Jeff Pearlman

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Category Archives: News

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Lauren Tom

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I’m often asked, “How do you decide who will be Quazed?” The actual explanation is quite complicated, and demands I go into great detail …

First, I think, “Who would I like to do a Q&A with?”

Second, I reach out to that person.

Um, so that’s about it. Which explains why, after finally seeing “The Joy Luck Club” for the first time a few weeks ago, I tracked down Lauren Tom, the veteran character actress whose portrayal of “Lena” in the 1993 film leapt from the screen. It turns out Lauren enjoys one of those riveting careers that has taken her to everything from “Friends” and “Quantum Leap” to “The Cosby Show” and “Futurama” to “Kim Possible” and “Billy & Mandy’s Big Boogey Adventure.” She also happens to be a undeterred survivor in a profession that too often leaves women for roadkill as they age.

These days one can catch Lauren on (among other things) the Disney series “Andi Mack,” where she plays Celia. She’s also very involved in Homeboy Industries, the charitable organization that rehabilitates formerly incarcerated ex-gang members. Lauren will be participating in Homeboy’s 5K this September, and is raising money here.

One can also visit Lauren’s personal website here, and follow her on Twitter here. She is a true gem.

Lauren Tom, you are the 318th Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Lauren, I was going to start this by telling you how much I loved “The Joy Luck Club,” but then I began to wonder whether that’s the right approach. The film is 24 years old. It probably feels like another lifetime to you. In fact, for all I know you look ba­ck and think, “I should have been better” or “If only I knew then what I know now.” Truly, I have no idea. So, Lauren, how do you feel about “The Joy Luck Club”? Do you love the film? Love yourself in the film? And what did that role do for your career?

LAUREN TOM: I was immensely delighted and proud to have been cast as one of the daughters in The Joy Luck Club; it remains one of my favorite movie credits to date. When it first came out, I was touched that so many Asian women stopped me on the street to tell me what the film meant to them—that they had seen it with their mothers, and that it was cathartic to watch characters articulate thoughts and emotions that they could not come up with in real life.

The release of the film wasn’t all praise and roses, though. While the Asian community embraced the idea of Asian-Americans up on screen, there were some who had grievances about the way the Asian males were depicted in the film. I remember at a panel discussion, one young man stood up and said, “Why are all the Asian men jerks?” And Wayne Wang, our director said, (unapologetically), “Because Asian men are jerks.” There was a grumble in the audience, and Amy Tan, our writer, jumped in and said, “Look, this is just my experience—I’m only one person with a story to tell. That doesn’t mean that audiences should take this as the be all and end all of Asian-American experience. There need to be many more stories reflecting the Asian-American community, so I encourage writers to get their stories out there. I just happen to be the first one, so the script is coming under great scrutiny.”

Lauren with her brother back in the day.

Lauren with her brother back in the day.

J.P.: Along those lines, your grandmother came to America from China as a teenager—which means (I imagine) your role in the film couldn’t have felt like a total stretch. And I wonder what that was like for you emotionally. Did it help you bring something extra to the role? Did you feel at all as if you were performing your family’s history, in a sense?

L.T.: I took my mother and grandmother to the premiere of The Joy Luck Club, which was sort of a total disaster. Looking back on it, I have to laugh, but at the time, I was nothing but mortified.

At the top of the aisles there were ushers standing there to give little packets of Kleenex to audience members since the film is a bit of a tearjerker. My grandmother turned to an usher and said, in her fabulous broken English, “Why I need that? What? You think I’m going to be some kind cry baby?” I whispered to her, “Grandma, just take it. It’s free!” At which point she said, “Oh!”, and snatched it from the usher’s hand. We sat down, and toward the beginning of the movie, my grandma pulled out a bag of moi (dried prunes with large pits in them) and a plastic grocery bag to spit the pits into. She shook the empty bag open and placed it on her lap, which made what seemed like a deafening crinkly noise in the dead-silent movie theater. Then she proceeded to clack the pits between her teeth and spit out the pits with, literally, a patooey! sound. I slid down in my seat and wanted to disappear. My grandmother had seen a lot of pain and strife in her life in China and talked at the screen for the entire movie. “Why everybody crying? I seen worse. What’s the big deal?”

After the movie ended, my mother, who, by her own admission, is a very competitive person, asked me why I had less lines than the other daughters. Was it because I wasn’t as good as them? Was some of it cut out?

Needless to say, the premiere was not the triumphant moment of my career I thought it was going to be …

J.P.: Hollywood is infamous for typecasting and for its treatment of actresses as they age. You’re a woman, you’re Asian, you’re about to turn 56. Yet somehow you’ve maintained this really active, really diverse career. How? Is there a secret? Luck? And the criticisms of the business overstated at all? 

L.T.: Criticisms of the business are not overstated at all. I often marvel at why and how I am still working as much as I am given the fact that I’m teeny tiny (5-feet tall), in my 50s, a woman, and ethnic! I think my saving grace is/was that I’ve never been tagged as the ingenue/pretty girl. I’ve always been a character actress, which I think has given me more opportunities to play interesting roles.

It baffles me why I am so often cast as a bad ass, when in real life I feel like a giant marshmallow. I suppose I’ve perfected channeling my mother and grandmother, as I come from a long line of very strong women. When young folks ask me for advice about how to break into the business, I always tell them to study their craft as much as possible in order to set themselves apart. To be so good that producers take notice—because they may not get the particular role they are reading for, but might be remembered for a different part in that film, or a different project down the line. You just can’t control anything in this business—it’s so subjective, you can only control yourself, your attitude toward the business and your craft. I remember an acting teacher of mine once told our class that in his mind, the actors who have made it all have these three things in common: focus, sex appeal, and a sense of humor. And I would add “craft” to that. At least the ones with very long careers …

Alongside David Schwimmer in "Friends."

Alongside David Schwimmer in “Friends.”

J.P.: How do you know if something you’re filming is good? Or sucks? Can you tell as it’s going on? Are you ever caught off guard? I mean, for example, did you know “The Joy Luck Club” would be brilliant? Did you know “Mr. Jones” perhaps wouldn’t be? Are there clues along the way?

L.T.: I have the worst sense of what is going to land with an audience. I think my tastes are probably a lot quirkier than most people. I remember that when I read the script for Friends I wasn’t that excited because I didn’t think it was going to be a big deal at all. Cut to the second season, when it was a gigantic success already, and I was offered the role of Julie, Ross’s love interest and the foil for Rachel.  I jumped at the chance and was so thrilled to be a part of the show!

And you are right, I thought Mr. Jones was going to kill at the box office! I loved working with Mike Figgis, because like me, he comes from theater, and let all us actors improvise most of our lines. So no one should ever ask me what’s going to be a hit. Or they can, and assume it will be the opposite of whatever I say.

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J.P.: This is sorta random, but in the aftermath of most presidential elections there’s a backlash against actors endorsing candidates. You know what I mean—the whole “Stick to showbiz!” and “Ugh, Hollywood elites suck!” sort of thing. And sometimes I wonder, as a liberal, whether the input of a George Clooney or Tim Robbins might perhaps hurt more than help. What says you?

L.T.: I’m always delighted and inspired by actors who take a stand politically—especially the ones who are unexpectedly intelligent. I think most people assume that actors are dumb, vain and self-absorbed (which can be true of course, myself included), so I’m always relieved when folks can counterbalance that image with intelligent personas. I know that the entertainment community is seen as a giant club of “snowflakes,” but we need all kinds of voices in the world, and I happen to agree with the more liberal stances taken by our community.

J.P.: I read an old article where you said you used your grandmother as a model for film roles. You said, for example, that you behaved as your grandma would have to land the role of Jack Nicholson’s wife in “Man Trouble.” You also channeled her for “Mai” in “Men in Trees.” I always hear about acting methods, but I don’t fully understand how they’re implemented. So how do you actually channel another person? Is it mimicking? Is it emulating? Do you actually think of the person as you’re performing? And is that a common approach to acting?

L.T.: I’m an actor who works from the outside in—meaning I can adopt the way a person moves, holds her head and speaks in order to get inside the character. My brother and I used to mimic my grandmother when we were really little, so her voice and mannerisms are a part of me, a part of cell memory. It’s pretty cool to be able to conjure that up so easily; I’ve been practicing my whole life! Other actors work the other way around, and like to understand the character on an intellectual and emotional level first—what they are thinking and feeling, and then the physicality comes afterwards. I used to be a dancer when I was young (my first show was the Broadway musical, “A Chorus Line”) so I’m more comfortable with using the physical as a portal.

From "Mr. Jones"

From “Mr. Jones”

J.P.: I know you grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in Highland Park, Ill., I know your family came from China—but I don’t exactly know how this happened for you. So, when did the acting bug bite? When did you think, “Yes! This is my a calling”? And when did you first realize you could make a career of it?

L.T.: You’ve done your research! I was quite shy as a child so dancing was perfect for me. I could express myself through my body and didn’t have to talk. When I was 17, the touring company of A Chorus Line came through Chicago, and on a dare from my friends I auditioned for it. There was actually a part in it for a tiny Chinese girl if you can believe that. So I do believe there is luck involved in having a career (at anything, really) which I should’ve mentioned in your previous question. I always tell my kids to work their butts off so that they are prepared should opportunities arise, but to know that there is some luck involved, and sometimes no matter how hard you try, the right chance may or may not come your way.

J.P.: It might just be me, but I feel like your most recognizable TV gig has to be as “Julie,” Ross’ girlfriend on “Friends.” How’d you land the gig? What’s it like, finding out you snag a job that big? And what was the experience like?

L.T.: One of the producers from Friends had seen the Joy Luck Club, which had just come out prior to their looking for someone to play Julie. She may have thought of me because Julie was supposed to be a super nice girl (and the joke was that Rachel thought she a bitch anyway, because she was jealous), and my character in Joy Luck Club was sort of super nice as well—bordering on wallflower, actually. I still remember I was walking on my treadmill while eating a donut (calories in, calories out) when my agent called with the news of the part. I almost fell of the treadmill, and said, “Well, let me think about that for a minute—YES! Of course!” It was almost eerie because toward the beginning of Friends I was watching David Schwimmer and thinking to myself, “Boy, I’d love to work with that guy someday.” And then—bam!—a half a year later I got the call. The universe works in mysterious ways sometimes …

From "Bad Santa"

From “Bad Santa”

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

L.T.: Some great moments: Joy Luck Club, Being given an Obie award in New York that Morgan Freeman presented to me, working on Friends, Futurama, Supernatural because my character got to punch someone in the face, (plus the fandom for that show has been unbelievably supportive), and the show that I’m on right now. It’s called Andi Mack and it’s very diverse and edgy for a Disney show. It stars an Asian cast, complete with black and gay best friends. Very proud of it.

Worst moments: At 15-years old, booked a TV commercial as a dancing bear and wore a bear costume with a gigantic bear head, couldn’t see and almost passed out from heat stroke. Working on Grace Under Fire was miserable for me. It was the most money I had ever made up to that point, and yet, I was unhappier than I had ever been. The star hated my guts (never really knew why) and consistently tried to get me fired; she eventually succeeded.

J.P.: You performed in the award-winning, one-woman show, “25 Psychics.” And I would love to ask a question that calls for a ton of detail. Namely, what’s it like? I’m v-e-r-y sincere in wanting to know this: What’s it like standing there, all alone, before an audience? Is it terrifying? Electrifying? Does it get old after, oh, the 40th performance? Does it always thrill? What are the applause like? What’s it like when you expect laughs and they don’t come? What’s it like when a theater is half full? What’s a standing ovation like?

L.T.: I absolutely love live theater because I love the idea that the performance is only for those people in that room, in that moment. I loved performing 25 Psychics because I really felt like I was just talking to this group of people, since all the words were my own. I remember a friend asking me if I had really thought things through—that by admitting I went to psychics, I was basically outing myself as a weird, new-age flake. And to be honest, there was one critic in San Francisco, who basically called me just that.

But as a whole, I felt like I connected to people, and that just happened to be my experience at that time. My father had died young, and so after he passed, I began a search to find out where he went, and to possibly figure out how to fill this gaping hole that he left there. I’ve since come to learn how dangerous going to psychics can be. People are usually at their most vulnerable and desperate when they visit a psychic. I had a friend once have a psychic tell him that he had had a terrible curse placed on him and that the psychic could help him remove it for a mere $2,000! I don’t feel a need to search for meaning and guidance in those ways any more, and have finally begun to keep my own counsel.

Live theater can be exhilarating when all is going well—the laughter and the standing ovations can be heavenly, but of course, if those things don’t come, it can be pretty devastating and make a person question why they are performing at all. I toured the country at a lot of colleges, and am happy to say the kids were so open and generous as audience members, that I remember the whole experience as quite a positive one.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH LAUREN TOM:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Ironman, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Stone Temple Pilots, “Schindler’s List,” Harold Baines, Frosted Flakes, Delta Burke, Rodeo Drive, the Keebler Elf, kayaking, Tavon Austin: Haha! Schindler’s List (cried for days after that one), Frosted Flakes (dipped in peanut butter, that’s all I ate in college), Ironman (I never saw it but it had a lot of actors in it who I admire), Harold Baines, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Tavon Austin, kayaking, Delta Burke, Stone Temple Pilots, Rodeo Drive.

• Three memories from your role as “Shopper” in the 1997 TV series, “Pinky and the Brain”: Haha, no clue.

• I assume they’re long deceased, but you’ve had dogs named “Richard Gere” and “Vivica A. Fox.” Explain: All my dogs have been shelter rescues. Richard was a black basenji mix with close set eyes, only half an ear, excema all over his skin and bowed legs. I told him, “After I get done cleaning you up and loving you as hard as I can, you are going to be sleek and sexy just like Richard Gere.” Vivica A. Fox was also a basenji mix from the shelter whose name at the time was “Vivachi” because she was so lively. At the time, I was working with Vivica on a medical show, and Vivachi looked like a fox. So it seemed like the right name for her.

• One question you would ask Anson Williams were he here right now: What was it like working with Ron Howard? Is he as nice of a person as he seems to be?

This is my all-time favorite song. Thoughts?: I’ve never listened to Blind Melon (I’m a million years old), but I really liked the song. Lots of food for thought there.  Great lyrics.  A bowl of bitter beans … (reminds me of a saying my brother and I always say to each other—“Bitter—Table for one!”) and Have to decorate a dying day makes me think of Van Jones, “You can’t polish this turd.”  But on a more serious note, the song to me deals with loss, which we all have coming in some way or another. I had a meditation teacher once tell me to try to be as kind as possible because we, as human beings, all react to helplessness in a different way.

• The world needs to know—what was it like working with Dylan Sprouse in “Grace Under Fire”?: I’m sure Dylan was as sweet as he was cute, but honestly, I sort of blocked that whole chapter out!

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Nope. Not really that afraid of flying!

• You’ve gone to a ton of psychics. What’s the strangest thing one has ever said to you?: That I was going to be working on a lot of different sound stages doing a ton of voiceover work. I had never tried my hand at that, and years later, it turned out to be absolutely true. For awhile there, I took a break from on-screen acting, and did almost all voice work.

• You grew up among my people. Give me three Bar/Bat Mitzvah memories from your childhood: Bar/Bat Mitzvahs were long-ass events when I was 13—like three hours long. I started to memorize some of the prayers because I was hearing them so much. I remember squirming a lot. I have a son who’s 13 right now, and he tells me that all the Bar Mitzvahs he goes to are only about an hour and a half these days. He’s so lucky.

• What’s the biggest on-stage/on-air screwup of your career?: I was performing the Greek tragedy, “Ajax” at the Kennedy Center and completely missed my cue. I had to come on stage sobbing so I was backstage preparing with my headphones on, and couldn’t hear the monitor. My fellow actors had to improvise lines (not an easy thing to do in a Greek tragedy) for what seemed like an eternity. They nearly killed me after the show; they had so much egg on their faces. I’m pretty sure the audience got a good laugh out of it.

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Dirk Hooper

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In my eternal quest to find riveting folks to turn into Quazes, I’ve occasionally landed on the websites and Twitter pages of sex workers from myriads walks of life. Some have been strippers, some have been hookers, some have been dominatrix, some have been hypno therapists … the list is long and funky.

Generally, these people (while dwelling in a similar field) have shared little in common—save for the photographic work of someone named Dirk Hooper.

Google Dirk and you’ll wind up with an endless supply of sexy images. What you’ll also find, however, is a genuinely unique and thoughtful dude with a cool world view and a refreshing open-mindedness. Among other things, Dirk co-hosts The Fetish Show, blogs regularly and narratives audiobooks. You can visit his website here, his Twitter feed here and his art gallery here.

Dirk Hooper, welcome to America’s fetish—the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Dirk, lemme start with this: From your experiences, what makes a fetish a fetish? What I mean is, some people like being urinated on. Some people like handcuffs. Some people like … I dunno. Eating shit? Being forced to watch Elmo? I dunno. But what’s the line between “normal sexual behavior” and “fetish” (quotes intended).

DIRK HOOPER: Well, there’s the scientific explanation about what a fetish is, then there’s what has become the common usage.

As far as science is concerned, a fetish is a sexual desire that’s based on something that’s unusual and has to be present to get off.

I’ve witnessed and discussed actual fetishes, and, to be honest, they are as much of a blessing as a curse for the people involved. We talked to someone on The Fetish Show who had a boot fetish that affected every aspect of his life, not just what happened in the bedroom. He had to find a partner that would go along with his fetish or he couldn’t get sexually aroused. It forced him to have a very uncomfortable sexual discussion with potential partners, long before most of us would talk about such things. If they weren’t interested, or worse, thought he was a freak, then he had to break away from the relationship.

There’s nothing fun about that sort of thing, and in my experience, a real fetish is almost impossible to get rid of. But … if you find the right partner, then it’s full-on bliss.

