Jeff Pearlman

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Category Archives: QUAZ

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Johnny Premier

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This is the 259th Quaz Q&A and, I must admit, the most difficult I’ve had to endure.

First, to make something clear: My friend Johnny Premier deserves great credit for being here. Roughly nine or 10 days ago I put out a Twitter APB, requesting a Donald Trump supporter who would consider being Quazed. I was greeted by the unmistakable sound of crickets—until Johnny stepped forward and said he would voraciously defend the man he wants to be our nation’s 45th president.

Now, anyone who reads this site, or follows me on Twitter, knows I would prefer an Oval Office starring Emmanuel Lewis, Dennis Rodman Bob Tewksbury, Lady Gaga or Ray (Boom Boom) Mancini to an occupancy of Trump. I don’t like him, I don’t trust him and I believe (deep in my heart) he’s a genuine say-whatever-it-takes-to-become-president fraud. But—and this is an important but—millions of Americans think otherwise. And if we only speak with folks who parrot our views, well, what’s the point? We learn nothing, we gain nothing, we understand little. So, again, I want to commend today’s guest. Because while I don’t share his beliefs, I do share his interest in grasping the philosophies of others.

Johnny is a huge supporter of Donald Trump. He lives in Las Vegas, where he works for StubHub as a ticket return center coordinator. He has spent a good chunk of time announcing pro wrestling and MMA events, and can be contacted (and booked for gigs) on Twitter. Although we disagree on presidential politics, I have nothing but respect for the man.

Johnny Premier, I hope you’re wrong about our next president. But I’m thrilled you’re here to make his case …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Johnny, I’m gonna kick off with something that’s been itching at me from the start of Donald Trump’s recent political rise. OK, so on March 20, 2003, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks ripped into George W. Bush during a London show, saying she was “ashamed” of the president. And this was a HUGE thing for the right. The Dixie Chicks were berated, shamed, damned. There were CD smashings, death threats, etc. And the general take from the right was an unambiguous, “This crossed a line.” OK, so now Barack Obama is president, and it’s 2011. And Donald Trump is a leader in the birther movement. He is, literally, saying the sitting president of the United States is not an American. Over and over and over again. I found this disturbing then, and even more disturbing now. I mean, this is YOUR candidate for the presidency. Why do you guys not find this disturbing?

JOHNNY PREMIER: I remember that Dixie Chicks controversy well. You’re totally leaving out the context of when the comments were made. We were nine days from invading Iraq, and a declaration of war. To me, that’s a time when, after the debates are done, you as an American should support the troops wholeheartedly. And it’s kinda rich how these liberal ladies who made so much money from our free-market economy were “ashamed” of President Bush.

I supported the Chicks’ right to speak their mind, but their timing was poor. I also supported their sponsors’ decision to disavow that relationship. Here’s the deal, though, with supporting Donald Trump—every once in a while, he says or does something where you say to yourself, “Aw, c’mon, man, let’s not go there.” And for me, the “birther movement” is one of those times. There’s so much about the Obama administration and his specific policies worth criticizing.

But that’s what’s so refreshing about Trump—he doesn’t test out his opinions in front of focus groups or pollsters before rolling them out. There’s an authenticity there!

JEFF PEARLMAN.: You find it refreshing that your preferred presidential candidate repeatedly accused the sitting president of the United States of lying about his place of birth? You’re telling me if Obama or Hillary did something similar you would just chalk it up to, “Hey ho, no biggie”? Really?

JOHNNY PREMIER: Well, there’s never been a Republican president with a Muslim name, so I don’t see how that question is relevant.

Also, whether they agree with him or not politically, I think the American people find Trump refreshing. It’s amazing to think about, but Jeb Bush was at one point the favorite to be the GOP nominee. I don’t think enough is made of that fact. The guy who finished fifth or sixth in the early primaries was once the favorite. Talk about your establishment candidate, with the family name, the big money donors, and the support of the party.

It made no difference. His campaign stalled because there was no refreshing honesty or transparency there. And that is a critical reason why Trump is the nominee, and “low energy” Jeb has no career, no future.

JEFF PEARLMAN: What’s your political background? First presidential election where you voted? Favorite politicians? Etc?

JOHNNY PREMIER: My parents are independent, and raised me to think that way. In doing so, I’ve found that I have always had a deep mistrust of big government. Part of that has been growing up in Connecticut, and our history of crooks (Weicker, Rowland, Dodd—I could go on). The other part is just seeing how ineffective the government is at solving most problems, compounded by how much politicians— mostly Democrats—love spending taxpayer money. The money gives them the power, and the ability to brag at cocktail parties about how they solved problems. It’s all a farce.

The first election I voted was in 1992, for the first President Bush. Ross Perot’s impact siphoned votes from the Republicans and handed that election to the Clintons. It was hard to take, because I knew how dangerous a Clinton presidency would be.

JEFF PEARLMAN.: You mentioned on Twitter that I don’t get Trump’s appeal. And, in a way, you’re right. So explain it …

JOHNNY PREMIER: Look, man, the last two Republican nominees were John McCain and Mitt Romney. Career politicians, mediocre public speakers, establishment guys. Trump has branded himself to be an absolute rock star, through the power of television. You see it at a Trump rally, the excitement that they’re seeing a celebrity. People respond to him because they know he’s going to tell you exactly what he thinks. How many Republicans through the years elicited this response?

That’s why the news channels, and the public, can’t stop talking about Donald Trump. I like him because he happens to be right on a number of issues that are important to me.

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JEFF PEARLMAN: Donald Trump seems to enjoy calling everyone who disagrees with him a liar, or a crook, or whatever insult pops into his head. Yet in 1986, while testifying in a trial about the NFL-USFL, he lied under oath about Pete Rozelle offering him an NFL franchise. In Scotland, as was reported repeatedly on HBO Real Sports, he is loathed for a crooked golf course transaction. Recently there was a tape of him pretending to be his own PR guy back in the day—he lied and said it wasn’t him, after admitting it was him. He also said, on 9.11, he saw Muslims celebrating the World Trade Center attack—an observational that proved to be 100-percent fictional. One. Hundred. Percent. Fuck, the list of total bullshit is v-e-r-y long, v-e-r-y detailed. But I know many folks who simply feel like his supporters don’t give a shit. They always blame the media, or the haters. And, to me, it feels like a cult-like response. What am I missing?

JOHNNY PREMIER: OK, Jeff, so I see what’s going on here. You’re writing a book on the USFL—I’m guessing you were a fan of the league, and in doing that research you’re finding out things about Trump that bother you. Here’s the thing—revisionist history says that the quality of play was good. I remember it to be a poor, second-rate league whose only hope was to merge with the NFL. Trump knew that, and it’s why he tried to merge the Generals. Easy to play armchair quarterback with the benefit of hindsight.

I understand if you’re not going to put this quote on your book jacket, but look, Trump moved on. So should you.

I saw the Scotland golf course hit-piece by noted liberal Bryant Gumbel [JEFF’S NOTE: The reporter was actually Bernard Golberg, who is arch-conservative. Just saying]. It is a beautiful piece of land. They tried to make the old guy who didn’t want to sell into this martyr. I mean, come on.

JEFF PEARLMAN: Donald Trump recently announced his tax plan, which—according to the Tax Policy Center (a nonpartisan outfit)—gives the wealthiest .1% of Americans an average tax cut of $1.3 million and raises the national debt by $34.1 trillion by 2036. Have you looked into Trump’s fiscal policies, besides, “I’m gonna make this country great!”? And what do you think of them?

JOHNNY PREMIER: This question is just loaded with sarcasm. You, clearly, think Trump’s supporters are just these silly people who can’t think for themselves. Of course I’ve looked into it. I love the fact that Americans who are single and make under $25,000 or married and combine to make less than $50,000, will not pay federal taxes. They shouldn’t. I love the simplification of the tax code with four brackets—0 percent, 15 percent, 20 percent and 25 percent. I love the reduction in taxes for business—small and large—which I believe will incentivize companies that have moved overseas to come back. And the elimination of the “death tax” is huge as well.

The beauty is, we’re going to pay for this with a specific plan that will reduce the size and scope of government.

JEFF PEARLMAN: How do you explain the super strong dislike for Hillary Clinton from the right? For the record, I’m not a big fan. But the apparent hate perplexes me a bit.

JOHNNY PREMIER: She’s just a dangerous person, Jeff. When she was secretary of state, four Americans died as a result of the Benghazi, Libya attacks—including the US ambassador. There were real security breaches that leaked from her office. She conducted State Department business from her personal email account in direct violation of State Department protocols and procedures, and federal law. Do we really want someone so irresponsible with classified information to be our next president?

There’s a history here that shows she is a long-time advocate for big government. Based on Hillary’s stated positions from the 1990s to today, and incorporating her senate voting record, the non-partisan Political Compass has her on a scale from -10 Libertarian to +10 Authoritarian as a +7 liberal. The Americans for Democratic Action love her. What else do you need to know?

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JEFF PEARLMAN: People like myself hear the Obama bashing from the right and we scratch our heads. I mean, if you look at the economic figures, the auto industry, the job numbers, Osama’s death, etc—were these the results of a Republican presidency, the right would be crowing … and I’m guessing you know it. So why so much hatred for a guy who, by most measures, has been transcendent?

JOHNNY PREMIER: I take issue with the entire premise of this question. Transcendent?!? There’s not enough time to focus on each issue, but with increasing boldness, Obama has argued for more government action and spending, and unilateral actions on his part to circumvent the GOP majority in congress.

I noticed you left out Obamacare, which has been an unmitigated disaster. Millions of Americans who were promised they could keep their existing insurance plans found their insurance canceled, and millions more who managed to enroll learned they couldn’t keep their doctor, as Obama had promised. Obamacare was a huge grab of government power, and a dismal failure.

JEFF PEARLMAN: Non-partisan estimates place the number of once-uninsured Americans who are now insured between 14 million and 16.5 million. Clearly Obamacare has had its flaws—no doubt. But I don’t see how it’s a disaster.

JOHNNY PREMIER: The Obamacare website cost $2.1 billion to build, and was supposed to encourage competition. It has not. Of the 11 million who signed up you reference, more than 3 million have dropped out by the end of the year.

Obama promised that it would not disrupt existing doctor-patient and health-care insurance arrangements. Completely false. The American medical scene is extremely complex, admittedly, but to resolve them in once comprehensive government program is the wrong solution. And the prohibition against crossing state lines to buy insurance was wrongheaded and must be repealed.

The congressional budget office estimates it will add $1.7 trillion to our nation’s debt over the next decade [JEFF’S NOTE: With all due respect to our guest, this is a very misleading figure]. And for what? Hillary has proposed new, sweeping additions to Obamacare that would paid for by … you guessed it, a new tax! This is part of what makes her and the tax-and-spend liberals so scary. Once a federal program gets started, the size and scope will expand as far as you let them.

JEFF PEARLMAN: There’s no way Donald Trump builds the wall, and has Mexico pay for it. There’s also no way Donald Trump rounds up 11 million illegals. So, if those two things—both lead elements of his campaign—don’t happen, does that mar his presidency? Do you think the right will hold him to it?

JOHNNY PREMIER: Really, there’s “no way” the wall gets built, and there’s “no way” Mexico pays for it? Again, your question is based on a fallacy!

Estimates I’ve seen are that the wall would cost $5-10 billion. The Mexican economy is so dependent on the United States, specifically here the $24 billion annually it receives in remittance from Mexican nationals working in the U.S. We can prevent those wire transfers to poor families in Mexico. Patriot Act Section 326 is a great “stick” to make this wall happen.

The important point here is that immigration to the U.S. is a privilege, not a right. Having a free flow of undocumented people is not in America’s best interest. And I applaud Trump for taking on a politically tricky issue!

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JEFF PEARLMAN: Donald Trump suggested Megyn Kelly was bleeding from her vagina. He insulted Carly Fiorina by saying, “Look at her face! Look at her face!” He said John McCain—a POW in Vietnam for four years—is not a hero because he was captured. He said Ted Cruz’s father was involved in JFK’s assassination. He mocked a handicapped reporter, Serge Kovaleski, by mimicking his disability. He has called Mexican immigrants rapists. He said Seventh Day Adventists were weird. Back in the 1980s in New York he said a bunch of African-American kids deserved the death penalty for raping a woman—and then it turned out they were innocent. It’s a nonstop insult cycle, and, again, I don’t understand why anyone would support a guy like this. Hate Hillary? Fine? Third candidate? OK. But this is REALLY the man you want representing America?

JOHNNY PREMIER: It’s interesting—you started this list with Megyn Kelly. Fox News wanted to be relevant for the 2016 election, so of course they extended an olive branch to Trump for the Kelly interview that was so promoted so hard by the network.

The one soundbite that the liberal media harped on was Kelly pointing out that Trump called her a “bimbo”—OK, fine—but the balance of the interview was great and I believe strengthened Trump in the minds of “establishment” Republican viewers.

As for the rest … eh. It doesn’t bother me, on balance, when you consider the great things a Trump presidency can do for our nation.

JEFF PEARLMAN: One of the HUGE criticisms from the right (HUGE) is Obama negotiating with Iran. I mean, it’s a Top 5 slam. Recently Donald Trump said he’d negotiate with Kim Jong Un. Again, had Obama or Hillary said this—the right would be SLAUGHTERING them. Are you OK with it? And why is this any different than talking with Iran?

JOHNNY PREMIER: Again Jeff, love ya but jeez, you love asking me questions out of context! I saw this interview—his main point here was that we should pressure China (who we have plenty of economic leverage on, but are not using thanks to Obama) into making North Korea change his ways. And that is a main difference between Trump and Hillary.

JEFF PEARLMAN: Trump has said—then said he didn’t say, even though it was on tape—that he would “take out” the families of suspected terrorists and that the military would follow his orders even if they are illegal. This probably doesn’t trouble you. Why?

JOHNNY PREMIER: I know the comments you were referring to, in December on Fox News. I do not support the killing of innocent women and children. However, I think you’re taking them out of context. Trump’s point was that the war against terrorists and ISIS in particular was too politically correct. There’s too much concern with the “rights” of these people. ISIS must be stopped, and if it takes torture of a member who we capture to get valuable intel, I’m all for it.

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JEFF PEARLMAN: Trump has said the minimum wage is too high, but also that he would maybe raise the minimum wage. Do you think he has an actual position on the minimum wage?

JOHNNY PREMIER: In fact, he stated his position on this issue very clearly. He believes the states should decide this issue, and it will foster healthy competition between states, and with other countries. Slightly more than 50 percent of the states have a higher floor than the current $7.25 an hour. And that makes sense. Cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York are obviously a hell of a lot more expensive to live in than rural areas.

And let me make this point very clear, Jeff. It is critical to the success of Trump’s candidacy that he support deferring to the states on many issues, not just minimum wage, and he has begun to do that. The majority of Americans believe there is too much power concentrated in Washington, D.C. This is one issue we can hammer Hillary on!

JEFF PEARLMAN: In your gut, Hillary-Trump—who wins this election, and what’s the margin?

JOHNNY PREMIER: I remember a year ago, the odds that a leading offshore sportsbook gave Trump to win was 20-1. It is now 2-1. At the risk of this Quaz ending up on @OldTakesExposed I’d suggest you bet on Trump. The Democrats were not inspired by Hillary in 2008 when she resoundingly lost to Obama in the primaries, and they’re certainly not inspired now after the Benghazi and e-mail mess, the big PAC money, and everything else. Bernie Sanders is still mathematically alive on May 23, 2016!

Meanwhile, Trump is a superstar. The Republican Party is getting in line, and that will happen more and more as the election draws near. Plus, you’ve gotta remember, Jeff … politics is in large part a “work.” I think WWE Hall of Famer Donald Trump learned a lot through his association with the company, dating back to hosting two WrestleMania’s at Trump Plaza in the 1980s. Underestimate him at your peril.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH JOHNNY PREMIER:

• Five all-time favorite political figures: I’m going to resist being a wise-ass and writing “Ronald Reagan” five times. An absolute legend. The way he handled the 1981 air traffic controller strike inspired me at a young age. Put it this way—if Jimmy Carter had still been in office, that union would have owned him. 1. Ronald Reagan. 2. Jesse Ventura. Absolutely shocked the world—it’s awesome that a guy with muluti-colored hair who spent 20 years as a pro wrestler and commentator could become Governor of Minnesota. Brilliant guy who sometimes gets in his own way with the conspiracy theory stuff. Definitely appeals to the more Libertarian side of my brain; 3. Trump; 4. Rush Limbaugh. Might have lost a step, but people forget how much impact he had in the early 90s in stopping the left-wing agenda of Bill Clinton and his cronies. I went to liberal Clark University for undergrad, and he helped get me through those years; 5. Gonna leave this open for a politician who will come to lead the Republican Party into the future. Someone like Trump without the baggage?

• How did you become a Jets fan?: Mark Gastineau and Joe Klecko, the New York Sack Exchange! They were awesome, man—so much so that I’ll forgive Gastineau for giving America his reality show family. And of course the image of Joe Namath walking off the field after Super Bowl III. Iconic. I was hooked.

In the years since there’s been the Dan Marino fake spike, Browning Nagle, loud boos at the NFL draft, Belichick “I resign as Head Coach of the New York Jets” … you and I both know the pain. The Jets have taken a lot of money from me and given back precious few satisfying moments. Life as a fan, I suppose. On a personal level, I’m finding it hard to root against the Rex Ryan Bills. I really like Rex—he worked hard to change the culture.

• If Hillary Clinton wins, how do you think Trump supporters will respond/react?: Well, I can tell you what won’t happen. You won’t be reading whiny things from us like, “if Trump loses we move to Canada” like you hear from the liberal elite. The Barbra Streisand/George Clooney types. Trump supporters are proud Americans, and we respect the democratic process. Huge difference!

• Who should be the next appointee to the Supreme Court?: Joan Larsen from Michigan, used to clerk for Justice Scalia. Solid!

• Five reasons one should make Las Vegas his/her home?: Man, it is awesome here! I used to be a loyal Bill Simmons reader—before he became a professional podcaster—and found his transition from Boston Sports Guy to LA to be interesting. He’d always remark how you get “sucked in” by the weather here and how hard it is to go back. And I didn’t buy it … until I got sucked in. Jeff, it rains here, like, once a month! Every day is sunny! Spending the first 39 years of my life in the northeast, you do not take that for granted. And the cost of living is ridiculously cheap. I spend half the money for a place that’s twice as nice as my New York City apartment.

People always talk about the casinos, Vegas has every type of entertainment possible, the best restaurants, high culture, low culture … everything except a pro sports team, which will be rectified soon by an NHL team or the Raiders (and, possibly, both)!

• What’s the grossest thing you’ve ever eaten?: Was paid $20 to eat a bug when I was a kid. Blew it at the arcade.

• In exactly 17 words, make a case for Rich Kotite: Is this a serious question? Worst. Jets. Coach. Ever. Clueless Rich Kotite does not deserve seventeen words.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Can’t say that I’ve had a moment like that great scene in “Almost Famous.” As Slammin’ Sammy Sosa would say, airplanes been berry berry good to me. So far …

• What’s your take of Bernie Sanders?: It’s wonderful to see how Bernie continues to win states—he trounced Hillary in Oregon. He continues to destroy her on the issue of accepting huge PAC donations from the biggest corporations. And the $250,000 speeches … look, I support free enterprise, people should make as much as their talent merits. But those on the socialist side of the Democrats hate it. Also, there’s something overtly corrupt about Hillary, and Bernie’s supporters sense it. I don’t think there will be a unified party coming out of the Democratic Convention.

