’t just ending the internship program, or cutting back on free coffee. This is the dismissal of some of the biggest and most-reputable names in journalism. Ed Werder. Paul Kuharsky. Jean-Jacques Taylor. Dana O’Neil. Mike Goodman. Mark Saxon. Brett McMurphy. Stephen A. Smith.

Oh, wait.

Stephen A. Smith was not fired. His $3.5 million-per-year salary is safe. And do you know why? Because he’s really good at yelling. And screaming. And shouting. And barking. And stewing. And making 20-second arguments over things he almost certainly doesn’t really care about. Which, of course, shouldn’t detract from his long and storied career as a reporter, where he befriended (and protected) players he liked and threatened those who dared challenge the Tao of Stephen A. Like, ahem, Kevin Durant.

But here’s the thing: This isn’t actually about Stephen A. Smith. It’s about the decline of good journalism and, sadly, the decline in the demand for good journalism. At some point in modern history, we (as a people) decided we prefer personalities and pizzazz over substance and detail. Our zest for a well-reported story has been overtaken by our zest for the mindless carnival barkings of hacks like Stephen A. and Skip Bayless.

This is not Stephen A. Smith’s fault. He realized long ago that reporting on Eric Snow’s sprained ankle wasn’t cutting it (just as Skip realized reporting on Troy Aikman’s non-homosexuality sexuality wasn’t cutting it). So he adapted to the times, surrendered his integrity card and went full-blown Ringling Bros. And it worked. He’s getting paid; he’s receiving the airport recognition he craves; he’s The Man—even if that status is flimsy, transparent and utterly void of substance.

Meanwhile, journalists (people employed to report, investigate, write) are discarded with ruthless and reckless abandon.

Don’t be fooled by ESPN’s upbeat statements of corporate adjustment. Don’t buy the inevitable “We’ll be a stronger company” baloney.

This is a shedding of quality.

This is an assault on the profession.

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Anne Stockwell

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Too often in this celebrity-obsessed culture we turn toward the rich and famous to be inspired. We read stories about Halle Berry’s beauty, Katherine Heigl’s new baby, Harrison Ford’s happiness, Donald Trump’s … eh, never mind.

The point is, we look far off into the Hollywood Hills for inspiration, when oftentimes it’s right here; right in front of us.

I have known Anne Stockwell for about 15 years. We met when she was the editor of The Advocate, and I was assigned a story about gay athlete acceptance in pro sports locker rooms. Over the next 1 1/2 decades we stayed in touch via social media and occasional e-mails, and I marveled at a strong, compassionate woman who was diagnosed with cancer on three different occasions—yet seemed to never really waver.

I promise, you will be inspired, too.

Anne is the founder and head of Well Again, a nonprofit operation that coaches people in the aftermath of being cancer free. “Cancer,” she writes on the website, “is profound. It’s not just medical. It’s not something you get over with chemo and radiation. Cancer also happens at the level of your soul. It gives you an opportunity to start new.”

Indeed.

One can visit the Well Again website here and follow Anne on Twitter here and Instagram here. She is an amazing and inspiring person, and I’m honored to host her as the 306th Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: I’m gonna start with this: You’re an openly gay woman. We have a 45thpresident who has a vice president who has been hostile toward gay rights. Trump, however, doesn’t really seem interested one way or the other. So how, in specific relation to gay rights, are you feeling right now about America?

ANNE STOCKWELL: It’s sort of like “Good Morning Heartache/ Sit down.” I know this stuff like an old movie. It’s devastating just like always, but it no longer surprises me.

I don’t think Trump is a homophobe, no. But he’s not an ally either, and that means he’s an enemy. His indifference gives Pence—a notorious homophobe—free range to do what he wants, knowing that, like Trump, most Americans just don’t want to think about us. Because people want us invisible, LGBT people remain among the easiest tribes to throw under the bus.

In all the media handwringing about why Trump ought to be more wary of Putin, have you read a word calling out Putin for his persecution of Russia’s LGBT people? Defending our own gay people and warning that America is not going to abandon us no matter what?

Yeah, didn’t think so.

I spent 15 years in the gay press, knowing that many hearts will never change. People fear us and that’s why they don’t want to know us better.

So is my task hopeless? Not at all. I’ve seen with my own eyes that occasionally a heart does change, and it’s always because some bit of new information got in through the cracks. Honest information is the best antidote to fear.

This same experience has helped me to understand why people don’t want to think about life beyond cancer.People fear us cancer vets. They don’t want to walk our path. We are taboo. It seems to be my destiny—forgive that lofty word—to bring the news that life in the taboo zone can be awesome.

Anne with Kris Larson.

Anne with Kris Larson.

J.P.: You’ve had cancer three times. Not once, not twice—three times. What is it to learn you have cancer, having survived it twice? Like, how did you find out? How was the news given to you? How did you digest it?

A.S.: Extremes of emotion in each case. The thing in common: the intensity. That roller coaster sensation when the pit of your gut drops away and you hear yourself screaming.