The common usage for fetish is much more broad. I certainly use “fetish” to describe a much less clinical desire for things like, latex fashion, high heels, ass and leg worship, balloons, furries, and just about everything under the alternative sun. I think if you use a broader sense of the word, then what separates a fetish from normal sexual behavior is that it’s something unusual. Most hetero men really really like boobs. That’s not a fetish. Now, if you’re sexually aroused by stockings, then you’re in the target area.

Something that bothers me is a desire to use “fetish” as a derogatory replacement for the word “obsession,” and that typically comes from millennial journalists who want to shock you instead of inform you.

J.P.: If you go online, and visit the sites of sex workers, they tend to be dark, mysterious, sexual. There’s clearly an image/mood that’s trying to be established. But I wonder … who are these people up close? What I mean is, when you’re hanging with, say, the domme, the sexual hypnotist … etc … are they just “normal”? What I mean is, beneath the glitz and image and all, are people just people? Between shots is it akin to photographing a gaggle of accountants? Are you talking work and kids and daycare costs?

D.H.: I’ve worked with escorts, strippers, dominatrix, xxx performers, and plenty of kinky amateurs. I can tell you in almost every case that the personal branding you see is a highly-massaged version, or outright totally different, than what those people are like in real life.

They have kids, health problems, relationship challenges, money issues and everything else that your barista at Starbucks, or your doctor has. And yes, often we often talk about that stuff during breaks between spanking submissives and tying genitals in a neat little bow.

The things that make my models and clients different from the crowd is an exceptionally open mind, and a healthy body image.

J.P.: How did this happen for you? Like, how does one become a professional fetish photographer?

D.H.: I recently wrote a lengthy answer to this question on Quora. Please feel free to edit this if you wish. It won’t hurt my feelings.

Anyone can do fetish photography, but it sure helps if you understand the themes and subjects covered by fetish photographers. In my case, I was interested in fetish photography long before I became a photographer. My path to fetish photography was guided by my own personal interest in the fetish and BDSM communities.

I can trace my interest in BDSM back to when I was a kid and had a particularly attractive older babysitter who enjoyed role-playing. What we did was not sexual in any way, but it was imaginative, and since I was smitten by her, I can see how it opened my mind to many possibilities.

By the time I was 13-years old, I began to understand what fetish and BDSM was, and I began to seek it out in movies, television, comics, and books. Once I identified my obsession with the subject, it took off from there.

I have always been an artist and writer. Before I picked up a camera with an artist’s eye, I created art and stories with a kinky edge. My professional background was in comics and illustration. A little over 20 years ago my obsession with the fetish and BDSM community, and my newfound interest in photography collided.

I discovered a local BDSM group through AOL online. Before that, I figured that you had to be in New York or San Francisco to find out about BDSM. This group was active and in Oklahoma City! Remember, this was the 90s, and BDSM was much more underground at the time.

I had a lesbian friend who was also interested in attending a “munch” with me, so at least I had someone to go with me the first time. By the end of that first meeting I was hooked. I began to regularly attend local gatherings, made friends and started to learn about the BDSM lifestyle. At the same time, I borrowed a damaged SLR camera from a friend and began to take photos with a critical eye. When I got a credit card at Sears my first purchase was my own Canon Rebel. What I discovered is that I really enjoyed taking photos.

I was disillusioned with comics and illustration as a career choice. I felt like I was close to really breaking out, but that I really wanted a path in the media arts because I felt like it was more stable and growing.

I returned to college after a long hiatus and took film, video and photography studies under the art department and film and video studies under the English department. What that gave me is a solid foundation in how to do projects and a healthy dose of foundational information for all kinds of media.

So, I had a thrilling new sideline, which was my engagement in the BDSM community, and a need to come up with subjects for my photography projects, both in and out of college. Naturally, I married the two.

Mind you, my illustration work was already kinky. You can see a direct line between what I was drawing over 20 years ago and what I’ve been taking photos of ever since then.

My career in fetish photography really took off when I created a modeling group with my friend Robert Henry, and we began to create paid content for a website. I had a group of models, we had to constantly create new sets, and the whole thing fed on itself.

I learned one hundred times more, just producing set after set, than I ever learned in college. Due to my constant desire to learn and to create unique photo sets, my ability to create different styles really exploded.

Also, because we had a group of models, we started attending events, selling merchandise and meeting fans, which taught me volumes on marketing and business (which is essential if you want to do photography of any sort and be successful).

I really had no idea where this all would lead, but after a few years I began to get work in fine art galleries, published in magazines, and invited to attend fetish events to show my photography.

My interest in the fetish and BSDM community gave me the knowledge and inspiration to do photography using those subjects. My involvement in those communities and my own personal experience gave me access and guided my work to be accurate and respectful. But it was a lot of hard work and attention to business and marketing which allowed me to make fetish photography a career.

J.P.: What’s your process? Soup to nuts. You’re hired by someone. She wants pictures. How does it go from there …

D.H.: I will try to determine, to the best of my ability, what outcome the client wants and work backwards. I do a lot of back and forth through email or the phone to figure out the best place to shoot, and what we need to pull off the photos.

When we’re approaching the shoot date I’ll check in with the client to make sure that everything is going well on her end, and tell her how I’m doing.

On the day of the shoot, if possible, I try to set up early, test the gear and then wait on the client. Once the client is there I like to have some time to get to know her and take her mind off the shoot. The time I spend with a model or client before a shoot is the most important time of the entire process.

During a shoot I try to make sure the client or model is comfortable as possible, and that we completely explore the idea. I pull the trigger a lot since I started using a digital camera. Sometimes the best shot is the first, and sometimes it’s the last, but the shot I missed is always the one that haunts me.

What I enjoy the most is doing post-processing on the photos. Editing the photos down to my favorites and polishing them is pure pleasure for me.

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J.P.: What’s the absolute strangest story from your career? Like, we all have a money story. What’s yours?

D.H.: This is not a story from my career, but from when I was just starting out in the BDSM community.

I was in a relationship with a professional dominatrix and she took me to a dungeon in city far away from where we lived. We went to a play party where she led me naked into a large room with about 50 people, strapped me to an overhead bar and whipped me in front of the crowd.

That was a fairly mundane scene in the BDSM community, but for me to be in that position, in front of all those people, and so new to the scene, it was an experience I’ll never forget.

It’s the strangest story for people who know me, because doing that sort of thing is very much unlike me normally.

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

D.H.: The greatest moment of my career was being invited to display my photography and attend as a guest of honor at the Fetish Project event in Brussels Belgium. If you’ve seen Eyes Wide Shut, or 50 Shades of Grey, then you have no idea what a real BDSM party is. The event took place in a venue that was several stories tall.

The party-goers were from all over Europe (and beyond). They were all dressed in leather, or latex, or … nothing. There was dancing, and bondage, and sex, and some of the most interesting, beautiful, and loving people that I’ve ever met. The event started at 7pm and didn’t wrap up until 8am the following morning.

As a guest, I got to meet all these incredible fetish models and dominatrix. People approached me all night long and wanted to talk about my work, and about the challenges of doing my work in Oklahoma City. Everyone was so kind and generous. It was everything that I always imagined a kink party would, and should be.

Fetish Project was something I’ll never forget.

My worst moment was during a rope bondage shoot where one of my favorite models passed out while in suspension. Fortunately, the Shibari master who was doing the bondage reacted quickly and took care of the model perfectly.

As it turns out, it was just an overwhelming first-time experience for the model, and she got too excited. But for a moment it was exceptionally scary and a good reminder that it’s important to always have experts involved who know what to do in an emergency.

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J.P.: There’s an idea that sex workers are damaged; that something along the way was fucked up and led them here. Do you see that? And—yes or no—how do you think sex workers become sex workers? Are there common routes?

D.H.: In my experience, there is no common thread that runs through all sex workers. Some come from a history of abuse, and others just have a healthy positive history with sex and sexuality.

Almost every sex worker that I’ve met do have one thing in common—they don’t want to work for peanuts in an office cubicle. I think it’s that motivation that makes them seek an alternative line of work.

They tend to be highly motivated to achieve, and make the most of their work time, and leave plenty of personal time to take care of their other obligations. Freedom is a prime goal.

They work hard, but they play hard too.

J.P.: What are the keys to photographing sexy? Like, how do you bring that out? Are there tricks of the trade? Tools?

D.H.: For me, bringing out sexy starts with finding the right models. And I’m not talking about looks. What I search for are models who are comfortable with their body and interested in doing the style of work that I do.

I get contacted by a lot of models and I can tell a lot by how they fill out their model applications, and by what questions they ask.

The most important thing I can think of to bring out sexiness is to build a rapport with the model, and make sure she is relaxed and having fun. If a model is laughing, or feels free to be silly, or be playful, then we’re in the right place.

I talk to a model throughout the shoot. I’m respectful. I show them the work we’re getting. I’m laudatory and encouraging. Even the most experienced model has moments of insecurity, and I try to assuage that as much as possible.

In the end, I try to make the model (or client) look as good as I can, and I try to relay that to the model from the beginning of the process to the end. Sexiness just follows from that.

J.P.: How do you explain America’s weird relationship with sex? It just seems like we’re so taboo about the whole thing. Can’t talk about it, can’t refer to it, can’t complain about it. Sports! Politics! Religion! All OK. Sex … eh, no.

D.H.: As a boy from Oklahoma, and someone who is in the fetish photography business, I am at the tip of the spear of this discussion. We Americans need to take a long deep breath and let go of our grade-school attitude towards sex.

I’m a BDSM mentor and I recently got contacted by a woman who was concerned that her new partner wanted to be dominant with her, but didn’t want to have a discussion about it beforehand. He wanted to do adult things, but didn’t want to have an adult conversation about it. That’s got to change.

I see this issue time after time. As a society, we have made talking about sex such an icky thing that people have no idea how to have an adult conversation about what we want and need in the bedroom.

Some people think it ruins the mood. Some people are scared to even bring the subject up. Some people just don’t have the vocabulary, or the balls, to talk about the subject. Some people are afraid to share their deepest desires.

One incredible thing about BDSM is that a relationship starts with the discussion of what you’re into, what you’re not into, and what your comfort level is, before anything happens. A good BDSM relationship has a regular and recurring conversation about what worked, what didn’t work, and how things could be better next time.

The vanilla world needs to take a page from BDSM and learn to talk about sex BEFORE you get in the bedroom (and after). You’d be amazed by how valuable it is, and how much it improves your relationship in and out of the bedroom.

You’ll also be astounded by how easy it is once you start.

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J.P.: How has the Internet explosion of the past decade impacted pornography? Imagery? Etc? I mean, I remember buying my brother a Playboy for his 16th birthday—because that’s where the vagina and boobs were. Well, now they’re everywhere. Is it harder to make a living? Easier?

D.H.: I snuck into my parent’s bedroom to look at issues of Playboy. I doubt anyone does that today. The Internet has made porn as ubiquitous as a weather report.

I think there’s something healthy about being able to find images and information about sex so easily. It also makes it much easier to find someone real who is into the same things you are. Those are good things.

Unfortunately, much of what we see on the Internet is not reality. It’s sex with impossibly beautiful people, doing shit that no one really enjoys. I think it encourages trapeze acts instead of the slow, loving, beautiful parts of sex.

The Internet puts us more in touch with each other than we ever have been before, but in reality, we’re more distant than ever before. That’s a terrible by-product of not valuing our time in meatspace. We need to relearn how to be more present in the current moment, and with our current partner.

As for making a living producing porn (and most of what I do is actually closer to Playboy than to porn), the internet has deeply damaged the ability to make good money for most people.

Maybe the industry will find something akin to Netflix to make money, but right now, paid content is getting shared on free sites, and that’s seriously hurting the people who produce this content.

There’s still money to be made, but for Big Porn it’s much harder than it used to be. On the other hand, a savvy entrepreneur with technical and marketing skills, can create a little online fiefdom and make a good living without any of the old gatekeepers.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH DIRK HOOPER:

• Five greatest photographers of your lifetime: I’m going to forget about 20 people here … Helmut Newton, David Lachapelle, Ellen Von Unwerth, Eric Kroll, Gregory Crewdson

• Rank in order (favorite to least): latex mittens, Mark Fidrych, Valentine’s Day, beige, lacrosse, Michael B. Jordan, Victor Oladipo, “Revenge of the Nerds,” Melissa McCarthy: Victor Oladipo, latex mittens, Valentine’s Day, Melissa McCarthy, “Revenge of the Nerds,” Michael B. Jordan, lacrosse, Mark Fidrych, beige

• If you had compromising photos of Donald Trump from a long-ago fetish shoot, but he asked they never be revealed, would you make them public if you knew it’d end his presidency?: LOL! I’m not a psychologist, or a lawyer, but my job relies on people being able to trust me. I’ve got compromising photos of hundreds of people who don’t want them to be public and they will never see the light of day.

• Five reasons one should make Oklahoma City his next vacation destination?: 1. Bricktown and the Riverwalk are both beautiful and fun; 2. The people will treat you nicer than any place in the world; 3. You won’t get better BBQ or Mexican food anywhere. ANYWHERE! Bring it!; 4. It’s going to be a cheap trip. You’ll get more bang for your buck; 5. You can see a world-class NBA team, one of the biggest and most luxurious theaters (Moore Warren Theater), the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Dale Chihuly’s gorgeous work at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, do some gambling at Remington Park (or one of the local casinos), and you can meet me!

• Grosser—tuna breath or constant drippy nose?: Definitely constant drippy nose.

• I’ve never understood how Balboa won the street fight against Tommy. I mean, he was brain damaged, old, out of shape. You have an explanation?: It’s heart baby! The eye of the tiger!

No, that’s bullshit.

It’s the same way Stallone won an axe fight with Jason Momoa. He’s producing the damn things!

• Five sexiest parts of the human body?: 1. I’m an ass man, first and foremost; 2. Belly; 3. Lips; 4. Legs; 5. Mind

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Shit, it was terrifying. I used to love to fly, and now it’s horrible for me.

I was flying out of OKC to see my parents in Tuscon and we were only 15 minutes in the air when a blind man across the aisle told me that he heard that one of the engines had just died.

Soon, we could smell smoke in the cabin, and the pilot told us that we were turning back to make an emergency landing. The oxygen masks dropped from the panel above us, and we started looping around the airport to burn fuel. The lady in the seat next to me kept asking if we were going to die. I told her we’d be fine, and tried to stay cool, but I was worried too.

The descent was easily the scariest thing I’ve ever encountered. As it turns out, the actual landing was the best ever.

We pulled up next to a bunch of fire trucks and those foam dispensers. Firefighters in those silver hazmat outfits stormed the plane before we could get off.

The airline immediately booked me another flight for Tucson, and I was supposed to leave in 30 minutes. I wanted to just go home, but I knew if I didn’t get back on the horse, that I’d never fly again, so I went right back in the air.

Turbulence drives me nuts now.

• One question you would ask Vida Blue were he here right now?: I’d ask who he was, because I have no idea.

• The one song you never, ever, ever need to hear again …: I’d like to gather every copy of “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion and shoot it straight into the sun.

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Steve Rushin

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This is sort of embarrassing to admit, but back when I was a student at the University of Delaware, my goal was to become America’s best sportswriter.

Now, some two decades later, I realize there’s no such thing as “America’s best sports writer.” But at the time my cockiness and idiocy teamed up to set the expectation. So, for the next few years I found myself motivated by this dangling carrot—best sportswriter, best sportswriter, best sportswriter, best spo …

Smack.

Although I certainly knew of his existence, it wasn’t until arriving at Sports Illustrated in 1996 that I began regularly reading the work of Steve Rushin. And, with that, my dream died. Steve’s writing was … fuck. I’m not even sure how to describe it. Flavorful. Dynamic. Inventive. Creative. I was vanilla, and he was peppermint-fudge-Reese’s swirl. I was Paul Zuvella and he was Rickey Henderson. I mean, it wasn’t even a fair fight. The guy was that good, and his 2005 title of National Sportswriter of the Year should, in my opinion, be a lifetime label. For my money, Steve is the finest sportswriter (hell, writer) of this generation.

Anyhow, Steve also happens to be a colleague, a friend, a former teammate on the surprisingly excellent SI hoops team and, with its July 3 release, author of a new memoir, Sting-Ray Afternoons The book, his fifth, delves into Steve’s (largely innocent) 1970s Minnesota boyhood—Rod Carew and Bic pens and bicycle rides and backyard football games.

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One can follow Steve on Twitter here, and visit his website here. He still writes columns and occasional features for Sports Illustrated, and lives in Connecticut with his wife (Rebecca Lobo, the ESPN announcer and former UConn hoops star) and their four children.

Steve Rushin, you are the 316th Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Steve, when I arrived at Sports Illustrated toward the end of 1996, I looked at you and Rick Reilly as the gold standards of what it was to be an American sports writer. You guys were stars at one of the nation’s great magazines; you wrote stuff millions of people read; you had talent and access and an enormous following. And now here we are, 21 years later, and I’m confused. I don’t know what the gold standard is these days; I’ve had people ask me, “Does SI still publish?” I’m befuddled, lost, dizzy. This is a broad question, but through your eyes, where are we as a business? As a profession? What should we be aiming for?

STEVE RUSHIN: Thank you. I’m blushing. Where is our profession? I’m just as dizzy as you are. My Dad sold magnetic tape for 37 years—8-track tapes, audio cassettes, VHS tapes—for 3M. He said to me recently, “I can’t believe all that stuff I sold for all those years just . . . went away.” I don’t think writing is going away. But I do feel like a blacksmith sometimes. A nice kid recently asked me for writing advice and then told me he thought sports writing would be a good entree into sports broadcasting. And I understood why a high school kid might feel that way. For me, writing is all I’ve ever wanted to do.

