Jeff Pearlman

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Delta Love

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 10.50.59 PMEver since I began traveling for Sports Illustrated in the mid-1990s, I’ve disliked Delta Airlines.

It’s nothing personal—the airline simply sucks. Stuff always goes wrong, from lost luggage to lengthy delays to standoffish employees. Perhaps it’s just my own luck of the draw; perhaps Delta and I are the tuna and Merlot of flying. Not meant to go together.

That being said, this has been a particularly awful day for our relationship.

It began seven hours ago, when I arrived at the airport in St. Louis and went to check in. I booked my flight quite a while ago, yet the computer informed me that I didn’t have a seat. Uh-oh. An ensuing message stated that the flight was probably full, and would I consider being bumped to the next plane to New York. It was made clear—in italicized letters at the bottom of the screen—that offering said consideration WOULD NOT impact my status for this flight.

OK.

I get to the gate, and wait … wait … wait for the agent to call my name. She does, and as I approach I hear he say into the phone, “I’m putting him on the flight to Atlanta.” Um, Atlanta? No, no, no. “There’s a flight to Atlanta at 6:30, and then you’ll connect to New York-Laguardia. You said you’d agree to being bumped.”

I shook my head. Not loudly, but with a hint of agitation. The plane was scheduled to land in Atlanta approximately 20 minutes before the flight to Laguardia would leave. This didn’t sound good. “I didn’t say I agreed to be bumped,” I said. “I said I’d consider it. But it clearly stated that consideration didn’t equal agreement. Plus, I booked this flight to New York long ago. How can you say I have a place on the flight—then take it away?”

“We oversell flights,” she said. “Usually it’s not a problem.”

The woman was being polite. She also was, by Delta standards, a grunt. She had no real power or authority, and screaming would make no difference. That being said, this was absolute bullshit. “So you’re bumping me because I was nice enough to say I’d consider another flight?”

She sorta nodded.

“But I’m giving you a $400 voucher,” she said

I have no desire to be one of those crazy people who bark at gate attendants. But I wanted to bark. I DON’T WANT A $400 VOUCHER FOR YOUR DOGSHIT AIRLINE! I WANT TO GO HOME! MY WIFE FUCKING NEEDS ME TOMORROW MORNING TO TAKE THE KIDS TO SCHOOL. THIS IS ABSOLUTE BULLSHIT.

I took the voucher, and walked to the Atlanta gate.

And here I am. Of course, we arrived late. Of course, the flight to Laguardia is gone. I was told by other passengers to make sure and snag the $50 food voucher. “We don’t do that any longer,” a grumpy Delta employee told me.

Now here I am, in a Sheraton in Georgia. Thanks to Delta’s kindness, I’ll be buying dinner tonight I wouldn’t have bought, I’ll be paying an extra 12 hours of airport parking ($30) and I’ll be sleeping for about four hours before waking up for a 6 am flight. This had nothing to do with weather. It was an airline selling more tickets than seats, then being v-e-r-y misleading about the words CONSIDER BEING BUMPED, then putting me on a flight to connect with another flight that—the gate agent certainly realized—had about a 4 percent chance of actually happening.

I value my time, I value my money.

To say I hate Delta is to delve into great understatement.

I loathe it.

This guy

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 3.16.15 PMFlew to St. Louis last night. Not fun. Flight was delayed out of Laguardia for more than an hour. Was in the back row of a tiny, bumpy plane. Was starving. Waited forever on rental car line, only to learn I didn’t need to be on the line. Then I boarded the bus to the pick-up and found myself across from this guy.

You know this guy. The invention of the cellular communication device has rewarded him and damned us. Now he can talk to Janice and Steve and Meg and Mary and Melvin and Ed and Rupert and Sven and Brad whenever he wants, wherever he wants. So … he does. At a restaurant table. At the urinal. While watching a movie that’s started to bore him.

On the rental car bus.

Literally, the vehicle was packed. Nearly midnight, a bunch of drained, battered travelers anxious to flop down into Holiday Inn beds. Then—THIS. “YEAH, CHUCK, YEAH, HE’S NICE, BUT I QUESTIONS HIS BUSINESS EXPERIENCE! NO, NO, NO, I’M NOT SAYING HE’S NOT CAPABLE. I’M JUST SAYING …” On and on and on and on.

So … am I a dick, posting Biff’s photo here? Probably.

But, well, hey.

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 10.02.42 AM

Sydney Screams

IMG_2519The Quaz is a beautiful thing in my life, because it’s introduced me to a wide range of people who occupy spots in society I’d otherwise never explore. Once, there was a KKK leader. Another time, the world memory champion. From pinball wizards to child actors to lead guitarists, I’m all about tracking down folks whose worlds fascinate me.

Enter: Sydney Screams.

Sydney is a full-figured fantasy and fetish professional. I was directed her way by the lovely Jenny DeMilo, my good pal and Quaz No. 33. And when Jenny suggests someone, it’s usually with good reason. Sydney is a college-educated, business-savvy young woman who makes a good chunk of change embracing her sexuality—and sharing it with others. On the Internet, she’s everywhere—including here, here, here, here and here.

Oh, and right friggin’ here.

Sydney Screams—scream with joy. You’re Quaz No. 151 …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Sydney, so I’ll start with an obvious one: You are a self-described “full-figured fantasy and fetish” professional. What, exactly, does this mean? What do you actually do?

SYDNEY SCREAMS: Essentially, it means I’m a plus sized professional model or performer. In the kink and porn world, I’m referred to as a BBW (Big Beautiful Woman). I fulfill various fantasies and fetishes via short video clips, photo sets, webcam shows, and face-to-face sessions. That’s the side that everyone sees of me, so people tend to think that the job ends there. I occasionally wish that was the extent of my job, but in actuality I’m running my own business that centers on a brand I’ve created for myself. I book outside work with “small” producers, photographers, and larger production companies, but I also shoot my own content (photos and videos). Shooting my own content entails a lot of work, which ranges from hiring other models, being my own script writer, camera person, lighting person, makeup artist, hair stylist, and editor, all on top of being in said videos and photos. The fantasies and fetishes I fulfill on camera range from traditional hardcore and softcore porn, to some “tame” fetishes such as foot fetish, feeding, balloons and tickling, to more extreme fetishes such as ballbusting, bondage, smothering and spankings. Even though many of the fetish fantasies that I fulfill are “mainstream” in the fetish porn community, the fact that I’m a plus size lady means that I’m catering to an even smaller niche. DSC_0949J.P.: I’m beyond riveted by your life path. Womb to website, how did you get here? What was your path? How did you get into the business? Etc …

S.S.: It has been one hell of a journey! When I was a child (we’re talking elementary school age at this point), my best friend and I would play dress up in my bedroom while our parents would have dinner parties together. The thing is, we didn’t play house or cops and robbers or anything along those lines … we played what I’d later call “courtesans.” My mom bought me these horrific 80s prom dresses from thrift stores to me to play dress up in, and my friend and I would pretend we were the supreme rulers of the world and that we’d have all the men in the world trapped. We would only let them out of their cages and chains for our own amusement and pleasure. I don’t know how her and I got the idea for that, but looking back, I’m pretty sure our parents may have wanted to pay closer attention to our games. Both her and I have parents who are pretty traditional on their views on sex and sexuality in general.