• When was the “again” Donald Trump is referring to, as far as America’s greatness?: Let’s not over-analyze an awesome slogan! Look, people use nostalgia to market themselves, as a way to harken to better days … whether they actually were really better or not (I do not want to go back to life before cell phones and Internet).

Trump is awesome at marketing and branding, and it fits beautifully. Think about it … how many national campaign slogans can you remember through the years? Come on Jeff, you know you want the hat.

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Na’il Diggs

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I know many professional athletes, and a solid 78.7 percent are unable to break from the death grip of cliche.

You ask a question, they reply in the mindless language of men and women taught to speak while saying nothing of consequence. They’re happy to be here. They just wanna help. They’re blessed by the lord above. Blah, blah, blah.

Na’il Diggs, the former standout NFL linebacker and my fellow Southern California resident, is anything but your common jock. First, he’s insightful. Second, he’s honest. Third, he goes deep. Like, really deep. About life and death, highs and lows, tackling quarterbacks and tackling depression. I first spoke with Na’il about a year ago, while reporting my upcoming Brett Favre biography, and he was terrific. Then, a few months back, he kindly attended my journalism class at Chapman University. Another terrific experience.

Na’il lives in San Diego, where he coaches youth football, co-hosts the Chargers’ NBC Football Night telecast and blogs (beautifully) here. One can follow Na’il on Twitter and not go wrong. He’s a true gem. This week Na’il explains the rockiness of life after the NFL, when one gazes into the mirror and thinks, “What now?” He also tells you what it feels like to absorb the worst blow, why NFL players are slabs of meat and how my teeth are destined to rot.

Na’il Diggs was No. 59 on the Green Bay Packers.

He’s No. 1 (well, No. 258) with the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Na’il, much has been written and discussed through the recent years of the impact head injuries are having on retired NFL players. It’s certainly a huge issue, but here’s what I want to request: Can you explain the social difficulties athletes face when they retire? The adjustment to the “real world”? No more Superman cape, no more screaming fans. Because it strikes me as potentially brutal—and somewhat overlooked.

NA’IL DIGGS: It’s interesting you use the Superman analogy. Do you know Superman’s greatest strength? Its not his laser beaming eyes or his superhuman strength. It’s his alter ego, Clark Kent. His disguise is his greatest asset because he can be perceived as someone who is “normal” in the world.  Unlike Clark Kent, pro athletes do not have the luxury of being someone else after we remove our proverbial capes. We don’t have a normal job that we can walk right into and be someone other than who we were perceived as. As a professional athlete, transitioning from his or her professional career is sometimes the most difficult opponent we’ve ever had to face.

In my 12 NFL seasons as linebacker, I’ve had to tackle running backs like Brandon Jacobs, Jerome Bettis and Adrian Peterson. But I had the time to prepare and practice for those challenges. None of them prepared me for the challenge of transitioning from my NFL career.

In addition to the peaks and valleys of reinventing oneself, like a lot of former NFL players, I suffer from memory and speech impairments from playing linebacker in the NFL for 12 seasons. After being retired for nearly five years, transitioning is still an ongoing process and struggle for me. Sometimes I feel like my mind is so scrambled that even if I were doing something I loved, I’m not sure I could enjoy it. Take my NFL career for instance. Toward the end, I did not enjoying playing the game any more. The fan interaction, the attention and playing against my peers was great all the way through to my last game against the Oakland Raiders on January 2, 2012, but keeping my body and mind together became too cumbersome and an overwhelming struggle. Recently, I remember watching the movie “Concussion” and feeling so sad by the events that happened to my NFL brothers. I felt a sense of despair because even as graphic as the movie was, I’m sure its impossible to relay what really occurred in those men’s life. The mental conditions that former and current players are experiencing are very real.

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J.P.: What does it feel like to be absolutely laid out? Like, to take a blow like 99.9 percent of people reading this will never take? And do you recall the worst hit of your career? What/when was it?

N.D.: There’s a laundry list of hits that I can vividly recall, but I definitely have one at the top of that list. The year was 2009, I was playing for the Carolina Panthers and we were playing the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome. I was on punt team and we were punting the ball to the Falcons. The ball was snapped, the Falcons came with an all-out rush and blocked the punt from a few gaps away. When I heard the double thud of the punter’s foot hit the ball and then the ball hitting the defender’s hand, I immediately looked up to locate the ball. As I did, I saw a Falcons defender catching the ball 10 years in front of me so I then had to become the tackler. As I went in for the tackle, I wrapped my arms around the ball carrier and began to drag him down, but right then I felt this excruciating pain on the left side of my ribs. I winced as I brought the ball carrier down. I could not breathe, I could not move and it felt like I was hit by an f-ing car. The crowd noise dissipated and I rolled off the player onto my back and laid still on the ground, grabbing my left side. After the trainers came to help me off the field to the onsite X-ray lab. I learned I had three fractured ribs and fluid was building up in my lungs. We lost that game. After watching the game film I saw that I was speared with my own teammate’s helmet. He was intending to help with the tackle but ducked his head and hit me instead. We call that “friendly fire” and it hurt like hell.

J.P.: I know a lot of  professional athletes who, at some point, come to the realization that, to the organizations, they’re mere pieces of meat. But I wonder: A. Is this actually true, from your experiences? B. If so, when does one realize such? C. How does the knowledge impact one’s loyalty to a franchise and/or owner?

N.D.: First, to answer Part A, in my experience, the feeling of cattle herding lessened after the NFL Scouting Combine. But the reality that I was expendable grew exponentially. We are commodities. Although some organizations treated me better than others—I was still just cattle. If you examine what we do, strip away the fancy uniforms, the cool shoes and the spectacle of television, football starts to resemble gladiators in Ancient Rome.

Second, Part B: I realized I was just a number at the NFL Combine. The NFL Combine is a close No. 2 behind training camp in my personal battle for my least-favorite times in the NFL. I completely and totally despise the Combine! I have never felt so demeaned in my life. It felt as though I was an 18th-century slave. No chains and whips, but very demeaning nonetheless. I remember being given a number and carted through a series of meetings, tests, interviews and physicals. Not the turn-your-head-and-cough physical, but a poking-tugging-prodding-of-every-single-joint physical. The medical staffs of all 32 teams get to examine you … and don’t let them find something! You’ll be there all day and night doing multiple tests until they’re done. The stringent procedures mimics a meat company’s process (minus the steel rod being shot into our skulls) in many ways. On top of all that shit, we have to navigate back to our hotel rooms through a lobby full of media and financial advisors salivating for a chance to help “advise” us with our money we haven’t earned yet.

Finally, Part C of your question: The impact becomes very apparent at a certain age. There’s a point in a player’s career when the lights turn on and you see behind the glitz and glamour of all the accolades and fame that have distracted you before. Your attention begins to focus. The static disappears and you realize what this game and these wealthy franchises are made of. It becomes obvious that it’s made of the blood, sweat and tears of the men who wore the same jerseys and lockers before us. That’s the point when I learned that I need to get what I can and get the hell out as healthy as possible. Playing for Carolina was the shot across the bow for me. The game just felt different after I left Green Bay. That’s when I started awakening from the dream.

J.P.: You have one of the most astonishing—and heartbreaking—backstories of any person I’ve ever known. You were born and raised in Glendale, Arizona, but moved to South Central LA when at age 14, your mother died. You were rescued, if that’s the right word, by an older sister, Roslyn, who took you in. Na’il—I know I’m butchering this story. Can you please tell what happened to you as a boy?

N.D.: I was raised in a white, middle-class city called Glendale, Arizona, which is a suburb of Phoenix. It currently houses the Arizona Cardinals’ stadium. When I was living in Glendale, there was nothing but desert where that stadium sits now. When I was 14-years old my mother suddenly passed away from a brain aneurysm and was instantly brain dead. I was in Los Angeles visiting my sister, Roslyn, for the summer. I would go there to give my mom a little reprieve for a month or two during the summer, plus it was too damn hot in Phoenix. I vividly remember hearing my sister get the early morning phone call. I was sleeping on a pullout sofa right by the kitchen in the living room. I had an eerie feeling in my gut. I remember having this overwhelming feeling of fear and helplessness as I heard my sister begin to weep and cry, “Nooo.” There aren’t too many things in this world that could make my sister react that way.

Soon after the funeral, I permanently moved with my sister and her two daughters, along with her husband and his two kids, to South Central Los Angeles. Life completely flipped upside down. I went from white suburbs to South Central LA; from all white friends to all black friends; from being the lone child to one of four. With the school year quickly approaching, my sister enrolled me in the nearest school, Dorsey High School. At this time, I was disinterested in sports and was in a bit of a fog—I was depressed. She encouraged me to play football again because she realized I needed some sort of an emotional outlet. Plus, college was expensive and she wasn’t going to be able to all of a sudden save to afford four years of college in three years. That didn’t leave her with much time with me, so she badgered me about my grades and persisted to chaperone me as much as she could to make sure I wasn’t derailed from the goal. She made sure I would come home after my high school job at Mel’s Fish Market instead of going to hang out with friends. I still hung out a little, though. I didn’t much care at the time but Dorsey was—and still is—one the best high schools in Los Angeles for producing NFL players. I commend her because somehow in a few months’ time, she put a 14-year-old boy, who just lost his mother, in the right positions to sprout his wings and fly. And so that’s exactly what I did.

After an eventful journey through high school and somehow evading the allure of the neighborhood (being shot, gangs and drugs), I earned a full scholarship to pretty much any college in America. I chose The Ohio State University and never looked back. For a more on this story, you can read a post on my blog that I titled, “The Rose Grew From Concrete.”

Pursing Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez.

Pursing Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez.

J.P.: What was your mother like? Who was she?

N.D.: My mother was strict but loving. What I remember most is that she always had me playing a sport. Whether it was track and field, football or baseball, I never had much time to goof around. But I always seemed to find a little trouble to get into from time to time. She was divorced from my father when I was too young to remember and raised me the best she knew how. She was considered “older” when she gave birth to me at the age of 37. I was the last of four, the youngest by 14 years, so I was the only one in the house growing up. I had plenty of time to get into a little mischief because she worked nights as a live-in nurse for elderly persons. Although, I was the last to be in the house, I didn’t get as much attention as a single child normally would. She worked her tail off to keep the lights on, food on the table and a roof over our heads. I didn’t get all the new style clothes and shoes my friends had, but that was the way it was. That’s all I knew. Sometimes we would have to go to the county line to get some block cheese, powdered milk and bread because she didn’t have enough to get groceries. We moved a lot and I changed schools quite a bit as well. Because she worked nights, I would come home from school and I was responsible for doing my homework, completing chores and making myself dinner. I wouldn’t always complete those tasks and when I didn’t, I got an early wake up call. She would make me get up, when she got home from work, to complete my chores that I neglected, such as washing the dishes or taking out the trash. Once, I remember damn near falling asleep at the sink washing dishes in the dark hours of the morning. Whether she knew it or not, she taught me the daunting value of responsibility. In a way she still lives through me. To this day, I am on top of my chores and I can’t stand a messy room or house. Yes!! My kitchen sink is clean and free of dishes every night before I go to bed. From her few-and-carefully-selected friends to her tutelage of discipline, what she instilled in me still has everlasting impact in my life.

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J.P.: A couple of weeks ago Ryan Grant Skyped with my Chapman University class, and he talked about life at Notre Dame, and how at the same time he was playing big-time college football at a storied university, he didn’t have enough money to eat. He considers the whole thing a messed-up system; yes, athletes get scholarships and perks, but they can’t have jobs, can’t sell autographs, give away their likeness and name usage for life. His conclusion: Athletes absolutely need to be paid. What about you? How do you feel about it? Is the NCAA duping athletes? Or can the argument be made that, hey, you’re getting scholarships and amazing opportunities?

N.D.: When I hear the arguments from the college’s administration and faculty members, who make up the NCAA committee, it’s apparent that they feel as though the educational value of the full-ride scholarship they are giving the student-athlete is significant compensation. Which is true—these universities are shelling out a substantial amount of ‘virtual’ money for their scholarship student-athletes to attend their respective universities. Just ask the parents of a non-scholarship student and they’ll confirm that college tuition takes years of saving and enormous amounts of student loans to afford; this country’s climbing student loan debt serves as proof.

But these schools are profiting far more than that scholarship is worth monetarily—through TV deals, bowl game sponsorships, ticket sales, concessions and jersey sales. It’s easy to lose focus on the business of college sports because we enjoy watching these innocent young athletes compete. It’s such a staple in the American way of life that we forget why these collegiate sports even exist. These schools carry these sports programs to make money. There’s no mistake about it—for most universities, the major sports like football, basketball and baseball generate the revenue necessary to build new campus facilities, pay coaches salaries and bonuses and pay for the multi-million dollar stadium expansion projects these schools continually fund to attract more and better athletes that will bring in more and more revenues. This business model sounds a lot like one of a pro sports franchise.

There is a more prevalent problem that underlies not allowing full-ride athletes compensation. By not paying these scholarship athletes to work, you are greatly increasing their susceptibility to having financial mismanagement issues in the future. They haven’t worked so they don’t have as much exposure to earn a check, save and allocate for bills, etc. The best chance for these student-athletes to learn is from their parents, who, unfortunately, often were also not taught these basic principles. Whether it’s a lacrosse player who is going to work at a tech company or an NFL player being drafted. These post-college athletes will be equally faced with the same daunting, sometimes financially fatal, task of learning the importance of basic financial management. The difference in magnitude is the lacrosse player will be making what 99 percent of the world earns. Meanwhile, the NFLer is possibly making hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. Asking a 22-year-old to manage that drastic change in the quality of life can be overwhelming. I know it was for me. The tools and experience they failed to learn are a result of ignorance by the institutions coupled with a failed capitalistic business model we call college education.

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

N.D.: My greatest moment was getting drafted into the NFL. It was a longtime dream come true. I was so naive and terrified but excited at the same time. More than getting drafted, the lessons I learned during that draft process and during my career were profound. I learned about fife, what trust really means, how to persevere through failure and how to handle success. Preparing weekly to play at that level took a tremendous amount of willpower and belief in myself. Learning what the mind and body are capable of was an exquisite realization to someone who thought himself to be indestructible. It’s one thing to be told that you can play in the pros, but it’s an entirely different animal doing it. I am extremely proud of my accomplishments and what I was able to achieve.

My lowest point is experiencing the post-career symptoms I feel on a daily basis. Every day I am hunted by the paradox of wishing I was not so reckless and careless with my body, but then again that is what made me valuable in such a physically brutalizing, gladiator sport. I suffer from memory and speech impairments from playing linebacker in the NFL for 12 seasons. It is not apparent in my everyday interactions with people but I definitely feel things are a little off at times. After being retired for nearly five years, transitioning is still an ongoing process and struggle for me. Sometimes I feel like my mind is so scrambled that even if I were doing something I loved, I’m not sure I could enjoy it. Take my NFL career for instance. Toward the end, I did not enjoying playing the game anymore. The fan interaction, the attention and playing against my peers was great all the way through to my last game against the Oakland Raiders on January 2, 2012, but keeping my body and mind together became too cumbersome and an overwhelming struggle. Recently, I remember watching the movie “Concussion” and feeling so sad by the events that happened to my NFL brothers. I felt a sense of despair because even as graphic as the movie was, I’m sure it’s impossible to relay what really occurred in the lives of those men . The mental conditions that former and current players are experiencing are very real.

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J.P.: As you know, I’m working on a Brett Favre biography. And one thing that stands out is, especially late in his career, Favre was definitely treated differently than other players. Separate changing area, separate parking area, better food, etc. And we, in the media, jump all over this stuff. My question to you: Does it matter in the locker room? Does that sort of thing cause dissension, or do few care?

N.D.: When I was with Brett at the Packers, I never really cared that he had his own accommodations. I didn’t care about why he wouldn’t shower with everyone else. It never really bother me. I suppose it depends on who you ask, though. I recognize that it did bother some of the other teammates but what could you say—that was Brett Favre. I justified his private parking and security detail to just being “big time.” I feel like Michael Jordan and other sports icons had special privileges, too. It makes sense that when he went to other teams, where he had no legacy or history, they regarded his behavior as a show of arrogance and isolation.

J.P.: Along those lines, after the whole Vikings-Saints Bountygate game, much was made of the evilness of paying players, trying to injure opponents, etc. But it seems like the general reaction—like, below the surface—was a big “meh.” Like, “Meh, this sort of thing happens ALL around the NFL.” Na’il, from your experiences—true? False? And did you ever take money or a prize for hurting someone?

N.D.: Yes, it’s true. There were bounties in the NFL. But it depended on which team I was playing for. Some defensive coordinators did it and some did not. Most of the time it was up to the veteran players to get it organized. It didn’t always involve money either. Sometimes it was just a medal or a championship boxing title belt or boxing glove for the hardest hit in the game. The winners on defense ranged from sack leaders, quarterback hits, caused fumbles, interceptions, etc. The offense had rewards as well for knockdown blocks or “pancakes.” I never heard of or took part in any sort if bounty that had to do with taking a guy out of the game or purposefully injuring an opponent. I’m not too sure if guys I played with would go so far as to take a guy out, but I’m sure there are stories out there of that happening.

J.P.: I live in a place where parents are nutso over sports. Many want their kids to become pro athletes, so they sign them up for multiple leagues, hire private coaches, force them to choose one when they’re, oh, 8 or 9. Do you think there’s some validity to this? Like, is it wise? And do you think those years in pro sports is worth the struggle?

N.D.: I personally have a problem with parents that who through their kids. I imagine that it is hard on the kid to endure when he can’t be who or what he/she wants to be. It’s sad because the parents identify with a version of themselves in their children and get so psychologically fixated with nostalgia that they really think they are their kids in a sick, funny kind of way. The parents try so hard to make up for some lack in their lives.

I’ve come to the conclusion that playing pro sports is a matter of timing, luck and God-given ability. Most of the time, the best player doesn’t make it for a lack of one of those three things. I played with guys who had far greater talent than I had, and for whatever reason, they didn’t reach it to college, much less the pros. When I was young, I wasn’t trying to go play in the NFL, I was just trying to go out and kick ass, have fun and be great at football.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH NA’IL DIGGS:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Duce Staley, Nathan’s French fries, gorgonzola turkey sliders, Barry Manilow, the iPad, hamsters, Dexys Midnight Runners, Wrigley Field, Stairway to Heaven, REO Speedwagon, denim, Chris Farley: Duce Staley, Nathan’s French Fries, iPad, Turkey Sliders, Wrigley Field, Chris Farley, Stairway to Heaven, Barry Manilow, Denim, Hamsters, REO Speedwagon, Dexys Midnight Runners

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: No, I have my pilot’s license and have never felt a real threat of death. I am super comfortable with flying and being in the air. Well, maybe the time I flew in the backseat of an F-18 Hornet. I never knew a plane could do that. I blacked out six times!

• In 18 words, make a case for Tim Tebow’s Hall of Fame candidacy: Uhhh … ummmm … people like him?? [shoulders shrug with fake smiley face]

• Is twirling a sport?: Sure. As long as it’s with flaming objects in the dark or with nunchucks.

Celine Dion calls and offers you $3 million to be her Las Vegas personal trainer for the next two years. She demands loyalty, decency and that every single workout includes you repeating the mantra, “Celine means love … Celine means love.” You in?: Hell Yeah!! I’ll have her ripped up.

• Should marijuana be legalized?: Yes, I think it could really help people with severe pain and certain mood disorders.