Episode One: The craziest thing. They said they thought it was cancer, and in that instant my life passed before my eyes. No other way to describe it. A rush of images, sequential AND simultaneous, flooded me with joy. Many pictures I’d forgotten. I saw that I loved my life. I was so much richer than I’d ever imagined, in friendship and connection and adventure. If this was the end, okay. But in this same apparently endless instant, I knew I wanted more. I thought, I’ll do my best and take what comes.

Then came episode two, and that was it for the heroics. Aside from the mortal-fear stuff, I felt like a big fat failure.  Who was I kidding with the vitamins and crap?  I’ve never been so angry in my life.  Throughout that cycle of treatment, I raged on.  I was fighting to secure a new job in a company that was in deep trouble. I kept at it.  Every day I saw the image of a sailing ship in a gale, and myself an Ahab figure yelling, more canvas, more canvas, we won’t be beaten.

Episode three hit after the job ended.  (My metaphorical ship had gone down after all.)  This came way too soon after my previous recurrence. I went for a routine blood test and my numbers had shot up by like 100 points. They ordered a PET scan, which came back showing a number of new hot spots.

They’re not big enough to be tumors yet, my doctor said.

How many hot spots, I asked.

I couldn’t really count them, he said. We’ll test again in three months.

I thought, now I’m going to die. I started to read about death and what might or might not come afterward.

At that same time I met two guys, pretty much as unlike each other as you could imagine, and I think they pulled me through. One guy was a big jock, a football fanatic, who happened to be committed to metaphysics and prayer. He barked at me:  “You’re fine, I got this, you’re in my prayers twice a day.”  It was so ridiculously comforting, I started calling him up to hear him say it.  The other guy, gay gay gay and Asian, was a tai chi master. His day job was doing feng shui for high-end clients all over the West Coast. He would arrive every few weeks and ask me to fetch him at Union Station—he didn’t have a driver’s license. While I ferried him around, he would tell me about how effective tai chi could be against cancer. He started showing me moves. Once he arrived from the Buddhist temple in San Francisco with a special prayer to ward off cancer. I learned it phonetically and still say it every night.

So—silliness, right? But after three months of these two guys all up in my business, I had my repeat PET scan. Where, before, my intestines had been dotted with nasty little cancer spots, now there were just two. Small, finite, eminently treatable.

So in I went for surgery, chemo, and radiation, on those two spots.

I finished treatment in 2010 and the cancer hasn’t been back since. What changed my condition? I’m not saying it was these guys and their spiritual stuff. But afterward our paths diverged and our relationships essentially ended. It did seem that they had shown up on cue.

The treatment itself was bearable, but at some point I noticed I was more comfortable in cancertown than in the outside world. I stopped imagining myself free of IT.

J.P.: You are the founder and head of “Well Again,” which coaches people in the aftermath of being cancer free. I’m fascinated, but I also don’t fully know what it means. I’d think, if you’re cancer free, you’d be happy and giddy and ready to roll? No?

A.S.: Well Again has evolved from my experience of what we lack as cancer vets reentering the world. Yes, of course, you’re happy, even giddy, when treatment ends. But you also know something you can never unknow: some invisible thing crept in and tried to kill you and might just do it again. Cancer generally doesn’t hurt. It just creeps.

The emotional blow of cancer tends to fall when we’re through treatment. My oncologist told me that this is when marriages break up.

All hell breaks loose in your inner world. Your own body tried to kill you. That is about as existential a threat as you can imagine.

Back in your civilian life, everybody looks at you funny, and no wonder; you’ve changed.  Maybe you can’t keep numbers in your head the way you did. Or you hate the ice cream flavor you used to love. Who knows? Whatever it is, you’ll be navigating it alone. Friends and family won’t know how to help. Understandably, they’re like, when can we forget all this? Aren’t you past it now? There’s great pressure on you to get back to normal, and that’s the one thing you can’t do.

Suddenly all the bullshit you used to put up with is unbearable.

After treatment, our job is to resume our lives as individuals and pull ourselves out of the common medical experiences we shared. This is a lot more challenging than it seems. Once they’ve healed our bodies, our doctors turn away to heal others. We are left with invisible wounds that we don’t like to talk about in a clinic. The most profound wounds of cancer, I think, are spiritual.

You can try all you want to sweep this stuff under the rug and pretend that there’s no soul sickness to cancer. And by that I certainly DON’T mean you caused your cancer, or WANTED it, or any of that malarkey people like to spread around in Southern California.

I mean, the way cancer attacks, it hits your soul. You can’t ignore it, tell yourself it’s silly to be scared. It’s not silly to be scared. No, the challenge of life beyond cancer is to learn to live with uncertainty.

For me, it’s just as valid to see  cancer as a message from your soul. It’s an invitation to ask yourself more honestly–who am I now? What do I want? What feels right when I do it?

If you like, you can see cancer as a do-over. It’s not the only disaster that can turn into a learning experience, but it’s especially powerful because it happens to so many of us.

J.P.: You write, “I know how it feels to start over after cancer.” Anne, what is it to start over after cancer? What was it for you?