As I grew up, I was a curious kid. I experimented with boys and girls pretty early on in my teen years, and not just out right sexual activities, but things that I now know of as “kinky.” When I hit 18, I spent a semester abroad in college, and upon my return I was asked to photograph some girls for a friend of mine. He was starting up a nudie pin-up girl website, and wanted someone who knew what they were doing with a camera. The first photo shoot I did for him, I was strictly behind the camera, but the girls I met had some interesting stories regarding their money making. One girl was a professional Dominatrix; another girl did foot fetish videos. A few months later, I was doing a second shoot for his site and one of the model’s escorts was a foot fetish producer. I let him take pictures of my feet, thinking it was really fun and “why would anyone want to see my feet?!” About a year later, I got brave and got in front of the camera as a nude model for the first time, and it was exhilarating. It was just pin-up style photography, but I literally spent an afternoon running around naked. I started asking photographers and producers I was hired by how they were making their money, and I learned about the very popular fetish clip site, clips4sale. At some point, I got curious and explored. The next day, I bought a webcam and started making three-minute long videos in my bedroom at my parents’ house. I haven’t stopped making videos since, though I’ve significantly upgraded my lighting and camera, and now I shoot anywhere and wherever I can.

J.P.: When you Google around, or visit Niteflirt, you realize it’s 99% sexual services for men, and—at best—1% for women. Why do you think that is? Are men needing certain sexual stimulation women don’t require? Are we more pathetic? What?

S.S.: I think that men and women approach their sexual stimulation in very different ways. As a woman, I have never paid for sexual services, whether outright sex or to fulfill my kinky desires. I have several close friends who have hired escorts or seek out professional kinksters, but they’re all male. I have a couple theories on this.

The first one probably is a bit sexist: women don’t feel that they have to pay for things. It is extremely easy to find a willing participant for our sexual deviousness, especially with online dating and sites like Fetlife and Adult Friend Finder. Any time I use an online social networking site, my inbox is flooded with offers for a very wide variety of sexual releases (though only one in 100 are ever offers I’d actually consider accepting). Women don’t have to work very hard to get what we want. Men on the other hand … I have friends who use the exact same sites and they complain that they never get messages from women in the same range of quantity.

My second theory is that men tend to be more openly physical than women. I can tell you exactly what 90 percent of my male friends are seeking out when it comes to relationships or sex or kink. Women however… there is still a very unfortunate taboo that sexual women are less wholesome, which may make it harder to find a life partner. On numerous occasions, women have told me that they envy my openness when it comes to sexuality. I usually hear that from the women who are looking for a serious life partner to settle down with. It’s unfortunate that women feel they can’t be openly sexual if they want to find a life partner. I’m big on the idea that someone who wants to spend their whole life with me is going to end up being someone who accepts every aspect of my life, including my open sexual nature.

I would love to have female clients, but I think that there is still a taboo placed on women when it comes to enjoying sexual behavior. Popular magazines often teach how to give the best blowjob or how to spice things up to “keep him around,” but what about our pleasures?

2666bgb_Sydney_Screams_046J.P.: You describe yourself as “full-figured,” and you work in a business that, obviously, includes lots of skin and flesh and such. M-a-n-y people (and many women) in this country struggle with weight, and perceptions. You seem, at least on the surface, to embrace it? True? And how did you come to this point?

S.S.: I hate hate hate the pressures people are put under when it comes to weight and how we are each perceived. When I first told my mom that I went to a nudist resort, she was embarrassed for me. It wasn’t the idea of being surrounded by naked people, it was the idea that I didn’t have a bone in my body that I felt I should be ashamed of. My mom actually still reminds me of my words to her when I told her about going to a nudist resort: “Mom, you’re more uncomfortable in my body than I am.” That’s the thing though—this is my body, and I’d rather be happy in my skin than not. Sure, there are things I’d like to change (hello, perky tits that I can rest a plate on and a more round ass …), but those aren’t things that I particularly care enough about to rush out and get changed with surgery.

I truthfully cannot pinpoint ever having serious body issues outside of normal struggles with being the first girl in school with boobs and hitting puberty. Despite my mom’s body issues that were projected onto me, I think my parents raised me in such a way that I’d have confidence in myself. I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup or perfume except for Halloween or super special occasions, and even now I rarely ever wear makeup. My parents didn’t force me to conform to a lot of the ideals that I see many parents doing: If I wanted to wear boy’s clothes, I could. If I wanted to dress up like a princess, I could. I’m extremely thankful for the way they raised me in terms of addressing body issues.

J.P.: On your website you list a bunch of fetishes, including one—Bodily Functions (burping, coughing, sneezing, farting…)—that has me quite confused. Why would a guy want to hear you burp and fart? I mean, I don’t wanna hear Halle Berry fart …

S.S.: What, you don’t think Halle Berry’s farts smell like peaches?! But how will you know if you don’t try! Haha, no, this is one of the less common fetishes out there, I think. I’m not sure the origin of this fetish, but I would like to believe that it came from the idea of proper women not having bodily functions. There’s an idea of a proper woman as “unobtainable” from both the female and male perspective, and I think at some point there was a rise of the desire for a girl next door rather than a supermodel, so perhaps it came from that. I still have friends who won’t admit women poop …

DSC_1139_2aJ.P.: People are always told, “Don’t have embarrassing photos on the Internet!” You’re a young woman, and there are tons and tons of photos, videos, etc. Do you ever worry about this coming back to bite you? Your kids see it … you wanna get a job in an attorney’s office … etc …

S.S.: I’m a goofy broad, and I want the people who see me and put me up on some sort of pedestal of perfection to know that I’m anything but. I make silly faces, I fall asleep on the floor at parties, I’m a human being … life is embarrassing. I’m sure that one day being an Internet model will come back and bite me in the ass, but if my sexual desires stay the same, then I’ll probably love that bite.