• Five reasons one should make San Diego his/her next vacation destination?: 1. It is truly America’s Finest City; 2. San Diego Zoo; 3 Legoland; 4. The consistently beautiful weather; 5. Gaslamp District

• The greatest meal you ever had was where?: Although I don’t eat beef anymore—a medium-well filet mignon with a side of lobster mashed potatoes from Mastro’s Steakhose in Scottsdale, Arizona is by far the absolute best meal I have ever had. If I was headed to the electric chair tomorrow, that would be my last meal.

• I love soda. Love, love, love soda. Am I damned to rotting teeth and hell?: Definitely the former.

• We can get you your own ESPN show right now, but you have to sit across a table screaming at people for an hour. You in?: No. That just isn’t my personality and frankly drives me crazy! Listening to shows like that raises my blood pressure and gives me road rage.

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Mark Barden

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Mark Barden has the answers.

This must be true, because it costs $25,000 to him as a speaker. And that’s a lot of coin. And experts get lots of coin. So, hey.

But there’s more. Mark Barden has the answers because, truly, answers are his thing. As one of the managing partners of eatbigfish, a strategic brand consultancy, he has consulted such brands as Audi, Pepsi and eBay. He’s also helped in the launch of such entities as Own (skincare) and Lark (personal technology). Last year he made his literary debut with the book, “A Beautiful Constraint: How to Transform Your Limitations Into Advantages, and Why It’s Everyone’s Business Now.”

One can follow Mark on Twitter here, and visit his website here.

Mark Barden, welcome to the land of answers—the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Mark, you’re a problem solver, as well as an inhabitant of earth, so I’m gonna throw this out you: Climate change scares the living shit out of me, and I feel like humanity is too stupid and self-absorbed to do anything about it. I worry that my kids, or grandkids, are going to live through hell because we were unwilling to do anything but take selfies and watch the Kardashians. So is there a solution? And are you as hopeless about this as I am?

MARK BARDEN: Nice softball to begin with. Thanks! This is a serious question and I’ll provide a serious answer. Yes, you’re right to be freaked out. I am, too. But no, I’m not as hopeless as you are. And yes, there may be some solutions.

There are two parts to the long answer below. The first has to do with how we change hearts and minds and mobilize people. Any debate on climate change has to address this. Most politicians and business leaders will follow public opinion more than they will lead it, and people must send a stronger signal that they want change. As a marketer, I see “selling” climate change as a critical issue in how to fix it.

I’ll start with a little story about seeing Ira Glass live on stage (which is as odd as it sounds, but very compelling). The latest IPCC data had come out that day, and in an apparently unscripted moment he referenced it. Just as the audience was riding a wave of enthusiasm for all things This American Life, he stopped the show, and with barely contained emotion said, “I just don’t understand why this isn’t the ONLY thing we’re talking about as a society.” In that moment it all seemed so desperate. He left us hanging in total silence until he composed himself, and then continued with the show. But I feel the same way, and have thought hard about why we’re not all talking about it.

The situation is desperate. If you’re not freaked out, you’re not paying attention. Scientists are certainly freaked out. If what’s known as a “positive feedback loop” kicks in and a steady warming trend suddenly “tips” into runaway warming (which is a distinct possibility if large areas of permafrost melts, releasing huge amounts of methane, for example) then it’s even worse than it looks today. The time to start changing things was 20 years ago.

However, social scientists have learned that shouting about the increasingly dire news won’t to change attitudes and behavior, as it makes people go into denial mode. The same social scientists have been saying for years that our own biology works against us when it comes to making changes that benefit the long-term, because we’re wired to pay attention to immediate threats of the saber toothed tiger baring down on us, not the dangers a decade or two from now. And now the message that too much “crisis messaging” stops people from engaging!? Oy. This is complicated stuff. Add to this your notion that we are “amusing ourselves to death” to use Neil Postman’s phrase, and it becomes apparent why so little is happening.

It’s frustrating.

And yet, we are learning a huge amount about how to communicate on this issue, and how to provide the “nudges” to get people to act.

What I’d love to see is all of the knowledge base—all the social scientists, some of the best marketers, and policy makers—come together, learn from all of it, and start creating a set of best practices that can be 10x as effective in creating attitude and behavior change. Marketing science has come a long way in the last decade, with the likes of Google analytics and the understanding the Facebook guys have about what drives clicks and sharing. If these groups joined hands, pooled knowledge, and gave up some of their considerable real estate (ad space) to campaigning on this issue, we could accelerate change. And I think we’re closer than we think on this. There’s already a great infrastructure of change agents out there who’ve been mobilizing. Change often seems like its not going to happen until it does, and then it comes fast. Remember how quickly the Berlin Wall came down? How quickly attitudes toward gay marriage have changed? The same thing is poised to happen on climate change, I feel, but needs a really smart effort to create and harness the groundswell that’s already there.

If that groundswell grew, we could create pressure for some of those nudges. For example, a carbon tax creates the kind of short-term “threat” people will notice and respond to now, reducing carbon use, further incentivizing the growth of alternative energy. It may not be popular, but a more switched-on public could accept it. Carbon tax revenues could be rebated to the poor (so those who can ill afford it are not penalized by a carbon tax), as well as fund the continued search for solutions, which can be part of the policy agenda.

You can probably tell something about my politics from this last paragraph. I believe the government has to provide some big “nudges” to speed the process of change, not just in tax policy but in funding R&D. Steven Johnson makes a compelling case in his book Where Good Ideas Come From, about how important the kinds of non market-driven, but highly connected liquid networks of academia (he calls this the “fourth quadrant” of innovation) help fuel the innovation of free markets, which then feed back money and ideas into academia. Google is a great example of this. Born of Stanford CS labs, it changed the world, made loads of money, and is using its wealth in the private sector as well as feeding funds back into more fundamental academic research. We need innovation everywhere to crack climate change. There are many solutions already but much more to be done on, say, algae and the mythical cold-fusion. So tax carbon to make us all pay attention now and take action short term now, and use the money to drive research and funding for longer-term solutions. A carbon tax is just one idea that’s been proposed, but it seems to me to have many benefits.

And, quite honestly, we need to address the doublespeak and shameless cynicism of the oil companies—and the politicians they fund—who’ve been lying about climate change for literally 35 years. I just don’t know what to say about people who would knowingly sacrifice civilization for the sake of profit. Is there any other word than evil? We need to punish people for this kind of corporate malfeasance in the courts. Fines can go to funding the alternative energy development those companies could have been profiting from if they’d had the values and vision a few decades ago. And putting the lies and liars on display for all to see would help drive the change agenda. If there is one thing that we know drives behavior change, it’s the feeling of being duped and treated unfairly. Revealing the manipulative agenda of the tobacco companies, for instance, did more to drive down smoking amongst teens than any pictures of black lung. The same could work in the oil arena.

And we need more strong leadership in corporations. We’re starting to see it more and more from CEOs like Paul Polman of Unilever, Elon Musk, and the likes of Google who are working hard on sustainability issues. These people seem to care personally, as well as know they have to fix the issues if they want a future in which they can continue to sell what they make. We should do everything we can to support them, as governments and consumers. A lot of consumer spending is moving toward companies that are doing the right thing and it will continue.

And despite the doom and gloom we need leaders to paint a positive picture of what society can look like in a zero carbon world — jobs, life, health, and a thriving economy driven by cheap and abundant energy. This is a time for leadership. Provide a positive vision, paint the picture, lead people toward what is possible, with optimism, hope hope and ingenuity, and create a huge appetite and mandate for it. The dystopian future narrative is far too strong in our culture and we need an alternative. The ideas in The World We Made provide a start. Read it.

Despite how things look today, it’s worth noting that on just about all the important metrics—literacy, deaths by warfare, decline of fatal diseases, and so on—we are doing far, far better than what we might think from looking at the world through the lens of what Peter Diamandis calls the Catastrophy News Network (CNN). Relatively speaking, the world is in good shape and making progress, and the future can be even better. Although his notion of abundance can all feel a little techno-utopian at times, the idea that the convergence of so many world-changing technologies is happening today gives a certain amount of credence to the notion that our economy, and how we power it, will be wholly different in just a few years.

What really seems to be at the heart of many of our troubles at the moment is our delusional sense of separateness. This may be the bigger crisis that must be addressed. It amounts to a transformation of consciousness. We see ourselves as separate from nature, something we can control, when we are but a small, integral, part of a massive whole. We see ourselves as separate selves, when clearly our flourishing is wrapped up entirely in our connection to other people in our families and our communities. We see ourselves as separate nations, when clearly what happens over there has dramatic influence on what happens over here. Some of the “blame” for this must lie at the feet of modern consumer society which so powerfully associates happiness to our actions as consumers, and has come to define us too much. We love our stuff, but stuff’s not making us truly fulfilled. We love our social feeds, but the way we’re using them today is turning us into hollow narcissists. Those of us lucky enough not be distracted by the daily struggle to make ends meet are beginning to realize this. Part of the transition to what’s next must involve a post-capitalist, post individualist world; an evolved set of values about what success, and growth, and meaning, are derived from. I realize this is the height of irony coming from a marketer, but being so close to it, I think I’ve been able to start seeing it for what it really is.

But back to the core question: whether all of this change can happen in time. It will be very tight. On the climate, we may well have to resort to some of the more crazy geo-engineering solutions (giant mirrors in space to reflect some of the sun’s heat, for example!) to mitigate our worst impacts, and that will not be easy to do, or to build global consensus around. These will be challenging times for humanity even if we get our act together soon. But on balance I think I’ll back us. Just. We have a decent track record of not wiping ourselves out, and what it will require to beat climate change — huge collective action, massive innovation, the complete transformation of our values and economy — is the biggest opportunity we’ve ever had to prove what we’re capable of.

What if it’s not enough? Or we can’t move fast enough? Well, it gets really ugly for a while. But I draw just a little solace from the fact that humanity is just one of millions of evolutionary experiments taking place across the universe, and though we have produced more remarkable ideas in a very short period of time than we could have once imagined, if we fail as an experiment, life goes on. The planet will be fine. Within a thousand years it will be hard to see any visible trace of people.

J.P.: Your bio says, among other things, you “played a Buddhist monk in a Kleenex commercial.” Can you please explain this one for us?

M.B.: Wow! This is going to be a tough transition, but here goes. The Kleenex commercial is one of the few good things that have happened to me as the result of being bald.

The commercial in question was promoting anti-microbial tissues that kill 99.9% of germs. The “star” of the commercial is a Buddhist monk opposed to killing in any form. But unknowingly he uses the tissue, is horrified at killing germs, and his serenity is transformed into a guttural scream.

One of my former partners at an ad agency I’d started (Black Rocket) had become a director of commercials, and for someone bizarre reason had found himself unable to cast the monk. Evidently he had a picture of me in his mind, and so he just called out of the blue, ran over with his hand held camcorder and shot a quick demo. I’d never acted before in my life, so how he sold this to the Kleenex client I’ll never know. It was a huge shoot for them, so surely this was risky? But it happened. And I loved it.

At the time I wondered if this was all some way for Bob, the director, to make up to me a little. He was a spikey character, and we’d had a tempestuous working relationship that resulted in me leaving my own agency before the other partners sold it for a lot of money. Maybe Bob was turning the karmic wheel a little by providing me with some residuals from the shoot. There’s nothing quite like popping out to the mailbox every few days for a few months and finding a check for $26.72 one day, and $13.43 the next.

The best part was sitting on the sofa back home in the UK with my parents when the ad came on. We watched it in silence, then there was a pause, and then my dad said, without any conviction, “he looked a bit like you?” Hysterical

J.P.: You’ve co-authored a book, “A Beautiful Constraint,” that calls for something you refer to as “constraint-driven problem solving.” I have no idea what this means. Please explain.

M.B.: So much problem-solving is driven by the fabled “blue sky thinking” where there are no limits placed on the ideas people are allowed to have. There’s some evidence to support that this is an effective way to generate ideas, it’s just that so few of them are implementable because they are often ungrounded, disconnected from the realities of the business. At the same time, there’s an assumption that more resource, know-how, money, power, and so on is better. If we had unconstrained resources we could solve all our problems, right? Yet the concept of The Resource Curse in economics shows that’s not always the case. Nigeria has tons of oil revenue. But what kind of economy and society have they built as a result? One more corrupt than before and not much less impoverished. George Lucas had progressively more money to make each subsequent Star Wars movie, but did they get any better? Not according to ratings on Rotten Tomatoes. And in our own work with challengers—the “little fish” handicapped in some key way—we found that the constraints were often the very source for inventiveness, and not an impediment to it.

Our book proposes starting at the other end then, with the constraints and limitations not without them. We ask people to embrace them as the source of solutions. This is not a new idea, but it felt like one that needed a champion, especially given the times we live in (see above). And it turns out there is a ton of evidence that constraints can be powerful stimulus for creative thinking. Dr. Seuss wrote The Cat In That Hat when he was challenged to produce a book first graders cannot put down, drawing only from a list of 225 CVC words (consonant, vowel, consonant). At first he thought it impossible, but of course it created the unique style the world knows and loves, and made his books best sellers.

We see this general idea playing out again and again.

It was the lack of water in the Israeli desert that forced the invention of drip irrigation, and wars with their neighbors that forced the same Israeli farmers to export their abundance to Europeans—who paid them higher prices. It was the lack of natural resources on the island of Taiwan that forced the government to develop human capital through education, creating one of the most affluent countries on earth. And it was the imposition of a time constraint—the shot clock—that made the modern NBA into the high-energy run-and-gun game of today.

These stories of “beautiful constraints” are everywhere, and yet most people, if asked, would prefer to not be constrained. In fact, many people find it really hard to get started when the appearance of a constraint seems to make things impossible. So the book is a manifesto for constraint-based ideation, to make visible to people that constraints can be allies.

And it’s a how-to book that gives people just enough process to get started. Most of us understand “if life gives you lemons, make lemonade” but there’s very little written about the recipe for lemonade making. We drew on the academic literature, our own work, and dozens of personal interviews with all kinds of people—school teachers, healthcare professionals, military leaders, video-game designers—to prove that this capability is widespread and not the special domain of the creative geniuses of Silicon Valley. We’d like as many people as possible to feel more comfortable about the idea of finding beauty in constraints.

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J.P.: So you’re probably the 7,654,333rd human to present himself as having answers. I don’t say this snidely—from Wayne Dyer to Dr. Oz to Dr. Phil to Vince Lombardi, Jr., the world seems overrun by people who serve to tell other people how to better themselves. So why should we listen to you, and not Wayne?

M.B.: I won’t suggest that anyone should listen to us over Wayne Dyer, or Oprah, or Vince Lombardi. I’m familiar with at least some of their advice and a lot of it seems very good. I don’t see advice as a zero-sum game. There can never be too much good advice in a world that seems to need plenty of it.

But we felt that our book needed to be written because we live in an age of constraints, and most of us don’t have a healthy relationship with them. We wanted to provide a tool kit for people to use. Like many advice books, A Beautiful Constraint has lots of inspiring stories, but it also lays down just enough process that anyone can use it to get started making constraints beautiful.

J.P.: As a partner at eatbigfish, you consult with companies, devise ideas to improve their productivity, efficiency, etc. I know this is a broad question, but what are most people doing wrong? Is there a common thread of screwing up?

M.B.: That is broad, so I’ll go broad with my answer about the common thread: the crisis of meaning in the modern workplace. People often don’t care enough about what they’re doing. They are not motivated enough to succeed, and the places they work for aren’t doing enough to help. People’s work is disconnected from the larger purpose, and/or there is no meaningful larger purpose for them to connect their work to in the first place. When failure happens, it’s very often to do with that: a lack of connection to why we’re doing this.

The best companies are addressing this issue today and working hard to define a mission that people can really get and get into. Not the dire nonsense that resides in most corporate mission statements, but a real purpose. If you’ve flown Virgin America I think you can tell that the crew feel like they are there to “put glamor back into the skies,” which contrast mightily with the way one feels on United. And most of my friends at Charles Schwab really believe in the power of investing to change fortunes, and will work hard to bring that to more people in a more fair and transparent way.

This idea of companies with a purpose to believe in is a huge idea in business today, and many of us are working to address it because it’s a winning strategy. Consumers want to know about purpose and will spend money on it. And employees want it. If we can find more meaning at work, we’ll have happier, more satisfied workers, keen to be more productive with less turnover, more loyalty, better day to day engagement, and better long term health outcomes, too. And then those firms will be more profitable. So there’s a virtuous circle beginning to spin around this idea. Daniel Pink has reviewed a lot of the data on this in his book Drive. It’s more complicated than this, but not much.

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J.P.: You work with a lot of companies. A lot of companies as seen as these evil entities by private citizens. You know what I mean—tax break-seeking, union-destroying, minimum wage-paying monoliths out to slice the heads off the lower and middle classes. So … is there anything to this?

M.B.: That’s another doozy that would take an entire book to even try to answer properly, but yes, I believe there is something to this.

First, I want to say that the vast majority of people I have met in my work have been honest, fair, hard-working people. It doesn’t help much to stereotype all business execs as villains, as it sets up yet another us vs. them distinction that immediately separates humanity in yet another way at a time when we should be doing far less of that kind thing. There are sometimes bad actors, of course. I already made my point about Exxon, and one could point to Enron, too. Goldman Sachs hardly cover themselves in glory, do they. There are nasty, corrupt people everywhere and sometimes they run powerful organizations.

And it has to be said that the idea that a corporation’s sole purpose is to maximize shareholder returns and drive the stock prices has become a dangerous idea that we must reexamine. The need to maximize against the one metric puts executives in a tough place when it could be odds with their role as employer, global citizen, steward of the environment and so on, and it reinforces the short-term thinking we see far too often in the corporate world. Steve Denning has written a brilliantly insightful piece on this, and it is well worth a read if you want to understand the roots of the problem.

We’re beginning to see strong benefits of triple bottom-line thinking (putting people, planet and profit on an equal footing) and the idea of the B-Corp is a move in the right direction. As discussed above, it helps some consumers and employees decide to whom to give their energy, and I hope it continues to sway the market. But there may be legislative change that’s needed, too.

Look, I’ve always felt that business is a game played by a given set of rules. The contest between players separates the good from the bad, as it’s the best way to make the system as a whole work better. Your basic Darwinian survival of the fittest is a dynamic that it is essential to protect. So if we don’t like how the game is being played, we should change the rules. For example, we have dramatically increased fuel efficiency of America’s cars by imposing higher CAFÉ standards on all automobile manufacturers. Car companies wouldn’t do this voluntarily because it is hard and expensive, but as they’re all under the same threat, they have responded. That was government setting rules and creating a level playing field for all players.

Tax rules are just a different set of rules. You can’t really blame corporations for finding and exploiting tax loopholes, can you, if they know there competitors are going to do it? But you can blame legislators for not closing them. Of course many of those legislators are in the pockets of the corporations who lobby for rules to be twisted, so that fix would probably require a larger fix of campaign finance reform first. If I were to identify a single issue that would help solve many more issues in the U.S. it would be money in politics, which corrupts absolutely. I’m with Lawrence Lessig and MAYDAY.US on that one.

J.P.: How’d you get here? I mean, I know what you do—but what’s the life path? When did the light bulb appear? Why?

To mis-quote Lemony Snicket, it was a series of fortunate events. I have never had a long-term life path, I’ve always followed my nose, and my nose is usually sniffing out adventure. Everything good that’s ever happened to me has come as a result of taking a small, but calculated risk that the choice I was about to make would be more fun and open more doors to more opportunities. I wasn’t always right, but that’s what’s driven me. I moved to the US when I was 28 because I sensed it was a big opportunity. I worked at the best ad agency (Wieden & Kennedy) on the best client (Nike) without really knowing it. I’m still connected to a lot of those same people today, and those relationships have opened dozens of doors for me.

