Jeff Pearlman

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Category Archives: QUAZ

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Jeffrey Mora

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I love chefs.

Like, I love, love, love chefs.

Why? Because they’re food magicians, taking two apples, some coconut, yesterday’s chicken and a box of napkins and turning it all into edible gold. To watch a master at work is to observe the greatest of craftsmen. The master chef makes people happy. The master chef makes people crave. You can love someone’s music or hate someone’s music. You can see art and cry and see art and curse. But when something tastes good—man, it’s bliss.

That’s my long way of saying that today’s Quaz, the 393rd in this wackadoo series, is a king of kings. Jeffrey Mora is the CEO of Food Fleet, as well as the former Los Angeles Lakers chef and the man who set up and oversaw food service at the Burbank Airport. He knows everything about the business—from banana chicken to dirty bathrooms to making the perfect meal.

And now he’s the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Jeffrey—you’re a superstar chef who has cooked for everyone, everywhere. And I wonder this: Can anyone be a quality chef? Like, are some people born with the gift and others not? Or, with studying, love, etc, is yours a profession anyone can master?

JEFFREY MORA: I don’t think there is a simple answer to this question. Like with many things some people just have the gift. In my profession I would say that holds true with pastry chefs more than chefs. We say they have the touch, some have skills that no matter how long you are doing it you won’t get to that level. The difference between pastry chefs and chefs, is that pastry is more precise more exacting and involves more artistry on the level that we are talking about. You can look up the Coupe De Monde as an example of world class pastry chefs, and for chefs the Bocuse D’or. I think with anything, your love and passion for what your doing will help you become great. When teaching or lecturing, I always ask this seaming simple question: “We have all had good and bad hamburgers, what is the main difference between the two?” I always get the same answers—the meat, the bun etc. The real answer is the person cooking it—do they care enough about what they are doing to make it great? Do they toast the bun properly? How do they layer the lettuce and tomato? Do they put it on top or on the bottom of the bun? It does make a difference on how it eats.

This profession is a very difficult one with long hours, lots of manual labor, stress etc. People always tend to look at the glamour side of what we do, the celebrity chef side. The reality is a lot different. You really have to have a love and passion for it. Its hard work. that being said it can be very rewarding. There is no better feeling in the world than making something that people love to eat.

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J.P.: You’re the owner chef of Food Fleet, a food truck booking company. And, as weird as this might sound, I’ve always wondered why, exactly, humans in the 2010s seem to just love eating from a truck. It’s weird, right—this phenomenon. So how to explain it?

J.M.: Eating street food has always been a phenomenon globally. I think Anthony Bourdain helped bring it more to the forefront in the states with his shows, and his passion for it. People like the eating from a truck for the same reasons people like eating from hawker stalls in other countries. You can find one person making one great dish, and doing the same thing every day. This makes them become a master of it. That is one reason, the other is more variety, and convenience. Most of the time when you go out to eat from a truck there are a number of them so as a group you tend to have more choices.

J.P.: You were in charge of the Los Angeles Lakers food service for eight years. So what’s unique about the way professional athletes eat? And how would you say diet directly impacts performance at that level?

J.M.: I would say what is unique is the fact that food and nutrition is directly related to performance and recovery on that level. Most athletes these days have their own chef and nutritionist . Each individual is unique in his own way. What one body needs is not the same as another. Caloric intake on a daily basis changes from day to day. Game day as opposed to training days. The real key and what makes it unique for me, and what the real challenge was, was to incorporate their needs into foods that they liked and wanted to eat.

Otherwise it was pointless. For the Lakers the challenge was putting out 15-to-20 different dishes every day that each one could pick and choose from that was best for them.

J.P.: Specifically, what was it like feeding Kobe Bryant? Was he as intense about nutrition as he was work? What do you recall?

J.M.: Kobe was very regimented in everything he did. He had a routine that didn’t deviate. Most of the time he only ate breakfast at the facility.

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J.P.: How did this happen for you? What I mean is—when did you know you’d dedicate your life to food? When were you first aware you had legit talent?

J.M.: My mother was and is a great cook. Growing up she made dinner every night. My father and mother worked side by side growing up with another family, both of them immigrants. My family is from both eastern Europe and Italy. They would come for dinner and my mom would cook and most Sundays we be at their house for the big Sunday meal. I was fortunate that I grew up around great food and knew what that tasted like.