I’ve known since day one that once I’m on the Internet there is no going back. Its one of the things I warn my friends about when they come to me about wanting to get “into the business.” This is as permanent as a tattoo. The thing is I’m doing something I love and that I’m passionate about. If later down the line I decide that I want to ruin a perfectly good vagina by squeezing out a kid or two, I’d rather be able to say, “Mommy spent her twenties doing something super fun that she was passionate about!” than “Mommy wished she had grabbed life by the balls instead of sitting in an office answering to someone else all day.” As for working in a “professional” or white-collar job … well. I do that too! For me, it’s just a smart life plan to have both a day job and a “fun” job. If someone didn’t want to hire me down the road because I’m naked on the Internet, then they’re missing out on an individual who has a strong work ethic, great business skills and a sane look at life. That being said, I’ve been offered work just based on who I am, which is just as shallow and awful as not getting a job based on my Internet work.

J.P.: On your website you say, “I travel nationally as both a Pro-Domme and a fetish model.” Blunt question—and I mean no offense. Does this ever entail having sex for money? And what are the lines you won’t cross?

S.S.: There are certain lines that sex workers draw for themselves in terms of what they will or will not do, and having sex with clients is one that I will not do. I will not be nude when I see a client. I don’t do give handjobs, blowjobs, footjobs. I don’t give or receive anal or oral sex with clients. I don’t have sex with clients. I’m already dancing on a very fine line between legal and illegal based on what I do in sessions, but the minute I offer those services, I can’t argue that I wasn’t escorting/prostituting.

The other big limit I have is that I will not see a client without establishing safe words. Safe words are a means of communicating personal comfort, and in many public play areas follow a traffic light pattern of “green means good, yellow means slow down, red means stop.” This allows for a level of safety and trust between my client and me.

On camera, I do shoot porn, but the theory is that it’s different (and legal). Sometimes, I’m not too sure on that fine line between porn and escorting though.

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 10.39.03 AMJ.P.: My mom wanted me to become a lawyer. When I became a journalist, she seemed somewhat disappointed. I’m fascinated by what your family felt about this career choice. Supportive? Angry?

S.S.: I’m truly lucky to have a very supportive family, even if they aren’t 100 percent thrilled about certain aspects of what I do. My parents are more concerned that I’m staying safe, that I am doing what I want to do, and that I am happy. For the most part, I’m a responsible adult; I finished my college degree, I’m financially independent, I’m happy. My family plays a big part of my life, and I’d be lost without their love and support.

J.P.: What are the misconceptions about sex workers? There’s a general take that women who work in your industry deserve, for lack of a better word, pity, because they’re being forced by a male-dominated society to do something against their interest. Thoughts?

S.S.: I think that there are probably a good deal of women out there who are sex workers because they feel they don’t have another option, but when someone is forced into sex work, it no longer is sex work; it’s trafficking, which is a big, big problem. Sex work can be even more empowering than most can imagine though.

Imagine having the consent to make someone your personal puppet for a period of time: you control their every move, their breath, their pleasure, their pain, and oftentimes their wallet. They give you the trust to have your way with them, mentally and physically. Trust is power if you know how to use it.

Are there people who feel that they can’t get out of sex work? Probably. Are there people who do it for the money rather than the fun? Sure, but everyone has to make a living. I can only hope that sex workers have as much fun doing what they do, as I have.

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

S.S.: Every once in a while, I get a message on Tumblr, Facebook or Fetlife that says something along the lines of me being a positive kink and body image role model. I never set out to do this for anyone but myself, but the fact that I’ve inspired people to be proactive with their self-image issues is an amazing feeling. Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, and helping people see that is an unexpected highlight of being a big girl in the kink community.

As far as lowest, I don’t really know if I can define that. I guess the closest point was I let myself overstep boundaries I set for myself during a session really early on, and still to this day when I think about it, I feel quite a bit of regret. I was young and inexperienced, and I let someone peer pressure me into more than I was comfortable with.

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 10.39.25 AMQUAZ EXPRESS WITH SYDNEY SCREAMS:

• Three memories from your senior prom: I didn’t go to my senior prom. High school wasn’t the best point in my life, and despite being well known, I wasn’t close with anyone in school. I went to my best friend’s senior prom though! We danced. We drank afterwards. I met someone with a pet snake and I maybe tried to steal it.

• You say you have 36DD boobs. I’m sure, career-wise, that’s tremendous. But don’t they bug the hell out of you? Your back?: Dude. These suckers are heavy. I’ve thought about a reduction and lift several times, but I’d be out of commission for a while and I’m not sure how it would impact my career. Also, it’s hard to find good bras that are cute!

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Crosby Stills & Nash, Easter, Domo, Rob Lowe, the Go Gos, Bryce Harper, wood-roasted pizza, Cookie Monster, Reader’s Digest, long walks on the beach, Richie Cunningham, Kevin Kline: Wood-roasted pizza, cookie monster, Easter, long walks on the beach, Rob Lowe, the Go-Gos, Richie Cunningham, Crosby Stills & Nash, Kevin Kline, Bryce Harper (had to Google him, but he’s attractive), Reader’s Digest.

• Your Amazon wishlist includes something called the Sexflesh 8 Inch Lifelike Squirting Dildo. Can you make an argument, in less than 20 words, for a fake penis over a real one?: Fake penis doesn’t catch a nasty case of emotions after a great fuck, and they’re always ready to go.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash?: Thankfully, no.

• Celine Dion calls. She offers you $20 million to move to Las Vegas and work for five years as her maid. However, you have to change your name to Keith Dugin III and abstain from all sexual activity. You in?:  Nope. What would I do with $20 million, an awful name, and no good dick or pussy? Also, cleaning up after someone else … ewwwwww.

• One question you’d ask Ross Perot were he here right now?: Don’t you have better places to be than in my living room watching Game of Thrones?

• The best-kept secret for having great sex is …: Fall in love with your partner even if only for the fuck, and lose yourself in the moment. Also, do some research on how to not suck in bed … porn doesn’t count as research.

• Five sexiest movies you’ve ever seen: Secretary. Y Tu Mama Tambien. Eyes Wide Shut. Shame. Pretty Woman.