I started my own agency because it seemed like the next obvious step. We won the Yahoo! account in our first week, and it put us on the map. But within months I realized I wasn’t going to be at my best at that place, so I left. When I came back from a year of travel the first dot-com boom was underway, and that felt like the obvious next step. That was PeoplePC, which flamed out after opening on 3 continents, going public, and blowing $500 million. Not an entirely happy experience, but guess where I learned the most about running a business?

That’s why I enjoy working with challenger brands. It’s just good to be around people who sense possibility and then go after it. I like that mindset, and I like being around entrepreneurs.

So no “light bulb” per se. In fact one really dreadful piece of advice is this “follow your passion” idea. If you have a passion, that’s fine. You’re blessed and you should go all out. But what if you don’t have the one thing that drives you? I didn’t. Must you feel really bad about it and conclude your life has no direction? I suspect that’s the impact this advice has on most people. I was always just intrigued by what might happen if I did X. No path.

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

M.B.: Greatest is watching my wife give birth to our two girls. Lowest is losing two very dear friends in separate incidents, one not yet 40, one just turned.

J.P.: I hear people say, “In America, anyone can make it!” I have been to Gary, Indiana, where almost no one makes it. What thinks you? Are we the land of “anything is possible” or the land of “anything is possible—but more possible for some than others”?

M.B.: This would take longer than my climate change answer to do justice to, so I’ll duck it with this: It used to be “anything is possible,” and now I’m not so sure.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH MARK BARDEN:

• Would you rather slice off your left arm with a rusty butcher’s knife or devote yourself to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for the rest of your life?: Lose the arm. I figure with a few years I can get an ever better one thanks to robotics. Everyone WILL be doing it. (With huge apologies to all the amputees out there. Jeff made me say it.)

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Kelvin Bryant, University of Southern Mississippi, Martha Stewart, cucumbers, Denver, Laura Linney, “Remains of the Day,” Chaka Kahn, Entourage, Magic Johnson, MacBook Pro: Cucumbers — ever had a fresh one, right off the vine from your own garden?; Laura Linney — have you seen P.S.?; Remains of the Day — I like me some Merchant Ivory if only to remember how stuck up my fellow countrymen can be; MacBook Pro — I can’t believe what this thing is capable of; Chaka Kahn — 1984, college, and the surprise some time later that Prince wrote I Feel For You; Magic Johnson — he’s still alive!; Entourage — douchey Hollywood types; Kelvin Bryant — who dat?; University of Southern Mississippi — all is forgiven, but hard to get off the bottom of this list.

Celine Dion calls. She offers you $25 million a year to be her personal advisor. You have to move to Las Vegas, work 360 days a year, shave off all your hair and change your son’s middle name to RoseDawson. You in?: I have no son and am already bald, so this one’s a no-brainer. Sure. What a tale it would be.

• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between you and Pink? KO or decision?: Pink in 4. I see her as Marvelous Marvin and me as Ray Leonard after he got all old and dopey. I’d spend a good deal of the fight running away but be too slow to avoid the shots in the end.

• Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?: Just do It!

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Nope

• The worst movie you’ve ever seen is …: Star Wars. The Phantom Menace

• Who’s the most famous person you know?: Robert De Niro. He and I once had a diving contest off a boat in the Galapagos Islands. Huge overstretch to say I know him. He probably doesn’t remember me now.

• The people at my gym never clean off the StairMaster after sweating all over it. Give me a creative idea how to get revenge …: Really, just wipe it off yourself and get on with it. Take the high road, dude.

• One question you would ask Steve Grogan were he here right now: And you are …?

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Frank Sutherland

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When you’re young and newish and sitting in awe of things, people tend to appear larger than life. For example, to the up-and-coming singer maybe an audience with, oh, Eddie Vedder is akin to a visit with God. After a spell, though, he gets to know Vedder, sing with Vedder, eat with Vedder—and ultimately a legend becomes, well, just Eddie.

Back in the summer of 1994, when I graduated from the University of Delaware and, six days later, started as a reporter at The (Nashville) Tennessean, Frank Sutherland was as big as big can be. He was the newspaper’s editor; an imposing figure with a thick white beard and a booming voice. When you heard Frank was pleased, you made sure he saw you. When you heard Frank was pissed, you hid beneath your desk. At the end of every month, Frank would gather everyone together in the newsroom and salute the stories of the month. To have him call your name, well, it was (for young Jeffie) a validation of career choice. It meant everything.

Twenty two years later, I see Frank simply as a good guy, a righteous journalist and a symbol (for me) of the final era of newspaper supremacy. Under Frank, The Tennessean was still the place to go for information in Nashville. It boasted an enormous circulation, oodles of talented reporters and a historic pipeline to the New York Times. But, gradually, that changed. Like the industry as a whole, the paper is a shell of its former self. Bummer.

Frank retired from his editorship in 2004, but still has strong memories and opinions on newspapers, reporting, Rita Coolidge and once having gone undercover in a state psychiatric hospital.

Frank Sutherland, my former chief, welcome to The Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Frank, you worked at The Tennessean for a long time. As a reporter, as an editor. When you look at the newspaper now—and newspapers now—do you feel like crying? Is it hopeless? Do we all need to accept that newspapers—as a print medium—are pretty much dead?

FRANK SUTHERLAND: This question was asked after radio, then television, then the Internet, then …

News is not about the medium but the content. I read the news online every day before I go to the end of the driveway. Print will always be here but as color television is better than black and white, things evolve. I like horses but drive a car. Concentrate on the content and quit whining about the medium.

J.P.: During your time as a reporter, you once posed as a patient for 31 days at the Central State Psychiatric Hospital. Um, how did the assignment come about? How did you get in? And what memories do you have from the experience?

F.S.: At the newspaper, we were often told about bad conditions at the hospital, but complaints from mental patients lacked credibility when they were denied by doctors. The only way to get the truth was to go undercover. I was trained how to act depressed by a Vanderbilt psychiatrist—it is more difficult to frown than to smile. I posed as a potential suicide because the treatment would not be debilitating or affect my reporting abilities.

My most vivid memory was a comparison to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. My hospital was nowhere as clean as the book/movie and the interaction among patients did not translate to my experience. Except for rare episodes, life in the hospital was quiet and boring.

At the once-a-week group sessions with our social worker, I asked when I would get to see a psychiatrist. She said I would have to go on the outside and pay. How then, I asked, was I to get help in the hospital without seeing a doctor? She said the treatment was to get us to think about our problems, and if we think about our problems, we would get well.

From the Jan. 24, 1974 Tennessean front page ...

From the Jan. 24, 1974 Tennessean front page …

J.P.: You started writing for The Tennessean as a 17-year-old college freshman at Vanderbilt. I feel like lots of young people have no idea what the glory days of print newspaper were like. So … Frank, what was it like? The newsroom? The approach? The buzz?

F.S.: I was in awe of our ability to effect change. I have a photo of me at 17 interviewing Gov. Frank Clement. The stories I wrote affected lives and policy.

Most of us worked nights. We weren’t paid enough to go anywhere socially (in those days, nothing was open after midnight, anyway, except Linebaugh’s), so we hung out together in the newsroom at night, critiquing the news and journalism of the day. That was a tremendous, satisfying learning experience.

J.P.: I’ve sort of come to resent Gannett as a negative force in newspaper dumbing down. Nut graphs, limited jumps, tons of easy-to-read graphics. Tell me why I’m wrong. Or right?

F.S.: The company was not the only force for change, just among the first to recognize the threat to readership for newspapers that once had a monopoly on news presentation. The truth is that other newspapers and media companies, along with ASNE and other professional organizations, followed Gannett’s lead in the presentation issues you listed. The truth also is that these methods stalled somewhat but did not prevent younger generations from abandoning print for other media.

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J.P.: I know you were born at Smyrna Air Force Base, know you attended Vandy. But why journalism? When did you first have the bug? When did you know this was what you wanted to do?

F.S.: I had a scholarship, student loan and parental funding but no laundry or walking around money, so I had to get a job. I was hired at The Tennessean for several reasons over more qualified people like Roy Blount, Jr., Kim Chapin and Richard McCord. I was local, a freshman, compared to the juniors and seniors who applied, and would be more likely to stay longer at the newspaper. My only clips were a high school newspaper feature about the stray dogs on campus and a college newspaper interview with Martin Luther King in which he, through my questioning, condemned Vanderbilt student senate opposition to lunch counter protests.

J.P.: Back when I was at The Tennessean, the Nashville Banner existed as a daily rival—and I thought it was awesome. I loved beating them, they loved beating us. Then the paper died. I’ve always wondered how you felt when that happened. I mean, the enemy was vanquished. And yet … did you feel like celebrating or crying?

F.S.: Both. Two newspapers were good for our readers and good for our journalism. Yes, we “won” but we missed the Banner competition terribly. It was altogether different to compete with television, or later, online. Competition brought out the best in us.

J.P.: At The Tennessean, it sort of felt like you were in the shadow of John Seigenthaler, the legendary journalist who served as reporter/editor/publisher. Like, whatever you did could never live up to Seigenthaler standards. Fair? Unfair? And what do you remember about the man?

F.S.: There was no way I could live up to his legacy but also no way I could turn down being his successor. He realized the newspaper had to change when I took over but he never resented it. He and I talked almost every day during my tenure, and I consulted him about changes and issues. He was my boss, my mentor, my golfing partner, my best friend and my second father.

Frank and Natilee on their groovy  wedding day, circa 1974

Frank and Natilee on their groovy wedding day, circa 1974

J.P.: Greatest moment as a journalist? Lowest?

F.S.: Greatest: Being the education editor of The Tennessean during integration of schools.

Lowest: The first time I fired a reporter (for good cause: lying about covering a meeting, but it was still hard).

J.P.: How do you feel about aging, death? Do you worry at all about the eternity of non-existence? Does that give you any sort of peace? Neither? Both?

F.S.: I recently lost Seigenthaler, who was 86, and my mother, who was 94, so I have thought a lot about it, but I do not worry. I want my wife and children to be at peace with my life when I go.

J.P.: You could have fired me on at least four different occasions. Why didn’t you?

F.S.: I wasn’t perfect.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH FRANK SUTHERLAND:

• Five greatest journalists of your lifetime?: John Seigenthaler, Walter Cronkite, John Seigenthaler, Ben Bradlee, John Seigenthaler.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Lindeman’s Bin 40 Merlot, Tim Meadows, Keith Hernandez, The Doors, crab legs, your first name, Sharon Stone, Kevin Costner, Martina McBride, the number 18, Larry Woody: The Doors, Kevin Costner, Sharon Stone, Larry Woody, Martina McBride, Tim Meadows, Lindeman’s, crab legs, Keith Hernandez, my first name, the number 18, this stupid question.

• Three memories from your wedding?: 1. My wife walking down the aisle with her father; 2. We were married on the porch of my wife’s then 135-year-old home, and during the ceremony, the preacher’s voice rose to a high pitch as a nearby train passage tried to drown out his marriage instructions to us; 3. A group of Tennessean staffers, led by Jerry Thompson and Craven Crowell, plotted to have me arrested as we left for our honeymoon, but we turned the table on them and had them arrested. Wedding pranks were part of the Tennessean cultural history. I helped wreck a few weddings myself.

• Will humanity figure out climate change? Or are we fucked?: Yes. Yes.

• What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?: Tell the truth, using verbs.

 • Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Twice. I was in the Civil Air Patrol in high school. While landing on one of the two crossing strips in Lebanon, another private plane landed in front of me on the cross strip, missing me by about 20 feet at an altitude of 100 feet. I had the right-of-way, but another 20 feet and it wouldn’t have mattered. Then I was on a four-seat plane for the press covering Jim Sasser’s Senate campaign. Taking off from the Dyersburg airport, the plane’s passenger came open and flipped the plane on its right wing. I held on to Banner reporter David Fox’s belt while he leaned outside and closed the door.

• Why the beard?: There were only two razor blades on the 20-patient locked ward where I was undercover. They weren’t very sharp, so I grew the beard. I liked the way it covered up my lack of a chin, so I have kept it ever since.

 • Five reasons one should make Nashville his/her next vacation destination: Friendly people. Diverse entertainment, not just country music. Great food. Walking downtown. Sights such as the Parthenon, the Frist, the arena, and Van Vechten Gallery, plus hot women and hulky men.

 • Odds in your mind that there’s life after death?: Low.

 • One question you would ask Rita Coolidge were she here right now?: Did Eric Clapton and Jim Gordon really steal the piano part of “Layla” from you?

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Tomi Lahren

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So a bunch of months ago, after I stupidly Tweeted that a bunch of female Fox News hosts dressed like hookers, Tomi Lahren ripped me to a shred.

She did so on one of her episodes of “Tomi” on TheBlaze, and it was fierce, merciless and pretty fucking impressive. That’s how Lahren operates: She picks a viewpoint, she zooms in on it and—BAM!—she picks it apart, piece by piece by piece. Do I agree with her takes? Quite literally, never. I mean, seriously, never, ever, ever, ever. But her largely conservative audience seems to love her, and with good reason. If communicating to the masses is a skill, Lahren has a PhD.

Hence, why she’s here today—explaining her dislike of Hillary Clinton, her skepticism over climate change, her love of her kitchen table. One can follow Tomi on Twitter here, and watch episodes of her show here.

Tomi Lahren, I hope your chosen candidates get demolished come November. But I also welcome you to The Land of Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Tomi, I’m thrilled to have you here. Truly thrilled. And I want to start with why we came together: A while back I posted a r-e-a-l-l-y stupid Tweet criticizing some of the women on Fox News for dressing like hookers. It was a shit Tweet—and I’m genuinely furious with myself because A. It was hurtful and wrongheaded; B. Because it misrepresented how I feel. And here is, clearly, how I feel: Women and men are judged by completely different standards in televised media. Obviously there are exceptions, but there’s a ton of more pressure for women to look appealing, dress somewhat sexily, be young. Meanwhile, men can be Chris Berman, Chris Matthews, Sean Hannity, Stephen A. Smith, Skip Bayless—and, with age, they’re simple deemed “experienced” and “having gravitas.” The double standard drives me insane, and I don’t think it has anything to do with left or right—it’s just men generally running a business. So … does this make me a dick? Do you disagree? Agree? And do you, as a woman in media, feel any of this?

TOMI LAHREN: Agree to a point. I am tired of being told I am a victim. There is a double-standard. Sometimes it works to my advantage, sometimes it doesn’t. My looks might help me snag a few views on my show.  If my appearance draws them in and gets them to listen to my message (I write every single word) then so be it. Television is a visual medium, that’s the way it is. Yes it is more difficult for women when the country seems to favor “young and pretty” over “old and experienced” but there are notable exceptions. Here are a few: Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, Oprah, and Greta Van Susteren. I’ve been in TV and guess what—women run it. The largest shareholders may be old, white men but the producers, bookers, and talent recruiters are often women. I don’t want to be the woman that complains my ovaries hold me back. I want to be the woman that says, yeah there is an unfair standard and beating it everyday makes me more of a badass than my male counterparts.

J.P.: One more on the Tweet: So I wrote it. And I’m pretty much a nobody. Yeah, I have a blue check on Twitter. But I’m a guy who writes sports books. That’s it. And yet—the Tweet goes out and—whooooooosh! You’re a [fill in the insults]. Over and over and over. Tomi, I’m not asking as a left-right thing so much as a social media thing: How do you explain this? Like, why do people even care? And the intense anger? Is it real? Is it ever real? Or is it just who social media sorta makes us?

T.L.: Social media is a powerful tool. I know, I found “viral fame” on Facebook and YouTube. Here’s the thing: folks are tired of having so much to say and no place to say it. Twitter gives them the instant gratification of putting the “asshole” in his place. Also, the right-of-center folks are tired of liberals bashing their conservative outlets, especially Fox News. They have some kind of duty to protect their conservative warriors. I have my share of haters but more than that, my loving followers. It’s a blessing and a curse. I had a horrible day at work today, I Instagramed it and my followers made me feel better. That’s something.

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J.P.: You’re 23, you’re from Rapid City, you attended UNLV, you interned for Kristi Noem. But … how did this happen for you, soup to nuts? Was there a moment you thought, “Media!”? A moment you thought, “Conservative!”? In short, what’s your life path from womb to here?

T.L.: I like to talk. I’m pretty good at it. I also love politics. I studied journalism and political science at UNLV. No, not all Las Vegans are strippers.  Long story short, I was looking for an internship out of college. My first choice and now employer, The Blaze, turned me down. Oh well. I called up a new “conservative alternative” network, One America News. They didn’t give me an internship. They gave me a show. I built it from the ground up, and “On Point with Tomi Lahren” was born. I worked at OAN for just over a year when it happened. I went viral with my “Red White & Blue Unfiltered Final Thoughts” after the Chattanooga terrorist attack. Then my inbox exploded and my phone blew up. Now here I am, trying to get a show off the ground at The Blaze in Dallas. I’ve done it before, and I’ll do it again.

J.P.: I have a complaint about people like you. And Hannity. And Sharpton. And Matthews. And most political pundits. And it’s this: You hold the party you disagree with to ridiculous standards. Or, lemme say it this way: If, say, Paul Ryan had a Benghazi-type thing on his resume, you’d defend him, or at least not go after him the way you go after Hillary. If a sitting Republican president presided over 9.3 million new jobs (and I know you can debate the figure, but that’s not really the point of the question), you and yours would be raving about the economy and GOP policy. The Dixie Chicks speaking out against George W. Bush was treason, but Republicans questioning Barack Obama’s patriotism is fine and dandy. This is NOT about the content of your leanings, Tomi, but that it just seems you and others hold standards to one political viewpoint that you don’t to the other. Tell me why I’m wrong. Or right. Or both.

T.L.: You’re right. It’s called politics. I will say this; Republicans hold each other far more accountable than the Democrats do within their party. Ever heard of a RINO? There is no such thing as “DINO” because the Democrats rarely go after one another. For the record, I don’t dislike President Obama because he’s a Democrat. I dislike him for the way he’s treated our country. He is not the commander-in-chief I trust to lead my loved ones into battle. I don’t dislike Hillary because she’s a Democrat; I dislike Hillary because she’s a liar. I can respectfully disagree with many Democrats. I do it on my show all the time. I truly believe in the honest dialogue. I don’t talk over my guests, cut their mics, or try to make them look stupid. That’s not my game. I believe the better point will prevail. Watch my show, you’ll see.

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

T.L.: The greatest moment of my career was my “viral final thoughts.” Not because of the fame or attention, because I meant every word and it’s nice to know it resonated. The lowest point was when I left One America. I don’t regret my decision but it was hard to walk away from the show I built. It felt like abandoning a child.

J.P.: There’s a phrase I see on Twitter all the time, and it drives me c-r-a-z-y: Libtard. Here’s why: I’m OK with “stupid liberal,” “damn liberal,” “asshole liberal”—seriously, whatever. But Libtard—the merging or liberal and retarded—just seems to cross a pretty nasty line. Thoughts?

T.L.: I don’t like it either and don’t use it. It’s an insult to those with mental handicaps. It makes me laugh but I don’t think it’s appropriate. Yet, Twitter will be Twitter. I much prefer the hash tags I created, #QueenHillary #BO #Obummer and #CuddleTerrorists.