Every sensation is heightened. You become aware of yourself in the world in an entirely different way. A friend who’s Stage IV told me, Life begins at cancer. Strange but true.  I would also say cancer wakes you up to the toxicity of our American culture of work. The bond of trust between employer and employee is dead, with the result that stress is constant. We don’t take our vacations; we’re afraid to. The constant need to prove ourselves, the looking over our shoulders. Etc., etc. Everybody’s stressed sometimes, but constant stress is linked to inflammation, and protracted inflammation makes things easier for cancer.

One of the most unpleasant things about starting over after cancer is that every fool you meet is suddenly an oncologist.  People with no knowledge of you or medicine or, presumably, courtesy will regale you with how you’d better give up caffeine etc. (or take up caffeine etc.) and how they themselves are on the right side of this important dietary issue and therefore they will never have cancer.  Or, more understandably, they survived cancer and now you must do what they did.

This is unkind because at this point in your recovery you are weakened and vulnerable and scared to death anyway.  To be whipsawed by contradictory doctrines makes it all just a little worse.

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J.P.: You used to be the editor in chief of The Advocate (which is how we met), but I’m unfamiliar with your journalistic path. How did it happen? How did it start? And why did you leave the magazine?

A.S.: I got into journalism as a proofreader. My first gig was with an extremely short-lived publication called “Barbara Cartland’s World if Romance.” From there, I became a proofreader at Esquire.  I actually sold a couple of pieces of writing during this time.  I’m especially proud of a mischievous Esquire parody we junior-junior-juniors came up with.  The senior staff did us the honor of laughing at the piece and publishing it in the magazine.

I moved back to my home state of Louisiana for a few years and became an advertising copywriter in a local market.  It was so much fun, I can’t tell you.  That’s where I wrote my first TV ads and got interested in film.  I won a directing scholarship to NYU Graduate Film School, but I wasn’t one of those filmmakers who were like, I must do this or die.  It terms of work, I still gravitated toward magazines.

Eventually, after film school, I wound up in Los Angeles, where I couldn’t make inroads into the film business but was hired as a copy editor at The Advocate. I stayed there 15 years.  I was promoted up the arts and entertainment side of the masthead until eventually I became editor in chief. I left in 2008, when the company was bought and the new owners wanted a new EIC.

J.P.: Along those lines—is print over?

A.S.: Yes.

J.P.: What’s your mental relationship with death? Terrified? Comfortable? And how has it been impacted by your cancer experiences?

A.S.: This whole time has been about getting to the point where I can look at death. I am not a brave person. That’s the second idea behind Well Again. I realized that I didn’t care at all how many facts I knew about my cancer. I mean, yes, but in a chilly way. A battery of facts was never going to lend me courage when I had to go for a followup. What did help were memories of doing things I loved. Cancer couldn’t take those away.

J.P.: You attended NYU Film School and studied under, among others, Martin Scorsese. So … what was that like? Scorsese as a teacher? What do you remember about him?

Scorsese is very short, maybe five feet one. You notice that one time only. Once he’s talking, he’s six feet five. I loved him. He was much kinder than our professors. He thought of art in a Catholic way, sort of like self-mortification for a glorious cause. That was very romantic to me at the time. Much later, cancer shook my belief in suffering.

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J.P.: At some point in your life I assume you came out of the closet. What was that experience for you? How hard was it? How was it received?

A.S.: It was pretty hard actually. It was received variously, often with sympathy—which was better than hostility but which I hated anyway. At the core of almost every reaction was either “you’re immature” or “you’re ill.” Things are better for young people now, thank god, but we still have a long way to go. At least most people know homosexuality is not contagious. Well, Ben Carson doesn’t know.

J.P.: You’re the author of The Guerrilla Guide to Mastering Student Loan Debt. Wife and I talk about this all the time. Does the inevitable hell that is un-erasable debt reason enough for some to simply skip out on college? Can the argument be made that, in certain circumstances, it’s just not worth it?

A.S.: The student loan system is insupportable. It rests on the idea that your education benefits you alone, and you alone should bear the cost. Very convenient for the employers who will profit from your education and the government that will run on your taxes. But not true.

I think we are now at the point where a college education has ceased to be worth it for everyone. I like the European system better. If you’re an excellent student, you’re financially supported in going further. If not, your training moves toward practical skills.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH ANNE STOCKWELL:

• One question you would ask Talia Shire were she here right now?: Not Talia Coppola?

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I didn’t think I was about to die, but I was sitting where I could see there was a problem with an engine. We had to turn back. I started to cry, but I didn’t whimper out loud. I’m sure I would have.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Don Lemon, William Shatner, Rambo, Alexandra Daddario, “This is Us,” Atlanta Hawks, KRS-One, your right elbow, toe cheese, hot chocolate on a cold day, Golden Gate Bridge: Golden Gate, “This is Us,” KRS-One, Hawks, Daddario, William Shatner, right elbow, hot chocolate, toe cheese, Don Lemon.