• Strangest request ever made by a customer?: I get a lot of strange requests. It takes a good strong imagination to get to me anymore, but one day, a year or two ago, I got a request for a simulated beheading. He never actually paid, so I never got to make the clip, but it would have been one hell of a theatrical performance for the sake of someone’s fetish.

On turning 42

Photo on 4-21-14 at 11.41 PM #2It’s 11:26 pm. In exactly 34 minutes I turn 42.

So, so, so, so weird.

Whenever I speak to college students, I try and tell them that the line from there to here is shockingly short. That time truly soars past. That you’ll be 42 in a blink.

They never seem to believe me.

Exactly 21 years ago—half my life ago—I was turning 21 at the University of Delaware. Armed with my driver’s license, at midnight I entered the Stone Balloon, did a ton of shots and, ultimately, vomited into a puddle in the parking lot. I was a man but, truly, still a kid. I knew nothing of real life; of hardships and death and taxes and mortgages and loving someone so much that, without a second’s delay, you’d surrender your life for theirs. I thought I was talented and important, and the world revolved around my daily exploits. If I asked about your day, it was because societal norms required I ask about your day. Did I care? Probably not.

Aging changes things. Entering yours 40s really changes things. You’re no longer thought of as young, even though there’s an internal fight to hold onto any lingering threads of youth. Wrinkles start developing. Gray hairs creep forth. Your back aches. Your speed diminishes. Vertical leap becomes less vertical. When you’re in your 20s, aging is something that happens to other people. When you’re in your 30s, you still think of yourself as being in your 20s. When you’re in your 40s, you start noticing things. Bad things. Scary things. The old people you once ridiculed (or at least didn’t understand) look less like foreign objects, more like your own future. You begin checking out the obits and noticing the average birth dates are creeping closer and closer to yours. I was a product of 1980s music. I was a piece of 1990s music. I was good with 2000s music. I’m, well, trying to roll with 2010s music—but with increasingly less success. The artists aren’t speaking to me as they once did. I’m not their target audience. Hell, a few hours ago we watched a TV show, Celebrity Wife Swap, that featured Coolio and Mark McGrath—two artists from my era who looked really, really old.

As, surely, do I.

People try to find the silver linings in aging. Some even say they love aging. I think they’re all on crack. I love being a father and a husband, and I’ve enjoyed an absolute dream life. But I also see why some young people perhaps feel compelled to look forward and then commit suicide (Note: I’m not contemplating this in ANY way). Aging ain’t pretty. We become decreasingly relevant and decreasingly necessary. Younger, smarter, cheaper replacements come along and push us aside. One day, inevitably, we’re obsolete and left trying to figure out how to fill the 13 hours between rise and sleep. Then, eventually, we die.

I’m 42.

Fuck.

My Young Stand

Screen Shot 2014-04-19 at 1.49.34 AMI was thinking about something earlier today, figured I’d share.

Back in the early-to-mid 1990s, when I was starting my career as a features guy at The Tennessean, the newspaper had an excellent film critic named Gene Wyatt. He was an older man, who shuffled around the office and smelled, often, of alcohol. I was told on more than one occasion that Gene was a local newspaper legend who, over time, was overcome by booze. “He’s a drunk,” me editor said. “It’s sad.”

Regardless, I liked Gene. He had a soft soul, and I think he took mild pleasure in my New York-born snark. One day, I saw Gene in the newsroom and asked, innocently, what he thought of Spike Lee, whose “Crooklyn” had recently been released.

“Just another nigger director,” he said before walking off.

I stood there, stunned. Speechless. Disgusted. Gene was an experienced journalist who—pre-film critic years—covered much of the Civil Rights movement. I was a kid. He was locally famous, I was locally, well, no one. Still, I couldn’t just let that slide. I couldn’t. Hence, I wrote Gene an e-mail (I guess this was a tad cowardly. But I was a coward), explaining how offended I was; how I completely disapproved of that word and its usage. Was I nervous? Hell, yes. But I would have felt like a complete tool doing nothing.

One day later, I was approached by an editor, who was furious. “Gene did not use that word!” he said. “I’ve known the man for 30 years, and he would never say such a thing.” He went on and on and on and on, and I sat and listened—knowing the truth. Knowing what had been said.

Gene and I didn’t speak much after that. I’d still see him shuffling through the newsroom, but our dialogues ended. Once I left Nashville in 1996, we never saw one another again.

Ten years ago, when I learned of Gene’s passing, I thought back to the word and that day and the smell of alcohol oozing from his body. I never held anything against the man; never damned him a racist.

But I’m glad I said something.

God needed another angel

Lately I’ve been thinking a fair amount about death. I know … I know—not a big surprise. But this is different. Really.

Over the past several years, my thinking on dying has changed. I used to regularly wake up in the middle of the night and gasp. Then gasp again. And again. The idea of my inevitable nothingness scared the shit out of me, causing me sleepless spans and great fear. I just couldn’t get my head around an eternity of nothingness. How could it be? Heaven—great. Hell—not great, but at least awareness. But … nothingness? Pure, total nothingness? Ugh.

Now, my thinking has largely changed. I’m not thrilled with non-existence, but I’m significantly more comfortable. I think a big part of this comes with having children, and wanting them to have happy, healthy, productive, long lives. I don’t want to outlive them. Like, there’s nothing I want less than to outlive them. It would destroy me. So, hey, I’ll die and they’ll go on. That’s not merely desirable to me. It’s comforting. Appealing, even.

That said, it also leads my brain to the possibility of my children passing before I do. I know people who have lost sons and daughters, and it’s so terrible (and terribly unfair) that even writing about it makes me uncomfortable. Along those lines, there’s one line that people say when a child dies that drives me absolutely, positively, 100-percent insane.

“God needed another angel.”

When I hear “God needed another angel,” my first thought is, “Fuck yourself.” My second thought is, “Really, fuck yourself.” Then I stop and think, “Oh, wait. You mean no harm. You’re just fucking stupid. My bad.”

To be clear: A child doesn’t die because God needed another angel, and to suggest such a vapid and banal motivation is, at best, a sign of oxygen deprivation. A child dies because life can be terribly unfair, and horrible things happen to undeserving innocents. I don’t know why, though I tend to lean toward, “God doesn’t exist, so … fuck.” But perhaps God does exist. Perhaps it’s all about free will, and life happening as it happens, and good fortune and bad fortune being a byproduct of random rollings of the dice. I’m not sure.

What I do know (with 100-percent certainty) is that kids don’t die because God’s lonely. And if you use that line to comfort a parent, well, stop it.

Stop right now.