When I was in my teens working, they would do a pot luck once a week, and the others always complemented me on what I made. They began to look forward to what I would bring. I worked in some small little quick-serve places as well.

When I was 19, I told my dad I think this is what I want to do. My dad was a barber and one of his customers was the GM of Old Country Bakery. He was involved with the local chefs association. He made an introduction for me to a chef who was running a small little six-month program. Once I got in it, I couldn’t learn fast enough. I would spend all my time there. When I was ready to graduate, the Century Plaza Hotel was opening its new wing, and the chef got me an interview for an entry level position. This would hopefully allow me to be taken on as an apprentice in six months. Once at the hotel, I began to excel and grow. About one year in, the chef had me enter a contest for Westin Hotel chefs. We were not chefs but he required us to all enter. I ended up winning one of the categories—the first apprentice to ever do so.

I always felt like I was behind and needed to make up for lost time. The chefs, sous chefs and cooks at the hotel were mostly from Europe, so they began their careers at 14. I was 20. I felt like I had lost six years. I put in an average of 100 hours a week back then. I spent time learning from anyone who would teach me. The hotel—being so large with so many outlets and kitchens—was the perfect place to grow.

J.P.: How do you feel about the Food Network, and the 8,000 shows about people becoming chefs, trying to become chefs, proving their mettle as chefs? Does it cheapen your craft? Does it do the opposite?

J.M.: This question is a double-edged sword. On one hand, the Food Network has had a huge positive impact on our industry. The general public has a better knowledge and understanding of food overall. They seek out good food more than ever before. They have become better at knowing what good food is.

On the other hand it gives people a false sense of what it takes to be a chef. Everyone today uses that term as a generality: Chef, Master Chef. It lowers our standards. First and foremost you want to be a good cook, a great cook. Chef means a great deal of things but not everyone who is a cook is a chef. The show “Master Chef “is an example, There are only 70 Master Chefs in the United States. It’s a grueling 10-day test and if you fail one part your out. The success rate for passing is 1 in 12. To become a certified executive chef takes at least seven years after becoming a certified cook.

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J.P.: What’s the absolutely weirdest experience from your cooking career?

J.M.: It is hard to pick just one thing, I have cooked in over 20 countries. I fed President Clinton right after the Northridge quake, I participated in the cook’s tour for world hunger in South Africa, I went on an expedition in the Amazon with Cousteau. Being on that expedition was quite the experience.

J.P.: You set up and oversaw food service at the Burbank Airport. I never, ever, ever think about airport grub. So what are the complications and difficulties of such a task? And how do you think airport food options compare now to when you started at Burbank?

J.M.: Feeding 5,000 people a day for one. I would say when I started back in 1990, overall, people’s expectations were low. Quality food service at the airport wasn’t as much of a priority. Most of the time back then you got a meal on the plane whether you flew first class or coach. For me, I approached it in a different manner. Most other operators treated the customer like a captive audience. I never did. Burbank was a business airport, with regular customers. I wanted them to realize that they could get a good meal before they flew out. We made everything from scratch from the pizzas to the hot dogs. I remember having to change the way I made hot dogs . Coming from New York I wanted a great dog with the casing on it. The first day I had to refund $500 because people were peeling the casing off the dog. I had to make skinless dogs. It’s still true today—skin on hot dogs is only on done on the east coast.

In the beginning, the restaurant made the least amount of money. After the first year it was one of the highest grossing locations. We had a great group of regulars.

We received an award for the healthiest airport food service in the country back in 1992.

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J.P.: Is there a factually such thing as great food v. shit food? What I mean is—if a guy loves the Whopper and hates what he had at Per Se, is the Whopper good and Per Se shit? Is that person simply wrong, or incapabale of knowing good food?

J.M.: I think this question all comes down to perceived value. There is nothing wrong with the Whopper or Per Se. The main difference is did you get your money’s worth from both.

People will complain about a $5 meal as much as a $500 meal. You will be more pissed off at the $500 one. We all have our likes and dislikes. How and where we grew up and with what influences and exposure to different types of food helps.

