Jeff Pearlman

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A new neighbor

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We’re officially Californians today.

As I strolled through the hood, I met a man who explained to me how—under no conditions—would a decent person allow his dog to urinate on another’s property. He told me it’s awful and disrespectful and wrong. He told me it’s something idiots do, and that you’d have to be completely tone deaf to behave in such a manner.

Meanwhile, his lawn sprinklers ran for a solid 15-minutes straight.

In the midst of the worst drought in state history.

A blockbuster T-shirt trade

A deadline trade between Luftig (left) and Pearlman left analysts shocked.

A deadline trade between Luftig (left) and Pearlman left analysts shocked.

We’re leaving for California tomorrow. Very sad, very exciting. Lots of highs, lots of lows.

A few hours ago, we bid farewell to the Luftigs, our pals up the block. As Larry Luftig and I spoke in his kitchen, I admired (for the 1,000th time) his old-school Tribe Called Quest T-shirt. Out of nowhere, a blockbuster trade was suggested—the Tribe shirt for the Dodgers shirt I was wearing.

Within minutes, we pulled off Ts and swapped, much like—as Larry noted—the conclusion of a soccer friendly.

The question is: Who won the deal?

What Pearlman received: A 15-year-old grayish-black shirt that doesn’t quite fit. It’s too short, and when I raise my arms my belly shows. However—and this is a HUGE however—the garment isn’t merely from any Tribe album. It’s from The Love Movement, the only one of the group’s CDs to be thoroughly panned and forgotten. That makes it special and rare and non-cliched. There are approximately 60,000 people living in Laguna Niguel. I will be the only one—perhaps ever—to own a Love Movement shirt. So what if it doesn’t 100 percent fit? I’ll adjust.

What Luftig received: A newish Dodger shirt, soft fabric, fits pretty well, purchased six or seven months ago for $12 at a Marshall’s in Costa Mesa. The T isn’t especially unique (there were probably 10 others in stock inside the store), but it’s cool and patriotic-looking and—in New York—original.

When I asked Larry for his thoughts, he noted—glumly—that he felt like the Mets trading away Tom Seaver to the Reds in 1977. But, he added, “the motivation is that my T-shirt  collection is too heavily represented by the east coast. I needed some balance in the lineup.”

Meanwhile, the Dodgers shirt—for me—was sorta like Zack Wheeler. I liked it, and it certainly had a place in my rotation. However, it was also expendable. Geography-based shirts lose some luster when they’re based in the region. Translation: A Dodger shirt was cooler in New York than Los Angeles.

So, dear reader, who wins?

There was an empty chair

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We attended a funeral today.

It was for Rita Fieber, my wife’s aunt’s mother. She was 96, and died after a long and fruitful and joyful life.

To a certain degree, I knew Rita in the way a guy who marries into a family might know his wife’s aunt’s mother. She attended many family holiday parties at my house; we shared dinners a couple of times. There were cheek kisses hello and cheek kisses goodbye.

But there was also something more.

I liked Rita. Really liked her. Inevitably, at most family functions, I’d find myself sitting across from her on a couch or couple of chairs, talking books or movies or politics. She wasn’t the cliche senior citizen, hard of hearing, leaning on a cane, either hyping the virtues of Benny Goodman or observing the buzz from an emotional and physical distance. No, Rita (to be blunt) knew her shit. She was involved, curious, happening. She drove until her final year. Walked with a pep in her step. She lived for her children and grandchildren and great grandchildren, was involved heavily in her local synagogue (even though she wasn’t particularly religious), traveled as much as she could. Even if you were the most extended of extended family members (as I was), she treated you as if you mattered.

Anyhow, the funeral was heartbreaking, as was the burial (there’s something about the sound of dirt landing atop a coffin that hits a person). But, for me, what stuck was the shiva call, which took place in Rita’s home. It’s something we Jews do—an odd ritual that merges the sadness of loss with the joy of whitefish salad, lox and cinnamon raisin bagels. Everyone gathers to talk about, well, everything. The lost relative. The Jets’ upcoming schedule. Fall plans and first loves and on and on.

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Throughout the afternoon, I roamed from room to room, across Rita’s lushly distinctive green carpet, past myriad photographs of her grandchildren, up the stairs, into her neatly arranged bedroom. It’s a weird thing, walking through the home of a person who recently passed. I’d turn corners and half expect to see Rita there, standing, chatting with Aunt Nancy, maybe sipping from a cup of tea or explaining how to perfectly fold a napkin (Rita was big into manners). Then I’d remind myself, “Wait—she’s gone. She’s not here.”

And it hits you.

For me, the item that really spoke was an electronic chair, which waited patiently at the top of the steps. Until her final year, Rita walked everywhere in the house. When her health faded a bit, however, she came to begrudgingly use the chair from time to time. Up. Down. Down. Up.

Now, with the smell of lox glued to my fingertips and the buzz of wayward conversation coming from below, I gazed long and hard at the chair and thought how sad it is that Rita Fieber—beloved by so many—would never again take a seat.