Piss and Audacity

Screen Shot 2014-04-18 at 11.47.47 AMWalked into Starbucks a few minutes ago. Needed to use the bathroom. It was empty. Opened the door. Look at the toilet. Saw the above image.

Cleaned it up.

Yup, I cleaned up another person’s piss. Why? Two reasons: A. I needed to use the bathroom. B. Why should it be left to the minimum-wage Starbucks employee to wipe up a guy’s urine? Hell, why should it be left to anyone (besides the actual supplier) to clean up urine? Put differently: Who in God’s name pisses all over a public toilet seat—then thinks, “Eh, I’ll just leave it there?”

Answer: Many, many, many people. I see it all the time. People treat public bathrooms like crack dens, and worry nary an iota about the poor schlubs left to clean up the mess. It’s the height of entitlement, and I’ll never understand it. I always, always, always tell my kids—never make someone’s life more difficult because of your involvement. You produce post-meal crumbs, you clean them up. You play a game with 50p pieces, you put the pieces away. You spray yellow joy all over a toilet seat … you damn well better grab a sponge or napkin and get rid of it.

Alas, my ideas don’t travel well. There are people very content to leave it for others; to walk away with an indifferent shrug.

On behalf of employees everywhere, I say—fuck yourself.

Panera Blues

Managers take over the best table—something Anthony never would have done. Sigh.

Managers take over the best table—something Anthony never would have done. Sigh.

Came to Panera this morning to get work done. Entered and expected to see Anthony, the charming, happy-go-lucky, makes-everyone-feel-good-about-themselves manager. He’s always here; has always been here for nearly a decade. Great guy. No, great, great, great guy.

I approach the counter, speak with an employee I’ve come to know. “Anthony’s gone,” she says.

“What?”

“He’s gone.”

“Fired?” I say.

“No, transferred to the White Plains store.”

As we spoke, two different employees overheard the conversation. “It’s terrible,” one said. Then—”I love Anthony,” said another.

I asked who, exactly, took over. Someone motioned toward the best table in the entire restaurant; the one alongside the fireplace. It’s an awesome spot with shelf space and eternal warmth. Oh, and an outlet. “He sits there,” an employee said—snidely, dismissively. I looked and, indeed, the new manager set up shop at The Table. In all my years coming here, Anthony never set up shop at The Table. Why? Because he knew the value of The Table to customers; knew people enjoyed sitting there.

I’ve been told Anthony was hurt by the relocation. I don’t blame him. The guy put everything into this store; worked his way up from, I believe, associate to manager. I actually know him going way back to his time as a Starbucks barista. Again—one of the absolute nicest, most capable, most dedicated employees a restaurant could find. He also understood his employees. These are, mostly, kids in their late teens and early 20s. They take the bus here from the Bronx and Yonkers for low pay. Anthony treated them with the dignity and respect they deserved. He was, truly, magical.

I think I’m done with Panera.

PS: Panera also shuts down the Wifi between 11 and 2, so writers don’t hog tables. I know of no other coffee shop that treats is regulars as such.

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 10.49.38 AM

David J. Leonard

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 10.49.38 AMI am not particularly intelligent.

I know … I know—big shocker. But, truly, I’m of marginal smarts. Mathematical equations get me every time. Crossword puzzles are my doom. I try and grasp concepts and angles, but usually fall terribly short. I am, sadly, pretty average in the thought department. Sigh.

That being said, I am a huge fan of thinkers; of people who tackle issues with precision and depth and emerge with theories based upon a merging of historic relevance and an ability to comprehend future indicators.

I am a big fan of David J. Leonard.

An associate professor in the Department of Critical Culture, Gender, and Race Studies at Washington State University, Leonard—white, Jewish, bearded, lover of funkadelic hats—has (in the words of WSU’s website) “dedicated his career to interdisciplinary scholarship, transformative teaching, and research that underscores the continued significance of race within popular culture, the structures of politics, and society at large.” He’s written books on some truly riveting subjects pertaining to race and society, and researched (among other things) Shawn’s Green’s religious/baseball identities.

One can visit Leonard’s website here, and follow him on Tumblr here and Twitter here.

David J. Leonard, welcome to Quazville …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So I just read an essay you did for Ebony about Joe Paterno, and you wrote, “The celebration of Paterno as patriarch, as the embodiment of a White working-class ethic, as a coach of a different era, sits at the core of the demoralization of Paterno.” I can hear tons of people saying, “What in the world did Joe Paterno—and Joe Paterno’s passing—have to do with race? Why even evoke that?” So, David, why?

DAVID J. LEONARD: Joe Paterno’s place in the national imagination was tied up in his whiteness. The reverence was very much tied to what he embodied: a throwback coach of a different era when college sports was about the “name on front” not the name on the back. This vision of college sports, and the narrative around Paterno, is very much tied to his white-male-working-class-identity.

Here is part of what I wrote:

The efforts to memorialize and the hyper celebration also reflect the power of white masculinity and nostalgia within the cultural landscape. Described as a “model of law-abiding sportsmanship,” “a disarming mix of a lofty diploma and Brooklyn-bred blue-collar grit,” and as someone committed to education and honor, Joe Paterno’s importance exists apart from National title, victories, or football within the national conversation. As noted by Rick Reilly, Paterno “was a humble, funny and giving man who was unlike any other coach I ever met in college football. He rolled up his pants to save on dry cleaning bills. He lived in the same simple ranch house for the last 45 years. Same glasses, same wife, same job, for most of his adult life.” The celebration of Paterno as patriarch, as the embodiment of a white working-class ethic, as a coach of a different era, sits at the core of the demoralization of Paterno. The national mourning in this regard reflects both a desire to redeem him in the face of the sex abuse scandal and to celebrate nostalgia for a different era of college sports and a heroized white working-class masculinity. As pointed out by Tim Keown, “The regurgitation of the Paterno-as-moral-messiah (-until-Sandusky) fable is what happens when people close their eyes and see the world the way they thought it was, or how they want it to be.” Or as Bomani Jones told me, “We are here because of the image we created of Joe Paterno,” because of the brand of Penn State and JoPa and its meaning in the cultural, racial, and national landscapes.

The aftermath and the response to Joe Paterno says much more about us than him. It reveals our continued difficulty, silence, and unwillingness to deal with the issue of sexual violence and abuse. It illustrates the ways in which we valorize and hero-worship football coaches and where football sits on the national landscape. It highlights the power of nostalgia and the celebration given to a particular inscription of white masculinity. Over the last year, several prominent African American figures passed away — Gil-Scott Herron, Etta James Manning Marable, Fred Shuttlesworth and Derrick Bell – whose contributions to humanity, to knowledge, to community, to justice and helping others reach [their goals] are without reproach. Why haven’t their deaths been breaking news?”