I don’t think there is one gold standard of sportswriting now, but I don’t think there was necessarily one in 1996, either. There were definitely fewer places to look for good sportswriting, like when I grew up with five TV channels and you watched whatever was on. Was “B.J. & The Bear” great TV, or were there just fewer alternatives? SI was and still is a home for great writing, but I think of all the great writers we hired away from newspapers, which were also full of great sportswriting. I remember being a reporter at SI and sitting behind Richard Hoffer, then of the LA Times, in the press box at Shea Stadium. I was trying to read his Dodgers-Mets game story over his shoulder, which is not great press-box etiquette. Not long after that, Hoffer wrote a freelance story for SI on George Foreman and we hired him. I can still quote his Foreman lede from memory, about a retired Foreman stopping at all the fast food joints on Westheimer Road in Houston—”the Boulevard of Broken Seams”—and ordering his burgers from that most non-judgmental of service personnel: the curbside clown. In that ancient time before the internet, I could only read Hoffer in the LA Times, and I could only read the LA Times when I was in LA. That didn’t make Hoffer any less of a great writer, just not as easy to find. Now, of course, you can read anyone, anytime, and that is a miracle to me, and a great improvement.

But like you, I haven’t a clue what is going on in our profession. I’m not a businessman. When I started at SI, my benefits-consultant brother had to persuade me that enrolling in the 401k was a smart thing to do, and not some kind of a scam, as I had been led to believe by another writer, whose initials are Jack McCallum. Needless to say, I have no idea what the business model for print journalism will be, but our aim as writers should still be what it has always been. Entertain, inform, enlighten and avoid cliche. Try every time to write something that’s never been written before, even if it’s a line on a birthday card.

Eating nachos in the stands before a 1992 Angels game (photo by V.J.Lovero)

Eating nachos in the stands before a 1992 Angels game (photo by V.J.Lovero)

J.P.: This isn’t something to be proud of, but when I pitch books I’m always thinking (among other factors) commercially. My books have all been topics with the scope to potentially sell themselves. Favre. Walter Payton. The ’86 Mets. On and on. Your books include one on the unorthodox history of baseball, a novel about a sports fan who digs word play, an anthology, a childhood memoir. And I truly admire/envy you, because they’re passions without a sniff of selling out or settling. So, I ask, how do you decide upon book subjects? What goes into an idea becoming a project? How much does the marketing/sales play into the pitch?

S.R.: You should be proud to write books that people want to read. I try to do that too. My agent, my Dad and my accountant would all prefer I choose more commercial topics. And I would love every book of mine to rocket to the top of the best-seller list. (Sting-Ray Afternoons, out now!) There’s nothing high-minded about the choices I’ve made. Pay me enough money and I’d have to consider writing Kim Kardashian’s as-told-to autobiography. I have four kids and I’d like them all to go to college.

But as you know, book writing requires so much time in a sparsely furnished room—or in your case, in an idyllic coffee shop overlooking the Pacific—that it’s really only worthwhile to me if the subject interests me intensely. It has to interest SOMEBODY else, too, or no commercial publisher will look at it. Ninety-nine percent of book writing is the actual writing of it. What follows the writing—publication, bookstore appearances, red carpets, klieg lights, groupies, paparazzi rooting through your trash bin—that’s a tiny percentage of the job. Who wants to spend every day for two years (in my case) working on something that doesn’t interest them? I want to write the books that I want to read. I’m much better writing about subjects that interest me than I am writing about subjects that don’t interest me. All you have to distinguish you as a writer is your own voice, your own point of view. Having said that, you sometimes have to take assignments that don’t initially interest you if you want to write for a living. If you’re a curious person, you’ll find something interesting in just about anything or anyone. It’s why you do these Q-and-As, because you’re curious about the world. It’s why I’ve filed stories for SI from seven continents. I’ll go anywhere once. Try never to say no.

J.P.: Your new book, “Sting-Ray Afternoons,” is a memoir of your 1970s boyhood. I’ve never written a memoir. Truly, the idea very much intimidates me. So how did you go about this? Was it just your memories? Was it interviewing people from back in the day? Reporting and digging and old newspapers? What was the process? And how long did it take?

S.R.: Here’s how it started. One day I looked up the newspaper for the day I was born, in the city where I was born: The Chicago Tribune of September 22, 1966. Oh look, there’s an ad for that night’s Star Trek episode, airing 30 minutes after I was born. Did Dad watch it in the waiting room? There’s a horoscope for babies born on that day (“his nature will be an unhappy one.”) Wow, a six-pack of Old Style is 79 cents. And so on. This led to me wondering what the world was like in those first few years of life before memory kicks in, which in turn led to me—and this is much harder than most people realize—trying to remember and resurrect what my childhood and childhood in general was really like. Not just the birthday parties and the endless schooldays and the family vacations we remember, but all of it: how scary it often was, how boring it often was, how the hot vinyl smelled on a summer day in the station wagon, the tedium of eight hours stretching out before you with nothing to do but make up a game with a tennis ball and an empty Folgers can. All of that. I didn’t want to just write a book that took a warm bath in nostalgia. And here it helps to have kids of my own. I see them running their hands over their bug bites in bed at night, as if re-reading the day in Braille, and I think I forgot that I used to do that; tomorrow morning I’ll write about it. 

I was also lucky in that most innocent period of childhood that i wanted to write about—age three to age 13, from the onset of memory to the onslaught of puberty—coincided exactly with the 1970s. So it’s also a book about that decade.

I did a lot of research into objects that preoccupied me as a kid: the Schwinn Sting-Ray bike I coveted, the Boeing 747 that took my Dad away on business trips overseas, the Panasonic boom box that I saved up for as a 7th grader in thrall to Earth Wind & Fire. I mined the memories of my Dad, my many siblings, my close friends from home—Bloomington, Minnesota, where most of the book is set. And of course I went back to Bloomington, where the Twins and Vikings and North Stars played when I was a kid, where Led Zeppelin and the Eagles and the Harlem Globetrotters played. They say you can never go home again, but it turns out you can. Unfortunately, when you do go home—as I discovered—there’s no longer a Met Stadium, or a Southtown Theater, or a Shakey’s Pizza, or a Beanie’s Arcade. There are no longer four 8-year-olds in plastic Vikings helmets in your backyard, asking if you can come out to play football.

It took a couple of years start to finish. I wrote what ended up being the introduction, sold the book on the basis of that, and then had a year to write the rest. You and I have spent years writing feature stories in which we try to make sense of someone else’s life. It’s no easier trying to make sense of your own life. Imposing a narrative on the chaos that is existence, that’s what writers do. That’s the challenge. Another challenge? Part of me was still worried that my terrifying oldest brother was going to kick my ass for whatever I wrote about him.

In action at the 1999 World Ice Golf Championships

In action at the 1999 World Ice Golf Championships

J.P.: How did this happen for you? I know that’s a big question—but you’re a kid in Bloomington, Minnesota, you love sports. Your Wikipedia page is all over the place—a family of athletes, your appreciation of cereal boxes, the impact of Alex Wolff. But when did the writing bug first appear? When did you realize you had a talent for this?

S.R.: I did read the back of the cereal box, the backs of baseball cards, street signs, washing instructions, anything with words on it, as if the world was a book you could eventually finish. I watched Sesame Street in the morning and again in the afternoon.

Starting in about fifth grade, I would write stories for my own amusement, about Twins games I watched on TV or football games we played in the backyard. I’d type them up on my Mom’s Royal typewriter, leave them in a folder for a few days, then throw them away. I didn’t want anyone to read them. One day—maybe I was in sixth grade?—I came home from school and my Mom had fished a story I had written out of my bedroom wastebasket. She was passing this crumpled piece of paper around the family room, showing it to members of her bridge club. I was mortified. But I got over it. And now I had an audience, which was better than not having one.

In 7th grade, my buddy Mike McCollow checked Rick Telander’s Heaven is a Playground out of the library, then passed it along to me. We loved the book and never returned it, and eventually we got it officially withdrawn from the library system and got amnesty for the eternal late fee. I read in the author bio that Telander wrote for Sports Illustrated. Maybe I could do that some day, I thought. When I got to SI, and met Rick, I showed him the first edition of Heaven, stamped with “Officially Withdrawn From the Hennepin County Library System.” He signed it for me and it’s still on my shelf, one of the many little miracles of my writing life.

The Rushin brothers from the 1970s—Left to right: Jim, Steve and Tom

The Rushin brothers from the 1970s—Left to right: Jim, Steve and Tom

J.P.: You graduated from Marquette in 1988. Two weeks later (two!?) you were on the staff of SI. What the fuck? Step by step—how?

S.R.: So when we were kids, my best friend, the aforementioned Mike McCollow, rang the Bloomington doorbell of this former University of Minnesota basketball star-turned-local juco coach who lived equidistant between us. The coach was Flip Saunders who would go on to coach the Timberwolves, Pistons and Wizards in the NBA. Flip, who was in his 20s at the time and married, actually invited us in and let us shoot hoops on his backyard half court. Later, we started a 3-on-3 tournament there that I called the Saunders Hoop Invitational Tournament—the S.H.I.T. We made a trophy from a Cool Whip tub wrapped in tinfoil. Shortly after, SI ran a story about a national 3-on-3 tournament called the Gus Macker. I wrote a letter to SI telling them about the S.H.I.T. The author of the Gus Macker article—SI writer Alexander Wolff—wrote me back, and in doing so completely changed my life forever. We became pen pals. If Mike doesn’t knock on Flip’s door, if Flip doesn’t answer his door, if Alex doesn’t write me back, it’s unlikely that I ever write for SI.

In college, at Marquette, I’d occasionally send Alex a story I’d write for a journalism class. He’d send back kind or withering critiques. He was always honest. For one story in a Magazine Writing class, I took a city bus to a shopping mall in Milwaukee and watched this 76-year-old professional pool player, Willie Mosconi, do trick shots at Sears as a way of selling their pool tables. I wrote about it for class, but also sent the piece to an SI editor, Bob Brown, who Alex steered me to. Bob said he liked the story on Mosconi, with one notable exception: I had never spoken to the subject. Bob said if I interviewed Mosconi, he’d consider running the piece. So I went to the Milwaukee Public Library, found Mosconi’s number in the Philadelphia phone book, dialed the first nine digits about five times before finally working up the nerve to dial all ten digits and let the phone ring. (I still don’t like calling strangers on the phone, which is an occupational hazard. My wife orders all the pizzas.) Mosconi answered my phone call, kindly replied to my questions, I added his quotes to the piece, sent it off to SI by snail mail and a year later—a year later, as I was graduating from Marquette—SI ran the piece regionally, in select zip codes.

As that was happening, Alex Wolff put me in touch with Jane Bachman (Bambi) Wulf, the chief of reporters at SI, in charge of hiring fact-checkers as prospective writers and editors. As you know. She hired you, didn’t she? I spoke to Bambi on the phone one day and she said, “The next time you’re in New York, swing by the office and I’ll talk to you.” I hung up the phone. I was elated for about five seconds, then despondent. I knew I would never “happen to be” in New York, casually “swinging by” the Time & Life Building. I knew nobody east of Cincinnati. A few days later, at the urging of my Dad, I worked up the nerve to call Bambi back and say: “I’ll never be in New York. I don’t know anyone there.” And in that moment, as I sat on my bed in a shitty off-campus apartment in Milwaukee, Bambi sighed heavily and said I could work at SI over the summer, for three months. I couldn’t believe it. Two weeks after I graduated, I flew to New York with one suitcase and stayed at the apartment of the only person I knew there: Alex Wolff. Twenty-nine years later, SI is the only full-time employer I’ve had as an adult.

That’s it. The whole story. I was ridiculously lucky. Bambi passed away in June, as you know. At her memorial service, dozens of people told similar stories about their own hiring, so I was lucky but not unique.

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J.P.: I’ve always been intimidated and dazzled by your mastery of the English language and, specifically, word play. It’s wizard-like and inventive and often reminds me (strangely) of the rapper Twista. And I’ve wondered, “How does he do this?” What I mean is, do you always have a thesaurus by your side? Do you never have a thesaurus by your side? Do these things just randomly pop into your brain? Are you devoting hours to a single line? I’m talking little things (“I ate Frosted Flakes right out of the box, and she was on boxes of Frosted Flakes”) and bigger things (“When an Olympian wants to podium, I reach for the Imodium. I’m not a fan of batters plating base runners, either. (Plate, as a verb, belongs in restaurants, where you platemeals—and crumb tables.) Thanks to announcers who can’t say “tired,” I suffer from fatigue fatigue.”). In short–where does this shit come from?

S.R.: It’s kind of you to say. I think it’s more of a bar trick or a genetic defect than anything else. I read a lot as a kid, as I mentioned, and was always fascinated by words. It helped that a newspaper was always lying around. As a little kid, I liked how “Twins” concealed “Win” in headlines in the Minneapolis Star. The word “Vietnam”—a constant print presence throughout my childhood—was sometimes spelled as one word (“Vietnam”) and sometimes spelled as two words (“Viet Nam”). I remember wondering if that was what the war was about—about dividing or uniting the word Vietnam, as if it were the country itself.

Then I found a book of wordplay in the Nativity of Mary library. It introduced me to palindromes: “Madam I’m Adam” and “A man, a plan, a canal—Panama.” And it taught me to look at language as modeling clay. All writing is arranging words in a certain way. Every sentence has infinite possibilities. As a baby, you get ABC building blocks and rearrange the letters. It teaches you that words are playthings. And that you can build stuff with the alphabet.

The answer to the other part of your question—do you spend hours on a single sentence?—is sometimes, yes. When writing columns for SI, I usually have three days to write 800 words and a lot of that time is spent thinking in the car or in bed at night about getting a certain line or phrase right. Rob Petrie, on “The Dick Van Dyke Show”, said: “I do some of my best writing in the shower.” I think most of us do. If you don’t want to spend a lot of time alone with your own thoughts, writing may not be for you.

J.P.: I feel like all of us in this business have a money story—the one we can tell 1,000 times at parties and never grow tired of it. Mine is the whole John Rocker thing. Steve, what’s your money story?

S.R.: There are so many. Here’s one. I covered the Kentucky Derby one year. One of our photographers, Bill Frakes, gave me a photo bib and let me go down on the track to watch these magnificent thoroughbreds come thundering down the stretch. My dress shoes were covered in that beautiful red clay mud of Churchill Downs.

A month or so later, I was supposed to interview President George W. Bush at the White House. I hadn’t worn the dress shoes since the Derby, and as I hastily put them on in my Washington hotel room before racing to the White House, I noticed too late that they were still covered in dried Churchill Downs mud, which I tracked all over the rugs in the West Wing waiting room. But I thought to myself: This is like the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. I’m mixing two great American institutions, the  Churchill Downs winner’s circle and the West Wing of the White House, where the winners of the two biggest American horse races end up.

So I interview president George W. Bush, he asks me if I think Barry Bonds was on steroids, yada yada yada, and five years later, two days after I stop writing a weekly column for the magazine, I go to my mailbox and there’s a handwritten letter from Bush. He writes: “Don’t worry about the mud in the West Wing. I’ve been on my knees scrubbing and I’ve finally got it out.”

J.P.: In 2010 GQ ran a piece headlined WHERE THE HELL DID STEVE RUSHIN GO? And I remember being fascinated by this at the time—because you did sort of vanish from the scene when you left SI at 40, and I never asked why. So, Steve, why? And did you ever regret it?

S.R.: Ha, yes, thank you Google and GQ. I didn’t go anywhere. Where did I go? I literally didn’t go anywhere. I stayed at the same desk where I’d written most of my SI stories and wrote a novel there instead.

There’s a show business saying, “You’re either appearing or disappearing.”As soon as you stop writing a weekly column in a national magazine, you’re going to lower your profile. That was never a concern of mine. Writing a novel was something I had hoped to do one day. I also knew that if I didn’t stop writing a weekly column one day, I’d be writing it forever. At some point, you have to jump off the merry-go-round or die on the horse.

The novel I wrote, The Pint Man, was a joyful experience from beginning to end. And when I got a call that Doubleday bought it, I pulled over at a rest stop on Cape Cod and had, if I may quote Blur’s Parklife, “a sense of enormous well-being.” So no, I have no regrets whatsoever. On the contrary, it was a great pleasure.

More important than anything else—my wife and I had four kids in five-and-three-quarters years, and I stopped writing the weekly column in the middle of all that. So my disappearing from GQ’s view coincided with my appearing before my own children. It was a good trade. I love being around the kids in the day, and book writing is a good job for that. When I’m on the road now, I feel a strange sense of withdrawal. I can’t sleep in hotels. They should make a version of nicotine patches for parents of young children that feed chaos into your system instead of nicotine. Now I write columns every few weeks for SI, which is perfect. I love the life I have. Writing books and occasional magazine pieces with frequent, sometimes hourly breaks to dominate driveway basketball games.

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J.P.: I often struggle with the meaninglessness of this whole thing. I mean, we write about sports. And I tend to think, “Big shit?” I mean, there’s climate change, Trump, terrorism, gun violence, on and on and on. How do you justify people like us devoting our lives to an endeavor like this? Do you ever go through the whole, “Is this what I’m supposed to be doing with my time?” blues?

S.R.: This is one of the reasons I love you. You recognize the absurdity of it all. Not everyone does. Of course I think all of those things. I remember flying on a Vietnam-era Sikorsky helicopter over Greenland to write a piece about ice golf and saying to my pal, the photographer Simon Bruty: “What are we doing? If this helicopter goes down, we’ve died in pursuit of a jokey golf story designed to divert a man on the toilet for 15 minutes.” It’s one thing to risk your life to cover war, famine, dictatorship. But I’ve been on sketchy flights in Java to write about badminton. So yes, I’ve thought about this a lot. My sister is an emergency room doctor in Minneapolis, while I interview competitive hot dog eaters. But like they say: the world needs ditch-diggers too. And if it was my calling in life to have former Angels manager Doug Rader throw his uniform pants at me in anger in the visitor’s clubhouse at Fenway Park, then so be it.