• Five all-time favorite brown-haired singers: Pavarotti, Tom Waits, Frank Sinatra, Mick Jagger, Renee Fleming.

• Will there be an openly gay United States president in the next 50 years?: Yes.

• Would you rather snort 10 gallons of red Gatorade through your right nostril or attend 100-straight hours of Donald Trump rallies?: Bring the Gatorade.

• Three memories from your first-ever date: I wore a ridiculous getup. I drank a Black Russian. I wasn’t supposed to want to go home, but I did, and the guy was mad but he drove me. As I was getting out of the car in front of my house, he called out after me how much money he’d spent on dinner.

• Five reasons one should make Southern California his/her home: In-N-Out Burger, The Del Coronado Hotel, Catalina Island, Point Mugu, Palm Springs.

• Strangest celebrity you ever interviews (and why): Anne Heche. For so many reasons.

• My nose has a chronic drip come September-thru-February. Knowing that, would I still get a decent hug if we meet for coffee?: Try me.

Billy Bob’s Revenge: The History of the Last Play in “Varsity Blues”

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Bill Bob cries, because Billy Bob cries. Or something like that.

So over the past two nights I’ve found myself watching “Varsity Blues,” the James Van Der Beek-driven 1999 football classic.

In case you’re unfamiliar, or wise enough to forget, the film starred Dawson, along with Jon Voight, the late Paul Walker, Scott Caan, Amy Smart and—most important—Ron Lester. I say “most important” because a very strong argument can be made that “Varsity Blues” closed a long-and-storied cinematic history of bestowing unnatural athletic superhero powers upon the obese. You know what I mean—there’s always a “Tubs” or a “Bacon” or a “Fats” or “Chubs” who sheds 12 tacklers at a time, or can hit a ball 700 feet, or somehow soars through the air for that unexpected dunk at the end of a game. He never gets laid, struggles in school, cracks goofy one-liners, drinks too much and eats donuts by the box. The future? Eh, not so bright.

In “Varsity Blues,” the story of a small-town Texas high school football team coached by a Nazi-like far-right tyrant (played, in a stretch, by a Nazi-like far-right tyrant, Voight), quarterbacks Wilson and Van Der Beek get the girls (there’s a memorable snippet in which the actress Ali Larter—naked but for some precisely placed whipped cream—offers herself to Van Der Beek), but not the film’s biggest scene.

Nope. That belongs to Lester, who (masterfully, it should be noted) plays “Billy Bob,” the oafish fat offensive lineman.

It’s the big game. The team has banished Voight (aka: Coach Kilmer) after he insists the requisite black running back (played by Eliel Swinton, a former Stanford safety with quite a heartbreaking backstory) take some sort of ridiculously large needle into his knee. Walker (aka Lance Harbor) is the former golden boy quarterback whose future was ruined by injury. So now, with Voight packing his belongings into cardboard boxes, the shelved QB takes over as Coyotes coach. It’s the fourth quarter. His team trails 17-14 with precious seconds left. But they have a strong-armed signal caller (Van Der Beek as the speaks-with-a-Texas-accent-every-17th-word Jonathan Moxon) and some fast receivers. So naturally, because music is playing and fans are standing and director Brian Robbins knows nothing about sports, Harbor calls the ol’ hook and ladder—to Billy Bob.

It must be stated at this point that:

A. Billy Bob is gimantic.

B. Billy Bob is already playing with a concussion.

C. Billy Bob is painfully unskilled.

But … OK. Let’s run the ol’ hook and ladder to Billy Bob. Because nobody on the other team will expect the fat guy to sprint 20 yards down the field. It’s actually a funny thing about America’s worst sports movies. Yes, athleticism is important. And, yes, coaching is important. But nothing—absolutely nothing—can trump the element of preposterous surprise. Think of manager Billy Heywood in “Little Big League,” owning the Majors with hidden ball tricks. Think of Henry Rowengartner in “Rookie of the Year,” striking out Heddo with a 28 mph Eephus. It’s what we do in order to grab the audience and make them buy the magic.

Or something like that.

Anyhow, Harbor wants the hook and ladder. And Billy Bob can’t believe it. In fact, he’s the smartest guy on the field, because everyone else seems to think the best way to score from the 20 is have your least capable obese player handle the ball. He flashes that look back to Fox—the ol’ should-have-been-trademarked-by-Chubby-in-Teen Wolf, “You can’t be serious” face. Here, take a look …

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Alas, Mox is serious. And as they head toward the line of scrimmage 99.99999 percent of viewers know exactly how this dreadful film will end. The fat guy will get the ball, run 20 yards, shed a bunch of tacklers and emerge as the never-to-be-laid, this-will-go-down-as-the-best-moment-of-my-existence hero.

In the stands, people are praying …

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And more people are praying …

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Mox drops back …

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And then …

And then …

And then …

It happens.

He hits the team’s leading wide receiver, the vastly underrated “Tweeter” played by Scott Caan. Now, a mere 28 years earlier Caan’s father, the great James Caan, portrayed Brian Piccolo in the unforgettable “Brian’s Song.” And, if one pays close attention, he can see how Scott Caan and James Caan both wear helmets in football films—the biggest similarity in their performances.