I was asked once to go up and help a chef friend of mine who was struggling to understand the new restaurant he was working in. It was a very well-established place with a long history. They had abalone on the menu for $80 a portion. It came breaded with mashed potatoes and vegetables and a simple sauce. They would sell 5-to-8 orders a night. He changed it to a pickled ginger sauce with other garnishes. It went down to two orders per night and he couldn’t figure out why. It was white truffle season at the time, and a lot of places in New York were selling white truffle risotto or white truffle baked potato for $80. While they both go well with the truffle, I asked him why they paired the potato with the truffle. He didn’t have an answer. I told him, well, If I am going to take a risk and spend $80 on a dish like that, there better be something on there that I will eat if I don’t like the truffle.

He finally got it.

J.P.: Is there a way to look at food or a restaurant and know whether it was prepared in a clean and sanity kitchen? If so … what?

J.M.: The best answer to this question is when you go into a place, go directly into the restroom. If it is clean and well maintained the likelihood that the kitchen is will be a lot higher. If its dirty, you can see they don’t care at all, the chances are the kitchen isn’t clean either. I always look at the little details. Are the ceiling vents clean?

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• Rank in order (favorite to least): Brandon Rush, Melvin Mora, Mario Batali, Paul Stanley, Taco Bell bean burritos, scissors, a new roll of paper towels, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Al Capone: I would have to start with Melvin Mora, we have the same last name and he played for the Mets. Paul Stanley, Brandon Rush, scissors, paper towel. Taco Bell. The last three in no particular order, I would rather have to eat the Taco Bell then spend time with any of them .

• What are three foods you loathe?: Bad Chinese food, bad Mexican food , bad Italian food.

• What are three foods you cherish?: Celery root, truffles, chestnuts.

• I threaten my kids with the idea of “banana chicken.” Is there a way one could make banana chicken and have it taste OK?: I would say there are a few—one is make sure you dip it in coconut milk before breading, and use Panko. Second is to make a dipping sauce the kids like.

• The 46th president of the United States will be?: Leon Panetta

• Worst kitchen injury you’ve ever suffered?: I spliced off a piece of my index finger on a meat slicer and got 14 stitches

• In exactly 14 words, make an argument for Olive Garden: 14 words—the first is why, the second is why and the third is why. They are consistent. You will get the same meal at everyone of them.

• Who would you rather hang out with—Daryl Hall or Johnny Gill?: I think I would have more fun with Johnny Gill.

• Four memories from your first-ever date?: All I remember is she had bad breath when I went to kiss her.

• Who was the absolutely kindest athlete you’ve ever worked with?: There are many who stand out—Metta World Peace, Shaq, Lamar Odom to name a few.

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Ryan O’Neil

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Because it’s a tiny Division III college in Gambier, Ohio, not a ton of people follow the Kenyon College men’s basketball team.

Which, if you’re a current member of the Kenyon College men’s basketball team, might not be the worst thing right now.

As I write this, the Lords are nursing the wounds of a 10th-straight loss, dropping them to 1-21 on the season. Yes, that’s correct. One. And. Twenty. One. This latest setback, a 98-94 home overtime defeat to Hiram College, came before 100 devoted spectators at Tomsich Arena and—I’m guessing—had to hurt even more than, say, the 112-61 demolition at the hands of Albion College earlier in the campaign. Losing sucks. Losing when you feel as if you should have won sucks, times 100,000.

I digress.

The Lords’ backup guard is a junior named Ryan O’Neil. He’s an aspiring journalist with a ton of writing talent, and he’s also—to his great credit—unafraid to bluntly explain what it is to lose and lose and lose again. So I brought him here, because nothing takes the sting off a 4.7 winning percentage more than life inside the Quaz.

One can follow Ryan on Twitter here, and learn more about the Lords here.

Ryan O’Neil, you are the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Ryan, you’re a backup guard for the Kenyon College men’s basketball team. Your record, as I write this, is 1-20. I’m gonna ask bluntly—what is it to be on a team that’s 1-18? And did you see this coming?