J.P.: I’m struggling with something. I’m 45, and lately this business is making me feel, well, ancient. It’s reaching the point where I’m old enough to be a parent to some of the players; an editor recently complimented me by saying, “You don’t write old”; social media is dizzying and stupid. Does this bother you at all? Can we survive as sports-writing dinosaurs in our 50s? Does this end badly for us?

S.R.: I turned 50. It doesn’t bother me at all. One of the compensations of getting older is becoming more comfortable, more secure. Like you, I think a lot about mortality. I think it’s healthy. I try to keep in mind every day that life is running time and you have to enjoy it. Sure, the planet is boiling, our political culture fills me with despair, social media is inane, and I worry about my kids like everyone else. But it helps every once in a while to hear “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” . . . “Life’s a laugh and death’s a joke it’s true. You’ll see it’s all a show, keep ’em laughing as you go, just remember that the last laugh is on you.” So yeah, it ends badly in that it ends. But when you’re feeling in the dumps, don’t be silly chumps.

So I keep that in mind. I just go about my daily life. I don’t try to write young, whatever that means. I wouldn’t know how to do that in the first place. But I sometimes look back on things I wrote in my 20s and think: I could be a scolding, middle-aged curmudgeon at 25. My Dad, who is 83, has aged in reverse, becoming more liberal, more embracing of technology, more live-and-let-live with each passing year. I hope I am aging in the same way. As another Minnesotan said: “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH STEVE RUSHIN:

• Five reasons one should make Bloomington, Minn. his/her home?: 1. If it’s good enough for Kent Hrbek, it’s good enough for you; 2. The White Castle on Lyndale Avenue is, or ought to be, on the National Register of Historic Places; 3. The Bloomington Ice Garden, universally known as BIG, is a hockey shrine on par with the Montreal Forum or Maple Leaf Gardens, except better, because BIG still actually exists; 4. Three words: Wally’s Roast Beef; 5. Where else are you gonna learn to play box hockey?

• Rank in order (favorite to least):  Ray Parker, Jr., Yoko Ono, Egypt, Tony Campbell, Winston Churchill, Disneyland, Bobby Clay, library cards, Lyndon LaRouche, Atari 2600, milk: 1 (tie) Bobby Clay and library cards, 2 Winston Churchill, 3 Ray Parker, Jr. in his Raydio days (“You Can’t Change That”), 4 Disneyland (got a Space Mountain T-shirt there the summer Space Mountain opened), 5 Tony Campbell, 6 Egypt, 7 Yoko Ono, 8 Atari 2600 (I was an Intellivision guy), 9 milk, 10 Lyndon LaRouche.

• One question you would ask Rick Perry were he here right now?: When you hear the Elton John song “Rocket Man,” is there a faint glimmer of recognition when he sings: “All this science I can’t understand, it’s just my job five days a week”?

• Five friendliest sports figures you’ve ever interviewed: Vin Scully, Alan Page, David Ross, Sparky Anderson, Dusty Baker.

• In exactly 14 words, make a case for Tommy Kramer: I sold him three tins of Copenhagen at Tom Thumb convenience store in Bloomington.

• Rank the Twins (favorite to least favorite): LaTroy Hawkins, Rod Carew, Scott Erickson, Roy Smalley, Gary Ward, Tim Laudner, Hosken Powell, Christian Guzman, Hector Santiago, Lyman Bostock: Rod Carew,  Lyman Bostock, Hosken Powell, Tim Laudner, Roy Smalley, Gary Ward (and the rest are alphabetical): Scott Erickson, Christian Guzman, LaTroy Hawkins, Hector Santiago. I would add, high on my list, George Mitterwald, Eddie Bane, Dave Engle, Ken Landreaux and Bombo Rivera.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: My wife and I were flying from Hartford to Chicago. A snowstorm arrived on the runway and we were the last plane to takeoff, after which BDL shut down. An hour into the flight, the captain announced we were turning around and heading for whatever airport was still open. A passenger listening to the radio communications on headphones said one of the pilots smelled smoke in the cockpit. And there was a weird smell on the plane. As we approached the airport in Burlington, Vermont, the plane began circling Lake Champlain. We were dumping fuel. Then we made our approach and fire trucks lined the runway. The landing was normal, we got off the plane, and we were met by TV news crews. They appeared to me visibly disappointed by our failure to perish. The story had become a non-story. I know the feeling. The airline put us up in a Burlington  hotel, where we immediately went to the bar and saw, at the start of the six o’clocknews, footage of our plane’s routine landing. And I felt like we had let them down somehow.

• Best advice you’ve ever received?: Every night at dinner my Dad used to tell us, “Mable, Mable, sweet and able, get your elbows off the table.” To this day you’ll never catch me with my elbows on the dinner table.

• Favorite movie involving Denzel Washington?: I liked him as Jesus’ dad in “He Got Game.” But I’m also old enough to remember him in “St. Elsewhere.”

• What are the three words you most overuse in writing?: My brother told me that every other column of mine contains the phrase “nacho cheez”.  A reader told me to stop using the word “manifold” so often. (As a result, I use it more frequently.) And I do love the word “redolent.”

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Nickolas Wildstar

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Nickolas Wildstar is seeking to become the Libertarian Party’s candidate for the governorship fff California, which would be the most fascinating thing about the man were he:

A. Not named Nickolas Wildstar.

B. Not a dynamic crusader against police abuse.

C. Not a rapper with a single that appeared in the film, Scary Movie 4.

D. Not inspired in some ways by the political movement (of all people) Donald Trump.

E. Not genuinely intelligent and fascinating.

Can Wildstar make a dent in an already crowded 2018 race? I say probably not, he says unquestionably yes. Either way, the man’s intentions seem pure, his stances seem interesting and his website, eh, well, it sorta needs work. But, hey, no one’s perfect.

Wanna meet America’s quirkiest politician? Visit his site here and follow him on Twitter here and Facebook here.

Nickolas Wildstar, you are the 315th Quaz Q&A …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Nickolas, I know about you because you sent me information about an incident from Jan 16. 2017, when you were stopped and arrested by police. Can you tell me, in great detail, what happened?

NICKOLAS WILDSTAR: Absolutely, Jeff, and thank you for giving me this opportunity to share my story. This was a Monday, so I on my way to work like most Americans and I take public transportation so I was walking to the bus stop which is maybe a mile away from my home. I just started a new job a month earlier and had taken the same route to work every day since then. My shift started at 7 am so in order for me to get there on time it was imperative for me to catch the 5 am bus. So I did my best to leave 20 minutes before then and at this time of the morning it was still dark outside. I walk at a pretty fast pace because I don’t want to miss the bus, and this day in was no different. By the time I get to the bus I’m always sweating a bit.

I was maybe a block or so away when I noticed one police cruiser after another racing toward me on the opposite side of the street blaring their lights and sirens. One of the last ones that had driven by seemed to linger and I knew instinctively that he was taking a good look at me as he was slowing down. But I kept walking. When you’re a black man and have had as many unnecessary encounters with police as I have you tend to grow a Spidey Sense, so I took my phone out of my pocket in preparation for what I knew was coming. The next thing I knew the inevitable was happening because that same cop was now following behind me and, using his car lamp, had a bright beam of light surrounding me. Before I turned around to face him I stopped my Pandora app (which I was listening to via a large pair of light blue Bluetooth headphones) and started my Ustream Widget, which I have strategically placed on my phone in the case of an event like this.

Now that I was recording I took off my headphones, held up my phone, stopped walking, then turned around and for a moment just stood there in silence as the cop exited his vehicle. Due to me being blinded by the light I couldn’t really tell when this was, so I yelled out asking about him following me. Admittedly, I was not very happy about having been stopped so my tone wasn’t necessarily friendly—however I did start by saying, “Can I help you?”

The officer responded, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying due to his distance. So I exclaimed, “Excuse me?” as he walked closer. He continued to explain as he approached me but I had only partially heard what he had said, which was, “We had a …” and since part of me thought this possibly could be about a nearby emergency I calmed down a bit and asked, “You had a what?” By this time he was close enough for me to make him out saying something about a burglary, and immediately my agitation returned. I told him that I didn’t care since I was obviously on my way to work (my wardrobe made this clear), and asked, “What the hell are you following me for?”

He attacked back and said, “I’m following you because you match the description!” He stood just a few feet in front of me as a second officer arrived on the scene and now accompanied him. The line “You match a description” is an age-old excuse for cops to mess with me, and almost always has to do with me being black. I told that to him, and—to my surprise—the second cop said, “Yes!” Hearing this pissed me off and I fired back, “I don’t give a damn! I’m on my way to work!” The cop continued by saying how it’s his job, so I snapped at him. I noted that that did not permit him to stalk me and follow me around with his light beaming on me.

Just as I finished saying this the officer who initiated the stop began to walk toward me, gesturing for me to turn around so he could arrest me. I warned him not to touch me or I would sue, yet he proceeded to grab my arm despite my protestation. He then started to aggressively turn me around. I allowed him to do so, just to keep myself from being harmed. But first I sked him to let me share my video.

The officer took me to jail, and I sat handcuffed in a cell for nearly an hour. I was finally released, but not without first being given a ticket for resisting arrest.

Nickolas and Crystal Wildstar

Nickolas and Crystal Wildstar

J.P.: I just watched the video. Let me play devil’s advocate—you were clearly not happy with the cops pulling you over and you let them know. Some people would say, “Why not just give them your ID if you did nothing wrong?” So, Nickolas, why not just give them your ID? What do you feel like white people in America misunderstand about situations like this?

N.W.: Let me start by saying how I think it’s sad and awful that after all America has faced throughout its history of basic human rights that something as simple as a person wanting to freely be able to walk down the street without being harassed can still be dissected into a problem of racial prejudice. Had there not been a description to match, I would’ve just been seen as a guy on his way to work. But due to me being black this fact of the matter becomes a matter of question and scrutiny. In the beginning of the video I included audio of the police dispatch recording describing the suspect—which I clearly did not match.

One of the three black men they were looking for was described as 5-foot-10, 150 pounds, wearing blue jeans and a dark-colored hoodie. The only details given on the other two was that one of them may had been wearing a white or tan striped shirt. I was wearing a tan striped shirt but I had also been wearing brown slacks. Both the shirt and pants were pressed and were underneath a big grey overcoat that I was wearing. Along with that I was carrying a blue lunch tote bag and a blue umbrella. I was also wearing those large blue headphones. I’m also 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, and have distinguishable shoulder-length hair.

Had any of this been taken into consideration (other than the vagueness of focusing on me being black), this whole thing could’ve been avoided. Getting my ID from me wasn’t going to fix this and it was not going to help the officer be able to decide if I had committed the crime. The only relevance in him requesting my identification was so that he could run a background check for an arrest warrant or to see if I was on probation—which, again, in no way would have helped them find the three men they were looking for.

There’s no coincidence that this took place on Martin Luther King Day—especially with me being such a strong vocal advocate in defense of civil rights for all Americans. In a funny way the universe was giving me yet another opportunity to fight for what I believe in. I’m no lawyer, but I am well aware of my protected rights as a citizen and the sovereignty of my person to be respected by oath keepers that swear to uphold the United States Constitution (such as our soldiers in the military, politicians and police officers). The Fourth Amendment is supposed to prevent these sworn officials from violating a person’s natural right to not be unreasonably searched, yet the common practice to stop and frisk black people has been widely accepted by everyone. I’m not just referring to white Americans who stand by idly and allow this to happen to another person born in the same free country as them, but also by those black Americans who do not continue  to fight against this injustice. Both sides have ignorantly assumed that these problems had went away and swept them under the rug. Now they’ve resurfaced generations later for their children to deal with.

We all know that it’s unacceptable that a dragnet be set up to pull in everyone from a particular race in search for just a few. We all know that it shouldn’t be acceptable that one person uses the color of law to forcibly assault another. The truth of the matter is we have majority of white Americans in this country who still categorically see people of color as being inferior and in need of discipline. As long as this dominative supremacist mindset exists, the spectrum of colors in this country will continue to clash with one another.

Had I turned around with my camera in hand and the officer had his weapon drawn and assumed I was armed then shot and killed me, the argument then would have been, ‘Well, why did that guy have his cellphone in his hand?” As long as a lawful argument can be made for one person to kill another (because they have a badge of authority), no justice will produce no peace. The killings of Kelly Thomas and Eric Garner are just two of the many great examples of this, yet many people still support the actions of police.

Universally this needs to stop and can no longer be permitted by law enforcement. Too many people of all races are being harmed, and until all of We The People stand united against police racial profiling then the struggle to stop this will stay broken up into groups. As as much as some people may say it was my responsibility to help him with his investigation, I would argue that I’m also at liberty to not help him. That day I simply just wanted to get to work without interruption, so I shouldn’t be persecuted for wanting to do just that. Every working-class American should understand this no matter what race they may be.

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J.P.: You are a Libertarian candidate for the governorship of California. Why? What inspired the run? What’s your political background? And what do you hope to accomplish?

N.W.: I’m a newcomer with not much of a formal political background. I’m sure this will be refreshing for most people to know, since it’s career politicians like Jerry Brown who have gotten this state into a mess. But this wouldn’t be foreign to Californians since they also elected first-time politicians Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronald Reagan to govern. What would be firsts for a California governor is me being black and me being a Libertarian. Both would both be resounding achievements for the state. With me being of African-American descent, having a black governor would be the state’s opportune chance to once and for all put to bed its negative race relations. My own personal experiences definitely makes me more aware of where the root of these problems lie and I’m outfitted to deal with them.

Seeing as I did run as write-in candidate for governor in 2014, I guess I do have some sort of history in politics. My inspiration to run for office then was the same as it is now—a call to action due to lack of leadership. I feel it is my duty as a well-informed citizen to do what is necessary to prevent the people of this state from being hurt by the people they’ve elected to help them. The way for me to make this stand is to offer myself as a representative willing to serve the people in the highest position available. As a political activist I’ve attended rallies organized by Occupy protesters, BLM, the Anonymous group, labor unions, climate change activists, genetically modified food activists, anti-police brutality activists and many more. But no matter who I march alongside with, I constantly hear how they feel failed by corrupted politicians.

As the state and nation’s first Libertarian governor I would like to prove how the Libertarian ideals of minimizing government and maximizing freedom are more in line with the desires our country’s forefathers desired. Abolishing taxes is the cornerstone of this proposal, and—with California being one of the states that taxes its citizens the most—a reprieve could definitely be used. For the entire four years I’m in office I will offer this, but tax reform will only be the beginning. Ending the war on marijuana, eliminating vehicle registration fees, establishing a free-market healthcare system and an educational system that actually educates, preventing personal invasion of an individual’s choices, overhauling the state’s prison and judicial system, implementing the American Anti-Corruption Act by executive order and starting the groundbreaking process on moving away from a service-based economy are just a few of the plans I have in store for Californians.

J.P.: I’m gonna be blunt—I don’t see how you can possibly win. Tell me why I’m wrong.

N.W.: My pleasure! I am going to win for the many reasons you see all around you. Since the presidential election, the people of the state no longer have faith in the two-party system. This dismal fact will absolutely be a contributing factor to my success. Me stepping up to the plate as a Libertarian candidate sets me apart from the Republicans and Democrats.

In fact, speaking of them, let’s talk about my competition. There are a few names floating around on the Republican side, but only one that seems to be sticking is John Cox. He is, to be honest, a nobody no one cares about. And on the Democratic side you’ve got too many players who will ultimately split who members of the party will support. They’ve got all their money on Gavin Newsom, but with Antonio Villaraigosa, John Chiang, and even possibly Eric Garcetti mixing things up they’ll all be grasping at straws. Within the Libertarian Party my main competitor is Zoltan Istvan, who is a transhumanist who ran for president against Donald Trump and drove around the country in a coffin-shaped tour bus! Needless to say, there’s no competition there.

Looking at the complete roster with all the candidates, I’m without a doubt the strongest one running in the race if you know of me and what I’m about. Most voters haphazardly make their selections by name recognition. With that in mind, seeing a name like “Nickolas Wildstar” on the ballot will attract votes on its own. Winning in the June primary would be all that I’d need to solidify becoming governor, and with another historically low voter turnout expected I wouldn’t need more than maybe 750,000 votes to do this.

The worst thing that could happen is where Villaraigosa and Newsom are able to muscle everybody out. Since California is a ‘top two’ state voters would be forced to choose between two Democrats only during the November general election and that would be awful for both Democracy and for anyone with a clue of these guys’ pasts as public servants.

I know me winning seems like a long shot but that is only because of the indoctrinated belief that it takes money to win elections. Well, I disagree. My observance is that it isn’t dollars that win candidates elections, it’s the people who support them. People love rooting for the underdog and this would be one of the greatest Cinderella stories for the ages. Hope gets the undecided, undetermined, under-motivated voters energized and that is the base of influence I will be tapping into to help propel me into office. The grassroots of the underground has already started to settle in!

J.P.: On your website you write, “I’m gonna go out on a limb here and be brave and say ‘I CAN HEAL US ALL, I CAN FIX ALL OF OUR PROBLEMS, AND I WILL SUCCEED!’ This actually sounds very Trump-like in its absurdity. And I mean no disrespect, but how can you make a promise like that? All our problems? My roof leaks. My neighbor’s son struggles in math. The guy down the block hates his dog. Isn’t a promise to fix promises going too far?

N.W.: As absurd as the claims Trump made were, he did win the presidency. So that goes to show you there are a large group of Americans who are ready to cut the BS and get straight to the point. The statements I make do seem unrealistic, but if you really think outside the box about what I’m saying you can see how government does have major influence on more than it should … including our own personal happiness.

Figuratively speaking, I could say the reason your roof leaks is due to you buying cheap material, but with Governor Wildstar now in office you have more money due to my cutting the income tax. That creates more personal wealth for you and now you are able to buy better material at a lower cost from the company that produced the goods who chose to lower the price of their products because of an increase in profits since there is no business tax, sales tax, payroll tax, etc. I could say your neighbor’s son struggles in math because he has no interest in learning algebra, but he would no longer need to learn it since the new basic math prerequisite for public education has been met and the choice of learning excelled math skills has now been left up to the parent and the child. I could say the guy down the block who hates his dog only does so because he lost his last apartment because he has a pit bull and the complex only allowed Golden Retrievers but after Governor Wildstar removes prohibitions on breed-specific pets he no longer needs to worry about being discriminated against.