To answer your question: Why . . . because race matters; because whiteness requires critical examination; because we need to look at the ways that race operates within our every day language; we need to reflect on how these ideas are tied to dominant understandings and languages about whiteness. So often, when we talk about race we think about racial otherness, and must reflect on how whiteness is a racial construct.

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 10.54.41 AMJ.P.: You wrote a book in 2012 titled, After Artest: The NBA and the Assault on Blackness. I’m sure David Stern—who cringes at everything anti-NBA—hated that one. Why do you think the NBA “assaulted” blackness post-the Artest fight? And can the league make the argument, “We were just trying to clean up the league … it had nothing to do with race”?  

DJL: I don’t think David Stern read my book, although he, Adam Silver, and others “leading the NBA,” should read books that are critically looking at the league and its place within a larger cultural landscape.

I also don’t think the book is anti-NBA. It is critical of the league’s and Stern’s decisions in the “aftermath of the Palace Brawl.” It is critical of the ways that the league replicated and reinforced dominant stereotypes about blackness. The decisions made—dress code, age rule, the media’s language about players—don’t exist in a vacuum but both reflect what’s happening throughout society in terms of racial stereotypes, criminalization, and inequalities. It also normalizes and naturalizes these ideas. The book is asking to think about what it means that David Stern saw it necessary to rid the league of hoodies. Yes, I am thinking about Trayvon Martin. My concern here extends beyond the league but at the ways that the league embodies and perpetuates racial injustice.

The idea that the league “needed to be cleaned” up is debatable and in itself reveals what I am saying about the desire to control, discipline, and “clean up” the NBA.

Palace Brawl transformed the league and the media coverage surrounding the league; race was at the center of this process. It transformed the league because the brawl was seen as a symptom of a larger disease plaguing the league—that the disease destroying the league and making it unpalatable to white fans and corporate sponsors was both hip-hop and the contemporary black baller; the changes in the league sought to treat this disease with a dress code, age restriction, crackdown on trash-talking, physical play, and any form of individuality; most important the NBA’s treatment plan focused on disciplining and punishing any NBA player who didn’t “get with the program” who didn’t appeal to its fan base. So, the idea that the league was interested in “cleaning up the league” (or even the idea that it needed to be ‘cleaned up’) or that it needed to deal with (white) fan discomfort or anxiety or fear demonstrates how race was always at work.

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 10.54.26 AMJ.P.: I’m fascinated, fascinated, fascinated by your journey. I mean, you’re a white guy who went to UC-Santa Barbara for a B.A. in Black studies. So how did this happen—your fascination with race? With black culture? What is your life path, from birth to here?

DJL: This is a long a story (I will give you the cliff notes version) with a lot of moments, influences, and events that shaped not only my path but who I am as a person, how I try to live my life.

I grew up in West Los Angeles, in an integrated and diverse neighborhood.  Yet, my experiences were also defined a level of racial homogeneity—at some levels, it was very white, middle-class.

Education was a point of emphasis in the family, even though I was not a good student. Between a learning disability and a disinterest in school, my passions were not directed toward school and learning. My childhood was defined by a house full of books, parents who pushed us to think critically, and by an educational system that allowed me to eventually find my passions on own terms. My middle-class parents spent most of their income on our education because they believed in progressive education even if this ironically meant my going to overwhelmingly white and wealthy schools.

As a child, I went to a school founded by Hollywood Communists, including the likes Charlie Chaplin. The type of education I got there would become my norm; I have never attended a school where we called our teachers by their last name; I didn’t receive a report card until the ninth grade. Detention and the pledge of allegiance, much less security guards and metal detectors, were completely foreign concepts to me until high school. This educational environment established a foundation based on critical thinking, intellectual curiosity, and passion for justice; but this only tells part of the story.

I was also somewhat typical of many white kids growing up in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Blasting N.W.A, Public Enemy and EPMD, I embraced everything that hip-hop embodied, at least in my white teenage imagination. On a given day, odds are I would be wearing a Malcolm X hat, cross-colors shorts, and a Southern University sweatshirt. I sagged my pants, wore my UNLV starter jackets and walked with a swagger that conveyed a brash sense of masculinity. There was even a short period of time where my hair was braided- that is until I removed it following a basketball game that put my whiteness on full display. Every time I touched the ball, my opponents would serenade me with “Kris will make you jump.” Not surprisingly, I was never conscious of the process of appropriation, nor was I initially conscience of the inherent power/violence in “eating the other.”

I started my undergraduate career at university of Oregon. My experiences was defined by a perpetual feeling of isolation and alienation (I was the Jewish kid from Los Angeles), although I would develop several friendships with others who also felt like outsiders. It was ironically at University Oregon that I developed several cross-racial friendships. Daily conversations with African American friends, alongside of observations of racial profiling abound, pushed my thinking about race, about white privilege, and about racism.

I remember one of my friends challenged me about wearing an “X” hat, asking if I had read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I hadn’t and needed to. These lessons and challenges, along with my initial African American history class, sparked something inside of me. While I transferred to Santa Barbara City College and UC Santa Barbara, my passion and focus remained. I would read and read, only stopping to watch documentaries; this would be my undergraduate experience. Along the way, many people shaped the direction I was heading – mentors like Cedric Robinson, Kofi Hadjor, Douglas Daniels, and many others pushed guided and inspired me. The LA Uprising, my activism while at UC Berkeley, and my experiences in the classroom left a lasting imprint, making clear where and how I wanted to spend my life..

Racism and inequality remain America’s problem of the twenty-first century. My life’s work is playing whatever role I can play in participating in these conversations, trying to do work that is accountable and that may have an impact.

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 10.55.08 AMJ.P.: You wrote a truly fascinating blog post about Madonna using the n-word, saying, “With her Instagram photo, she has become yet another white person who either doesn’t understand the meaning and history or who simply doesn’t comprehend or care about the harm, pain, and violence that comes every time a white person utters the word.” Why do you think, suddenly, white people seem so comfortable using the n-word? Where the hell did that come from?

DJL: White people have always felt comfortable using the word—power and privilege will do that. Obviously the history of the word, and its relationship to slavery, Jim Crow, and the normalization of racial terror demonstrate a history of comfort using the word. Clearly the history of minstrelsy, of blackface, of white mocking of blackness that exists in the white imagination, shows that this is nothing new.