I digress. Tweeter catches the ball, and as he’s being tackled laterals it to “Billy Bob.”

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Now, this is where shit gets funky. For a reason I’ll never understand, Tweeter doesn’t merely flip the ball to Billy Bob. No, he launches it high in the air, almost like a free throw. Again, I’m not sure what Robbins was thinking here, but I do believe “Varsity Blues” could have been helped in enormous ways by the presence of a couple of ex-NFL players to serve as consultants. Many moons ago I had a conversation with former Marlins outfielder Scott Pose on his work with the film “For Love of the Game,” and he made it clear to me Kevin Costner had some holes in his baseball mojo. The same goes for Robbins, who probably could have flipped Mark Gastineau or Lynn Cain or Mike Pagel a couple of bucks a day to hang around set, eat the leftover sandwich scraps and provide constructive criticism like, say, “That lateral looks all sorts of stupid.”

Alas, the lateral remained. And while the height was inane, Billy Bob’s reaction was even worse. On a field filled with 11 opponents desperately trying to snag the ball and rip some heads off, Billy Bob just stands there, staring up at the football.

He stands …

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And stands …

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And stands …

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Were “Varsity Blues” guided by realism, either the ball is picked off and returned 80 yards or Billy Bob is splattered to the ground, and we’re left with “Varsity Blues II: Billy Bob is a Quadriplegic.” But here … magic happens. Billy Bob catches the ball. He stands still for another eternity, as the viewing audience is all but baited into yelling, “Run, Billy Bob! Run!” Then he takes off, and this kick-ass progression occurs …

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IMG_1428 IMG_1429 IMG_1430 IMG_1431Yes!

Yes!

Yes!

Despite every imaginable obstacle, Billy Bob somehow overcomes every obstacles to help the Coyotes steal a last-second 20-17 triumph. The crowd goes wild. The players can’t believe it. Fox kisses his girlfriend. Ali Larter looks on knowingly, her warm grin saying, “In the end, I’m glad I maintained my dignity and didn’t fuck Mox while covered in whipped cream.”

The world is saved, God is happy, football rules …

And, beneath the pile, Billy Bob Stevens, age 18, is plotting his future at MIT, followed by a 40-year NASA career.

Because he was fooling everyone all along.

Halfway to 90

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I’m lucky.

Today is my 45th birthday. Which means:

A. I’m halfway to 90.

B. I was 25 20 years ago,

C. I’ve been driving for nearly 30 years.

D. I’ve likely used up more than half of my time.

E. I’m ridiculously fortunate.

My birthday is often a period of negative reflection. Every year I seem to ruminate on death, on mortality, on time’s rapidity, on the days folding into months and the months folding into years. But here, at 45, I feel oddly … content. Or, put different: Had you told me back in, oh, 1994, as I was graduating college, that in 2017 I’d have a terrific wife and two fantastic kids; that I’d be the author of five New York Times best-sellers; that I’d be living in Southern California with palm trees and a hammock in my backyard … well, I wouldn’t believe it. I’d presume you’d be discussing some other guy, or just mocking my dreams.

But here I sit, preposterously fortunate; bafflingly loved and supported; doing what I’ve always wanted to do, surrounded by the people I choose to be surrounded by. I’m no more worthy than the sewage cleaner or the Syrian refugee or the miserable attorney or the 4-year-old with cancer; I’ve done little to deserve such a blessed life. And yet, I’ve been gifted with it.

Sooooo … fuck it. Yes, I’ll die one day. And yes, Donald Trump is a massive orange hemorrhoid on America’s collective ass. And yes, the air is dirty and nuclear tensions rise and Sean Hannity has a voice and the Jets lack a quarterback.

Ultimately, however, I begin age 45 sitting atop the world, as charmed as one can be.

I’ll take today to enjoy it.

The Weight Watchers Experience

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Two weeks ago today I joined Weight Watchers.

It might seem to be a weird thing, because I’m not—technically or visibly—obese. In fact, somewhat recently someone asked the wife how I stay thin.

But here’s the thing: I don’t feel thin. I started this program at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds. I was, in college, 175 pounds. Through the recent years I’ve had little comments made to me, and they’ve collected somewhere in my mind. After stepping off a scale, a doctor said to me, “I’d really like to see you lose some weight.” One of my friends calls me “skinny fat.” Another person (who we see annually) always comments on my gained weight. A relative does, too.

All that stuff adds up. But, what really did it for me was a recent trip to the scale. Two hundred is a big number. I’m not supposed to be 200. For my height, the general take is this …

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I look in the mirror and don’t like what I see. There’s a small gut—I never had a small gut. There’s some flab—I never had some flab. Again, I’m not huge. But I’m the cliche middle-aged man with some increased girth, and I’m not happy. The the worst thing about it? I ate like absolute shit. I really did. My breakfast was usually 1 1/2-to-two bowls of cereal. I’d nosh all day. But not healthy noshing, like fruits and vegetables. No, I’d nosh on processed shit—crackers, cookies, chips. We keep a bag of chocolate chips in the refrigerator for weekend pancakes, and I regularly walk by and grab a small handful. One small handful plus one small handful plus one small handful plus one small handful equals a load of chocolate. At night I’d eat and eat and eat. Another bowl of cereal. Pretzels. Cookies.