My point: Our problems have problems and when we really sit down and analyze what the origin of them may be, more often than not in some way good ol’ Uncle Sam has something to do with spoiling things. In essence all of what politicians say on the campaign trail are promises to make our lives better and as grandiose as some of their claims may be, it’s usually more of the same especially once they’re elected. I’ve gotta believe that I can heal those who need it, fix all the problems that need fixing and will be successful in doing so or else my motivation will be just as empty as my predecessors. Liberty can be a mighty tool when wielded and I hope to use it to strike at the heart of poverty, oppression, depression and all the ugly wicked ways that our broken two-party political system has created. The greatest result of liberation is the person being given the capability to take dealing with his own problems into his own hands. It would be an honor for me to be given the role to cut the ties that binds us. So if you don’t believe I can fix your problems, you can believe without a doubt that I’ll improve the ability of you doing this for yourself.

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J.P.: How does one actually run for governor? Was there paperwork to file? Do you need a certain number of signatures on a petition? Are you working with a party? Trying to get in debates?

N.W.: Me being with the Libertarian Party as a candidate greatly increases my chances of getting ballot access statewide. Since it is the third largest party, they certainly are in place to make sure that every person in California will have a chance to vote Libertarian. However, to get on the ballot I will need to either pay the $3,400 filing fee or collect 10,000 signatures. Most likely I’ll just end up paying the money, but once that’s done that’s it. I’m sure no Republican or Democrat is going to debate me until after the primary and unless more Libertarian candidates jump in I’m confident the majority of party members will support my candidacy so no need for sparing there. All a person has to do to run for governor is to be a registered voter, a United States citizen and have never served a dual term as governor before.

But, please, don’t go getting any ideas! I’d like to walk away with the victory in 2018 as easily as possible. I’ve got enough competition.

J.P.: Don’t take this wrongly, but I really can’t figure out who you are. So, um, who are you? I’ve seen you identified as a “Political activist and rap artist.” But where are you from? What do you do? How old are you? In short, what has been your life path?

N.W.: Such an existential question!

My name is Nickolas Wildstar and I’m a California transplant from Milwaukee. Shortly after graduating from high school I moved here at age 17 back in 1999, so in human years that would make me about 35 now. Asking “Who are you?” is a pretty packed question to me so on the surface I would say I am a man who is married to a lovely woman and have been for over five years now, I am a musician who is known as QBall, and I independently released an album called “The Real” with a song that was featured in Scary Movie 4. I am involved in political activism that has had me use money from recyclable materials collected to feed those in need and even had me falsely imprisoned for standing up for what I believe in. I am a working-class citizen who has for the past two decades held jobs ranging from telemarketing to cleaning toilets to project management to supervising customer service departments to seeking public office. I am these things, but the person of who I am is another something. I am loving, passionate, loyal, determined, brave, focused, caring and many other words of powerful definition but all in all I am who I am. My life path has only become clear to me over the past five years or so and that is to combine my skills, talents, and abilities to bring about true freedom to my life and the lives of others by becoming governor of California.

J.P.: As a Californian, my biggest issue is the drought. So, if you’re governor, what do we do about it?

N.W.: The drought to me has been one of those hot-button issues I think government has used for more political gain than it actually being of extreme importance. Even Jerry Brown himself has declared that the drought emergency was over. But during the driest periods over the past decade there has been wasteful use of water by government and politicians, with even Antonio Villaraigosa violating his own laws restricting water while he was mayor of Los Angeles, record rainfall that’s even caused the failure of the Oroville Dam, and even companies like Nestle siphoning 36 million gallons of water from California to sell off as bottled water. All in all, the details on the drought need to be further reviewed for negligence and other errors but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t proceed with water preservation efforts such as modernizing water treatment facilities to make drinkable safe tap water and desalinization of ocean water for mass storage in preparation for future droughts.

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J.P.: I’m gonna say something, and you’re not going to like it. But your website—which you’re using as a platform for your gubernatorial run—is overloaded with spelling errors. And I can’t look past that. It makes me wonder how serious you are. I mean, can I vote for someone to reform the state budget when he doesn’t take the time to throw an apostrophe between I and M in I’m? Does this make me a big asshole? And tell me what I’m missing?

N.W.: You would be a big asshole if writing wasn’t your profession, but since it is your scrutiny is within reason and I’d expect nothing less! I’m a one-man show so I’ll admit sometimes a ‘covfefe’ does slip through the cracks. But I’m human and to tell you the truth I don’t get paid to do this. A lot changes once money gets involved, and trust me if I were getting paid to proofread there would be no spelling or grammatical errors whatsoever. As governor it’ll be my job to avoid making as many mistakes as humanly possible and I’ll have a whole team of aides to help me in doing exactly that.

My current website was actually used to promote my earlier gubernatorial run and is now just more so a reference for those who don’t know me to learn a bit more as well as to promote my activism efforts. But soon I’ll be launching Wildstar2018.com, which will be where people can go to find out about my new campaign for California governor as a candidate for the Libertarian party. By the way, thanks for taking the time to even visit my website and for letting me know all that information about it free of charge.

J.P.: I’m very anti-gun. Your website suggests you’re worried about the government trying to disarm citizens. What do you think we should do about gun violence in America?

N.W.: Hey I’m very anti-gun as well, but I’m also pro-constitution and as much as we may not like guns I would be obligated to uphold my oath and protect citizens’ Second Amendment rights. As much as I don’t like guns, I would promote for those that do like them and have them to take a non-violent stance so they’ll only be used in an emergency for someone to protect themselves. Statistically there are more responsible gun owners than not, and the majority of crimes involving guns are those where the gun used was not registered so it is a false assumption that there is an epidemic of gun violence in our nation other than the isolated incidents that are reported in the news and we all know this is done for a TV network’s political agenda. That’s not to exclude places in our country that have an exorbitant amount of gun related crimes, but California is not one of them so more awareness of this fact needs to be made on that here. Were residents made to feel more confident about their neighbor or a stranger being armed, there would be less of a fearful environment of guns since people would know our focus would be to protect one another as a community.

History has shown us that disarmament has often always lead to some sort of mass killing of innocent people. This isn’t to insist that the government has genocidal aspirations for us, but for there to be a consistent effort by them to take away this type of property from citizens who acquired it lawfully should be a matter of question and concern. The last thing we’d want is to have a power-hungry overzealous supremacist in power who has declared martial law upon an unsuspecting unarmed citizenry. Plenty of movies have imitated life itself by showing us that this doesn’t end well, especially if there is no resistance equipped to oppose them. This is the sole reason behind why the amendment was created in the first place and with people among us that can remember Nazi and Japanese internment camps, lynchings, Waco, Ferguson, etc. it is dire that We The People should never forget the necessity of such a drastic precaution. I’m hoping one of the end results of me being governor is a more free, safer, peaceful California that became gun free by choice and not by dictatorship.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH NICKOLAS WILDSTAR:

• Five all-time favorite political figures: In no particular order I would say: Ron Paul (How can you not love the godfather of the new American Revolution?); 2. Malcolm X (I often wonder had he ran for office and became President X how that would’ve been); 3. Andrew Jackson (His last words were “I killed the bank!” Enough said; 4. Frederick Douglass (The accomplishments of this man leave me speechless!); 5. Marcus Garvey (Imagine if this guy had the Internet)

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Eric Trump, LaTroy Hawkins, bacon, Al Sharpton, Erik Estrada, Steve Guttenberg, “Good Times,” Joe Lieberman, VCRs, the number 16, scallops, Brooklyn: Oh, goodness—OK let’s see. 1. Bacon—I gave up pork this year so I’m not supposed to say that but … hey; 2. Scallops—Only because if you wrap bacon around them they’re delicious; 3. Brooklyn—Been there once and had the time of my life so the city definitely tops my list here; 4. VCRs—Still have one, but thanks to the hassle of video cassettes it doesn’t get much use other than by way of the aux setting; 5. The Number 16—I’m cool with the number 1 but that number 6 has always seemed a bit shady to me since it’s the only single digit that could resemble another; 6. Steve Guttenberg—His smile makes me think he’s just an all-around good fellow and I’ve enjoyed his movies enough. So much props to him; 7. Joe Lieberman—He’s fought for the little guy at times and his attempts to stay away from partisan politics are commendable; 8. LaTroy Hawkins—I’m not a sports fan so I didn’t even know who this guy was until I Googled him but since I saw he played for the Brewers and my hometown is Milwaukee he gets a thumbs up from me; 9. “Good Times”—The obscene level of coonery turned me off to this show at a very early age so I’ve never seen a single full episode and don’t have an interest in ever doing so either; 10. Eric Estrada—Wasn’t ever a fan of his and my choices are getting slim here; 11. Al Sharpton—If there was a need for a picture to describe the word “slimeball” in the dictionary a headshot of him should be used; 12. Eric Trump—Every time I see him I think of Ward Meachum from the Iron Fist show on Netflix!

• What’s the first thing you’ll do as governor?: Get to work on fixing the state’s budget problems which would include (but will not be limited to) an audit of the state’s finances, tax reform and reductions of state employee salaries starting with my own which will be cut from its current amount of $173,987 to $99,999. I strongly believe a penny saved is a penny earned and I will certainly practice this once in office.

• Three memories from your first-ever date?: 1. Applebee’s since it was her favorite restaurant; 2. Being called a gentleman for my chivalry because I paid for the meal and opened doors for her; 3. Feeling like I was graduating more into adulthood.

• What are your five favorite things about California?: Kendrick Lamar said in ‘The Recipe’— women, weed, and weather and I couldn’t agree more. Ha!. Also, one of my favorite things would be how forward-thinking the people of California are especially to have successfully recalled a governor which most states wouldn’t even dare to do. But I would have to say my most favorite thing about California was being able to discover my wife who was born and raised here and is one of the single greatest things that has ever happened to me!

• Five all-time favorite hip-hop artists: Again, in no particular order I would say: 1. The Roots (Hearing the ‘Like Water For Chocolate’ album as a teenager forever changed my life!); 2. Ol’ Dirty Bastard (Who can not love ODB?); 3. Black Milk (His music is like diamond needles in the stack of rap); 4. Madlib (For him to be able to go from Quasimoto to Madvillain to Yesterday’s New Quintet is just pure brilliance); 5. J-Dilla (All of his work proves without a doubt how much of an underrated genius he truly was).

• Your last name is Wildstar. That’s beyond awesome. What’s the origin story?: Appreciate the compliment! I assure you I am just as awesome of a person as my name suggests. My father named me but instead of me having his name he gave me my own. He was a huge anime fan during the early 1980s and loved the Wildstar character from the show Star Blazers. Next thing you know Nickolas Wildstar is born!

• In exactly 17 words, how do you feel about Jerry Brown?: I feel Jerry Brown has done an awful job governing California but nothing that I couldn’t fix!

• You have friggin’ awesome hair. What’s the secret?: Thanks for saying that, my man! I would have to give thanks to genetics and my wife for that. I used to have my hair shaved bald until I met her. Then she wanted me to just let it grow all out. At a point nature took control while Ladie Wildstar has maintained the style for me.

This is my all-time favorite song. Thoughts?: Wow Blind Melon! Soon as the saw the band name one of my first thoughts took me back to the video of the little bumble bee girl! Also makes me think you must be pretty psychedelic and somebody I may want to hang out with! Thanks for sharing the jam with me!

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Anne Byrn

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I can’t think of many Quaz Q&As that evoke bitter feelings, but here—with episode No. 314—I make an exception.

Back in the spring of 1995, I was the food writer for The (Nashville) Tennessean. Yes, that was my title. And while I burned my toast, added vanilla extract to my eggs, overcooked microwave dinners and failed to differentiate between a leg of lamb and a pork rib, well, hey—I was the Tennessean food writer, dammit!

Then, one day, my editor called me into her office and said, bluntly, “We’re replacing you.”

Replacing me?

Replacing me?!

How could she replace me? What person could possibly top all I brought to the newspaper’s food section? So what if I had flaws? I also had pizzazz! Flair! Sizzle! Growth potential!

Um … no.

The new food writer was named Anne Byrn, and she was—to be blunt—a superstar. The former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Anne had once used a sabbatical from the paper to bake in Paris at La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine. I, um, liked French fries and, eh, stuff.

Turns out Anne was fantastic. And a joy. She spent several years at the paper, then went on to write a dozen books, including the widely renown Cake Mix Doctor series. These days, Anne can be found writing, teaching, speaking at book festivals and gardening behind her Nashville home. You can visit her websites here and here and follow her on Instagram here, Facebook here and  Twitter here.

Begrudgingly, I can finally admit she may well have been an upgrade.

Anne Byrn, conqueror of kitchens, you are the 314th Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Anne, as you know I’ve spent much of my career as a sports writer. And about, oh, 15 years ago I got really sick of baseball, and walked away from Sports Illustrated to try something new. You’ve been writing about baking for a long time. And I wonder—how do you not get tired of it? Are you ever like, “If I never see another cake, I’ll be a happy woman”?

ANNE BYRN: Baking and baseball might have more in common than you think, Jeff. The science behind them, the passion, the dedication, except you can keep baking a lot longer than you can keep playing baseball! But I know what you mean by this question—and yes, I have been able to write about cooking and family night recipes, and quick appetizers, and stuff to toss in the Crock Pot. I have written other books besides baking books. But I have amassed a lot of knowledge about baking, specifically cakes, and I want to build on that. That’s why I developed a line of natural cake mixes for busy people. And that’s why I researched the history behind our cakes in American Cake. What interests me now are the people behind the cakes, new cakes looking surprisingly old, understanding why we bake. The deeper stuff. Once a baker, or a baseball writer in your case, it is really a part of who you are. You don’t have to leave it, just expand it.

JEFF PEARLMAN: This might sound overly simplistic, but you both write about dessert and are quite thin. How? I’m actually being serious, because aren’t you surrounded by sugar, frosting, etc all the time? And don’t you like the stuff?

A.B.: Let’s just say, I’ve been thinner. But I have been blessed with a high metabolism, I think, because I am always in motion. That helps. And I love two or three bites of cake, and then, I’m done. I don’t have to eat the whole slice. I also love good food—vegetables, fruit, grilled fish, and that really is the mainstay of my diet. I also love gardening, playing tennis, running if needed, throwing the ball for my dog Ella. I will pass along my secret, when I do feel like I am picking up a few pounds and I am in the middle of recipe testing, I give up bread. That helps.

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J.P.: There’s a sentence in your bio that I just love in all its base simplicity. Namely, “I learned to cook by watching my mom.” I know this might sound lame, but can you take me there? What was it like, watching your mother cook? What was the scene? The smell? The joy?

A.B.: My mother Bebe was the fifth of five daughters, born three years before the Depression, and her memories of growing up are doing without, making do, and experiencing great joy. She loved her sisters, and they had fun every minute of life. So our house was a crazy joyful place to grow up. We had two or three dogs at a time, a telephone that rang constantly because my mom had so many friends, and there were just always a lot of people at our house because the food was the best on the block. Our freezer was crammed with leftover chocolate cake and ice cream parfaits, and there was always chicken salad and a baked ham in the fridge. You came to our house to eat and have a good time. So when I learned to cook by watching my mom, it was a continuous process of watching her fry chicken in an electric skillet, stir chocolate fudge slowly and carefully over the electric stove, and season warm potatoes with salt and pepper and onion to go into her potato salad. Her kitchen was pure 70s Formica, avocado green appliances, with beige linoleum on the floor. For a woman who didn’t know how to cook when she married my father, she learned because she loved to eat, she loved to think about food, plan menus, plan parties, and give the wonderful gift of food to those she loved.

J.P.: So in 2010 you launched a supermarket line of natural cake mixes, sans artificial ingredients. Which leads to two questions: 1. What sort of crap do we put in our bodies that we should be most aware/concerned of? Can cake taste as good without that stuff?

A.B.: Yes, I put my family’s from-scratch cake recipes into formulation and launched an all-natural cake mix line. My mixes are free of artificial colors and flavors—lots of those in regular cake mixes. And they are free of preservatives and trans-fat. Preservatives in packaged goods are definitely something we should avoid. They extend the shelf life of a food, but do we really need bread to stay fresh for two weeks? Plus, preservatives are high in sodium and crank up the sodium count of the food. Without these additives, cake can taste amazing! It is a little denser in texture, but it has real homemade flavor and that is something with which we need to acquaint ourselves.

J.P.: Can you enjoy, say, a Carvel cake? Like, you’re at a birthday party and there’s a Carvel cake. Or a Cold Stone cake. Or … whatever. A Costco cake? Can you derive pleasure from eating a slice? Or, for you, is it like a trip to McDonald’s?

A.B.: It’s worse. I can tolerate McDonald’s if I am driving and it’s a long, lone highway and I am starving—cheeseburger, fries, small Coke. There was a time when I wouldn’t grace the doors of McDonald’s but then I had three children and that took care of that. But those bakery cakes, well, they are just not my thing. I can taste artificial vanilla. I can break down a cake recipe in the first two bites. It’s just not worth the calories, really. Cake needs to be good. It need to be real. It is always best home-baked.

J.P.: How does your brain work when it comes to recipes? I mean, soup to nuts, how do you create?

A.B.: To create a cake recipe, I start with the basics—flour, sugar, fat, and eggs. Will I use all wheat flour or a mixture of different flours? Then the leavening—what is going to make the cake rise? Are the eggs enough, and am I going to cream the butter and sugar together to aerate and make the batter lighter? Or do I need baking powder or soda to give the cake a boost and lighten it? That is the framework—and then if you are baking with chocolate you might want to use an acidic ingredient to complement, such as buttermilk or sour cream. Flavorings are fun, and completely whimsical – grated zest of lemon or orange, almond, vanilla, Bourbon, cinnamon, etc. And with the frosting recipe, I look for ways to reduce the amount of frosting needed for a cake not only to make it more fresh and modern but also easier on the waistline.