Rita Fieber, right, with her daughter, Nancy.

Rita Fieber, right, with her daughter, Nancy.

Let’s end the pressure to look perfect … um

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My daughter Casey is 11.

A few years ago she started reading annoying magazines like Bob and Seventeen. They’re all over her room, tattered, torn, ripped, faded, and I’ve come to enjoy our nighttime ritual of lying in bed, skimming through the pages. It’s actually oddly educational, in that—as a 42-year-old geezer—I’d otherwise know little about the exploits of amazing talents like Bella Thorne and Demi Lovato and the five or six guys who make up One Direction.

I digress.

A few days back Casey was reading the new issue of something called Twist—featuring the singer/actress Ariana Grande on the cover. Over the course of the past year, I’ve seen, oh, 500 images of Grande, who seems to take at least 25 percent of the space in most teen magazines. She’s a pretty kid—young, perky, photographic—with a surprisingly big voice.

And, on her cheek, she has a brown beauty mark.

Why do I know this? Two reasons. One, because (as I just noted) I’ve seen tons of her pictures. Two, because the daughter and I once had a debate over whether Grande’s face featured a beauty mark or a dimple. Answer: Beauty mark.

Again, I digress.

With no trace of irony or audacity, the new Twist cover displays Grande alongside the words, “LET’S END THE PRESSURE TO LOOK PERFECT!” Which is, well, quite funny, considering the photo of Grande is heavily, heavily, heavily airbrushed, to the point where she has but a meticulously smooth-and-unblemished beige cheek. Why, when one looks closer, he/she notices that every … single … image has been airbrushed to perfection, to the point that a reader must come to one of two conclusions:

1. Twist doctors all its photographs.

2. Celebrities lack moles and scars.

Is this a huge deal? Probably not. But the message irks me. People are visually imperfect—and those imperfections are (in many ways) what makes us interesting, unique, different, appealing. Ariana Grande isn’t less attractive with a brown beauty mark on her cheek.

She’s just human.

Whitlock, marriage, sports journalism

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A couple of days ago the Povich Center for Sports Journalism posted an interesting “In His Own Words …” segment with ESPN’s Jason Whitlock.

Throughout the years, there’s been a lot of Whitlock material I’ve liked and some Whitlock material I’ve disliked. He’s an excellent writer, but also an oft-insufferable self-promoter. He brings forth some truly fascinating points, but seems to enjoy making sure you know he brings forth some truly fascinating points. Like all of us, sometimes he hits 500-foot homers, sometimes he strikes out. It is what it is.

There was one thing from the Povich exchange that particularly caught my eye. Namely, this:

Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 10.16.49 PMI’ve heard Jason say some stuff along these lines once before and, well, it’s horseshit.

That’s not to say Whitlock is horseshit. He’s not. But the truth of the matter is, I’ve often (and I’m not creating this on the run to make a point) thought he behaves like a man who has no wife and kids. What I mean is, pre-marriage, I was all about me and my writing. I really was—and it was ugly and immature. I thought myself to be the best of the best—even though I wasn’t, and even though there’s no such thing. I wanted every writing award, and lacked the ability to feel happy for others who received them. When my stuff was edited (even slightly, even well), I whined, because I lived and died with the placement of words. In short, Jeff Pearlman was only about Jeff Pearlman, as sad as that sounds. I wasn’t in on the joke. I was the joke.

Now, at 42, with a lovely spouse and two lovely kids, I don’t get hung up on bullshit. For example, I truly, truly, truly don’t give two fucks about writing awards. They never enter my mind; never even enter the gateway to my mind. Were I to produce material good enough for Pulitzer consideration … well, I’d never even think my stuff was good enough for Pulitzer consideration, because it wouldn’t enter my brain to begin with. I simply don’t care. There are more important things. Many.

But this does not mean I now lack fearlessness. I have no remote idea where that point comes from (perhaps Whitlock is jealous of those with wives and kids. Honestly not sure). I don’t see how marriage/children forces a writer to lose his/her edge. Fuck, I’d argue it helps one gain something invaluable.

Perspective.

That, to me, is what Whitlock often misses. There’s a wink-wink to this gig, and the sports journalists in on the joke are the ones who, for me, soar. I’ve had many chats with Jon Wertheim about this. Mike Freeman, too. It’s all a gag, in that we’re making good money to write about fun and games. Once one understands this … gets the silliness of it all, he/she can find a liberation that results in work initially deemed impossible.

It comes with recognizing that there are bigger things in the universe.

Bigger things than self.

Infestation

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True story I heard today.

Our friends Aaron and Diana recently moved into a new house. It’s a wonderful place, and I’m very happy for them.

Shortly before closing, Diana noticed an enormous wasp nest hanging from a gutter. She asked Aaron to bring it up to the previous owners and make sure it wasn’t a huge issue. At the closing, as he signed various papers, Aaron said, “So, are the wasps a big problem?”

The couple was dumbfounded.