J.P.: I’m fascinated: How do you think the presidential election winds up? I know you want a Republican to win. Totally get it. But who will win? How will it go? [JEFF NOTE: I asked this one before Rubio suspended his campaign]

T.L.: I hope it’s a Hillary-Rubio showdown. Marco Rubio is my candidate because he can win. Enough said. For so long the GOP has been the party of old, rich white men. Well, correct me if I’m wrong but Hillary meets three out of four. As I said in my controversial CPAC speech last year, “If the pantsuit fits, male too?” I don’t understand how the American voter could elect Hillary Clinton in confidence. She may be indicted for goodness sakes! Yet, this is the same electorate that voted for Obama a second time. The reason is low-informed voters. I say it all the time, I ‘d rather our voters be passionately liberal than ignorantly neutral. Don’t vote for Hillary because she’s a woman (barely). That’s not good enough.

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J.P.: So you’re clearly intelligent, informed, etc. I just don’t get why conservatives are so skeptical of climate change. I’ve heard the silly stuff (“Well, first you called in global warming—and now this?”) and the Al Gore jokes (can’t argue—he’s become ridiculous). But the science is, at this point, really strong. Doesn’t it make sense to take all the precautions we can—if nothing else, on the side of safety? Also, as a Christian, don’t you think it’s simply right to keep God’s creation as clean as possible?

T.L.: Here’s the deal Jeff—it’s possible to be a common sense conservationist without blaming the coming apocalypse on SUVs and coal. We need to protect the earth but to say humans are the major cause of “climate change” is not scientifically agreed upon. I believe in innovation and energy alternatives. However, I also believe in jobs. Fracking is God’s gift to American energy independence. Let’s find a way to innovate our extraction process, not blame fossil fuels for every drought or rain cloud. I also don’t trust the EPA to do it. They are in the business of grant dollars and regulating puddles.

J.P.: During one of the GOP debates you Tweeted, “The Second Amendment is not a suggestion! Thank you @marcorubio.” I know where you stand on guns, but I also wanna know what you think we should do about all the gun violence. Do you genuinely believe more armed people=a safer society? Because, statistically at least, more guns in homes=more dead people in homes. Should there be any restrictions? None? 

T.L.: Jeff, when radical Islamic terrorists start abiding by our guns laws then we can talk. Until then, this is garbage. Do you really think some maniac (Christian or Muslim or whatever) is going to be stopped by an inability to buy a gun? I believe in the gun laws we already have. They should be enforced. It just so happens that the FBI often fails. That’s what bureaucracy does. I didn’t own a gun before the San Bernardino attack. I do now. The reality is, wackos and jihadists will find a way. When they do, I’ll be armed. Further restrictions only neuter law-abiding citizens.

J.P.: I don’t get the appeal of Donald Trump to the rural white voter. Do you? If so, can you explain?

T.L.: I get it. Americans are angry. Many feel ignored. Many feel they can’t even speak any longer without being labeled a racist, bigot, homophobe or sexist. Donald Trump says the things many frustrated Americans want to hear. We have a president who seems more concerned with Muslim sensitivity than name, rooting out and eliminating the problem of radical Islamic terror. He won’t even say it. We also have many Americans who are tired of illegal immigrants taking advantage of our pitiful border enforcement. Isn’t it time Americans are owed more in this country than illegal immigrants? Countries cannot survive without borders. I ask this: Do you lock your doors because you hate people outside? No. You lock your doors because you love the people inside and want to protect them. That’s why we have borders. Most Republicans feel this way. Donald Trump says it and says it louder.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH TOMI LAHREN:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): “Orange is the New Black,” Michael Keaton, Carson Palmer, clams, Rush Limbaugh, Tim Duncan, “The Martian,” Janis Joplin, MMA, Toronto, your kitchen table, Jill Biden: My kitchen table, Carson Palmer, “The Martian”, Rush Limbaugh, MMA, Michael Keaton, Tim DuncanJanis Joplin, Toronto, Jill Biden, “Orange is the New Black.”

• Five all-time favorite Democratic political figures: Really, Jeff? LOL! I actually had to Google this because none came to mind. 1) Jim Webb—he’s not actually a Democrat in my opinion; 2) Bill Clinton (when he was moderate); 3) JFK (because he asked people what they could do for the country, not what it could do for them); 4) Howard Dean (because he makes me laugh); 5) Bernie Sanders (because he has no shot at winning but his heart is in the right place)

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Yes, actually. The day after Christmas my plane from South Dakota back to Dallas was diverted to the lovely town of San Angelo, Texas due to tornadoes. We got off the plane, got back on, flew in a holding pattern. I don’t think we should have been flying. I saw lighting bolts out the window. I did meet some great people on that plane. We ordered pizza at the airport. Not a bad night. At least there was food. Oh, and I’m alive.

• Being serious—Obama calls. He says, “I know we disagree, but I’d love to invite you to the White House for tea with me and Michelle.” A. Do you go? B. Are you cool? C. Could you have fun hanging with a prez you so strongly disagree with?: I would go in a heartbeat. Here’s why, the office of the president is honorable regardless of the name or party ID. Also, I would ask the tough questions. I would be polite but firm. I don’t think someone like me has ever questioned him. I can have a fun conversation with anyone, even BO. Maybe Michelle can unveil what’s so great about turnips—again.

• One question you would ask Scott Stapp were he here right now?: When’s the band getting back together? Awkwardly—because I barely know who he is. I’m 23, remember?

Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Reince Priebus both make me want to punch a wall. How do you explain their status as party leaders?: Debbie Wasserman Schultz is the most polarizing, shrill woman I’ve heard after Queen Hillary Clinton. Reince Priebus might not be perfect but at least he recognizes the problems in the GOP. Schultz just rags on about how racist and sexist she thinks we are. All talk. No substance. She’s got a tough job though. How’d you like to defend the socialist and the liar? Ouch.

• Three memories from your senior prom: 1) My boyfriend was a jerk but he was a jerk for six years, what can I say? Live and learn; 2) It snowed. Yes, in April. Welcome to South Dakota; 3) My boyfriend’s parents actually asked me to step aside so they could photograph him, alone. Real winners.

• How many days in a row can I wear the sleep pants my mother in law bought me for Chanukah before it gets sorta gross?: That would be a two-day maximum on that. Please tell me you don’t wear sleep pants in public. It’s one of my biggest pet peeves. If I have to put on real pants, so do you, bud.

• Explain your name, please: Yes, Tomi, like the boy’s name. No my parents didn’t want a boy. They like unique names. I used to hate it. In fact, I used to tell people it was “Tami” when I was little. Now, I love it. It might be a boy’s name but you’ll never forget it. Drawback, when I go to grab my cup at Starbucks the whole place looks at me like I’ve stolen some dude’s drink. Ugh.

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ToniAnn Guadagnoli

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Back when my daughter Casey was 2 or 3, I saw on Facebook that a former high school classmate named ToniAnn Guadagnoli had recently released a children’s book titled, “Chitter Chatter.”

So, being a fellow survivor of Mahopac’s mean streets, I plunked down my dough and ordered a copy. When it arrived, I expected little. Another day, another person writing something for kids. But then—BAM! “Chitter Chatter” became a staple of the Pearlman household reading. Casey knew all the characters, all the words. To this day, it’s one of the most perused things within our walls.

But here’s the funny thing: ToniAnn is sorta ambivalent to “Chitter Chatter.” She’s OK with the book, but has bigger aspirations. Which is why she’s here today, as the 254th Quaz Q&A. In short, ToniAnn is the struggling, aspiring writer: 2016. She’s talented, she’s smart, she’s endearing, she’s prolific. But while she’s had books and plays purchased, she still seeks the big deal; the huge breakthrough; the moment that will send her on her way.

I, for one, am quite certain it will happen.

For me, the Quaz has always been about people like ToniAnn Guadagnoli—high hopes, giant aspirations, unique life stories that serve us well when they’re told. When she’s not writing, she works as a paraprofessional in the Santa Rose County School District in Pace, Florida. You can read her lovely blog here.

ToniAnn Guadagnoli, you are the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, ToniAnn, so I feel like, in a way, I’ve been spoiled as a writer, because I worked at Sports Illustrated, and that opened a door for books that, truly, I probably didn’t even deserve. And I know how great of a writer you are, and I feel your frustrations when it comes to landing book deals. So I wanna ask, what is it like trying to land a book deal in 2015/2016. What lengths have you gone through? How frustrating is it? What do you blame it all on—if you do?

TONIANN GUADAGNOLI: No matter what year it is, landing a book is torture. You have to have an agent to have a manuscript read, but you can’t get an agent unless you’re a published author. How do you become a published author if you can’t get a manuscript read … and so it goes? I started out as an editorial assistant for an educational publisher. I spent a good part of each day sending out rejection letters to people who submitted their manuscripts to our company. I never thought about how those people would feel when they got their letter in the mail; that is, until I was on the receiving end of those letters. For a while I was blaming karma for all the negative responses. I figured I wouldn’t receive a “yes” until I received back as many rejection letters as I had sent out. It would be a long and painful process.

For the book that I finished writing last year, “Joy Cometh: Getting through Divorce with God’s Help,” I went to a Christian writing conference to pitch it to two publishers. I met with editors from HarperCollins and Waterbrook. Both of them felt that because I didn’t have an established platform that I would have a hard time getting the book published. (This is the type of situation where you lucked out! You were able to establish a name for yourself and then the book deals followed.) One of the editors suggested that I should obtain letters of endorsement from megachurch pastors, Christian counselors, and/or possibly have a foreword written by a name that would be recognized. Unfortunately, a couple of months into my quest for endorsement letters, the editor e-mailed me and said that she decided to pass on the book because a similar book in their inventory wasn’t selling well. I never even had the chance to send her the letters that I collected.

A lot of the difficulty in getting a contract has to do with timing as well. In 2002, I wrote a screenplay about animated cars that come to life when humans aren’t around. One of the cars gets stolen and the other vehicles work together to save the stolen car. I called it “Brittany’s Bug.” (I came up with the idea while driving to Disney. I thought to myself, “They have animated movies about everything coming to life—bugs, animals, toys—but no cars. Hmmph!” ) In 2003, I submitted “Brittany’s Bug” to 56 film production companies and 26 agents. I received one positive response in January of 2004. The company liked the concept and thought it would make a great movie; however, they heard that another production company was working on a similar idea and they couldn’t compete. Two years later, Disney/Pixar came out with Cars. What a bummer.

In 2009, I submitted a screenplay about my ex-husband’s 9/11 experience. I was told that there was “9/11 fatigue” and people did not want to see or hear another 9/11 story. If I had submitted it prior to the fifth anniversary of 9/11, maybe the results would’ve been different.

The most important thing in all of this is that I never give up. I just keep writing and submitting. Also, I know you’re just going to love this one, but I found that as soon as I started giving credit to God for my writing abilities, things started happening for me—like they did with my plays.

I submitted my first stage play, “Groove-a-rella,” to four publishing companies in 2013. One of the companies (Pioneer Publishing) wrote back and said, “We like your story, but we have too many similar plays.” They suggested I send it to two other play publishers. I did what they recommended and that was it! I received my first official publishing contract from Heuer Publishing. Before long I became a card-carrying member of the Dramatists Guild of America.

I may not have that coveted book deal just yet, but I’ll get it one day. At least I know that I’m on the other side of the karma hump—I’m finally starting to get those “yeses.”

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J.P.: You wrote “Chitter Chatter,” which goes down as one of the three or four essential books from my daughter’s young childhood. So … what was the process, soup to nuts? Where did the idea come from? How did you work it out into a story? How long did it take? And what did it feel like, seeing it finally as a finished product?

T.G.: I was a pregnant third grade teacher in 2000. Two days before the last day of school, my doctor told me to stop working. I was ordered to be on complete bed rest for the remainder of my pregnancy (four months!) or else I might not carry my baby to full term. I was allowed to get up to go to the bathroom and I could take a shower each day and that was it.

Other than the TV remote, my next best friend was an anti-gravity pen. That pen, along with a black marbled composition notebook, allowed me to write several stories while positioned on the couch (even while I was lying on my back). Two years later, I bought a Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market Guide. I submitted “Chitter Chatter” to 23 different publishing companies who were willing to accept unsolicited manuscripts. I received rejection letters from 20 of them. Most of them sent the standard, “Sorry, this doesn’t fit in with our publishing plan” letter. In February of 2003, I saw a call out for submissions for a Children’s Story Writing Competition that was being sponsored by the American Dream Group (a Pennsylvania-based company that is no longer in business). They offered a $250 cash prize and a contract to illustrate and publish the winning story. I found out in April 2003, that “Chitter Chatter” won.

A woman in Bellingham, Washington, who I’ve only communicated with via emails, was tasked with creating the illustrations and then ADG paid to have the book self-published through Trafford Publishing. Seeing the finished project was very exciting, but as I have told you in the past, I’m not crazy about the book itself. I don’t love the scratchboard style—I envisioned softer illustrations. I also don’t like the way the book feels in my hands. I know that sounds stupid, but I’m just being honest. The experience taught me that there is so much that goes into the marketing aspect of making a successful book. Since I loathe self-promotion, I don’t think that I will ever go the self-publishing route. I must also admit that I don’t consider myself to be a children’s book author. Since this book was not done by a traditional publisher, it was never available in big-named bookstores. So, getting one of my children’s stories published by a traditional publisher is still on my bucket list.

J.P.: You and I both attended Mahopac High School together, and while we were friendly, we ran in very different circles. I love asking people I don’t know this—and I REALLY love asking you this: who were you in high school? What I mean is, I saw you as this confident, popular cheerleader, hanging with the cool kids, life a breeze. But, truly, who were you?

T.G.: I moved to Mahopac from Mt. Vernon, N.Y. just a couple of weeks before our freshman year began. Since my home was still being built, my family of four (along with the dog) lived in our Winnebago on the property next to the shell of what became our home—four months later. It was so embarrassing. My parents moved me away from all of my friends in a city where I could walk everywhere to a piece of property next to a horse farm! (No offense to the Flanagans—I still love my old Mahopac neighbors.)

On our first day of high school, I sat on a piece of gum during homeroom. Later that day, I tripped up the steps trying to get to one of my classes on the second floor and my armful of books went flying all over the place. Then the dreaded lunch period arrived—I got my tray and found a spot to sit down. I ate by myself day after day, for a long time. A few weeks into the year, I tried out for the dance company. Despite my previous 10 years of dancing experience, I didn’t make the cut. My mother still talks about how devastating that was (more for her than for me) and she wanted so badly to intervene. Thankfully she didn’t say anything. Those first few months were really difficult. I was a miserable teenager and I blamed my parents and the move to Mahopac for every bit of my unhappiness.

Things started to get a little better when I joined the track team. (I bet you didn’t know I did that! I couldn’t run to save my life, but I loved the field events! There’s something very empowering about throwing a javelin across a field!) Ultimately the real game changer occurred on a late bus ride home after track practice one night. I met Christine Catalfamo, Joe Mazzei and Lori McGowan’s laugh. Her laugh could turn anyone’s misery to bliss! The girls talked about cheerleading and suggested I try out for the team. Becoming a cheerleader definitely altered everything for me. From that point on, I enjoyed every moment of high school. I made the kind of friends that I could rely on for anything—seven of whom I still communicate with via group text just about every single day.

Yeah, life wasn’t always a breeze. And because of my period of “friendlessness” I made an effort to be as friendly as possible to everybody—no matter who they were. To be honest, I still try to do that, even to this day.

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ToniAnn, second from left, during the Bad Medicine days at Mahopac High.

J.P.: A book you were trying to write concerns being a divorced Catholic parent—and it seems like it’s REALLY hard getting a religious publisher, because of the church’s views on divorce. Does this piss you off, or do you understand? I guess, what I mean is, a church can pretend something doesn’t exist—but it does. In huge numbers. But is my thinking kinda off there? Am I missing something?

T.G.: First, just to clarify, the book is a Bible study for anyone going through divorce (not necessarily Catholics or parents). It is not specific to any one denomination. I feel that Christian denominations do more to divide people of the faith than they do to unite, but that discussion could take up my whole response, so I’ll just leave it at that.

My earlier response explained two of the reasons why publishers have not picked up this book yet: 1) I have no platform and I’m not a known Christian author. 2) A similar book about divorce wasn’t selling well for one of the companies. Like with any publisher, I guess it all boils down to the dollars and cents. They aren’t willing to invest in someone if they aren’t going to get their money’s worth—especially not in today’s market where selling a book is tough stuff.

However, to get to your comment regarding the church’s pretending that divorce is not happening—I agree to a point. Are there churches out there that still shun those who get divorced? Yes, absolutely. Are there churches that refuse to acknowledge that Christians are divorcing at a similar rate as non-Christians? Yup, for sure. However, there are loads of churches that have acknowledged their divorced members and have divorce recovery meetings and offer single parenting resources. With that being said, I wholeheartedly encourage divorced people who feel like they’re getting the shaft from their pastors or church members to consider changing churches, or denominations for that matter. God loves divorced people just like He loves married people and single people. I think we should attend churches that accept us for who we are, no matter what—since that’s what Jesus would’ve done!

J.P.: You and I have had myriad online chats over faith. You’re a very devoutly religious person—and I don’t get it. I mean no disrespect, but there’s so much crap in the world, from 9/11 to Paris, ISIS, cancer, etc. With all the bad, why do you believe in God? And how do you maintain that faith when crap happens?

I’ve already answered this question on my blog, so I’m just going to link to it here in case anyone wants my full response.

Otherwise, in a nutshell, either God exists or God doesn’t exist. I believe He does. Nothing that happens or doesn’t happen has any effect on my belief in Him. It’s faith—I don’t think of it as something I have to maintain. For me, it just is. To use the “crap” that happens in the world to prove that God does not exist is as silly as me using the “crap” that doesn’t happen in the world to prove that He does exist. For example, some say that there can’t be a God because He wouldn’t let 9/11 happen. To that I could say, well there must be a God because nothing bad happened at the New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square. Do you get what I’m trying to say? My faith is not tied to the events that happen or don’t happen in the world. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” It’s a choice to believe or not to believe—I choose to believe.

J.P.: You wrote a cookbook, Recipes Remembrances: A Chef in Every Family’s Kitchen. Might be a dumb question, but why? And what was the process like?

T.G.: Ten years ago, my church wanted to make a cookbook using its members’ favorite recipes. They thought it would be a nice keepsake and possibly a great fundraiser. I volunteered to take on the project for them. I collected and input all the recipes into a program that was provided by the cookbook publisher (Morris Press). As I was about to place their order, I noticed that they offered a special discounted rate if two cookbooks were ordered at the same time. I come from an Italian family where happiness begins in the kitchen. I quickly reached out to my family members to collect our favorite recipes. I enlisted my grandparents, who are the leading chefs in my family’s kitchen, to cook while I did my best to keep track and measure each of the pinches and handfuls in their most delicious dishes. My original intent was to order 50 copies for my friends and family members. But, at the time, I belonged to the Gulf Coast Author’s Group. Through the group, I was able to sell “Chitter Chatter” at local venues alongside other local authors. So, I figured I’d order a “few” extra copies of the cookbook in case anyone wanted to buy them at the local events. Surprisingly, I ended up selling 500 copies. I made sure to save one for each of my sons. Hopefully the cooking gene has made its way into them.

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J.P.: You’re a single mother with two boys. I’m wondering how you handle social media and technology, when it comes to your kids? Because it’s a burden our parents didn’t have. Is screen time an issue? Do you worry about online bullying, etc?