For savory recipes, we use bold seasoning in cooking dinner at our house. We look to Indian flavors, Thai, Korean, and Creole/Cajun as the benchmarks. We use classic techniques—sautéing, broiling, grilling, poaching. But we really boost the flavor. It’s just what makes everyone at my house hungry for dinner. So when I create a savory recipe, it’s got to be flavorful, using good spice, fresh herbs, lots of garlic, and have some topping or side or relish that complements.

J.P.: What’s the story of your biggest kitchen catastrophe?

A.B.: Probably the Christmas Eve turkey that I put in the oven before church and came home to find hadn’t cooked at all because the power went out. (We ate ham.) Or the year we traveled to my in-laws and had promised this beautiful roasted pork dinner with all the trimmings, and alas, an ice storm hit Chattanooga and no power to cook. Until we found a cousin’s home that had power and we took the pork there to roast, let the coconut cake sit in the garage two days to get good and moist, and lit candles and poured wine. Lesson to self—catastrophes occur most often during the winter holidays when you have other people to feed.

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J.P.: I notice on your Twitter feed you’ll step outside of food on occasion and share a political thought, a social commentary. Michael Jordan, when asked why he wouldn’t endorse candidates, famously said, “Because Republicans buy shoes, too.” I’m guessing Republicans eat cake, too. Does that sort of thing concern you?

A.B.: I generally fall in the Michael Jordan camp. Who am I to push my political views on people who have the right to vote the way they want? And everyone not only buys shoes but they bake cakes. But when politicians make broad-brushstroke comments about my hometown—Nashville—as if all of us love NASCAR, well that’s going too far. It might work in a country music song, but it doesn’t work on national TV describing my town. So Marsha Blackburn and anyone who tries to stereotype us in Nashville or Tennessee as being this way or that way, please don’t. Those worn out stereotypes are yesterday, gone with the wind, and they just don’t sound right anymore. Nashville is a great place to live and full of wonderful and thoughtful people of all walks of life.

J.P.: I’ve asked singers how they feel about shows like American Idol and The Voice, but I’ve never asked someone in your shoes how you feel about all The Food Network cooking competitions. So … Anne, how do you feel about them? Do you ever find yourself watching Vanilla Ice and Herschel Walker competing to make the bets hamburger? Do you at all think those shows marginalize the skill it takes to be a quality cook? The opposite?

A.B.: I liken the Food Network cooking competitions to eating popcorn or potato chips. It’s enjoyable and you can sit down and eat a lot of it and time goes by and you think, what have I just done? Eaten all those chips – watched all those shows – and I should have been doing laundry or finishing a book deadline. They are really mindless and perfect to watch when you are getting a manicure. But at the same time, I don’t think they marginalize the skill needed to be a great cook or chef. In fact, you have to have some pretty strong skills to get on those shows. One of my good friends is a terrific, shoot-from-the-hip sort of cook and she won Chopped because she can think under fire and fried everything!

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J.P.: We’ve both probably done our share of book signings. I hate them, because I feel vulnerable and naked and always fear two people showing up, just to laugh at me. How are signings for you? How do you approach them? Have you ever had two people showing up just to laugh at you?

A.B.: Oh boy, with more than a dozen books and countless signings, I have handled a crowd of 400 and one signing (Charlotte, NC) where no one showed up. So, what did I do? I had the employees of the book store sit down and I talked to them about the book. You really have to make lemonade from lemons, and if no one is there you train salespeople to sell your book! I approach all signings with no expectations. There is always food to sample—always—but if I have less than 10 people we huddle in a small group and talk food and do a lot of Q&A. With a big group, it’s fun to have a moderator ask questions. Authors always hope for big turnouts!

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH ANNE BYRN:

• Out of 100 tries, how often is your name misspelled? And what are the most common manglings?: Fifty. About half the time. Most common are Bryn and Ann Byrne.

• Rank in order (favorite to least):  Harlem Globetrotters, IHOP, Jimmy Dean fully cooked sausages, Julia Child, Tim Duncan, deer hunting, the number 33, “Diners, Drive ins and Dives,” Tanya Tucker: Julia Child, “Diners, Drive ins and Dives,” Tim Duncan, Harlem Globetrotters, Tanya Tucker, the number 33, Jimmy Dean fully cooked sausages, IHOP, deer hunting.

• One question you would ask Mel Torme were he here right now?: What is this thing called love, Mel?

• Your five greatest chefs in modern American history?: Thomas Keller, Julia Child, Jeremiah Tower, Jean-Louis Palladin, Edna Lewis

• Three favorite Nashville restaurants: Chauhan, Etc., BrickTops

• Grossest thing you’ve ever seen in a kitchen?: Many years ago, catering an event out of a frat house kitchen in Tuscaloosa, AL, and that kitchen was filthy with rodents, bugs. We couldn’t cook there.

• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between you and Melissa Manchester?: A draw, for sure. She seems really nice. We’d go to lunch.

• How preoccupied are you by our mortality, on a scale of 1 to 100?: 10

• Three memories from your senior prom?: Bad hair, cute date, green dress

• Do you think the Mets’ middle infield is deep enough for a playoff run?: Absolutely!

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Mike Pritchard

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If you think about it, athletic fame—even at the highest level—is preposterously fleeting. One day you’re a star, enjoying free meals, absorbing the cheers of 60,000 fans, signing autographs and entering a room to stares and gasps.

The next day, you’re one of us again.

In the course of his nine-year NFL run, Mike Pritchard was no ordinary player. Beginning in 1991, when he was a first-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons, and concluding with the Seahawks in 1999, Mike caught 422 balls, which ties Bobby Joe Conrad, Jay Novacek and Bob Tucker for 198th on the NFL’s all-time list. And while you may think, “Whoa, 198th. Big whoops,” … well, where do you rank?

The point: Mike Pritchard was a player. Fast, Shifty. Tough. He survived longer than most and produced more than most. Which makes him both a man with a thick resume and a guy who can talk openly, freely about a world of experiences (aka: a very worthy Quaz Q&A).

These days Mike lives in Las Vegas, where he serves as co-host of the Mitch & Pritch Show on ESPN Radio. One can follow him on Twitter here.

Mike Pritchard, you are the 313th Quaz Q&A …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Mike, you’re 47—at the age where a lot of former NFL players really start feeling the impact of their athletic career. So … how does having been a football player physically affect your day-to-day life? Do you have pains? Aches? Limitations? And how much do you worry about either a mental or physical slide due to football?

MIKE PRITCHARD: I was a slot receiver most of my career which meant going across the middle a lot. Considering my collisions were against linebackers and safeties I thought I would be in horrible shape right now. I’m actually happy that just my left knee reminds me of football. The constant pain and swelling is annoying but I can still be active. I lacerated my kidney while playing with the Broncos. I was able to play several years after that incident and so far it hasn’t affected my day to day life.

J.P.: Along those lines, I’ve often seen interviews with retired players, and they can barely walk, or their memory is terrible, or they need a new knee or hip or heart valve or whatever. And yet, they usually say, “I wouldn’t change a thing.” I don’t get that. Like, at all—the trading of health for glory. Can you explain …

M.P.: I’m pretty positive that i would change my knee, back pain and a lacerated kidney if I just played for glory. What kept me on the field despite the dangers was the desire to compete. It just so happens that I was pretty good with competing on the field. Maybe winning a national championship at the University of Colorado back in 1990 had some influence as well. Now I compete with my mind.

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J.P.: You came along a little before we absolutely nitpicked over every measurement a football player offered; before we raved over 4.43 speed but bemoaned 4.5 speed; before we decided a guy would become legend because he jumped really high in his underwear. So I wonder—do you think football scouting has gone too far? Do we overthink this stuff? Or is there truly an importance of a receiver running 4.34 on an indoor track, as opposed to 4.4?

M.P.: Great question. I think nitpicking can help when used for discovery. That was the case with me and I will explain. If you evaluate talent for a living obviously you use what works for you. If 4.34 vs. 4.4 or benching 225 18 times instead of 16 has lead to a pretty good player you will probably use these parameters again (copycat league, Jeff). For me, the league thought I could play but needed to find out more prior to the draft. My performance during the NFL Combine validated what evaluators initially thought and confirmed to them that I belonged in their league.

J.P.: You spent nine years in the NFL, and I wonder— does it live up to the hype? What I mean is, parents push their kids toward pro sports careers; children dream of it and dream of it and dream of it. Well, you got there. You did it. Was it worth the hard work? Does it meet the expectations?

M.P.: Playing in the NFL totally exceeded expectations. I had no comparisons either. My dad was a career Air Force serviceman and my brother followed in his footsteps. I knew I wanted to go to college but I didn’t have one dream of playing in the NFL. I was a fan and admired the great players but honestly I didn’t have an NFL-or-bust mentality. When I arrived on the scene as a rookie with the Atlanta Falcons it was like a whole new world just opened up to me and I wanted to stay in it. I was willing to work hard and sacrifice more because of 1) the championship in college and 2) this new world of professional sports and what it could provide. So in the end, yes the experience was worth it.

J.P.: You were a first-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons in 1991. The team took Brett Favre in the second round—and the pairing didn’t work. You were there; you caught passes from him. Who was the young Favre? Could he have excelled in Atlanta?

M.P.: The young Brett Favre threw three touchdown  passes to me during the first preseason game of the 1991 season. Brett was immensely talented but not refined. He just needed coaching and a positive NFL influence. The 1991 Atlanta Falcons organization had talent as well, but we did not have a winning culture. If the culture was different I absolutely believe Brett would have excelled. Brett felt early on that he had something to prove. Competing with a chip on his shoulder drove Brett to the Hall of Fame.

J.P.: You were traded from the Falcons to the Broncos in 1994, at a time when there weren’t a ton of NFL trades. So … what does it feel like to be traded? Does one feel for wanted (by the new team) or unwanted (by the old)? How did you find out about it? How did you accept the information?

M.P.: The NFL was weird back then. We just started to experience free agency. The money started to flood in as well. My agent had positioned us perfectly with a three-year contract and I was designated a restricted free agent. Also, the Falcons had fired Jerry Glanville as the head coach and was naming June Jones the new head coach. I wanted to stay in Atlanta but at the same time all of our talent was walking out the door.

The Broncos contacted my agent and wanted to see if there was interest in playing back in Colorado with John Elway. I said “Hell, yeah!” and the trade came about. The trade was a win/win for me—Atlanta was going through a transition and Denver had John Elway. If I didn’t lacerate my kidney during the first year in Denver I believe it would have been a special year.

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J.P.: Your final NFL season came in 1999, when you caught 26 passes with the Seahawks. How did you know you were done? Could you tell physical changes? Recovery changes? Were you accepting of the end of your career? Was it hard to digest?

M.P.: Jeff, my career was loaded with mishaps. The trade to Denver started with a lot of promise, as I was at the top of the AFC in receptions before the kidney incident. In 1999 Seattle hired Mike Holmgren as its head coach. I had a tremendous offseason which led to a new contract from Seattle and Coach Holmgren targeting me with the flanker receiver position (think Jerry Rice and Antonio Freeman). Needless to say i was ecstatic.

During fall training camp a rookie wide receiver ran into my left knee and I tore my lateral meniscus cartilage. The MRI revealed a slight tear but when the surgeon went inside he found more significant damage. After the surgery I was informed that my left knee was now without cartilage. Jeff, it was instant arthritis. My Jerry Rice role disappeared and so did any more years on my career. If it wasn’t for Toradol injections i wouldn’t have caught those 26 passes. I was accepting of the end of my career because the pain was too much to handle.

J.P.: As I age I become more and more skeptical about all things college football. It just seems like this big meat factory, where (oftentimes) young African-American men from urban areas are plucked out of poverty by wealthy white men, offered promises of NFL fame, given unrealistic educational expectations (maintain a 2.5 while also practicing 40 hours per week—and traveling on weekends). Yes, there are many successes. But there are MANY heartbreaking stories, too. Mike, am I off here?

M.P.: Jeff, you are spot on. Young African-American men are promised the world especially if they can help a professional coach win games and secure his position. I think the art of recruiting has been lost with the elevation of head coaching salaries in college football. When I was recruited all that was promised to me was that I would have a chance at an education and that I would be able to compete against the best teams in college football. There was no promise that Colorado would help me get to the NFL. I was accepting of that and was fine with it. Today’s head coaches are making incredible sums of money, which leads to jaded promises and even more cheating all for the sake of the university’s bottom line.

Last I checked tuition, enrollment and conference TV contracts are up. Jeff, I do believe there is a bubble in college football (debt levels of Michigan and California athletic programs). It will be interesting to see what happens down the road.

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J.P.: How does it feel to be a member of the media, having been covered for so long? Was it weird at first? Offputting? Do you still think of yourself first and foremost as a retired athlete, or as a radio host? And does your experience on the field truly help you as an observer?

M.P.: Jeff, my media experience has had its moments. I always had interest. During my career I had media opportunities with TV and radio. My goal is to broadcast games (color analyst) nationally. I have broadcasted Arena League and college football for the past 15 years but mostly for local and regional areas.

Sports talk radio has been an eye opener. I thought that egos only existed in professional sports. Man, was i mistaken. I still feel like a player performing in the media as opposed to a member of the media. I don’t want to insult journalism or a journalist by claiming to be a member of the media. It’s more fun to remain coachable. I have found that my experience on the field helps me to provide perspective and has been entertaining as well.

J.P.: Do you ever get bored of sports? It’s been your life for so long—are you ever like, “Ugh, if I never see another Browns-Jets game I’d be America’s happiest human”?

M.P.: Honestly, I didn’t get bored of sports until I started doing a sports talk show. How funny is that?

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH MIKE PRITCHARD:

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Never had that thought. We had to dump fuel once but I always believed we would land safely.

• Five most-talented football players you ever played with/against?: Deion Sanders, Barry Sanders, John Elway, Warren Moon, Jerry Rice (tied for sixth—Joe Montana, Steve Atwater, Junior Seau)

• Is Pete Rose inducted into the Hall of Fame within the next two decades?: Yes, right after sports betting is legalized in the United States.

• The world needs to know, what was it like playing with Itula Mili?: LOL … it was an honor. From what i remember Mili was a quiet player trying to find his way in the league

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Circus Circus, Jeff Feagles, Denver Post, deep tissue massage, salted peanuts, Steve Broussard, your right elbow, “Dances with Wolves,” Jerry Glanville, Rebecca Lobo, Cher, MC Ren: Deep tissue massage, Circus Circus, salted peanuts, Denver Post, Jerry Glanville, MC Ren, my right elbow, Rebecca Lobo, Steve Broussard, Cher, Jeff Feagles, Dances with Wolves.

• We give you one start in an NFL game right now, what’s your statistical line?: 9 catches for 163 yards and 2 TD’s


• Five reasons one should make Las Vegas his home: Convenience, entertainment, weather, women, and Los Angeles is close

• Five ugliest uniforms in pro sports: Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Memphis Grizzlies, Toronto Blue Jays, Vancouver Canucks

• Reality TV calls—they want you to race Chris Hinton, Bobby Hebert, Marisa Tomei and an alligator in a pool of vanilla pudding. Winner gets $500,000. You in?: No. Two reasons … one, alligator and two, I can’t swim.

• How bad are my Jets going to be in 2017?: B- A- A- D….BAAD, BAAD, BAAD!!

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Hal McCoy

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Back when I was covering the Majors for Sports Illustrated, I always loved visiting the Cincinnati Reds’ spring training facility in Sarasota, Florida.

Was it the chance to see Hal Morris and Jason LaRue in action? Um, no.

The opportunity to watch Bob Boone’s managerial genius? Um, no.

The snazzy Reds’ spring uniforms? Definitely not.

What I loved about being with the Reds was it also meant hanging with Hal McCoy, the longtime Dayton Daily News beat writer. Unlike many veteran scribes, who tended to treat magazine newbies (like myself) as invisible specks of dust, Hal could not have been warmer, more decent, more helpful. On multiple occasions he’d invite me to breakfast at Gus 12th Street Cafe—where the eggs were scrambled and the conversation delightful. Truly, I could listen to Hal talk all day. About the Big Red Machine. About Pete Rose. About Rob Dibble and Ray Knight and Dan Driessen and all things MLB. He was a tremendous journalist, and an even better guy.

Anyhow, many of us presumed Hal’s career was over in 2003, when he was deemed legally blind. Yet, against all odds, he remains a Reds’ regular. He covers the team’s home games as a blogger for the Daily News, and posts about the club on his personal website. He is the author of a book, “The Real McCoy: My Half Century with the Cincinnati Reds.” You can follow him on Twitter here.

Today, Hal recalls the departure of Ken Griffey, Sr. and Dave Collins to the Yankees; explains Marge Scott and Pete Rose and tells the story of Brandon Phillips’ odd anger.

In 2002, he was honored by the National Baseball Hall of Fame as the winner of the J. G. Taylor Spink Award. But now, at long last, his greatest triumph is at hand.

Hal McCoy is the 312th Quaz Q&A …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Hal, because this is my Q&A series, and I can be as weird and nonsensical as I so choose, I’m going to start with something that probably only fascinates me and no one else. Back in 1982 I was a 10-year-old New Yorker, riveted by the Yankees acquiring two Reds outfielders—Ken Griffey and Dave Collins. The Yanks were replacing Reggie Jackson with speed-speed-speed, and I couldn’t have been more excited. But it pretty much flopped. I’m wondering, from the vantage point of a guy covering the Reds, what did those moves look like? Did you think Cincinnati was making a huge mistake? Did you think New York was buying fool’s gold? Both? Neither? And how were those two guys in the clubhouse?