RYAN O’NEIL: It sucks, and there’s really no way around that. There’s no way to say it in a more eloquent or diplomatic way. There have been a lot of nights when I’ve called my dad out of pure frustration. I don’t particularly look forward to going to practice, and sometimes I don’t even get excited to play in games. I try, and often fail, to find consolation by telling myself that playing a sport in college is not supposed to be easy. But it’s difficult to remember that, and even when I do I find that it offers very little solace, encouragement, or support. I’m not having fun this season, and basketball is supposed to be enjoyable. I’m fortunate that I get to hoop every day with some of my best friends in the world, but I don’t really feel lucky. These days, basketball feels more like a chore or a job than a source of unbridled joy. Often, I catch myself comparing this season to high school basketball, when the sport was a distraction from school, when we would play in front of 1500 or 2,000 people on some nights, when my favorite thing in the entire world was to be in the gym.

More than anything else, this season has been disheartening because I didn’t foresee the struggles that we would have as a team. In addition to the four players who graduated from last year’s team, five others decided to transfer from the school. So I knew there would be an adjustment period as we learned to play without them and the freshmen acclimated themselves to playing at this level, but I didn’t think that we would struggle to this extent. We believe that we’re a better team than our record says, but it’s all too easy to invoke Bill Parcells in response.

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J.P.: You play Division III hoops, which is low on the glory but still high on the commitment. I’m guessing you’ve seen a lot of small, half-empty gyms through the years. I’m guessing you’ve had many a long road trip. So … why? Why do it? Why not just spend these four years partying your ass off?

R.O.: I actually believe that’s one of the most misunderstood aspects of Division III basketball. While there are many nights when there are fewer than 100 people in the stands, our conference has several programs that have significant history. Ohio Wesleyan, Wabash, and Wittenberg have all won national championships, and The College of Wooster is the winningest Division III basketball program of the 2000s. Typically, when we play at one of those schools, we play in front of a large crowd. With that said, those schools are outliers; more often, small school basketball is inglorious. As I’m writing this, the temperature in Ohio is below 0, and my classes for the day have been cancelled, but we still have to go play our game at Wooster tonight.

There have certainly been occasions, especially this season, when I’ve asked myself that exact question. Playing basketball has limited my ability to have a legitimate “college experience.” My Thanksgiving and Winter Breaks are truncated, and I usually don’t get full weekends like my friends who aren’t college athletes. But I know that it’s worth it. Since graduating from high school, I’ve become more confident, I’ve become more vocal, and I’ve learned valuable time management and leadership skills; I fully attribute this personal growth to basketball.

J.P.: You’ve told me you want to go into journalism—an industry that definitely seemed to be struggling right now. So … why? And what’s your plan?

R.O.: I suppose that it’s easier to answer your second question before getting to the first. Ideally, I would like to write nonfiction books that are culturally important. I’m fascinated by stories that are sports-adjacent, in a sense. My favorite book–which I am currently reading for the third time–is Buzz Bissinger’s Friday Night Lights. When I first read the book in seventh grade, it was illuminating and very literally life-changing. It showed me that sports can, and should, be used as a vehicle to tell a broader, more important story. So, I would love to write books that encapsulate sports, culture, and the world’s myriad faults.

There are so many stories that I want to tell. Recently, I’ve been obsessed with the history of lacrosse and the Native Americans’ relationship with the sport: how it began as a deeply spiritual game played by Native Americans; how the sport has been wrested from the Natives and appropriated by affluent white communities; how the Native American story is replete with tragedies including disproportionate rates of suicide and alcoholism and how lacrosse is an example of all that has been taken from the community; and how athletes like the Thompson trio who played at Albany show an attempt to recapture the sport. If I could, I would write a book about the Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse team as it prepares to play in the next World Lacrosse Championships, an event that has only seen Canada and the United States win.

I’m also obsessed with Colin Kaepernick’s odyssey, although that’s a much more mainstream story of which most people are well-informed. To me, Kaepernick’s public conflict with the NFL offers the perfect blend of sports, politics, and culture; it is the perfect representation of the sports-adjacent stories that intrigue me.

I’m also interested in the youth soccer scene in America. The game is primarily reserved for and played by the wealthy elite, especially in U.S. Soccer’s Developmental Academy. The flaws of the Developmental Academy led to our nation’s absence in the 2018 World Cup and the subsequent election to find the new U.S. Soccer President; the election focused greatly on access to the sport in this country. This topic also involves the access that girls have; as the U.S. Women’s National Team is the best in the world, but receives much less funding and attention than the Men’s National Team.