We have seen the impact of social media, and online technologies to “expose” its [the N-word] use by whites. Whereas 15 years, whites were using it behind closed doors, within homogenous white racial gatherings/settings (see Feagin and Picca’s book Two Faced Racism), the usage is now more exposed. Social media has pulled back the curtain on racial language, on the expression of stereotypes and racial slurs. Secondly, the language of “satire” or “it’s just a joke” or “I am just copying what my favorite rapper says” is now part of the language of justification and rationalization. The “satire card” or hip hop made me do it” is about justifying because whites have been using the word for as long as it has been existence.  It is about excuse making in the face of calls accountability.  Exposure resulting from social media demands accountability—this leads breeds excuse making/ justification/rationalization. But whites have comfortably bandied the term around amongst themselves throughout history. Usage has not grown, but has hit new levels of exposure resulting in more public dialogue

I also think its usage becomes part of a moment where whites can assert power and imagine a sense of victimhood—citing “double standards.” At present, we observe a constant narrative of (white) victimhood that erases the power and privileges of whiteness.

J.P.: There seemed to be an idea in this country by many that, with the election of an African-American president, racism had magically ended, and we were all good. Obviously, that’s not even remotely the case. So what has been Barack Obama’s impact on race relations—and racism—in the United States?

DJL: I guess it depends on how we define “race relations”—so often this is defined in terms of public opinion and in terms of the level of harmony across imagined racial communities. This is a very limiting because it reduces the discussion to individuals, to feelings, and plays upon the idea that race issues are about interpersonal dynamics.

If we look at white views about racism, we see two things: 1) If you compare public opinion polls from 1960s and 2000s, much of the white community thought, “all is good.” In this sense, there hasn’t been much change because whites have and continue to benefit from our current racial configuration. 2) In a post civil rights environment, the GOP (Southern Strategy) has used race, racial fear, and the belief that the system is working against whites, to maintain power, to galvanize support for their agenda. This has been going on for 50 years so it’s almost as if the election of President Obama has allowed people to yet again scapegoat blackness for racial problems when in reality the persistence of racism, the persistence of inequalities, the racial fear mongering, and so much more predates his election.

When we look at the ‘war on drugs’, when we look at disenfranchisement, when we look at housing discrimination, when we look at health disparities, or divestment of education and investments in prisons, we see how race remains a dividing line. We see how injustices and violence are an enduring reality for communities of color. His election didn’t change these institutional realities.

J.P.: You teach at Washington State—a wealthy school with a lovely campus and a lot of money. Why do you think college has become so insanely expensive (and unaffordable)? Is money being spent rightly? Have we reached the point where maybe, just maybe, people need to reexamine whether a lifetime of student loans is worth the benefit of a degree?

DJL: Wealthy? Really? As a public university, we have experienced the impact of the recession and public divestment from higher education. So, “wealthy” isn’t an adjective I would use to describe WSU. As someone who teaches in the college of arts and science, within the humanities, and in the fields of ethnic studies and women’s and gender studies, I have little knowledge of this “wealthy university” you speak of.  The reasons why budgets have been cut is the same reason why tuitions are dramatically on the rise: a lack of investment in higher education from both state legislatures and the federal government. Whereas, colleges and universities were supported in the past, today’s colleges and universities get little funding from the state. It’s kind of of astonishing when we look at the dramatic defunding of higher education. The response from higher education is to increase tuition because the money has to come from somewhere. In many ways, public universities are becoming quasi private, reliant on tuition, grants, and donations.

With increased tuition, and less-than-stellar job prospects, universities have increasingly begun to sell “the college experience” as opposed to the degree or the educational benefits. So, it’s no wonder that money is going to recreation centers and student activities; it’s no wonder that there is so much emphasis on hotel-style dorms, parties, and fall-fun and March madness.

Our current moment requires us to demand investment in higher education. Its time for us to reflect on why critical thinking, media literacy, knowledge, and communication skills are a societal benefit, and therefore should elicit financial investment. It is no coincidence that these changes, that the systemic divestment of higher education, has come during this so-called “post-racial” moment. That is, in a moment when more racial/ethnic minorities and women are entering into the spaces of higher education than ever before, we are seeing a reversal in terms of financial, political, and cultural investment in higher education.

J.P.: You’ve researched Shawn’s Green’s religious/baseball identities. I know Shawn quite well (he was actually a Quaz). So I’m riveted—what does this mean? And what did you find out?

DJL: I have always been fascinated by the “illegibility of the Jewish athlete.” We have all heard some variation of this joke: “What does the Encyclopedia of Jewish Sports Stars look like? Answer: A Pamphlet.” This work comes out of this fascination, my own experiences, and my being a “retired” Jewish athlete. Of course, being from LA also meant that Green was someone I was always intrigued by—as a fan and as a researcher. To me, I wanted to explore how his Jewish identity was talked about and what this tells us about Jewishness in the twenty-first century. In many ways, the piece looks at how people debated and discussed whether he would play on Yom Kipur, resuscitating debates about Hank Greenberg or Sandy Koufax. Just as the discussion of what a “Jewish athlete” meant for the Jewish community embodied the fears, anxieties and questions in a post-war context, the discussion that followed Green also told us a lot about Jewish identities in the twenty-first century. There were a lot of debates about “what it means to be Jewish” and the importance of his being a role model.

I think narratives about Jewish athletes are culturally power because athletic prowess or sports success offers a source of legitimacy for ideas about masculinity, assimilation, and “making it” within the American social fabric. In this sense, Green challenged the stereotypes and the anxieties over the stereotypes with respect to masculinity.

I have also been interested in which Jewish athletes get imagined as Jewish, as representative, as role models worthy of celebration and really as part of the Jewish community. This tells us a lot about Jewish identity formation and the relationship between Jewishness, religiosity, and race. This isn’t just about Green, Koufax and Greenberg, but we can think about how someone like Yuri Foreman, Ryan Braun or Omri Caspi gets imagined, consumed, and positioned as Jewish athlete, but someone like Jordan Farmar or Taylor Mayes are read quite differently.

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 10.55.34 AMJ.P.: Do you think it’s possible to be color-blind? What I mean is—you’re aware of someone’s race, but you 100% don’t give a shit, don’t have it impact your opinions, perceptions, anything at all?