HAL MCCOY: Selfishly, I hated the moves. Those were two of my favorite people and remain so to this day. Griffey came up to the Reds with a chip on his shoulder, a chip that was racially oriented. And it got worse when the Reds acquired George Foster. Those two became close friends and closed up around themselves. They didn’t relate to the media. They thought The Big Four of the Big Red Machine received all the attention. I sympathized and empathized with them and gained their trust. They opened up to me and gave me many stories others didn’t get. As for Dave Collins, I crossed a line. You are never supposed to become close off-the-field friends. But we did. He came to my wedding. He came to my son’s high school basketball games. And he became a great source to me. In fact, when he left the Reds, GM Dick Wagner came up to me and said, “Well, I got rid of your bobo in the clubhouse.” Neither guy really fit into the New York State of Mind, especially Griffey. So it didn’t work for the Yankees and it hurt the Reds.

With wife Nadine in 2003

With wife Nadine in 2003

J.P.: In 2003 you told your sports editor at the Daily News that you’d have to retire because you were legally blind. That was 14 years ago. Your vision hasn’t improved. You still cover the Reds. In 2013 Rick Reilly wrote for ESPN, “McCoy can tell where a home run lands by watching the fuzzy scramble of people in the bleachers.” Hal—how the hell do you do this? And do it so well?

H.M.: I love Rick Reilly, a good friend and one hell of a talented writer. I often say of him, “I know all those words, I just can’t put them together the way he does.” Well, he got that one a bit wrong. I can see the pitch and I can see ground balls. I can’t see fly balls. I discovered something during spring training after my optic nerve strokes. I was trying to watch batting practice one day, but couldn’t follow the ball. So I watched Ken Griffey Jr.’s swing. I noticed that after he hit a ball, he looked in the direction where he hit it. So I started watching the hitter’s heads after they hit the ball instead of trying to locate the ball. When Griffey looked toward left field, I looked to left field. I still couldn’t find the ball, but I could follow what the left fielder was doing. If he went to the wall and looked, home run. That one thing, which I never knew in 30 years of covering baseball, really, really helped. And it is little things like that, things other people don’t notice, that has helped me continue doing this. I don’t need to do it any more. Hell, I’m 76-years old. But I love it and want to do it and people seem to want me to keep doing it. So I’ve adjusted.

J.P.: So I know you attended Kent State, where you played baseball and graduated from the School of Journalism. I know you started covering the Reds in 1973. But, well, how did this happen for you? When did you know, hey, THIS is something I can do? Where did the love of writing come from?

H.M.: This is a good one. When I was a kid, I loved the Cleveland Indians. I read an old baseball writer named Jim Schlemmer in the Akron Beacon Journal, who used to write these 50-inch stories on every game. Then I’d play mock games with my baseball cards and take a piece of notebook paper and design a sports page and ‘write’ a story. I  did this in the fifth and sixth grade and grew out of it. Then, my senior year in high school, I took a typing class, only because I would be the only male in the class. One day my typing teacher approached and said, “You play on the basketball team, right?” I said I did and she told me she was the advisor for the school newspaper and needed a story on the team. I told her I’d never done anything like that and she said, “Just do it and we’ll fix it up.” I did it and the next day she came up to me and said, “Have you every thought about journalism as a career?” I said no and she said, “You should. Your story was  very good.”

I forgot about it. When Kent State offered me a partial baseball scholarship I had to declare a major, I thought about what Mrs. Rose Picciotti said that day and put down journalism. And when my college playing career fizzled, I wanted to stay associated with baseball and my journalism degree paved the way.

J.P.: Just how awful was Marge Schott? Worse than we think? Not quite as bad? And how, in hindsight, would you explain her?

H.M.: Depends on where you sat. If you worked for her, she was a witch. If you were a fan, she was a goddess. If you were a writer she didn’t like (like me), she tried to make your life miserable. She banished me from the media dining room three times for stories I wrote she didn’t like. But Eric Davis sent me pizzas to the press box. She was like my grandmother, so I somewhat understood her. In Marge’s younger days and my grandmother’s, there was no such thing as political correctness. They said what popped into their heads. They had no contact with blacks or Japanese or Chinese or Mexicans or Native Americans. So they had prejudices and expressed them, thinking everybody thought that way. Marge just couldn’t help herself. She finally began to like me when he she found out I owned a blind cocker spaniel (she loved dogs), my wife teaches in Catholic school (she loves the Catholic school system) and I love cigars (as did her husband). When she discovered that, I could do no wrong and I wrote the same stuff about her that got me banished.

J.P.: You entered during newspaper’s golden age, and now you write almost exclusively for Internet. How do you feel about the state of sports journalism in 2017? Are you hopeless? Hopeful? Would you advise young writers to enter?

H.M.: Newspapers are either dead or dying. I was so fortunate to do my job when newspapers were No. 1. That’s no longer the case and when I see the Dayton Daily News these days I am embarrassed. And that goes for most newspapers. The game, as they say, has changed tremendously. With social media, it is not a 24-hour news cycle and it is instant gratification. I don’t see much great writing any longer. I don’t see sports as literature any more and I used to see a lot of it. I’m not hopeful, I’m hopeless and long for the days of good, incisive and humorous writing. We won’t see it again. Websites always need content so there will always be the human element the writing. But it won’t ever be as good. It is who posts it first, whether it is right or wrong. Call me old school and a curmudgeon, but I still love to read a newspaper, a real paper newspaper in my hands.

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J.P.: A lot of people blame the media, at least in part, for the Steroid Era. Do you accept any blame? Do you think we should have been more suspicious? Asked more questions? Do you feel like, in hindsight, maybe you knew more than you cared to know? Or had an inkling that went suppressed? Or were you just in the dark about it all? Because—to be honest—I feel like I dropped the ball.

H.M.: We all fumbled it and the other team recovered. To be truthful, I didn’t even know what steroids were until I started hearing about players using them. Did I know? Yes, I did, but I didn’t equate them to being something bad until the late 90s and the Steroid Era was in full bloom. Like other writers and the fans, I enjoyed the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run chase. While I was never a fan of Barry Bonds because of his personality, I enjoyed watched his home runs. After all this blew, I can remember one spring training when one of the Reds outfielders came into camp about 30 pounds bigger than the previous year and it was all muscle. Four or five of us (all writers) were interviewing him and he was telling us about his workout program, how he did it all with diet and weights. Right in the middle of the interview, a teammate walked by and said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Tell ’em about the steroids.” We all laughed. Nobody followed up. To this date the player has never come under suspicion or scrutiny.

J.P.: I feel like every writer has one money story from his/her career. For example, I’ll be telling John Rocker at parties until I die. Hal, what’s your money journalism story? The craziest/wackiest/weirdest thing you’ve been through?

H.M.: Has to be the Pete Rose Saga of 1989—the worst year of my professional life. Pete was a friend and a great source. When the story broke, I was in the middle of it, breaking stories day after day. And I was covering the games every day, too. Then I’d have to ask Pete the gambling questions and, of course, he would deny, deny, deny. One of his greatest supporters was WLW radio talk show host Bob Trumpy, the former Bengals star. Rose convinced Trumpy that he never bet on baseball. So when my stories came out, Trumpy would rip me on the air and defense Rose. One day he said, “If it is proved that Pete Rose bet on baseball, I’ll jump off the top floor of the 50-story Carew Tower.” I’m still waiting for Trumpy to jump. He has never apologized to me, but he does talk to me and is cordial. But he has not spoken to Rose since the day Pete was banned.

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J.P.: How am I supposed to feel about Rose? I look at him and see this Las Vegas slime wad who would sell his autographed kidney for $1. But I also see this buffoon who can’t get out of his own way—and that evokes some sympathy. Do you feel bad for him? Do you like him? Does he belong in the Hall?

H.M.: You have him pretty much pegged. He is a lovable sleazeball (if he doesn’t owe you money). And he is a buffoonish cartoon caricature. The fact that he is so humorous and is so much fun to hear talk about baseball makes some of us feel sorry for him. As I do. He didn’t speak to me for about 13 years after he was banished because of the stories I had to write. But we are friends again. While I can’t forgive him for what he did and for all the lies he tried to slip by me time-after-time, I can’t help but like the guy. He thought he was the Teflon ballplayer and could do anything and get away with it. He found out differently.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Moot question. It will never happen. People think that if he is reinstated he’ll go right into the Hall of Fame. That’s not correct. He has to reinstated to be eligible and I don’t think that will happen. And even if he is reinstated, he still has to be voted in by a Hall of Fame committee (the writers are no longer eligible to have him on the ballot). The committee won’t vote him in.

J.P.: You obviously covered the majestic Big Red Machine—which I’m sure was awesome. But you’ve also covered teams that lost 101 games, 98 games, 94 games, 90 games, 93 games, 96 games, 89 games, 88 games. Hal, what is it to cover shitty baseball day after day? Does it beat on a writer the way it might a player? Is it hard to get motivated? And what was the worst team you’ve covered?

H.M.: If you love baseball and you love writing, and I do, it doesn’t matter if the team is great, good, average, bad, awful or indifferent. There is always something to write about. And there are always great teams and great players coming into Cincinnati that you get to see and write about. The travel I did for 37 years finally got to me, but losing teams and bad teams never bothered me. In fact, my editors always said they liked to see the Reds lose because my stories were better when they lost. It is easier to write about losing teams. Writing about the Big Red Machine sometimes got boring because it was win, win, win and they beat the bejeezus out of the other teams. Definitely, the team that lost 101 games was the worst. But even that team had Mario Soto, one of the best pitchers I ever saw and owner of the best change-up I ever saw. And he was controversial and furnished some very good stories.

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J.P.: What’s the worst confrontation you’ve ever had with a player or coach or GM? What happened?

H.M.: Over 43 years I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve had three major incidents. The first was when Joe Morgan was leaving the Reds via free agency and I wrote a good-riddance column. But I didn’t denigrate his ability. I just said the Big Red Machine days were over and the team was rebuilding and Morgan was no longer needed. The next day he stuck his finger in my face and said, “Don’t ever try to talk to me again.” And for 35 years we didn’t speak. He later became a Reds broadcaster and we played tennis doubles against each other and didn’t speak. Then a couple of years ago, now that Morgan is an advisor with the Reds, he called me over in the clubhouse and apologized—35 years later. I also apologized for being just as childish as he was and things are OK.

When Dick Wagner was GM, he traded Ray Knight for Cesar Cedeno. I called him on the phone for comments and he said, “What are you calling me for? You’re just going to rip me.” I swore at him and slammed the phone down and didn’t talk to him ever again. He never gave information to writers anyway and was fired shortly thereafter. But when I was voted into the Hall of Fame in 2003 I was shocked to receive a nice note of congratulations from him.

The third person is recent—Brandon Phillips. We got along great. He came to me to call the St. Louis Cardinals ‘Whiny little bitches,’ a story that ignited a big fight on the field. I expected him to say he was misquoted or taken out of text or deny saying it. The next day he came up to me, smiling, gave a bump-five and said, “Great story.” Well, a couple of years ago when the Reds tried to trade him twice and he used his 10-and-5 rights to block the trade, I wrote that it was stupid of him to turn down a trade to Washington, where he could win and he would be re-united with his pal Dusty Baker. And I said it was evident the Reds didn’t want him, so why would he want to stay. He actually called me at home said, “You probably never though I’d call you at home. I thought you had my back. I thought we were buds.” And from that day on, if he is conducting a gang-bang interview and I get with five feet, he shuts up and says, “No more until a certain MFer leaves and he knows who I mean.” I smile and walk away.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH HAL MCCOY:

• Rank in order (most natural baseball talent to least): Dewayne Wise, George Foster, Todd Frazier, Pokey Reese, Ed Taubensee, Paul Householder, Andy Kosco, Adam Dunn, Chris Sabo: George Foster, Pokey Reese, Chris Sabo, Todd Frazier, Dewayne Wise, Adm DunnPaul Householder, Eddie Taubensee, Andy Kosco.

• Why did Gookie Dawkins never really make it?: He wasn’t as good as his nickname.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Reds charter (when writers rode the charter) in the early 1980s. The pantry caught on fire and we made an emergency landing in Salt Lake City (on our way to Los Angeles). I wasn’t too concerned until we came close to the runway and I saw about a dozen emergency vehicles, red light flashing, lined on both sides of the runway. And I can remember hearing one of the players saying, “We’re gonna crash, we’re gonna die.”

• Five purely nicest ballplayers you’ve ever covered?: Sean Casey, Eric Davis, Barry Larkin, Steve Garvey, Jay Bruce.

• What was your initial reaction when the Reds traded Paul O’Neill to the Yankees for Roberto Kelly: Hated it. Loved Paul O’Neill. Not only did I think he was a very good player, he and I used to play tennis in the off-season. I could usually beat most ballplayers in tennis,  but O’Neill was fantastic on the court and was great friends with a couple of touring pros who he used to play with.

• What are the three words you most overuse?: Sensational, absolutely, defeat (covering the Reds)

• Six greatest baseball writers of your lifetime?: This one is tough and these are all beat writers: Earl Lawson (taught me all I know);. Joe Falls (worked under him in Detroit one year), Phil Collier, Dick Young, Jim Schlemmer (my childhood idol).

• Who goes down as a greater Red—Ken Griffey, Sr. or Ken Griffey, Jr.?: This one is a tie. Senior had more time, but Junior was a better player, even when he was with the Reds and injuries slowed him down.

• What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?: From my mentor, Earl Lawson of the Cincinnati Post: “Just shut up, follow me and do what I do.”

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Katherine Terrien

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A couple of months ago the son and I were walking the pier in Manhattan Beach when we heard an absolutely angelic sound.

It was coming from about, oh, 20 steps up the plank, along the left railing. Now, I’ve walked myriad piers in my three years as a Californian, and oftentimes those steps have been accompanied by singers of different levels. Some sound like Eddie Vedder, some sound like Sister Sledge, some sound like a frog eating cabbage. This, though, was different. The voice belonged to a young woman in a green winter jacket and jeans, and despite the wind and the chatter and the crashing of waves, it absolutely just soared.

Hell, I took a quick video. Take a listen.

Anyhow, we threw a couple of bucks into her guitar case, and between songs raved to her about her talent. She introduced herself as Katherine Terrien, then handed me a card. Emmett, who’s 10, knows exactly how my thinking goes on these things …

“Quaz?” he said.

“Quaz,” I said.

And here we are.

I don’t know for certain whether Katherine Terrien is destined for stardom. Hell, so many things have to break this way and that way. What I do know, however, is she’s a special type of talent, and if musical ability+eagerness+glow=success, she’ll go a long way.

In the meantime, one can follow Katherine on Instagram here, Twitter here and YouTube here. I love introducing new talents, and today’s Quaz Q&A may well feature the most talented fresh face to grace this space.

Katherine Terrien, don’t forget us when you’re headlining Staples Center. You’re the 311th Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Katherine, so a few months ago I’m walking with my son up the pier at Manhattan Beach and I hear this lovely singing voice—and it’s you. And, truly, you have a beautiful, haunting voice. But I wonder, what is it to be singing on a street, or a pier, or any public place where the majority of people walk by, talking, sorta ignoring you? Is it fun? Is it depressing at times? What are you thinking about? What are you seeing?

KATHERINE TERRIEN: It’s so fun! For me it’s never depressing. On the contrary, if I’m having a really bad day, that usually pulls me out of it pretty quickly. There are definitely people who just walk right by and don’t listen, but that’s just to be expected. It’s actually more enjoyable for me to busk (a term used for street performing) than it is to play in a loud bar somewhere. You end up playing for all sorts of different people of all ages and backgrounds.

I’ve had so many people come up to me telling me I’ve made their night or made them cry (hopefully in a good way) and you know, that’s incredible to me. To be able to do something I enjoy and have other people enjoy it just as much is an amazing thing. The kids are my favorite, though. Children will walk by and start interpretive dancing to my songs or start dancing all crazy. They have the best time and they don’t care who sees. It’s the funniest, most special part about what I get to witness. It’s one of the biggest reasons why I do what I do.

J.P.: Along those lines—because I’ve never asked anyone this—are there ways to make more money as a street musician? What I mean is, do certain songs lend themselves to coin? Is there a way to position your open guitar case? If people give a ton, do you take most out so it doesn’t seem like people have given a ton? Or do a bunch of bills lying there inspire more people to give?

K.T.: I’m almost certain there are, but I don’t really concern myself with that too much. The most important thing to me is making connections with people so they remember me and want to follow the progression of my music. I try and make my music as accessible as possible, so I try and advertise my social media sites and ways to download everything I’ve recorded so far for free. That’s my main motive behind busking. The money is definitely helpful and I appreciate everything people have given me, but I really couldn’t give any tips to people wanting to know how to make more. Be nice and play good music, I guess. Haha. That being said, I do play love songs closer to sunset, but that’s mainly because I think it makes the atmosphere prettier. I love the idea of my music being the back drop to someone’s romantic moment. It makes me feel happy and a part of something bigger.

J.P.: I know you’re from Seattle, I know you moved to LA last year—but who are you? How did this happen? When did you know singing was your thing? Who guided you into the career? Did you have your lightbulb, this-is-what-I-need-to-do moment?

K.T.: So, I have really supportive parents. When I was 19 (I’m 24 now) I wanted to make sure I had a back up plan in case music didn’t “work out,” so I went to college for a year. During that yea, I was working two jobs (about 50 hours a week) and I was going to school full time. I had zero time for music and although I loved what I was doing, I loved music more. I mean, I knew I wanted to sing since I could talk. My parents from the very beginning told me I should just focus on music and forget about college for now. Not the stereotypical thing parents usually say. I was rebellious though and I went to college anyway. It wasn’t for me. At least not for what I wanted to do at that moment.