I believe that these are stories that must be told, and that’s why I want to enter the field. Journalism, as much as our President tries to convince you otherwise, is a vital tenet of democracy and has the potential to very literally change the world.

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J.P.: Back when you graduated from high school, your uncle gave you a copy of “Into the Wild,” with an inside-the-cover note that read, “A good read here about family, choices and priorities. Seems we could all use a little bit of his spirit in our lives.” The book, according to an essay you wrote, has had an enormous impact. Why?

R.O.: Like Friday Night Lights, I’ve read this book several times; unlike FNL, I don’t quite know why I come back to it so often. It’s a story that both inspires me and frustrates me, because Christopher McCandless is both familiar and foreign to me. It inspires me, because there’s something profoundly simple in the idea that we should live how we want to, not in the way that the world has decided we’re supposed to. But it frustrates me because it’s ultimately a tragedy that was not inevitable.

In the essay that you referenced, I wrote most prominently about why I relate to McCandless. As a junior in college, I think I’m beginning to see the world with more clarity. It’s frightening how quickly college has been going by, and I realize, almost daily, that I am on the precipice of entering the real world. And as I get closer to the real world, I think I’m beginning to understand the way it works. Very few people get to do what they want to do for a living. So, I’m going for it: I’m starting a website with some friends; I’m writing as often as possible; I’m pursuing this career before it even starts. In part, this is thanks to Into the Wild. I’m inspired by the way that McCandless just said “fuck it,” and went out to do what he wanted. But it’s also daunting and terrifying: what if I’m not good enough to do this? What if it doesn’t work out for me? I’m aware that I’m setting myself up for a major disappointment, but I’d rather pursue my dream; I don’t want to sit back 40 years from now and wonder what could have been.

McCandless pursued his dream, and unfortunately it ended in his death. But at least he went for it, and I respect the shit out of that.

J.P.: I’m not trying to pile on, but I’m just as fascinated by losing as winning. And earlier this year you guys traveled to exotic Albion, Michigan, where Albion College beat you 112-61. What do you recall from that experience? Were they just THAT much better than you? And is there anything to gain from taking an ass kicking of that magnitude? Or does it just suck?

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R.O.: Oh, man. I’ve tried to erase that game from my memory completely. It was so humiliating. It felt like they were scoring every single time down the court, and we just couldn’t do anything to stop them. We were losing by some 30 points at half, and no one said anything in the locker room. Then our coach walked in, and we could tell that he didn’t know what to say. He spoke inaudibly, barely above a whisper. He wasn’t even angry, he was just morose. He kept rubbing his forehead, as if he was perplexed by what was happening on the court. And honestly, it was confusing. Albion is a fine team, but they’re certainly not 50 points better than us. I don’t think there’s a Division III team in the country that’s 50 points better than us.

At the time, we thought there were things we could learn from the game. We tried to fix our warmup and pregame routine, we tried to approach film and scouting with a greater focus and more keen attention to detail, we tried to work harder in practice. But in retrospect, we didn’t really learn anything. We didn’t improve. We’ve had several other notably bad games. It was just another dispiriting moment in a demoralizing season.

Summer ball in New Rochelle

Summer ball in New Rochelle, N.Y.

J.P.: You and two pals started up a sports and pop culture website. Why? How? And how come you haven’t added to it in more than a month?

R.O.: For some time, I’ve had the idea of starting a website with friends who have similar interests. Over Thanksgiving Break last semester, I decided to commit to it. I sat down and I created a five-page Word document outlining my vision for the website. The thought of running my own website and having the ability to create the type of content that interests me were my primary motivation, and I tried to convey this in the Word document, which I sent to about 20 people. Most of these 20 were kids my age who, as I understood, were interested in some sort of career in writing or media. I also sent the document to several kids who aren’t interested in writing or entering the field, thinking that they would be good additions. Right now, my friends and I are working on developing the site: designing the site, writing pieces for it, getting the domain.