Honestly, I was struggling to stop. And I found myself in a very bad pattern: I’d eat like shit, go to the gym at night, come home famished, eat some more, weigh myself the next morning, feel OK because the water weight loss from the gym would bring me down to, oh, 197ish. But then I’d eat like shit again and again and again. It was a fruitless (literally) rotation that got me nowhere, and had me feeling awful. Oh, there were also the Starbucks drinks. I like working in coffee shops, so I’d always order the biggest iced coffee and load it with milk, sugar, syrup. It seemed OK at the time, because, hey, coffee alone has no fat. But I was adding calories atop calories.

And, one day, I was 200 pounds. And heartbroken over it.

So I decided to sign up for Weight Watchers.

I feel good, but nervous. I dropped a ridiculous six pounds the first week, and 2.2 more the second. So I weigh 191.8 this morning, which is the lightest I’ve been in about six years. I haven’t touched a bowl of cereal, and don’t miss it. My new breakfast is an omelet with vegetables (no cheese). I’m eating a shitload of fruit and vegetables, drinking more water than before, adding only a drop of milk and no chocolate to my coffee. It hasn’t been easy, because I think one needs to re-learn not to eat at all free moments. Like, I’m used to putting food in my mouth; to having a free moment and walking to the cabinet to grab a nosh.

But, truly, it isn’t that hard. I feel great about this; like I’ve set a goal and I’m actually fighting for it. I’d like to get to 175, but I think 180 is probably the right stopping point.

Either way, I wake up curious about nutrition and feeling experimental about eggs, apples and carrots.

That’s something.

Classless

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I don’t even know what to say about this, but I’ll try.

Yesterday Donald Trump had visitors at the White House. Namely, Kid Rock, Ted Nugent and Sarah Palin. They posed for photos, like the one above, which … again, I don’t even know what to say about this, but I’ll try. “See, Kid Rock, this is a piece of paper. And I write on it. With a pen. Then I hold it up and look bigly important. And stuff.”

Were I forced to rank the people in the image, from most digestible to least, I’d go …

• 1. Rock

• 2. Palin

• 3. Nugent

• 4. Trump

I mean, at some point in his life Kid Rock seemed like a pretty progressive guy. I don’t know what happened, but at least he had a flicker. And Palin is, more than anything, dumb. And dumb elicits sympathy. Nugent seems like a sinister guy, what with his random rantings against blacks and gays. But no one on the planet is as bad as the orange puddle, who symbolizes everything wrong with humanity, as well as everything wrong with humanity’s judgement of character.

But, wait! It gets worse. Before leaving, the three visitors posed for this gem of an image …

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And what I want to say, in all seriousness, is … classless.

Just fucking classless.

Truly, of all the awful things Donald Trump has brought to America, perhaps the item that hits me hardest is the eroding away of decorum, of decency, of sincerity, of appreciation. Or, put different: You’re in the fucking White House, not one of your casinos. Hillary Clinton was the First Lady. Whether you love her or loathe her, to have people pose like that … it’s just so …

so …

so …

Classless.

Frank Artiles likes the blacks. Really.

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Sooooo … this is pretty weird. But not weird. Or surprising.

Down in Florida there’s a state senator named Frank Artiles. He’s white, and conservative, and probably believes those two attributes give him some leeway in life (generally because those two attributes often do give people leeway in life). Anyhow, during a private meeting Monday night Artiles used the n-words to a pair of African-American colleagues—after, according to the Miami Herald, “calling one of them a ‘fucking asshole,’ a ‘bitch’ and a ‘girl.'”

Here’s a little more from the piece:

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Naturally, Artiles apologized and said he “regrets the incident profusely.” Which reminds me of the time Jason Giambi apologized after being caught as a PED user. He spoke of regret and remorse and feeling awful, and George Steinbrenner praised his slugger for manning up.

This, of course, missed the big point then and the big point now: Giambi “manned up” because he was exposed. Artiles “regrets the incident profusely” because he was exposed. Because it’s ruinous. Because his piddling political career has likely come to its completion. Do you think this is the first time Frank dropped an n-bomb? Do you think it’s the first time Frank’s called someone “a bitch”? Of course not.

In the coming days, Artiles will likely be invited to appear on some Fox News show (likely Hannity), where he’ll tell us that anyone who knows him knows this isn’t in his heart. There will be photos of him with his family, shaking hands with the local Girl Scouts, maybe even attending a Miami Heat game and meeting Chris Bosh (“Look! How can I be racist?”). That’s how these things go, and the whole endeavor is time-tested and dull.

Wait. Hold on. I’ll help him out …

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Happy family! Check.

See? Frank likes the ni ... he means, blacks. Check.