The lightbulb moment was kind of like a dimmer switch. The light got brighter slowly until the tail end of 2015 when it went full blast. I just remember having everything be so clear. All the hesitancy was gone and I knew I was ready to give everything I had to music. I jumped on Craigslist and took the second place I found on there and immediately moved a few weeks later. Not the best decision, because the person renting the closet-sized room I was living in ended up being insane and was a huge headache, but I met one of my best friends there and it ended up working out. Maybe be a little more careful about who you live with would be my only advice.

J.P.: You posted a YouTube introductory video last year about moving to LA to make your dreams come true. But what does that mean in 2017? What I mean is—albums don’t really sell; music has gone painfully electronic; there are precious few original bands; flat pop reigns. So what do you want? What do you see as your dream?

K.T.: I want to be best friends with Taylor Swift. Haha

I guess I want to be well known. I want to have a huge platform for my music and my voice to be heard. I have a lot of other interests besides music that I would love to have a good way of getting the word out about. So “making it” to me looks like being able to have the time and resources to make a difference in the world the way that I want to. I want to constantly be learning and changing and striving to be better for myself and the world around me, so I intend to utilize the tools we’ve been given in this day and age. Yes, albums don’t sell as much, but I’d rather give the music I have now away for free and gain a following that’s gonna last throughout my career. The world changes. You can either wish things were the way they used to be and just stand still or you can grow alongside it and see the good parts and change with it. Despite being human and getting frustrated with certain things about technology or the way we interact, I will always try and do the latter.

J.P.: So on your Facebook page you noted that you worked as a server at The Keg Steakhouse and Bar and Red Robin. I love, love, love restaurant gig stories. So, gotta ask—grossest, weirdest things you saw at the restaurants? Or worst customer stories. Katherine, gimme something.

K.T.: I hate to disappoint, but I don’t really have any juicy stories. A lot of people were super rude and they acted entitled, but nothing that really stood out. Which I guess is the weirdest thing in itself. That should stand out, but working in food service that’s almost normal. You become pretty jaded to it.

I work one day at a cafe now and that’s pretty much all I can handle anymore. I’ve had a handful of people yell at me for their food being cold after they’ve gone to the bathroom for too long or sat there not eating it cause they’re playing on their phones. You know, that sort of ridiculousness, but nothing really stands out. One thing I will say though, and this is to all those parents out there, I get that being a parent is super tiring and all you want is a moment to yourself, but please, when your kid wants attention and is looking to you for it, please please please don’t just throw an iPad or your phone in front of them. That was probably the most heartbreaking thing I saw every day I worked at Red Robin and I still see it a lot everywhere I go.

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J.P.: You have a REALLY unique sound and style. Where’s that from? What music were you exposed to as a kid? Who are your musical role models?

K.T.: Honestly, I didn’t listen to a lot of music growing up. When I was a kid my parents had a tendency of buying soundtracks to movies they liked, so I ended up listening to a lot of random songs by artists either super obscure or incredibly overplayed or I listened to movie scores. Which I still listen to today. There’s something magical about music like that. When I did start listening to “regular” music in my mid-teens, I listened to a lot of country music, but the most influential artists for me are Passenger (he has amazing lyrics) and Taylor Swift. Her evolution in her music career is something so inspirational to me.

J.P.: I love hearing song origin stories. So “Brother Brother”—how did you come up with it? Why? How long did it take to write? And what’s your general songwriting process?

K.T.: That song I wrote pretty quickly. I think it probably took me less than an hour to write the lyrics and then over time I probably changed some things, but it was a pretty quick process. That song was just about life to me. My life specifically (obviously), because it had elements of a lot of things that made me who I am. My parents, my brother, my sister who passed away before I was born, my best friend back home, relationships, heartache, love, etc. It came out as my story and then also what I kind of live by, which is just a constant want and need to progress and to become better than I was yesterday.

J.P.: One thing I know a lot of up-and-coming singers struggle with is the desire to play originals vs. an audience’s desire to hear covers. Like, if I’m listening to Katherine Terrien’s eight-song set, and I don’t know her music, I probably need an Ella Fitzgerald or Whitney Houston or Taylor Swift tune tossed in there. Do you face this? Is it annoying?

K.T.: I probably should struggle with this, but I don’t because I end up playing all originals most of the time. I should probably start playing more covers though. I think it’d probably be smart. Haha.

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J.P.: How do you survive, financially? Is it all music all the time? Do you have a side gig? I’ll be your nervous Jewish mother—“Katherine, are you eating OK?”

K.T.: I make most of my money with music. As I mentioned earlier, I work one day a week at a cafe, but I’m leaving that job soon, so I guess music will be my only income. At least for the summer. I’m by no means well off, but I’m not starving either… although I do have terrible eating habits, but that is not necessarily to do with lack of funds, more just a lack of time. I just forget to eat sometimes. Sorry, Mom.

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

K.T.: Oooh, that’s a tough one. I think the lowest were just the times in the past when I’ve doubted myself or when I was making excuses for myself not pursuing my dreams. On the flip side, the highlight was probably when I decided to stop making excuses for myself, got in my car and drove to a state where I didn’t know anyone with $200 left in my bank account and I just decided to make it work. I realized right then and there that there will never be perfect moments to go after the things you want. You just gotta do it and see where it takes you.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH KATHERINE TERRIEN:

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: By the time I took my first plane ride I was 22 and wasn’t really afraid anymore, so I guess not. My first plane ride was in a little Cessna with my friend Carly who’s a pilot and all I remember from that experience was me thinking (and probably saying out loud), “Damn, I really want to do this too.” Someday, maybe. I’d love to learn how to fly.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Bruno Mars, “La La Land,” the Manhattan Beach Pier, red delicious apples, the number 33, Ken Griffey, Jr., the smell of cotton candy, breakdancing, Stephen A. Smith, poker, Holiday Inn: 1. Manhattan Beach Pier (I’ve met so many amazing people there); 2. La La Land; 3. 33 (3 is my favorite number, so since there’s two of them that’s even better); 4. Poker, if we’re talking Texas Holdem poker. I just learned how to play!; 5. Breakdancing is so cool! I wanna learn; 6. Bruno Mars is incredible! Love him!; 7. Holiday Inn reminds me of all the Holiday Inn Expresses my family and I used to stay in. Good times; 8. Apples, but not red delicious. I’m a honey crisp kinda girl; 9 and 10. Hmm, so I’ve heard of Ken Griffey Jr. but I don’t really know anything about him. I think he plays basebal l… and I have no idea who Stephen A. Smith is. I’m assuming they both have something to do with sports, which I’ve never been interested in, so I guess they’re both pretty on par with each other for me. I’m sure they’re lovely people though and they’d probably make it higher on the list if I knew who they were. Haha; 11. The smell of cotton candy is too sweet for me. I don’t really like it.

• Five all-time favorite singers: Hmm … PassengerTaylor SwiftSara BareillesIngrid MichaelsonRegina Spektor. It changes a lot though. These are probably the ones I always come back to though.

• How did you meet your boyfriend?: I met him on the Manhattan Beach Pier. I was playing music one afternoon there and he had been taking a nap on the sand below. He came up because he heard an angel singing (or so I like to tell myself) and we started talking. It was a Friday night and neither one of us had anything planned, so we ended up hanging out the entire rest of the day until about 3 in the morning. We walked along the beach, I met his parents on accident cause I needed to use their bathroom, we went to dinner, we lit sparklers on the beach and ate ice cream sandwiches, we lied down in the sand and looked at the lack of stars in the sky, and then we walked to our cars and played music on the curbside for another hour or so. We ended the night with a goodnight kiss. It was a movie type scene for sure. That was two weeks after I moved to California and I had promised myself to not get involved with anyone cause I wanted to focus on music. We started dating almost immediately and that was almost 1 1/2 years ago. Oops. Haha.

• What does the Red Robin kitchen smell like?: Old grease and dying happiness.

• Three memories from your senior prom?: I was home schooled, but I did go to an old friend’s prom. Hmm … three things? 1. I got a terrible invitation two days before his prom. He sent me a text and it said something like, “Heeeeey, I know this is suuuuper late and kinda lame, but do u want to got to prom this saterday?” Yeah, spelling errors included. Good thing we were just friends, cause that would not have flown if I liked him; 2. I had a strapless dress that didn’t fit right (there weren’t a lot of choices two days before prom); 3. And we went to the EMP (Experience Music Project) in Seattle. It was moderately fun.

• I’m pretty sure Zach Wheeler isn’t gonna work out for the Mets’ rotation. Your thoughts?: Sure, why not? Lol

• What’s the best line you’ve ever written?: All of them … at the time that they were written.

• Would you rather spend 50 minutes singing completely naked in front of 100,000 people at the Oklahoma State Fair or spend the next six months having to devote five hours per day to turning Donald Trump’s speeches into songs for his presidential reelection efforts?: I guess the latter, so I could have control over the songs and then have a helping hand in botching his reelection.

• What’s the strangest/most memorably odd venue you’ve played?: Probably a music venue out in the middle of nowhere in North Carolina. There were probably only 15 to 20 people in the little venue with nothing but farms around it and they were all over the age of 60, but they were the most attentive and interactive audience I’ve probably ever had and it’s still my favorite show to this day. They were so sweet. I’m looking forward to playing for them again someday.

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Kim Lionetti

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So here’s a Quaz first …

I met Kim Lionetti on a blind date.

It took place, oh, two decades ago, when we were both young and up and coming and doing the whole New York City thing. And while we only went out once or twice, it was the rare go-nowhere romance that transformed into a genuine friendship.

All these years later, Kim remains one of my all-time favorites, as well as a go-to person when it comes to the literary world. Having spent much of her career as an editor at Berkley Publishing, 13 years ago she switched the representation, and now works as an agent at BookEnds, where she specializes in women’s fiction, mystery, young adult and romance. Kim’s titles include, well, hey, take a look …

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Today, Kim explains why print still has legs; why authors need to think about their audiences and how a jerk writer can make one’s life miserable. You can visit BookEnds here, and follow Kim on Twitter here.

Kim Lionetti, here’s something to read—the 310th Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Kim, you’re a literary agent. And all we hear about is the decline of print—newspapers dying, magazines dying, etc … etc. Yet books … it seems sorta, eh, not as bad. I dunno, I can’t tell. So tell me—where are we?

KIM LIONETTI: Well, there’s certainly been a gigantic shift in the industry over the last 15 years, with the rise of ebooks and Amazon. Print numbers are down quite drastically since I first started out in the business over 20 years ago and only some of that has been replaced with ebook sales.  With that said, I’m confident the readers are still there and always will be.  I’ve already sold more books in the first five months of 2017 than I have in any previous year, so clearly book publishing is alive and strong.

I think it’s still an industry in transition. Publishing companies are continuing to consolidate and find ways to operate as leanly as possible. While some authors are doing well with self-publishing, most are finding it difficult to attract readership in a very crowded marketplace, and are finding traditional publication with the big houses more attractive again.

Another encouraging sign to me is the health of the young adult market which decidedly favors print books over digital. Hopefully the voracity of their readership will translate to other markets as they grow older.

J.P.: When we first met you were an editor working on, I believe western-themed romance novels. I’ll write that again, because it’s super fun: western-themed romance novels. Please explain what that was, how it happened, what it was like.

K.L.: Oh Jeff, I can see I need to school you a bit here. I think you’re referring to the adult westerns I was working on, which are very different from western-themed romance novels, as a matter of fact. The adult westerns, some of them first started by Playboy and with series titles like LONGARM and SLOCUM, were books about lawmen of the Old West catching bad guys and bedding damsels and harlots alike. They were squarely written to a male audience. Western-themed romance novels are written primarily for women. Key difference in content is the length of the love scenes. Adult westerns were much more wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am.

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J.P.: I imagine you received a gazillion manuscripts a year. So how does this process work? Is it even worth it for an unknown writer to send you, cold, his/her book? What happens to the drafts when you get them? Do you have an assistant go through them? A dog? No one?

K.L.: As a matter of fact, BookEnds doesn’t accept unsolicited manuscripts. Writers query us first, meaning they email us (actually we have a form now through our website) with a description of their book, and then we let them know if we’re interested in taking a look. These days I receive about 200 queries a month, but we have seven agents on staff now, and receive at least 1,500 queries a month combined.

We’ve had interns read for us at times, but for the most part we read them all ourselves.

J.P.: How can you tell when a book is good? Like, do you have to read the whole thing? Half? Are you ever intrigued by a writer while not actually liking the book? Or vice versa?

K.L.: Sometimes I read a page and know it’s not going to work. Other times I have to read the whole book before I can make a decision. It varies widely.

I primarily represent fiction, so mostly I just want to be engaged by the voice, the characters, and the story. If all of that falls into place, then I’m going to offer representation.

There have been plenty of times that I’ve liked the writing, but the story just didn’t grab me. In those cases, I’ll offer revision suggestions and ask them to resubmit, or just ask them to be sure and contact me with their next book if they still find themselves looking for an agent.

With her client, the author C.C. Hunter.

With her client, the author C.C. Hunter.

J.P.: You have a son with autism, and on the Book Ends website your bio includes, “Kim is dedicated to representing the stories and voices of individuals with special needs and their families.” But what does that actually mean? And how, exactly, does having an Autistic son impact who you are? How you go about life?

K.L.: There’s a significant movement in book publishing right now to represent diversity and #ownvoices, particularly in young adult books. Along with representing people of every race, religion, sexuality, and gender identity, it’s important to me that individuals with disabilities are represented as well. Not just a developmental disability, like Nicky’s, but any special need. The more voices we see from these perspectives, the better the rest of the world will be able to understand and relate.

I think the most significant way Nicky’s autism has affected me, personally, is it’s made me see what’s important in life. I used to care much more about what other people think and I’d get hung up on trivialities. It’s important to me that Nicky’s proud of the person he is. So from the start I’ve never let any of us shy away from the “label.” I’m super open about being an autism mom and sharing my experiences. The more all of us talk about it, the less “other” it becomes. In fact, my 8-year-old daughter just spoke to her third grade class about her brother for Autism Awareness Day.

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J.P.: I’m not asking for names, but what’s it like dealing with really difficult writers? Do you find yourself soothing egos? Managing expectations? And, again, without names (unless you choose to volunteer), what’s your personal story of dealing with a diva/divo?

K.L.: Managing expectations is definitely part of my job. Overall, I’ve been lucky with the clients I work with, but to be honest, that’s part of the reason I decided to become an agent. So that I’d have the power to choose who I wanted to work with.

My worst experience with an author was when I was still working as an editor. One of the more successful books I worked on was written by a misogynist pig. He was horribly condescending and made his publicist cry at one point. It came time to decide if we’d buy more books from him. I told my publisher I thought life was too short to keep dealing with a guy like this. And while she agreed he was despicable, she said I had to offer on his next book. I get it. It was just good business sense. But at that moment, agenting became much more attractive to me, because at least then I’d be directly compensated (in the form of commission) for the success of jerks like him and ultimately I’d have the power to say goodbye if I didn’t want to deal with him anymore.

J.P.: How does working in the field impact your reading habits? Are you as passionate as books as ever? Do you just wanna kick back and watch the Real Housewives?

K.L.: Obviously, I went into this industry because I love to read. Sometimes, my aging eyes need a break and I catch up on Netflix, but I try to read “non-work” books as much as possible, for fun and also to keep abreast of the competition. I find that when I read a really great book for pleasure, it reinvigorates me and makes me hungry to go out and find more clients with books that excite me.

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

K.L.: I’m not sure I have one greatest moment. It’s certainly a high point when a client hits the New York Times’ bestseller list, but I get just as excited when I get to call a new author with their very first offer of publication. I love my job.

The lowest was probably when I dealt with that aforementioned writer at my old job.

J.P.: You’re not gonna like this, but there have been times when I’ve gone through a hard edit with someone who doesn’t work as a writer and I think to myself, “What the fuck do you know?” So Kim—what the fuck do you know? 

K.L.: I’m not a expert writer, but I’m an expert reader. I think the biggest trap writers can fall into is writing only for themselves. If you’re looking for commercial success, you have to remember to write for an audience. So, I’ll tell you what I know. I know what I want to read. I know what readers want to read. And I also know what editors want to read. That’s what makes me a good agent.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH KIM LIONETTI:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Kim Fields, Hakim Warrick, Haines Shoe House, Pam Dawber, the designated hitter, “The Lord of the Rings,” Dana Rohrabacher, the day after Easter, Drip Café: Drip Café, Pam Dawber, the day after Easter, Haines Shoe HouseThe Lord of the RingsHakim WarrickKim Fieldsthe designated hitterDana Rohrabacher

• One question you would ask Gheorghe Mureșan were he here right now?: How’s the weather up there?

• Five all-time favorite non-fiction books: I pretty much never read nonfiction. So feel free to insert Jeff Pearlman titles here. 😉

• Five all-time favorite fiction books: These change by the week, but excluding my clients’ work: What’s Eating Gilbert Grape by Peter Hedges; Election by Tom Perrotta; A Step Toward Falling by Cammie McGovern; Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen; Big Little Lies by Lianne Moriarty

• Three memories from your senior prom: Voluminous blue metallic dress; Voluminous Aqua Net hair; Gay best friend as date

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I heard the first plane flying overhead the morning of 9/11 on my walk to work, which was 20 blocks up from the World Trade Center, and watched the first tower fall from our office window. So, ever since then I’m much more of a nervous flier. Mostly when I get scared, I think of my children and how they need me, especially Nicky.

• Celine Dion calls. She has a literary project she wants you to represent. It’s about her farts smelling like sardines and it’s called, “Celine: My Farts Smell Like Sardines.” You in?: Easy out. I don’t represent nonfiction.

• In exactly eight words, make a case for arm wrestling in winter: Cabin fever can make anything seem reasonably entertaining.

• Three all-time favorite non-Carrie Underwood/Kelly Clarkson American Idol contestants: Jennifer HudsonPhillip Phillips (my son’s all-time favorite artist); Chris Daughtry

This happened. How should I feel?: Relevant.