T.G.: I am the type of parent who is huge on consequences. I don’t make a threat and not follow through with it. So, if the rule is that you must be off of your phone by 9 pm and I find it hidden under your covers at 10:30 pm, then I take it away for at least a week. My boys know what I expect of them and they know the consequences of not following the rules. I am so consistent that they know better than to even try to convince me to change my mind about the consequences when a rule is broken. Without a cell phone, my younger son, Gian (11), doesn’t have as much access as my older son, Nick (15). When Nick first got his phone two years ago, we made an agreement regarding passwords. He would keep his passwords in a sealed envelope in his room. I would check his phone in front of him periodically to make sure that the password was kept updated. As time went on, he knew that he could trust me not to invade his privacy by ripping into the password and I knew that I could trust him to not do what he shouldn’t do on his phone. My younger son, on the other hand, might present more of a challenge in this area. Lol! I’ll let you know how it goes.

As for the online bullying, my boys know that they can tell me anything; but I am not naïve. I know there are things you just don’t tell your mom. The best that I can do is to keep the lines of communication open and honest with them. Strange as it sounds, I think it helps that I wasn’t exactly an angel as a teenager (sorry Mom!). My sons realize that there isn’t too much that shocks me and also, they know their safety is more important to me than anything else.

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

T.G.: Outside of the birth of my sons and witnessing each of their amazing accomplishments, the greatest moment for me was when I became a published playwright. Shortly afterward, I looked up the title online and there was a picture of a man presumably studying lines for his role in a performance of my play. It is so strange to think that there are people who are memorizing the words that I wrote! (By the way, this realization led me to earnestly memorize lines of Scripture. If they could learn my words, I should be able to learn God’s Words.)

Coupled with that is the fact that my two plays have been performed in schools and theaters in 26 states and in three other countries: Canada, Australia, and Indonesia. (I didn’t even know they spoke English in Jakarta!) Too cool! Maybe one day this greatest moment will be replaced by the moment when I am sitting in a movie theater and I see, “Screenplay by ToniAnn Guadagnoli.”

The lowest moments in my life were when I first split from my husband and my family lives six hours away and I had to think about whom I could put down as my emergency contact on a doctor’s form—I had no one. Furthermore, I was devastated at the realization that my kids would be labeled as being from a “broken home.”

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J.P.: Your ex-husband Dom was a US Marshal who went to the World Trade Center shortly after the first plane hit to help rescue survivors. I’ve long felt that while we paid lots of attention to the families of victims (and rightly so), we sorta overlook the impact 9.11 had on responders. This is kind of a huge question, but how would you saw it impacted Dom?

T.G.: Wow, this really is a huge question. To be honest, 9/11 altered the course of our lives in so many ways. Dom was affected physically, mentally and emotionally. He was at the base of the building helping people out when the first Tower fell. He ran down a subway stairwell to seek shelter. He emerged from the stairwell slightly injured from falling as he ran. He went to the other Tower to help people out again. When the second Tower came down, he ran back to his office. He was brought to the hospital along with two other marshals who were injured as well. Dom had a sprained hip; he needed stitches in his palm; and the eye doctor counted over 100 corneal lacerations. The doctors at the hospital said that they weren’t even going to bother doing chest x-rays on the ,arshals because they knew their lungs would be completely clouded by the debris that they inhaled. Dom was “lucky” because his physical injuries were minor compared to many of the other first responders. However, as a result of his corneal lacerations, he had repeated corneal ulcerations for several years afterwards. Debris was accidentally left in his palm under the stitches. Just last year he had surgery to remove the annoying lump from his hand. Last month he had surgery on his sinuses—who knows whether or not it was 9/11 that caused his constant battles with sinus infections?

Unlike his physical injuries, the mental and emotional anguish left by 9/11 won’t ever heal. It was really hard for Dom to return to work in the weeks that followed Sept. 11. He had a difficult time with the smells, the sounds and all the reminders that surrounded him. Though at first he didn’t admit to it, he was suffering from PTSD. There is a feeling among survivors that if you weren’t there, you don’t get it. And I couldn’t agree with them more—I couldn’t possibly claim to understand what they went through and how it made them feel. I knew that when things were bothering Dom, the guys who were there with him were the only ones who could help to make him feel a little better. He wouldn’t go to a therapist because he felt he didn’t need one, but also because he didn’t think anyone who wasn’t there could possibly help him.

A few months after the New Year, Dom requested a transfer to Florida. We moved to Pensacola in July of 2002. It was great for Dom to be away from the city, but unfortunately, the change in scenery didn’t eliminate the lasting effects of 9/11. A few months after we moved here, we attended a Blue Angels (Navy Flight Exhibition) show. Dom went to get us something to drink from a nearby food stand. Just as he turned toward me with drinks in his hands, one of the Blue Angels F/A-18s seemed to come out of nowhere and it screeched right above our heads. I watched Dom’s face turn white. He dropped the drinks and ran to the nearby hangar. I chased after him with our son in the stroller. I found him sitting in a curled up position under the overhang of the building. Dom finally agreed to get help for his PTSD.

He began seeing a local therapist who used a method called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). The therapy was life changing for him. It helped him to gain control over his innate responses to the different 9/11-reminding stimuli. He had to reprogram his gut reactions to hearing fire engines and jets. He was able to smell smoke and not think of the Towers. One of the reasons why the impact was slightly different for Dom than for many of the other first responders is because he was photographed by an Associated Press photographer while carrying a woman (Donna Spera) from the Towers. The impact of just the photo alone was tremendous. The photo led to phone and television interviews every single year since 2001. No matter whether we were living in New York or in Florida, he was asked to talk about his experience over and over and over again. I’m sure in some ways talking about it is therapeutic, but after a certain point, he just wanted to be left alone. However, he does not want people to forget what happened and therefore, he continues to talk about it whenever he’s asked to do so.

Unfortunately, no matter how much time passes, 9/11 will never be far from his mind. It seems like he can’t help but look at the clock right at 9:11. And a night never goes by that the news doesn’t talk of terrorism or a call to 9-1-1. Even TV shows and movies might show the Towers in the background or have scenes that bring reminders. I watched “San Andreas” not too long ago and advised him not to watch it. Watching scenes of crumbling buildings is not easy for the survivors. I guess the most important thing for the rest of us to do is to remember and keep remembering. We mustn’t let a 9/11 go by without honoring them. The rescuers were willing to sacrifice their lives for strangers. The least we can do is remember them for it and support the legislation that will take care of the lasting health effects from that horrific day.

Oh, and one more thing I should add—sometimes people assume Dom received money from all the 9/11 funds raised for victims and rescuers, but the truth is, he never received a dime.

Pearlman and Guadagnoli: The Hall and Oates of pens.

Pearlman and Guadagnoli: The Hall and Oates of Mahopac-produced pen wielders.

J.P.: Where do you write? When do you write? What’s it like for you? Hard? Easy? Smooth? Difficult? Do you love it? Hate it? Both? Neither?

T.G.: I absolutely love to write. I put a desk in my bedroom—that is my happy place. I have so much material in my head waiting to get out. My enemy is time. I never have enough time to write. I have a full-time job at a primary school. After work, I have to do all the things that a homeowner/single mom of two boys must do. I feel like I’m being a neglectful mother if I write while my kids are home; so I usually wait until they are with their dad. Unfortunately that only leaves me with a little bit of writing time every other weekend. Jeff, you have my dream job. Maybe one day I will grow up and get to be a full-time author just like you …

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH TONIANN GUADAGNOLI:

• Three memories from the senior prom: Sadly I have no significant recollections from this night! How pathetic! I know I went with my high school boyfriend, Chris McCartney (who went to Lakeland). I wore a white dress and we went to the Jersey Shore with friends for a fun weekend afterwards.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Dwight Gooden, Dave & Busters, Long Island University, American Airlines, Holly Robinson Peete, gerbils, Dennis Haysbert, “Bull Durham,” Rodak’s Deli: No. 1 is definitely Dave & Busters (I sent them an e-mail a few months ago explaining why they should consider opening a place in Pensacola. I even forwarded some real estate links with locations that were available for lease. I never heard back from them, but I am holding onto hope!); gerbils (assuming they have a gerbil ball); 2. Rodak’s Deli in Mahopac (Believe it or not, I was only there once!); 3. Holly Robinson Peete (for her 21 Jump Street role); 4. Doc Gooden (only for his no-hitter while in pinstripes—not a fan of his off-the-field antics); 5. Long Island University; 6. “Bull Durham”; 7. Dennis Haysbert; 8. American Airlines.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Yes! Coincidentally, I was with several of our high school classmates. It was on a flight to the Bahamas for spring break of our senior year. The landing gear wasn’t going down. The pilot was concerned (and so were we!). He circled the airport several times. He tried and tried to get it to work. We could hear the mechanical parts grinding below us. After what seemed like an eternity, the wheels lowered into place and we landed safely. Shortly after our trip, that airline (I think it was called Braniff Airways), went out of business. Yikes!

• One question you would ask Gene Hackman were he here right now: Gene, I quote lines from “The Birdcage,” specifically those spoken by Agador Spartacus quite frequently, and I wasn’t even in the movie! What movie lines, if any, do you find yourself quoting on a regular basis?

• Why didn’t you vote for me when I ran for student council?: Firstly, how do you know that I didn’t vote for you? Secondly, IF I didn’t, it was only because you wrote that darn article for the school newspaper that argued against acknowledging cheerleading as a sport.

• The next president of the United States will be …: Nobody I am particularly excited about.

• Five reasons one should make Pensacola his/her next vacation destination: 1) The beaches are beautiful. The sand is white, soft, and it squeaks when you walk on it. You can choose from the more populated spots to enjoy all the water sporting activities, boating, fishing, boardwalk bars and restaurants, or you can seek out the more secluded areas for quiet reading and sunbathing. The shoreline is vast and it is kept clean. (It was voted No. 1 in the 2015 USA Today’s Best Florida Beaches.)

2) Pensacola is the “Cradle of Naval Aviation.” We are home to the Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, and the most amazing National Naval Aviation Museum. We can catch the Blues practicing on many weekday mornings throughout the Spring and Summer (and the museum is free!).

3) Come so that you can discover what we already know—we were here first! Pensacola is rich in history—and it is home to the first European settlement in the United States (1559). (This is a touchy subject when discussed with our friends in St. Augustine, so we’ll just leave it at that. We know the truth and that’s all that matters.)

4) Gallery Night is a blast! On one Friday night of every month, the main street of downtown Pensacola is closed off to cars. There are street performers, outdoor bars, and food trucks. People can roam, shop, eat, drink, and dance. It’s a monthly street party and it is always a lot of fun.

5) I couldn’t pick just one more thing, so No. 5 has two reasons: Parades and Baseball.

Parades in this area of the country (New Orleans, Mobile, Pensacola), are like nowhere else! You walk away from these parades (no matter the occasion—Mardi Gras, Christmas, Five Flags, etc.) weighted down with so much stuff that you need bags to haul away your booty. During these parades we have received (or caught) things like beads, moonpies, cans of soda, ice cream sandwiches, candy, T-shirts, Frisbees, footballs, bouncy light up balls, bracelets, coins, rings, cinnamon buns, stuffed animals, umbrellas, koozies, cups, and even a pair of ladies underwear (thankfully still in the package)! Our parades are considered “family friendly,” so there’s no need to flash any body parts to enjoy the full experience.

Pensacola is home to the very awesome Blue Wahoos baseball team. The Wahoos are the Double-A minor league affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. The Blue Wahoos stadium is a fantastic place to see a game. The team is partly owned by one of our Pensacola natives, two-time Masters Champion, Bubba Watson. Thus the concessions sell some of Bubba’s co-branded merchandise. Once you’ve got Pensacolians rooting for you, you’ve got fans for life! These people are hard-core sports fans and they just love a good hometown hero.

• What didn’t you know 20 years ago that would have been helpful?: Twenty years ago, I didn’t have a relationship with God like I do now. Seriously though, I wholeheartedly feel that if I had only turned to God and relied on Him then, like I do now, my life may have turned out very differently.

• Five all-time favorite writers? I don’t like to read. There, I said it. Okay?! I majored in English and worked as an editor. Reading always felt like a job to me. I’m also a bit embarrassed because I have the reading tastes of an impressionable teenager. I’ve enjoyed books written by J.K. Rowling, Jane Austen, John Green, J.R. Ward, and James Dashner. I do, however, read the Bible every day. Do I get any points for that?

• Who’s the most famous person you’ve ever met—and what do you recall from the interaction?: Top “most famous” encounters (not including those with our famous classmates: NYT bestseller, Jeff Pearlman; Emmy winner, Gina Girolamo; and the Italian Stallion, Frank Zaccheo 😉

• 1. Phyllis Ayers-Allen Rashad (aka Mrs. Claire Huxtable, of the Cosby Show)—In the 80s, I saw Mrs. Ayers-Allen at the local supermarket in the city where we both lived, Mt. Vernon, NY. Two friends and I went up to her and asked her for her autograph. She glared at us for a second and then said, “Fine. But just one.” I guess writing her name three times—once for each of us—was too much to ask.

• 2. Mark Messier—(former NY Rangers hockey star) In 2001, I was outside St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in Italy with my family. I spotted Mr. Messier—he was standing there by himself. I went up to him and told him that I was a long-time fan. I asked if I could have my cousin take a picture of us and he said no. He didn’t want his picture taken. Meanie!

• 3. Paul Sorvino (Goodfellas “Paul”)—I introduced myself when I saw him at the San Francisco airport while on a business trip. He was super cool. He posed for pictures with me and my co-workers.

• 4. Joe Gannascoli (The Sopranos “Vito”)—I met him at Vincent’s Clam Bar in Long Island. He is a regular there. He was selling his book and signing autographs. He was a really nice guy.

Sorvino and Gannascoli—it must’ve been the Italian connection.

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Beth Grant

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If you love movies, you have to love Beth Grant—because she’s pretty much been in all of them.

This is not a joke, or even an exaggeration. The native Alabaman is a Who’s Who and What’s What of modern cinema. Her credits range from “Rain Man” and “Little Miss Sunshine” to “Donnie Darko” and “No Country for Old Men”; from “Valley of the Sun” to “Crazy Heart” to “Matchstick Men” to “Rock Star.” And that’s not even the 854,322 television appearances.

Is Grant a superstar? That probably depends on your definition. But is she a brilliant, diverse actress with a long and splendid resume? Indeed.

Today, Beth speaks on the highs and lows of a career in front of the camera; of being pegged for a certain type; of portraying a wacky pageant organizer in “Little Miss Sunshine” and making her cinematic debut alongside Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman.

One can follow Beth on Twitter here, visit her IMDB page here and see her regularly on “The Mindy Project.”

Beth Grant, who needs a star in Hollywood? You’re the 253rd Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK Beth, so I’m happy you’re doing this, because there’s a question I can ask you that I’ve always wondered about. Namely, you go to a movie and you see, let’s say, a really overweight character. Just as an example. And clearly there was a casting call for someone overweight. And I think, “Hmm, wouldn’t that be sort of insulting, to land the part of the fat guy?” You’re not overweight. But, as it says on your Wikipedia bio, you’re known for playing “conservatives, religious zealots or sticklers for the rules.” So, I guess—A. Have you figured out what about you says “conservative religious stickler”? B. Are you 100 percent comfortable and cool with that?

BETH GRANT: I’m 100 percent cool with all my characters and my career is just beyond a dream come true. But whoever put that on Wikipedia was just one person who I don’t think has seen all of my work. I’m guessing maybe it was submitted by a Donnie Darko, Kitty Farmer fan, or maybe a Little Miss Sunshine, Judge Nancy Jenkins fan—two films and two characters I love so much. My goodness, I’ve played every kind of character in the world—I do not feel pigeon holed or type cast in that description. I guess they didn’t see my Criminal Minds episode when I was a kidnapping murderer married to Bud Cort! But I have been killed a lot, so I do know that my angular face is apparently threatening enough to be killed! Ha! But I love each and every character.

I’m especially attached to Beverly on The Mindy Project … I’ve been playing her for four years! I wouldn’t say she fits that description but she does have a conservative bent and I enjoy using my face to say whatever comes to Beverly’s mind which is usually something quite outlandish and politically incorrect. There is a fun aspect to it as well, because when I get dolled up as myself and go to a premiere or whatever, people are so surprised that I am attractive. That’s a great compliment to me because it means I did my job. You can’t have light without dark. And I always like my characters. Always. I always understand why they are the way they are and I’m on their side. On The Mindy Project Beverly knows she has a rotten personality, she even said so. She took at personality test in the Village Voice, and they can’t be wrong.

J.P.: You’re a character actor—and you seem proud to be a character actor. And I wonder, did you need to accept that at some point? What I mean is, was the original goal to be a Streep or Sally Field? Or did you never think that way? And what does it mean, to you, to be a character actor? 

B.G.: Oh, I wanted to be Joan Crawford or Marilyn Monroe. I was shocked to find out that I wasn’t a leading lady. I couldn’t stand it! And it thwarted my career. I would start and stop every time the reality hit. I always blamed it on my weight, so my weight was up and down and I was always struggling to work out, jogging, some new diet plan. After one makeover period, when I was maybe 28 and looking pretty good, I called a friend of mine who was producing a show about a bunch of babes, women sailors on a Navy boat and he said, “Well, we’re looking for a different kind of girl.” I told him I had lost lost weight and was looking really good ad he said, “No, you aren’t the type.” I remember being so crushed that he wouldn’t even see me. Many, many, many, many rejections like that.

But then when I was 33 I started studying with a loud, strong intimidating Greek director, Milton Katselas. After a few scenes casting myself in inappropriate roles, he said, loudly, “Why do you keep trying to be a Rolex watch when you’re the salt of the earth?” He taught me to study Colleen Dewhurst, Maureen Stapleton, Anna Magnani—wonderful character actors who became leading ladies in their own ways. Over time, I surrendered to it and I love and honor the characters I play.

J.P.: I love Little Miss Sunshine. Like, love love love. And you’re insanely good in it. So I’d love to ask—what stands out to you from the project? And did you know, while working, that it’d be a great film?

B.G.: I knew I loved it and that everyone was sharp and really, really good. But I don’t think I could have predicted its enormous success. It pleases me so much because I think it is a glorious movie and completely original. The directors, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, are the best! They are never defensive with each other, it’s always, “Yes, and …” And they’ve worked together for years, raised three children. Amazing. And of course the cast! I saw Steve Carrell recently, who I had hoped would be nominated for The Big Short, I thought he was perfect in that film … nuanced, complex, human. They are all working together again soon and I can’t wait to see what wondrous thing they do together. Also, Abigail Breslin and Paul Dano, Toni Collette, Alan Arkin! Good grief! Heaven …

J.P.: What’s it like for you, watching yourself in a movie? Satisfying? Nightmarish? Do you always watch the stuff you’re in? Do you watch yourself critically? 

B.G.: I’m usually fine with it. It’s like visiting old friends. I love my characters.

J.P.: So I know you’re from Gadsden, Alabama, know you attended East Carolina (go Pirates!). But why acting? When did the bug first bite? When did you realize, “Yup, this is it for me! This is what I want to do with my life!”?

B.G.: I was born in Gadsden, but we lived in an even smaller town, Ft. Payne. We moved when I was little so I don’t remember it. I’ve always hoped to go back there. I mostly wanted my mother’s approval, to make her smile, to hear that beautiful laugh. She had wanted to be an actress so naturally so did I from the time I can remember. She taught me a song to sing to my uncle when he came home form the Korean War. “Oh, where have you been, Billy Boy, Billy Boy? Oh where have you been charming Billy?” My uncle was as gorgeous a man as my mother was a woman. He was a football hero and in that Navy uniform … wow! When I was done he clapped and laughed and the whole family clapped an laughed and that was it! I was hooked. I’m guessing I was about 3-years old.