We’re about ready to begin the site, which is called Badlands. I’m really excited to start, and we have a lot of really cool ideas that we’re developing. We’re going to write about a wide variety of topics across sports and pop culture. Some of it will be serious, and some of it will be more trivial and jocular. Of our first few pieces, one will be about sports psychology, as my co-editor Henry wrote about DeAndre Jordan, Markelle Fultz, and free throw shooting. Another piece will propose a hypothetical about me, my brother, and my two friends playing in and winning the Little League World Series. I’m also currently working on an episodic fictional series about a slow pitch softball league. My friend Hugo wrote about Ambrose Bierce, and my friend Joe is currently writing about his favorite guitar solos of all time. All of these pieces should be ready when we drop the site. This summer, we’re hoping to do a bracket to determine Westchester County’s best local pizza place, using fan votes and taste-testing.

J.P.: You wrote a very profound essay, “The Sadness,” about 9.11—and event you don’t remember. And I wonder, what is it to be from New York, to hear about 9.11, to know people directly impacted by 9.11 … but to have no recollection of it? Do you feel like you should feel more connected? Do you feel sorta lost on the day? Do you ever just feel nothing?

R.O.: It’s … difficult. It’s impossible to ever forget what happened. Like I wrote in that essay, some of my high school classmates lost parents, cousins, uncles or aunts. One of my best friends lost two uncles that day. But I was only three years old at the time, so I don’t remember it; I don’t remember where I was or what I was doing. Everything I know about that day is secondhand. But I still feel it: the emotion, the patriotism, the anguish. When I was in eighth grade, my youth soccer cried on the tenth anniversary of those attacks as he tried to express why this day was so difficult for him because two of his brothers-in-law passed away that day. I had never seen him cry before.

I really don’t feel any connection to 9/11 on other days, mostly because I can’t remember it. I feel guilty, in a sense, because I don’t have to think about it all the time. People who lost family members, and even those who just had to watch the wretched news coverage that day, don’t have that same luxury.

I wrote that essay during my sophomore year, my second consecutive year away from New York on that day. And for the second year, I was surprised to see that most people seemed unfazed by the anniversary. As a result, I felt detached from my hometown for the first time. So, I wanted to express what the day means when you’re from New York.

My mom, my biggest fan, shared that piece on her Facebook page, like she does with all of my writing. One woman, who lost her husband in the 9/11 attacks, wrote, “Next time you see that boy–give him a huge hug from my kids and I. Wow.” For as long as I live, that will be the most meaningful reception I will ever get on anything I write. It made me feel like I was back in New York.

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J.P.: You’re from Pelham, not far from where I was raised. What’s your basketball journey? Were you always one of the better kids? Were you a high school star? Did you think you’d wind up at Michigan or Duke? What was recruitment like?

R.O.: It’s funny that you mention Duke, because that’s actually where my basketball “journey” began. My dad went to graduate school at Duke. For those three years, my twin brother, Matt, and I grew up on Tobacco Road, worshipping the Duke players, Coach K, and the Cameron Crazies. We would play on our little driveway hoop during the day, and accompany our dad to Cameron Indoor Stadium at night.

When Matt and I were five, our family moved to Pelham, where my dad quickly found a weekly pickup game at a Boys and Girls Club every Sunday morning at 8 o’clock. Every Sunday morning at 7:45, Matt and I would pile into the car with him, wearing our basketball shoes and carrying our basketballs. The gym was usually freezing, and I’m sure the men didn’t appreciate the fact that there were two young kids running around the gym screaming and shooting on the hoops that they were supposed to be warming up on. But once the games began, Matt and I would just watch, soaking up every aspect of the game. We whispered to each other about things we saw, like the way one guy wouldn’t pass; we huddled in trepidation whenever the men would argue with one another about a foul call or the score; we laughed to each other whenever they would curse loudly.

And then, we began to play CYO ball before matriculating to the basketball program at Pelham Memorial High School. We both played JV as eighth graders, and then I was called up to the varsity team as a freshman. And from the beginning of sophomore year to our final game senior year, Matt and I started every single game in the backcourt. That was my favorite thing in the world, playing ball with Matt. We had a unique chemistry, which would manifest itself in several different ways–some of which helped us, some of which were more pernicious. We almost always knew where the other would be on the court, but we were also very comfortable yelling at one another if we were angry.