See? Frank likes the ni … he means, blacks. Check.

Really, Frank likes blacks! See, one in his office. Smiling. Check!

Really, Frank likes blacks! See, one in his office. Smiling. Even let her take a mint. Check!

Aaaaaannnnd ... just in case you whites are getting nervous. Don't sweat it. You're still Frank's peeps. Check!

Aaaaaannnnd … just in case you whites are getting nervous. Don’t sweat it. You’re still Frank’s peeps. Check!

Just watch.

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Lady Valencia

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The Quaz turns 305 this week, which means I’ve been at this madness for more than six years.

If you look at the all-time categorical leaders, journalists, actors and singers lead the way by an enormous margin. Then you have athletes, educators … and sex workers.

Yes, sex workers.

As I noted once before, sex workers are ideal for the Quaz, because:

A. Their lives tend to follow 800 different paths.

B. They’re eager for the pub.

C. They’re exceedingly nice.

That being said, with today’s Quaz I’ve decided to retire sex worker as a category for a while. It’s the second  time I’ve done this (nationalistic cult leaders need no longer apply), and here’s the reason: Lady Valencia’s Q&A was so complete, I feel like we need not another.

In case you’re wondering, Lady Valencia is a Los Angeles-based dominatrix and so-called “professional sadist” who has an enormous back tattoo, delights in beating down men and—off the cuff, via DM—happens to be a fascinating conversationalist and delightful person (but don’t tell anyone).

You can follow her on Twitter here, visit her website here, her Niteflirt page here and her Fetlife page here. She hates Los Angeles, doesn’t mind olive breath and wouldn’t recognize LeBron James in a crowd.

Lady Valencia, welcome to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, so here’s what I don’t understand, and hopefully you can explain: Men pay you money so you, an attractive woman with sexy photos and an active Twitter account, can treat them like shit and tell them they suck. Then they give you even more money. I’m NOT being critical—I just don’t fully get it. Please explain what I’m missing.

LADY VALENCIA: Not all of my submissives like being told mean things and being humiliated. I am usually nice to most of my subs at least sometimes. All of my subs are finsubs (financial submissives) meaning that they enjoy giving money to a beautiful and powerful female. As far as me treating them like “shit,” humiliation is a popular fetish in the findom and BDSM world.  Some people get off on and love being treated poorly, at least sometimes. It’s just like how some men love getting blowjobs. Same concept. It’s just what they like and unfortunately society usually shames them for it and tells them that it’s wrong. Therefore, these men tend to come to sex workers so they can be understood and enjoy their humiliation fetish.

J.P.: How did this happen for you as a career? I mean, how does one become a FinDomme?

L.V.: I’ve been in and out of sex work since I was 18 (I’m almost 25 now). My old job required me to be in a specific location and I got really sick of the managers and working for others. I’m very familiar with the BDSM scene as I’ve practiced it a lot in my private life and used to work at a dungeon. I stumbled upon findom while on my Fetlife account this last August. I had never heard of it but I did my research and was interested. Yes, I love making lots of money. Who doesn’t? That isn’t the reason I got into it though. I have plenty of money from working my ass off all of these years in different sex worker fields. I love humiliating men and am a true sadist (I enjoy physically hurting men or making them hurt themselves). I crave the feeling of power and am dominate in my everyday life.

I’m also drawn to findom because I am still able to travel, plus I’m my own boss. I am a huge travel junkie (24 countries and counting). I live to travel, and I live to control men.

J.P.: Without the simple (yet perhaps true) “men are pathetic,” how do you explain this? What I mean is, there are tons of women online doing exactly what you’re doing, and very few men in the profession. So why are men so drawn to this, while women appear not to be? Is it something inside of my gender?

L.V.: Men are used to getting whatever they want in society so sometimes they enjoy  being told, “No” for once. Women are unfortunately used to being treated like lesser than human beings due to sexism and the idiotic culture we live in that values men over women.

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J.P.: You’re married, so I wonder what your husband thinks of all this. Also, were you doing this when you two met? Did you have to explain it to him? And what about when you meet people for work? Does he come along? Sit at the next table?

L.V.: He is very open minded and supportive. I love him to death even if I have my moments of wanting to strangle him. We met when I was 17 and he was 20 so I hadn’t been introduced to any form of sex work yet. When I started in this field I told him about it and he never judged me for it. He doesn’t completely understand some things (like men wanting to be humiliated) but he is very supportive.

I meet select subs when I feel like it’s safe to do so and a sub seems trustworthy. I’m a very independent person. I travel the world, usually on my own, while my husband usually has to stay home and work. If I can make it around the world by myself without knowing anyone where I’m traveling and sometimes not being able to speak the local language then I’m pretty sure I can handle meeting a “man” on my own.

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J.P.: What’s your life path, then to now? Where are you from? What’s your background? Career path? Goals?