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

B.G.: Playing Edwina Williams, Tennessee Williams’s mother, for James Franco in a movie, Tenn, about Tennessee and his family. Vincent D’Onofrio played my husband. James is such a fun and great director, he sees what you are doing and covers it!. He gives you a little nudge now and then, so gentle and encouraging but also very demanding. He expects a lot and I love working with him more than I can express. Also Edwina was very much like my own mother so I really went to town.

J.P.: Your daughter, Mary Chieffo, is also an actress (as well as 6-feet tall, which is super cool). I’m wondering how you felt/feel about this career choice. You’ve surely had your ups and downs, highs and lows—as has your husband. So when you kid says, “Mommy, I want to act …” what do you think?

B.G.: I was surprised, but then not at all. She had always loved to sing and make up plays with her friends. But she was well rounded—an athlete, a very good student, valedictorian in high school, etc. By the time she said it out loud she was already on course.

I had seen how really gifted she is, so I knew the talent was there. I had seen what a hard worker she was, how she loved to rehearse, was always prepared, so I felt great about it. The highs far exceed the lows and I figure we’ve had a pretty great life, there are worse professions. Once shed decided that Juilliard was her first choice, I was nervous. But again, she worked so hard to prepare that when she was accepted it was yet another affirmation that she is headed in the right direction. But if she ever changes her mind that’s OK, too. Acting isn’t really the goal—living life in the moment, staying awake for the journey is the point. At least for me. Acting helps us get there, that’s for sure, but it doesn’t really matter what you do for a living. You can be a channel of love, peace and truth in any job you do. That’s my goal and I hope it’s hers. But man, is she good! Wow! At age 23, she’s already done seven Shakespeare plays—lead roles, too! Plus a bit of everything else. With her height and super strong features, it will be very interesting to see the trajectory of her career. Obviously, she is everything to me. I believe in her and hope that I can always be there for her to share my experience and love.

In Little Miss Sunshine ...

In Little Miss Sunshine …

J.P.: I’ve covered a fair number of actors, and one thing I struggle with are those in your profession who takes themselves far too seriously. They’re not actors, they’re ac-tohrs. They need silence. And peeled grapes in their private trailer. And two assistants. I’m not asking you to name names—but I know you’ve met plenty of these folks. My question is, what about acting lends itself to the egomaniacal behavior of some? Is it the resulting fame, or the craft itself?

B.G.: I’ve never met that person! Stars have such a huge job. They carry the movie or the play or the TV show. They call them “leading actors” because they lead. Some are more personable, some are more fearful, all are human. When a star needs quiet I totally get it. I do too. I usually take a nap at lunch, it’s very important to me to keep my energy going, to re-center myself. For me, acting is more channeling another person. My instrument has to be rested. I have to eat well, take walks, meditate, treat others like I wish to be treated. I have to do my research, be thorough in my process, leave no stone unturned. It’s a lot of work before I ever say a word. So I have a great deal of patience with our leads. And of course, that gives me more patience with myself.

J.P.: You’ve been in everything. Seriously, everything. But how does it work? What I mean is, how do you decide what to do? Is it character-based? Show/movie-based? Paycheck-based? Do you turn a lot down?

B.G.: I’ve always tried to say yes a lot. I think I got that from a Liza Minelli album! The character first, the story (what the character brings to the story, how I can shine a light), the people involved, the dates, the time to prepare and hpw hard it will be to coordinate with my schedule. I’ve never taken a job solely on the paycheck—not out of virtue, money just doesn’t motivate me. Sometimes I wish it did. I’ve turned down things I felt were overly sexual or violent but I’m no prude. I’ve never had a problem doing a sex scene or nudity if it’s necessary to tell the story properly. And I’ve played wicked characters who do terrible things. Without dark there is no light. My dear friend, the director Todd Holland, once advised me on a project I was having a hard time deciding on. He said that I should ask myself what I’d be putting inro the universe. Since then that’s an important question for me.

In The Mindy Project with Zoe Jarman and Mindy Kaling.

In The Mindy Project with Zoe Jarman and Mindy Kaling.

J.P.: Your first movie appearance was in a big one—you played “mother at farm house” in Rain Man. A. How did you land the part? B. What did it mean to you? C. What memories do you have?

B.G.: My agent got me the audition. I had just been to Big Sur and I saw the cabin where the founders raised their large family. I thought about what a strong woman that mother must have been. I was determined to give them a strong “Mama Bear” pioneer woman with no make-up, in a house dress. And happily, that’s what they wanted. I found out later they had seen around 700 women all over the Midwest. What a thrill to launch my career with Dustin Hoffman, Tom Cruise, and Barry Levinson, then for it to win Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Screenplay! Wow. I still can’t believe how lucky I was.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH BETH GRANT:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): .99 Cent Store, “City Slickers II,” “Abbey Road,” Universal Studios, Marilyn Monroe, Canola Oil, Milwaukee Brewers, Honey Bunches of Oats, kettle corn, Bruce Wayne: Marilyn Monroe, Universal Studios, City Slickers II, Abbey Road, 99 Cent Store, Bruce Wayne, Canola Oil, Milwaukee Brewers, Honey Bunches of Oats and kettle corn.

• You’re offered $5 million to play Celine Dion in the upcoming film, “Celine: I Am Amazing.” However, to research the role you have to spend a full year sleeping on Celine’s kitchen floor and fighting for scraps with her dog. You in?: I’m not right for that role. Also, I don’t choose roles based on money, never have. It would be tempting to take whatever fool offered me that much money with that bizarre offer but I would pass.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall? : No. When I fly I am very surrendered, but I’ve been fortunate and never had a life-or-death situation.

• What are we supposed to do about the drought?: Conserve water! The LADWP is very helpful. We can replace leaking fixtures, rebates are often available. It’s easier than people think. We converted our grass lawn to drought resistant and native plants. It’s beautiful. Short showers. My friend Ed Begley has an underground rainwater tank for watering his plants. So much is possible and more affordable than people think. Again, the LADWP was very helpful to us.

• The world needs to know—what was it like working with Ilene Graff on Mr. Belvedere?: My first comedy! She was great, friendly and kind. I ran into her with George and Erin Pennacchio and she is still great and still kind.

• Five greatest actresses of your lifetime: There are so many truly amazing actresses, but these women have have deeply inspired me: Annette Bening, Bette Davis, Kathy Bates, Lois Smith, Juliette Binoche, Frances Fisher, Alice Ripley and Marilyn Monroe. But there are many more.

• In exactly 12 words, make a case for Erik Estrada: I doubt if he needs me to make a case for him! (That was exactly 12 words.)

• Five all-time favorite movies: Godfather I, II, Five Easy Pieces, Donnie Darko, No Country For Old Men, Saturday Night Fever, All About Eve

• One question you would ask Paul Stanley were he here right now?: Do you mean Paul Stanley from KISS? I would ask him if he remembers me from the early years when I worked for Howard Marks and Bill Aucoin. I was just a lowly office worker but I remember well the day the leather arrived! The bulletins form the first tour. We all went to the first concert in New York after their tour. It was at The Beacon Theater on Broadway on the Upper West Side. They were fabulous, we threw chocolate kisses to the stage. The encore pyrotechnical display was unlike anything I’d ever seen. We knew they were going all the way.

• In 1989 you were in I Know My First Name is Steven. I was 16, and that movie shook me to the core. Was it just another appearance to you, or was there weight?: Of course there was weight. It’s horrifying to think of that happening to anyone. I had also known the parents of a boy named Adam Walsh who was kidnapped from a mall and never found. The parents became activists and we did a story on them for a show I worked on called Real People. I also did a Criminal Minds episode and played the bad guy, the kidnapper. It was directed by Matthew Gray Gubler, who suggested I think of it as a Grimm’s Fairy Tale—a cautionary tale for parents and children to stay close, particularly in crowds. I hope that it scared parents enough to watch their kids. There are so many kidnappings every year … kids need to be educated about dealing with strangers and parents need to pay attention.

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Nia Holloway

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So last October the wife and I took the kids to see The Lion King near our home in Southern California. We filed into the Segerstrom Center, and while waiting for the show to begin I found myself combing through the Playbill, looking up cast members.

The first name listed was Nia Holloway, who stars as Nala in the national tour. So, with nothing to do and Quazes eternally on my mind, I sent the young actress a message, via Twitter. To my delightedshock, she responded moments later from backstage. It was, easily, the quickest Quaz reply in the series history.

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 11.56.59 PMAt age 20, Nia is both one of the youngest Quazes, as well as one of the most accomplished. Along with her lengthy Lion King run, she’s a budding pop music superstar whose work can be heard here. Nia is an active Tweeter, an active photo/video poster and, to be clear, not a real lion.

Nia Holloway, the circle of life is complete. You’ve been Quazed …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Nia, I’m gonna start with a weird one, and I hope it doesn’t offend. So earlier today I went to see The Lion King with the wife and kids—and seven hours later the music is still in my head. And it’s driving me sorta kinda insane. I mean, I like it—but not 1,000 times between my ears. You’ve been doing The Lion King since 2013. That’s more than two years of the same songs over and over and over. So, um, are you at all losing your mind? Do you love the music? Get tired of the music. And, being 100 percent serious, how do you stay up for a gig you’ve performed so often?

NIA HOLLOWAY: Well, to be honest the Lion King is filled with timeless music, so as an artist I truly truly appreciate it. And I continue to look for ways to keep myself interested by perfecting my craft every day so that performing the show doesn’t get redundant. There are tons of ways to say a line or sing a note, so you have to keep that in mind day by day. You can never stop getting better.

J.P.: So in 2013, when you were 17, your parents took you to an open call audition for The Lion King. I’m fascinated by this: A. What prompted them to do so? B. Was it just another audition for you, or bigger? C. What do you remember from the experience?

N.H.: We heard about the Lion King audition from a family friend on Facebook. I was 17 and they were calling for 18 and up so we were kind of skeptical about me actually landing the gig. It was a long-shot and we were willing to take it. So glad we did! I remember being extremely nervous, but confident at the same time. And I really did learn so much just from the audition with the casting director, Mark Brandon. It was definitely one of the most unique auditions I’ve ever done.

With Heather Headley, right, the original Nala

With Heather Headley, right, the original Nala

JP.: Tell us exactly about the moment you learned of landing the part. Where were you? Who told you? What was your reaction?

N.H.: So it was the spring break of my junior year, and I was having the most uneventful spring break. My mom woke me up at about 7 o’clock before she went to work, I’m thinking she’s about to ask me to walk the dog. However, she tapped me a couple times until I woke up and said, “Good morning, Nala.” I jumped up and looked at her and said,”No!” She screamed back, “Yes” and me and my entire family just hugged each other and cried our eyes out. We knew right then and there my life, and our lives, were about to change for the very best.

J.P.: Your grandma is Loleatta Holloway, the legendary soul/disco singer who passed in 2011. Your great-grandmother is Syllvia Shemwell, the Sweet Inspirations singer who passed in 2010, and your great aunt was Judy Clay, the gospel singer. So I’m wondering what impact your lineage has had on your career choice. In other words, when did you know you could (and wanted to) sing, and what role did those women have in this?

N.H.: All of those women had such an impact on my wanting to be an entertainer. The legacy they left behind inspires me every day. I have so many women to emulate right in my family. Specifically my grandmother, Loletta Holloway—she vocal trained me along with my father, and honestly taught me the ins and outs of staying true to yourself in this industry. She made it a point to tell me how important it was always be able to look myself in the mirror.

J.P.: What’s it like when you’re performing on stage and a cell phone rings, or you see someone texting? And how often does that happen?

N.H.: It doesn’t happen as often as you would think, but when it does you want to take a second hop off the stage and put the phone in your pocket. But in reality, you have to just ignore it and stay in character.

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J.P.: In 2011 you were a cast member of Majors & Minors, the Hub Network reality TV show that took a bunch of young singers and had them mentored by stars like Brandy and Adam Lambert. What was that like? How much of the “reality” was truly reality? How much was scripted? And how did that experience change the way you now view reality television?

N.H.: Being on Majors and Minors was an amazing experience. I got to meet and work with a lot of artists who inspired me musically and I made lifelong friends with a lot of my cast mates. I definitely learned reality TV is not so much reality. The majority of what you saw on Majors and Minors were genuine moments, however, we may have had to reenact those genuine moments a couple of times. LOL.

J.P.: I just watched a clip of you singing the Star Spangled Banner before a basketball game, and I know you’ve done the anthem tons of times at local events. So what goes into doing the anthem? Is the song hard or easy? Are you 100% confident you know all the words? Is it scary, or no biggie?

N.H.: Singing the start of the Star Spangled Banner is always special to me. I definitely still get nervous, but I try not to psych myself out so I don’t run into the problem of forgetting the lyrics. Hasn’t happened yet! * knocks on wood*

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J.P.: You were a small forward on the Norcross High girls basketball team that won a state title in 2013. What’s the basketball scouting report on Nia Holloway? And was it hard giving up the sport in order to focus on career?

N.H.: Nia Holloway’s scout report is not too bad! I was no star, but I was a role player and I enjoyed every minute of basketball. Although I loved it and I had so much fun with the girls I played with, when The Lion King called it was not a hard decision to chase my dreams.

J.P.: It seems like your travel schedule must be a beast. Always on the road, in hotels, strange cities. How do you handle it? Do you hang with cast-mates away from the theatre? Do you have hobbies? Do you like touring areas, or staying somewhere with a book?

N.H.: Touring can be pretty draining when it comes to missing your family and being in unfamiliar places. I keep myself occupied with activities like yoga, kickboxing and writing. I also have a career as a independent artist. My entire time on the road I’ve been working on my own music, and I just recently released a single on SoundCloud called,”Actavis” and released an EP earlier this year. So, even with touring, I manage to keep myself very busy.

J.P.: What are you thinking on stage? What I mean is, here you are, a lion, right? Do you feel like a lion? Are you deep in the character? Or are there times when you’re like, “Man, I could sure go for some ice cream” or “What’s up with the bald guy in row three?”

N.H.: Well, it’s not the easiest to be a lion especially when you are human so it’s super important to be dialed in and focused on your performance. However, I can’t lie and say I haven’t thought about some leftovers a couple times on stage.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH NIA HOLLOWAY:

• What’s your lowest moment as a performer?: My lowest moment as a performer is, even when I’m homesick and miss my family I have to still put on the best performance. It’s tough, but it comes with the territory

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Chipper Jones, squirrels, Meghan Trainor, “Love and Basketball,” Elton John, chocolate pudding, Aaliyah, lion cubs, Tamara Brooks, Al Gore, Kerry Washington: Love and Basketball, Kerry Washington, Aaliyah, Elton John,  lion cubs, squirrels, Tamara Brooks, Al Gore, Meghan Trainor, chocolate pudding, Chipper Jones.

• Five reasons one should vacation in Gwinnett: 1. Great food; 2. 20 minutes from Atlanta; 3. Great sports; 4. Diverse population, warm people; 5. Great shopping.

• Without Googling/asking anyone, how many Hall & Oates songs can you name?: I know zero Halls and Oats songs. [Jeff’s note: This one pained me]

• Best joke you know?: Ketchup mustard

• If roses smelled like poop, and poop smelled like roses, would we like the smell of poop or roses?: I think we’d like the smell of poop, it’s all about looks these days!

Celine Dion calls. She’ll pay you $25 million to spend all of next year starring as Celine Dion in her new Las Vegas production, “Celine Dion is Amazing, and the Rest of You Stink.” The catch: You have to live inside a cardboard box in her driveway and get a tattoo of Celine’s pet llama on your shoulder. You in?: I love llamas! I’m in!

 • I just don’t love how Joe Girardi handles a pitching staff. Thoughts?: I think Joe is doing a great job.

• Five greatest vocalists of your lifetime?: Loletta Holloway, Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight, Whitney Houston, Faith Evans

When Whitney Houston died, some critics wrote that she selfishly abused her gift (her voice) and never fully appreciated what she had. Is that, in your mind, a fair take?: I don’t think that’s a fair take at all. I think people should just focus on the beautiful music that Whitney Houston left behind for this world to cherish forever. She made a mark that was so unique and can never be replaced. I don’t think we should let her downfalls in life overshadow her accomplishments. We all go through things in life, Whitney Houston had to go through it in the eyes of the entire world. I actually think people should cut her some slack and celebrate the life, the love, and the music she shared with us.

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Erik Sherman

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When one writes a book, he/she is generally required to track down blurbs.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, a “blurb” is a sentence or two to slab on the back cover. You know, something along the lines of “[So-and-so author] really delivers a knockout punch with this one.”

But here’s a little-known industry secret: Blurbs are sorta nonsense. The majority of the time, a blurb is a favor. You have a pal who needs one so you read a handful of pages and deliver some half-baked nonsense praise. Does the blurber go through the entire book? Um … well … eh … sometimes. But, from my experience, rarely.

Anyhow, a bunch of months ago Erik Sherman asked if I’d consider blurbing “Kings of Queens,” his upcoming book about the 1986 Mets. And, of course, I agreed—because Erik and I are friends and he’s a truly wonderful guy and, frankly, what sort of dick says no when a fellow author/pal requests such a favor? But did I know—for a fact—I’d read all 334 pages? No, I didn’t.

Then, however, I opened the cover. And I read. And read some more. And some more. And some more. Before long, I was hooked by what turned into one of my favorite sports books of the past few years—an engrossing, spirited return of my beloved childhood sports team. The ’86 Mets blew me away, and so did Erik’s masterpiece.

Hence, today—the official release day for “Kings of Queens”—I’m thrilled to have Erik here as the magical 251st Quaz Q&A. He talks Mets, as well as his riveting experiences with Steve Blass and the late Glenn Burke. He’s OK at rhyming, terrific at writing and a huge Aquaman fan. You can follow Erik on Twitter here, visit his website here and order his new book here.

Erik Sherman, you’re 251 …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Erik, so you have a book coming out of the 30th anniversary of the 1986 Mets, and over the past few months you’ve posted pictures of yourself with the different guys. And while you never mock or make fun or even point this out, several of the men are, well, fat, old, bald, etc … etc. Which is nothing unusual—we all get there. But I wonder, as a guy who probably has images of these guys branded into his brain, was it ever jarring showing up at a door and seeing old [Doug Sisk], not strapping, young, confident [Doug Sisk]? You know what I mean?

ERIK SHERMAN: Well, I just turned 50 and most of the ’86 Mets are in their 50s as well. In my mind, I still think I’m 25 and when I look in the mirror don’t see myself as a fifty year old man, either. But the reality is that I know I’m a little softer around the middle, my hair line has receded, and I have a few wrinkles around the eyes. And that’s just what I see.

But I think you’re right—we have images of ballplayers frozen in our collective minds of how they once looked—often lean, very fit athletes. Doug Sisk, bless his heart, is now a mountain of a man compared to when he pitched for the Mets. I guess I was taken back a little bit by that, but not entirely surprised. All of the players I met with have some chronic pain from the daily grind of their professional careers. As a result, weight gain has to be expected. But some, like Mookie Wilson, Darryl Strawberry, Danny Heep, Bobby Ojeda and Howard Johnson, looked like they could still suit up and play a few innings.

J.P.: When I wrote “The Bad Guys Won,” Lenny Dykstra was a pain in my ass. First, he demanded money to speak—so we never sat down. Then, after the book came out, he canceled an appearance on a show I was on because he hated the book—which, it turns out, he never read. That, of course, was 13 years ago. What were your experiences with Nails like?