DJL: Whether an individual can acknowledge racial difference, and see it as meaningless and as insignificant is difficult given what we know about implicit bias, about the entrenched nature of stereotypes. This is why I often challenge people who say, “that person is ignorant” because when in reality their acceptance of a stereotype, with a particular worldview, reflects their knowing these ideas, stereotypes, and visions of the world that are circulated daily; from the media to school, from family to religious institutions, from the world of sports to the worlds of popular culture, we are learning and teaching what “race” means so it is hard to imagine it not impacting someone. We can resist, we can challenge ourselves- and others, when these prejudices are articulated … but they are everywhere. We can be particularly vigilante in challenging the value judgments, and of course when those ideas translate into discriminatory actions, policies, and interactions.

I also wonder why we think that “not seeing” is a good thing given the ways that race operates within our society. In some ways, we are saying “your identity, your experiences, your community, your sense of self, don’t mean shit” and that of course is a problem on so many levels.

To address racism and inequality requires color consciousness. It requires recognizing implicit and explicit bias, it requires looking at both institutional racism and the ongoing legacies of American racism. The idea that ignoring will lead to change is naïve but worse destructive because it perpetuates inequalities and injustices. If we think about the criminal justice system, do we really think justice will come about if the prosecutor, judge, and jury take a colorblind approach given the racist nature of the war on drugs, given racial profiling, and given stop and frisk? We have to be aware of how racism operates at every level, and figure out ways to challenge its historic and present operations.

J.P.: I’m Jewish. And I know many Jews who believe we have a kinship with African-Americans. Minorities, struggles, stereotyping, etc. Yet I’m sort of of the belief that blacks, generally, don’t feel the same way. Am I being wacky?

DJL: There have been many books written about this but lets put it this way: while American Jews have experienced a history of discrimination, of hyper stereotypes, and of exclusion, many Jews (we have to remember that in the U.S. there an estimated 100,000 Black Jews (studies estimate between 50,000-500,000) so even the idea that Jews “kinship with African Americans” presumes that there are not black Jews) have benefited from their whiteness. So, while we can see shared histories, and we can most certainly see a history of coalitions, from the NAACP to Freedom summer, it is a history of many Jews benefiting from their perceived whiteness.

We also have to push conversation to think in complex ways. So, while clearly stereotypes about Jews remain widely known and are circulated, do those stereotypes have impact on the life chances and choices of the Jewish community? Do these stereotypes lead to racial profiling: NO! Do stereotypes of Jews as “greedy” lead to higher suspensions or expulsion rates? NO. Do “Jewish sounding names” lead to hiring discrimination? Again the answer is NO. We must be mindful of these very different experiences, the ways that privilege operates, the ways that many Jews benefit and have benefited from their whiteness, and how this impacts communal relations.

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 10.55.52 AMJ.P.: I hate “black” movies. What I mean is, films come out that are for “black” audiences—and they almost always cater to the lowest common denominator, with stereotypes and insults and someone in fat person drag. Why is this so common? And is there a cure?

DJL: It sounds like you hate stereotypical movies—movies that rely on classic stereotypes, clichéd humor, and childish banter. I wonder if we describe the movies of Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Judd Apatow …. “white films” or do we call zombie movies and Twilight “white youth films”?

I would say you are watching the wrong films and should go watch Pariah, Middle of Nowhere, Fruitvale Station, I Will Follow, Daughters of the Dust, Mississippi Dammed, An Oversimplification of Her Beauty, and Yelling to the Sky. There are so many amazing films that offer a range of representations that offer powerful stories, which speak to a myriad of issues.

We also need to ask, why certain films get major platforms, get distribution that puts them in every theater and every city, whereas the films I mentioned above are considered obscure and/or are (were) unevenly distributed by (within) the film industry.

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 10.48.04 AMQUAZ EXPRESS WITH DAVID LEONARD:

• Did Manning Marable’s Malcolm X biography—which showed much of the autobiography to be exaggerated or false—wound you in any ways?: I actually have a confession. I haven’t read Marable’s book. Every time I look at it on my shelf, I am overwhelmed by its length and know I need ample time to digest the book – and that reading it will lead me to read other books that have been critical of the biography. I have always found Malcolm to be a complex person; he had his flaws and contradictions . . . like everyone else, so I don’t think it would wound me.

• Rank in order (favorite to least favorite)—Coors Light, Dale Murphy, Bell Biv Devoe, Toledo, Natalie Wood, “Oh Sherrie,” pork chops, Tommy Herr, grape juice, Tyler Perry, Len Bias, Posh Spice, L.L. Bean catalogue: Is there a way to re-imagine this question as a couple of favorites followed me least favorite and then “no thank you” because “least favorite” doesn’t capture my feelings of some on the list? Bell Biv Devoe (although Ralph T was always a favorite); Len Bias (RIP), Toledo (home of Max Klinger and Tony Paco’s, the L.L. Bean catalogue (backpacks) ….. , “Oh Sherrie,” Natalie Wood, pork chops, grape juice, ……………….. Tommy Herr, Dale Murphy, Tyler Perry………………………………………………………………… Posh Spice …………………………………….. Coors Light.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: No, but have had moments where I was like “oh, fuck … that turbulence is a little much.”

• Five all-time favorite singers/groups?: Five?! Wow… Marvin Gaye, Ella Fitzgerald, Ice Cube, Nas, Don Henley (I feel like LeBron must have felt with Mt Swishmore b/c I know I forgot someone.)

This is one of my all-time favorite songs. What do you think?: If we are ever in the car together, I am in charge of the radio. #Not.a.fan

• The absolute best dunk you’ve ever seen was …: I am a Lakers fan so I am sure these are the best but for me best is about joy, pleasure, nostalgia, memories and all things Lakers—every Coop-a-Loop ever and Kobe’s lop to Kobe in Game Seven against the Trailblazers.

• Three memories from your fifth-grade class?: I have no idea . . . three great friends: Jenny, Quinn, and Erin—I am still in touch with two of them.

• Three skills you don’t have: Given my last answer . . . clearly I lack of the requisite skill to remember my childhood, ability to relax, and at this point I have neither a right nor a left hand on the basketball court.

• Best joke you know: I don’t know any jokes. Seriously but my 6-year old likes to tell jokes whenever he meets new people – while getting his hair cut, at stores, at parties, so here’s one: What do you get when you cross a turtle with a porcupine? A: A slow poke.

• Who wins in a 12-round fight—right now—between you and Ray Leonard with one hand tied behind his back?: Ray Leonard wins in a one-round fight; Benny Leonard also knocks me out in a hurry.

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