“It’s a very diverse neighborhood,” the husband said. “You won’t have …”

Aaron couldn’t stop laughing.

Ice buckets and Adrian Dessi

Adrian Dessi, 2013.

Adrian Dessi, 2013.

Everyone seems to be doing the ALS ice bucket challenge. George W. Bush. Dr. Dre. Tiger Woods. Justin Bieber. Demi Lovato. My nephew. On and on and on and on. And it’s been great—$31.5 million has been raised for the ALS Association, a staggering amount for a disease that seems to often go overlooked.

And yet, I must admit, there’s a part of me that feels, um, awkward about it. And there’s a reason why, even though the wife and I have made donations after being challenged, neither of us have dumped the ice water on our heads.

Actually, for me, two reasons:

1. I’m a pussy.

2. I … don’t know. This is hard to explain. But I’ll try. Last year, I drove up to Putnam County, N.Y. to visit with the father of Mark and Chris Dessi, my boyhood friends from Mahopac. Adrian Dessi is fighting ALS, and he agreed to sit across from me and answer questions for a Quaz. We sat for, oh, two hours or so, and it was amazing, wonderful, terrible, heartbreaking. Mr. Dessi is a strong and prideful man, one who has faced ALS with tremendous courage and strength. Yet, truth be told, ALS is destroying him. He is in a wheelchair. He needs help breathing and eating. He doesn’t move his limbs. He has a full-time aide. It is the worst of the worst of the worst. I’ve seen people decay from Alzheimer’s, and while it absolutely sucks, there’s some solace in lacking awareness toward the end. With ALS, you are 100 percent aware of the reality; you are trapped in a torture chamber, and the only escape (the only escape) is death. Here’s a link to the Q&A. I assure you, Adrian Dessi made it a worthwhile read.

Anyhow, when I see people laughing and chuckling and shivering beneath a suddenly empty bucket, a part of me can’t help but think, “What the fuck does this have to do with ALS?” And I know—I really, really know—that, logically, my thinking blows. If it’s raising funds, who gives a shit if there’s a connection? I get it. I truly do. But … still. It sorta kinda sorta kinda reminds me of the early 1990s, when tons of folks (and their mothers) wore X baseball caps for Malcolm X. Initially, the X hats were a statement. Support for Malcolm X’s message; for empowered blackness; for standing up for a cause. Before long, however, every half-wit celebrity wanna-be was sporting an X cap, until it lost all of its initial meaning. Why is it, in 2014, nobody wears X hats? Is it because Malcolm X’s teachings no longer hold weight? No. It’s because movements last, fads fade.

It feels a bit like that now, with ALS. Sooner than later, every celebrity who hasn’t dumped water on his head (Paging: Emmanuel Lewis. Mr. Emmanuel Lewis …) will dump water on his head. Everyone with an Instagram account will move on to the next 15-second clip. The Twitter universe will go crazy over photo of Miley Cyrus eating cat excrement. And the ALS ice bucket challenge will feel very 2014.

Meanwhile, men and women like Adrian Dessi will remain in their chairs.

And a bucket of water won’t mean shit.

 

Old, old, old, old

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So a few days ago my 14-year-old nephew took the ALS cold water challenge. He posted it on Instagram, and a bunch of his friends commented and LIKED it.

I decided to write something. So I quickly jotted, “If you were really tough, you’d have filled the bucket with miniature sharks.”

Ha.

Ha.

Ha.

Deleted.

And it hit me. I’m old. I mean, it’s hit me before. But I’m old and obsolete. Irrelevant. My hair is turning a tad gray. I need to gym to maintain my weight. I’m so uncool, it stings. I’m the old guy who has his comments deleted by 14-year olds.

Where’s the wheelchair?

A gazillion bubbles, an annoying woman …

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So earlier today I took my kids to the Gazillion Bubble Show, a shockingly enjoyable New York City-based bonanza of bubble, bubbles and more bubbles.

Even though Gazillion features a Playbill and is held in the same theater facility as Avenue Q, it’s not any sort of traditional production. Everyone in the audience was either a kid or accompanied by a kid. Fuck, it’s all about the bubbles. Kids love bubbles.

I digress. We had pretty good seats, three back from the front row. Behind us were two little kids, a mother and a grandmother wearing a ridiculously ugly and inappropriate dress. Throughout the program, Grandma spoke to her grandkids in loud, annoying tones. I can’t fully explain it, but it was a 60-year-old woman basically using baby talk to communicate. She’d turn to her grandson and say something like, “Ty-ler, th-ose are bu-bb-les.” God, it was sooooo grating, and on multiple occasions Casey turned to me with a familiar, “Can you please do something about this awfulness?” glare.

Sadly, there was little to be done. It was a kiddie show, with a kiddie audience, and no, “Please don’t speak during the performance” announcement. Grandma was permitted to speak—even though it ruined everything.

The point? Not sure there is one. But I really do hate hearing adults converse in baby tones, just because they’re speaking with children. It’s the worst.

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