E.S.: I really think it helped that I co-wrote Mookie Wilson’s autobiography. Nobody from that ’86 team is respected and liked more than Mookie. So I think how Lenny and some of the other guys treated me was what I call “The Mookie Effect.” If I was good enough for Mookie to have as his co-author, I was good enough for them to give me some time on my new book.

Now, that said, my interview experience with Lenny was the most bizarre I’ve ever encountered. I had spoken with one of Lenny’s teammates the morning I drove up from San Diego to LA to see him and the teammate laughed and told me I had better have all afternoon to wait to Dykstra. I soon understood what he meant. The meeting was moved from Thousand Oaks to a boutique hotel near UCLA; then Lenny moved the meeting time for two hours later; and then I sat in the lobby for nearly another hour and a half as Lenny kept calling every twenty minutes telling me to hang in there. But hey, that was fine. I had nothing else that day and actually found it amusing how correctly his teammate predicted all of this.

He eventually came downstairs and questioned his hotel bill for what felt like an eternity. Okay, again, no big deal. It’s early evening now.

We went to the lounge to a section that was closed, but that’s where he wanted to sit—I assume for privacy. He set up his laptop, had his earphone buds at the ready for any incoming calls, and a Monster drink that he pulled out of his computer bag. I had my questions ready, but he completely took over the next three hours or so—he’s so ADD. He wanted to know all about the Mookie book I wrote and the process of writing it, as he was in the beginning stages of penning his own book with Peter Golenbock.

I found there to be several Lennys—all of them making appearances at our table at some point or another. He was actually very astute when it came to the psychology of baseball—even if crude in his examples. Like telling me the Phillies were stupid for signing over-thirty guys to long-term contracts because they don’t play as hard or, as Lenny told it, “it’s like fucking, when you’re older you just don’t feel like doing it as much—it’s nobody’s fault.” On finance, where he made a fortune in business and the options market following his playing career, only to lose it all, he could speak the language of a Wall Street guy. But then there was the Lenny who, after sounding like a banker, could turn on a dime and ask me, in a very psychedelic stoner kind of way, “Do you feel me Erik, do you feel me dude? That’s right, you feel me, dude.”

He got his teeth knocked out in prison and was very concerned if I noticed. I told him I probably wouldn’t have if he didn’t point it out. We talked a good deal about his time in jail, with much of it off-the-record at his request. I respected his wishes on that—so the recorder was on and off over the three hours. I built a strong trust with him—he said he liked the eye contact I had with him.

So, you know, overall, I was very pleased with how things went with Lenny. If nothing else, he was very entertaining.

Erik, far left, with Rafael Santana, Ed Hearn and Kevin Mitchell.

Erik, far left, with Rafael Santana, Ed Hearn and Kevin Mitchell.

J.P.: Why do you think that ’86 team’s legacy is so pronounced? I mean, teams come and go; championship teams come and go. So, why the ’86 Mets? Why does it seem to last?

E.S.: I get asked that a lot and I think the first thing people have to understand is that in 1986, there were so few entertainment options out there—no smart phones, no internet, no PlayStation, etc. You couldn’t have a team today that would be more watched than the ’86 Mets for reasons that have nothing to do with the talent and popularity of the ball club.

So when you take that environment and have a gritty, hard-nosed team that reflected the city they played in like the Mets did, fans are going to watch and become attached. Over 80 million viewers watched Game 7 of the ’86 Series. That’s like seven times the number a World Series game gets today. That team just oozed with charisma. And I think the fact the Mets haven’t won a World Series since helps give the ’86 team this almost mythical status with their fans. I also think the fact the Mets were so bad for so long prior to the mid-Eighties helped as well.

Plus, how many teams do you know I can just give you their first names or nicknames thirty years later and you know instantly who I’m taking about—Mookie, Doc, Straw, Mex, Kid, Nails? It’s crazy.

J.P.: Twenty one years ago, after his death, you released, “Out At Home,” the autobiography of Glenn Burke, the gay Dodger outfielder. I’m fascinated—A. How did you wind up doing the project? B. Were people ready for a book about a gay ballplayer? C. What can you tell us about Glenn Burke?

E.S.: Actually, I self-published it in 1995. Glenn was literally on his death bed while I was interviewing him. He was in the final months of his life. We had a publisher that we lost—the baseball strike had a terrible effect on all baseball books at that time and that was the reason we were given for Taylor Publishing pulling their offer. But I made a vow to Glenn that I would get his compelling story of being blackballed by baseball because of his sexual orientation out there. You have to understand this poor guy had to stop our interviews every ten or fifteen minutes because of the extreme pain he was in—there were a lot of tears. He had a space heater on one side of his bed, a fan on the other because he couldn’t control his body temperature. He took around fifty pills a day, not to mention crack cocaine and marijuana to help ease the agony.

This topic of Glenn Burke, the first major leaguer to reveal his homosexuality, long interested me. I first read about it in an Inside Sports article in 1982. I thought, Holy Cow, how did this guy survive in the clubhouse of a professional baseball team? I mean, I played high school, college and then in various men’s leagues. But back in those days, especially, baseball was pretty macho and it was routine to hear someone called a faggot or a homo who didn’t play hurt or didn’t hustle. I was intrigued.

So fast-forward to 1994. Glenn’s all over the papers—all the majors publications are doing feature stories on how AIDS had hit one of baseball’s own. I thought—wow, this would make a great book. So I called the Oakland A’s and spoke to a woman who worked for them named Pamela Pitts. She had been in charge of making sure Glenn received free meals at a restaurant in the Castro, a gay neighborhood in San Francisco where he had previously lived homeless on the streets.  She said I could certainly send her a book proposal to give to Glenn, but that she had already received seventeen others. Plus, four film companies had also contacted her about the rights to his story.

I took a chance, and two weeks or so later, she called me back, said Glenn liked my proposal the best, and asked when I could get out to California—that he didn’t have much more time. I was there three days later and the rest is history.

Surprisingly to me, I don’t think people were ready for a book about a gay player back then. I sold about a thousand copies on my own—there was no Amazon back then, so I did as many interviews as I could and posted ads in Baseball Weekly. I mailed each book out on my own, a daunting task. I also cold-called book stores, with most of them buying books. The bookstore in the Castro couldn’t keep them on the shelves they sold out so fast, but there was little interest elsewhere.

But in the last few years, the story of Glenn Burke has caught fire. Comcast did a terrific documentary entitled “Out,” about Glenn in which I was interviewed along with scores of players, coaches, announcers and scouts who knew Glenn. They used some of my old audio tapes with Glenn to great effect. Then one Saturday afternoon a year later, I’m sitting in my office at home and get a call from the actress Jamie Lee Curtis who wanted to buy the film option to the book. Two other film-makers also contacted me the same week! So now, after several years, Jamie has secured a studio for the movie and it looks like it’s going to happen. And last year, Penguin Berkley, the publisher that did the MOOKIE book and is doing Kings of Queens, republished Out at Home.

I guess the book was years ahead of it’s time.

I got along really well with Glenn, the man largely credited with inventing the “high five.” Despite how sick he was—his weight dropped from 215 to 130—he was very pleasant and even found the strength to be funny at times. Having met guys he played with, most of them had nothing but nice things to say about him. Dusty Baker told me Glenn was like a son. Players went on about what an amazing dancer he was and how funny he could be. The players didn’t have issue with Burke being gay—the problem came more from the image-conscious Dodgers’ front office at the time. It’s kind of ironic—the team that embraced Jackie Robinson and broke the color barrier wasn’t as supportive, to say the least, for a gay man.

With Regis and Mookie.

With Regis and Mookie.

J.P.: You’ve now written three books with athletes—Burke, Steve Blass and Mookie Wilson. What draws you to this? And how do you go about taking a person’s voice and making it come out via the written word?

E.S.: I try to choose subjects to work with who have stories that transcend the sport they played in.

With Burke, the angle was obvious—the first ballplayer to “come out” and all the baggage that came with that.

With Blass, you had this All Star pitcher and World Series hero who, in the prime of his career, lost the ability to throw the ball over the plate. He went from pitching in the All Star Game to selling class rings to support his family in less than three years’ time. It’s kind of like a concert pianist forgetting how to play while perforrming at Carnegie Hall. Blass’s malady will forever be cemented in the American lexicon at “Steve Blass Disease.” Nobody loved being a ballplayer more than Steve, so this is a heartbreaking story, but one with a happy ending—he reinvented himself into a highly entertaining and successful color analyst for the Pirates. Having done this so well for over thirty years now, maybe he makes the Hall of Fame as an announcer instead of as a ballplayer. Now, that would be something!

And, finally, Mookie was the son of a sharecropper in the racially-charged South during the 1960s and ’70s who would later become perhaps the most beloved Mets’ player of all-time. Despite a very good career, he will, for better or worse, be forever linked with Bill Buckner and Game Six of the ’86 World Series.

I get asked often if I would ever write a book with someone like Derek Jeter. I think that would be somewhat boring. For twenty years, Jeter was the prince of the city who never publicly had a misstep or had any major challenges to overcome. I mean, a bad day for Jeter might be tripping over the pumps of some supermodel while on his way to the kitchen. (laughs)

Up until this point in my book-writing career, I have intentionally transcribed all of my interviews. It’s painstaking, but it allows me to think and write like my subjects would. Mookie actually came to me with over a hundred pages he had written on his own, which really helped jump-start our project.

I often get comments from my readers that when they read a book I co-authored, it’s like they’re sitting down in the backyard with the subject listening to them tell their life story. It’s very conversational. I think that’s part of the appeal of the autobiographies I have been a part of writing.

J.P.: I’m working on a documentary right now about book whoring—the lengths authors are willing to go to in order to sell product. I feel like we all have stories of unattended signings, piles of books, out names being mispronounced. What’s yours?

E.S.: First, it’s amazing to me how much publicity work, much of it at our own expense, we have to do. You finish the book and then spend the next six months on publicity leading up to the time of release. But regarding what authors go through, I’ve had several experiences I would like to forget. Aside from a poorly attended book signing when a shopper asked me where the rest room was, I once gave a lecture at an independent book store in Greenwich Village in front of a crowd of exactly three people—one of which was my girlfriend at the time, the other a co-worker. I sold two books that night, not even enough to pay for dinner.

Unless you’re a literary giant, book signings seemingly only make sense for celebrities. That’s why with Kings of Queens, I will only do signings if I have one of the ’86 Mets with me.

J.P.: You attended Emerson College, where you played baseball, then got your first taste of writing at age 14 for the Community Life Newspaper in Westwood, N.J. But how did this happen for you? Like, what’s the life path that led you toward being an author?

E.S.: My father worked as a circulation manager for years in the newspaper business. My parents divorced when I was really young, so when I would be with my father on the weekends he had me, we often had to go into the newsrooms of the New York Post, Paterson Evening News, or wherever else he worked during those years. I lived in the archives department while he worked in his office. I loved looking through old newspaper clippings of Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson and other stars of the past.

I started writing articles at home for my own amusement—stories about anything–the school fight, last night’s baseball game, whatever. I then joined the middle school paper and dominated it with six or seven articles per issue. At that point, I approached the local paper in Westwood about doing a story on my eighth grade school softball team. The editor loved it and offered me five dollars for a weekly high school sports column. I don’t think I missed writing a single week for the next four years until I went away to college, taking my bike three miles each way to deliver it through the paper’s mail slot each Monday night. During the summer, I wrote about other topics, like in the summer of 1980 when the US boycotted the Moscow Olympics. Imagine, at fourteen, I was already into geo-politics!

I also became a “stringer” for the Bergen Record, calling in stories for the Westwood football team.

After high school, I attended Emerson College, one of the top journalism schools in the country, and was named sports editor of the school paper first semester freshman year.

During college, I began to focus more on broadcast journalism and away from print. When that ultimately didn’t work out for me, I went back to writing feature stories and became intrigued by writing books. One of my professors once told me that there is nothing older than yesterday’s newspaper. That really resonated with me. I thought, So after all that work, what I write will be forgotten the next day!

But, you know, books last forever! That’s why I’m an author.

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

E.S.: Tough one, because there have been so many great, surreal moments. How about I rattle off a few of the greatest: 1.) Speaking at the National Baseball Hall of Fame the first time 2.) Interviewing Mookie before a packed house at the Yogi Berra Museum 3.) Sitting in Doc Gooden’s kitchen and Darryl Strawberry’s living room, having them share their deepest thoughts on their life experiences with me. But I could seriously give you a couple hundred more.

The lowest?

It was early in my career. I was in college and had an interview with the Boston Herald for a sports internship. It wasn’t just any sports internship, as with this one I would assist in covering Celtics and Red Sox games when both teams were very good. I had five years of clippings of my work and the editor said the interview could not have gone any better. A week goes by—nothing. Two weeks—still nothing. Then I am notified, through my father no less, that they couldn’t hire me because my father worked at the New York Post. The Herald and Post were both owned by Rupert Murdoch and they apparently couldn’t hire me because of an in-house nepotism rule that prohibited relatives from working within the same organization. I was heart-broken and felt discriminated against. Had I gotten that position, there is no telling how that might have changed the direction of my career.

A young Erik in 1986, interviewing Celtics' coach KC Jones for the Emerson College television station.

In 1986, interviewing Celtics’ coach KC Jones for Emerson’s TV station.

J.P.: Soup to nuts, how do you write a book? Let’s take Blass for example. How’d you get the idea? How’d you go about the process? When do you write? Do you transcribe all interviews? Etc …

E.S.: Like with Burke, I knew all about Blass’ sudden baseball decline and how odd, yet fascinating, it seemed. Certainly it had all the makings of an interesting book. So one night I meet my friend Tim Neverett in New York for drinks at the Grand Hyatt in midtown Manhattan. Tim was in town with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the team he was an announcer for at the time. Long-time Pirates’ broadcaster Greg Brown joined us and was fascinated with the Burke book I wrote and said I should consider doing one with Steve. I was a little surprised one hadn’t been done before.

So I met with Steve at spring training the following March. We reviewed a rough draft book proposal I had put together for him. At first, he wasn’t too eager to revisit those painful days when he suddenly lost his ability to pitch effectively. But the idea grew on him and I drove out to Pittsburgh to stay with him one weekend a couple of months later while his wife was travelling. We spent the entire weekend talking about his career and life inside and outside of baseball. We formed a bond where he started to trust me with this project. A month later, he invited me back to Pittsburgh to meet with his wife Karen. Karen and I have a terrific relationship now, but on that night, we met for a four hour meeting at a nearby hotel restaurant in which we didn’t even order food. Like most baseball wives, Karen was extremely protective of her husband and family and grilled me about my intentions for the book. But by the time it was over, she was much more at ease and gave the final green light for the project.

After polishing up the book proposal, I sent it off to my literary agent, who found a home for it at Triumph Publishing.

Steve and I had to finish the book in less than six months in order for it to be published in time for the spring—traditionally the time when baseball books are released.

One common thread with Glenn, Steve and Mookie is how close you get with these guys. Not only did I feel like their co-author, but also their best friend, clergy, and/or psychiatrist. They shared details about their lives that their own family likely didn’t know about. So you talk about surreal? How about having World Series heroes completely open up to you about their most inner-thoughts?

Like many writers, I have a day job—in my case, a very demanding technology sales job. So I write late into the night and weekends, using every legal stimulant under the sun to stay awake and creative. I also get nearly two months of vacation time, so that helps enormously.

J.P.: Dwight Gooden is the enigma of ’86. On the one hand—absolutely beloved. On the other hand—can’t get out of his own way. So nice, but also a life of addiction and dependency and deceit. You spent a lot of time with him. What’s your take?

E.S.: One of the sweetest people I’ve ever met inside or outside of baseball. Very sensitive guy who wants to please everybody. And that was his downfall. Most of us can have a drink or even experiment with a drug and not become addicted to it. Doc sadly was not one of those people. He tried coke once and was hooked. Just as big a problem was that he wanted to continue to please people that were bad influences on him, people who he grew up with, and they dragged him down.

Doc came from a home with two wonderful parents. If he had stayed away from drugs and alcohol, we would be talking about Doc’s career in the same breath as the all-time greats.

At a point in my interview with him, he broke down in tears when talking about how years after he retired, Gary Carter, who was battling cancer he would soon succumb to, tried to help him. Doc is doing better now, though at the moment is by his mother’s side. She is sadly in the hospital and isn’t expected to live much longer. Every time I speak to Doc, he couldn’t be more pleasant. There is still that boyish charm in him that shines.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH ERIK SHERMAN:

• I quickly learned with a Google search that there’s another Erik Sherman writer with a website and Twitter feed. What should we do to shut him up?: Ha! He contacted me a few years ago and said he had some messages for me from people that thought he was me. All my life, friends and even relatives misspell my first name. What are the odds of another writer with exactly the same name as me?! That other Erik took all the great website and twitter names from me. (laughs) But he really seems like a nice guy, so good for him!

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Howard Schnellenberger, Twenty One Pilots, “Room,” Steve Nicosia, chicken chow mein, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Yonkers, Noam Bramson, Phil Pepe, Aquaman: Phil Pepe, Aquaman, Yonkers, Chicken Chow Mein, Noam Bramson, Steve Nicosia, Howard Schnellenberger, Room, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Twenty One Pilots

• One question you would ask Tony McKegney were he here right now?: Tony, while growing up as an African-Canadian hockey player in the 1960s and ’70s, would you take the over or under 1,000 people that questioned you verbally and silently for playing hockey?

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Yes, twice. The first time we were hovering around LaGuardia Airport for more than an hour during a terrible storm. People on the plane were crying and praying out loud. The sudden drops were incredible. The second time I was flying out of Atlanta and our plane took off too soon before the prior flight. We got caught in it’s wake and we suddenly dropped what seemed like 5,000 feet in less than 15 seconds, with the plane losing control, going violently side to side. The pilot must have been pretty shaken up, because he didn’t come on the speaker to explain what had happened until about twenty minutes later. I assume it took him that long to change his pants.

• Three memories from a childhood birthday party: 1.) My mother’ delicious chocolate icing cakes. 2.) Turning double digits for the first time, obviously, at ten years old—that was a big deal for me for some reason 3.) Having my Dad pick me up from school to meet Yankee relief pitcher Ron Davis for a private Yankee Stadium tour. Davis was just a rookie then and had done some promotional appearances for the NY Post—that’s how my Dad knew him. I stood at home plate and ran around the bases, pretending I had hit a game-winning homerun. I still remember how close the upper deck stands hovered above. That must have been so intimidating to opposing teams.

• Please write a poem that involves Donald Trump, Sister Sledge, Doug Sisk, the number five, scar tissue and meatballs: Oh boy, I’m terrible at poetry! Okay, so here’s my lame poem:

For crazy candidate Trump

I can’t think of anybody who would stump

But if I am ever on the edge

I cheer up by listening to some Sister Sledge

There is no better sport than Doug Sisk

He’s even nicer than Richie Zisk

I secretly have an obsession with the number five

Trust me, that’s no jive

In my knee, I have some scar tissue

But when I ice it, it’s no longer an issue

I love spaghetti and meatballs

Especially at Olive Garden in the shopping malls

I’ll bet you’ll never ask me for another poem!

• What happens when we die?: I hope there’s a better place—like heaven.

• Five greatest sportswriters of your lifetime?: Roger Angell, Red Smith, Shirley Povich, Jim Murray, Peter Gammons.

• What’s the scouting report of Erik Sherman, college ballplayer?: Solid third baseman, good glove, average arm but accurate. Average speed, but makes up for it in hustle. Line-drive gap hitter to all fields.

• Would you eat 100 live ants if doing so would place your book at No. 1 on the New York Times’ list?: Only 100?! Yes, happily!