V: I’m very indecisive and a bit of a commitmentphobe in some ways. I book my tickets last minute when I travel and only book a couple nights at a hostel at a time. I get bored very easily which is another reason I enjoy sex work. You never know how much you’ll make in a given day. My point is that I don’t have a “life path,” a “career path,” or set “goals.”  My goals at the moment are being happy, being the best FinDomme that I can be and traveling the world. My career path depends on how bored I get but I do hope to be doing this for a long time as I believe I’ve found my niche.

I’m a SoCal native and have lived most of my life in different areas of LA. I did well in school despite never studying or doing homework. I graduated high school early and got accepted into every college that I wanted to go to but changed my mind about wanting to go. I’m a licensed makeup artist and a licensed massage therapist specializing in deep tissue and sports massage.

J.P.: You have an enormous tattoo along your back. A. What’s the story? B. How long did it take? C. How much pain? D. Was it worth it?

L.V.: A. The main one is a coverup of three horribly done tattoos I got when I was younger. In February 2016 I finally got around to covering it up. It was finished this past December. B: Probably around 40 hours. C: It definitely hurt, especially the spine and lower back because of all of the nerve endings.  D: It was definitely worth it. I love it.

J.P.: Do you worry at all about the potential ramifications of this profession? What I mean is, images don’t vanish—and yours are all over Twitter. What if you apply for a job, or PTA president, or run for office in 20 years, and Lady Valencia past pops up? Is that at all a concern?

L.V.: Not really. I would never be elected to office as I’m too liberal. All of the people close to me know what I do; friends and some family. Maybe one day it will come back to bite me in the ass in some way but it’s the 21st century and sex work needs to stop being seen in such a negative light.

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J.P.: What’s the strangest story from your career as Lady Valencia?

L.V.: I’m not sure what you would consider the strangest but I’ll tell you my favorite story that you may or may not find strange. Years ago I was on Collarme.com and I got a message from a female. She told me that she thought her boyfriend was cheating on her so she set up a nannycam at home. She saw him having sex with the nanny or cleaning lady and confronted him without telling him that she installed a camera. He denied it and got so angry at her that he anally raped her. It was her first time doing anal.

As revenge, since she got him raping her on camera, She told him that if he didn’t stay in chastity for a year and let her peg him (use a strap on on him) when she deemed fit then she would turn over the tape to the police.

She asked me if I could use a strap on on him because she thought having another female do it would be a great humiliation punishment. She said that he would have an envelope with cash in it and told me where to meet him. I told him what she told me (the nannycam story) and he confirmed that it was true. He gave me an envelope and I told him the address to meet me at half an hour later. The envelope had money in it for me to buy a strap-on at a local sex shop. I bought a strap on and then headed over to where I told him to meet me.

We met and walked inside. He had no idea that it was a dungeon and was freaking out. I explained to him that she wanted me to use a strap on on him and that he could leave whenever he wanted to. I’m not going to rape a guy. Jesus. I ended up using a strap on on him over my clothes and beat the shit out of his balls and locked up dick with crops and whatever else I could find. He cried and cried and cried. Then he couldn’t handle it anymore so I let him leave. I’m proud of that. Makes me smile everytime I talk about it.

J.P.: Totally out of context, but you seem pretty liberal. How did you take the Trump win? What do you think is going to happen to the U.S.? How worried are you?

L.V.: I am a hardcore liberal feminist. I was in Bali at the time and had already mailed in my ballot. I voted for Hillary but am not a fan of hers. I couldn’t believe he won. I was so shocked. He may end up being the next Hitler. America was never great. Sexism and racism are not okay. Trying to ban abortions is not okay.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH LADY VALENCIA:

• Three memories from your senior prom: I didn’t go to prom because I graduated early.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Cat Stevens, nipple rings, Kamala Harris, Cincinnati Reds hats, slippers, Drake, armpits, peppermint mocha, the number 12: I love peppermint mocha and nipple rings are awesome. No opinion on the others.

• One question you would ask John Elway were he here right now: Didn’t know who that is until My friend told Me. Don’t follow sports.

• Five reasons one should make Los Angeles his/her next vacation destination: Don’t come to LA for vacation. This city sucks. There’s traffic, smog, LAPD, wannabe famous people, and an endless supply of assholes.

• Less sexy—unibrow or olive breath?: Unibrow. What’s wrong with olive breath?

• What is the one thing too many men misunderstand about women?: Women don’t live to serve men. Women don’t need men. Women can be breadwinners. Women can raise a kid(s) alone. Wanting a Female to be a virgin is idiotic.

• My wife is addicted to Gilmore Girls. This concerns me. Thoughts?: My mom and I just finished the most recent episode of Gilmore Girls. It’s an okay show. Love some parts of it. Hate that they portray Loreila as a lost ditz though.

• Who is the most famous person you’ve ever seen in person? What was the circumstance?: That is a secret. We’re good friends. We met due to a mutual interest in BDSM.

• Here in Orange County nobody seems to care about the drought, and it infuriates me. Can I hit my neighbor over the head with a brick and be OK in your eyes?: I’m all for hurting but not for killing. So if you were to just hurt your neighbor I wouldn’t condemn you. The police? That’s another story.

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