I was pretty good in high school, although I was never much of a scorer. My best skill was my ball-handling, so I was good at getting in the paint and kicking out to shooters. My senior year, I was named an All-Conference player (translation: good, not great player). Luckily, some college coaches found something about my playing style appealing. I received looks from some schools that I never wanted to attend, and didn’t get the attention that I wanted from some other schools. Ultimately, it came down to Kenyon or SUNY Geneseo. I took visits to both Kenyon and Geneseo, and decided that Kenyon would be a better fit for me.

Photo by Jonathan Daniel

Photo by Jonathan Daniel

J.P.: I’ve got more than 25 years on you, and sometimes it’s hard to read a different generation. So there, on the campus of Kenyon College, how is Donald Trump playing? What do people think? Your teammates? Etc?

R.O.: Generally, Kenyon students hate Donald Trump. According to the New York Times, Clinton won 90% of the vote in Gambier (the town in which Kenyon is located). Most students consider Trump to be abhorrent and grotesque, but there are certainly students who voted for him and continue to support him. One student who lives across from me has a Trump poster hanging up in his room, with the infamous campaign slogan, Make America Great Again, plastered across it.

The 2016 election was a disappointment for me, personally, because I was anticipating healthy political discourse during the campaign. Instead, Kenyon became a place where students were defined by their political affiliation, and those who were conservative were likely ostracized. Even today, there is very little room for political compromise on Kenyon’s campus, and most students scorn conservatives for their beliefs or support of Trump. While politics isn’t a topic that comes up often with the team, it is something that comes up often in academic settings. In fact, I had one professor last semester who began each day by debriefing the class about the troublesome things that Trump had done since we last met. It’s really an unavoidable topic, but the discussion around it must be rectified so that students aren’t totally ignored because of their political perspective.

J.P.: Along those lines—unorthodox question. Your coach, Dan Priest, is in his ninth year at Kenyon. Seems to have a good rep, nice way about him. What if he was a very vocal Trump supporter? What if he wore #MAGA hats to practices? Could you play for him? Would that matter? And do you think a coach’s political leanings should matter?

R.O.: This is a really good question. I’ve never spoken politics with Coach Priest, so I don’t know where he stands on the political spectrum. Truthfully, I really don’t know what I would do if he wore one of those red hats. I think I would be hurt, just because those hats symbolize so much more than political affiliation: they symbolize Trump’s disposition toward people who are purportedly inferior to him. They symbolize hatred and elitism, arrogance and mendacity.

I don’t know whether I could still play for him. I wish that I could confidently say that a coach’s political leanings don’t matter, but they honestly do. I see Coach Priest six days every week, for four straight months. If he were vocally hateful, then I don’t know if I would want to be around that attitude so often.

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• Right now, Kenyon v. Duke. Final score?: 147 to 52, Duke wins; Zion records a quintuple-double.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): A$AP Rocky, Dixie Cups, Sharpies, the mid-1980s San Diego Padres uniforms, the Washington Monument, James Harden, “The Green Book,” candy corn, the smell of musty blankets, John Bolton: Dixie Cups, James Harden, A$AP Rocky, Washington Monument, the mid-1980s Padres uniforms, Sharpies, the smell of musty blankets, “The Green Book,” candy corn, John Bolton.

• What’s the greatest moment of your athletic career?: Hitting a three-pointer with 30 seconds left against Eastchester High School to clinch the game.

• What’s the lowest?: Losing to Byram Hills High School in my final high school basketball game. I’ve never cried so much in my entire life.

• The world needs to know—what’s it like playing alongside Kamal Aubakirov?: It’s no different than playing with any other teammate, but sometimes it just takes a little longer to talk things through with him, but his English is pretty good. He went to high school in the US.

• One question you would ask Lou Ferrigno were he here right now: How much protein is appropriate to consume in one sitting?

• In exactly 17 words, make an argument for Carmelo Anthony as the greatest Knick of all time: Melo jab-stepped into my heart with his 62-point game, his infectious smile, and his Easter Day game.

• What age do you consider to be the line when someone is old?: 40

• Three memories of your first date: We got ice cream, I was too embarrassed to tell my parents, and she drove.

• We add LeBron to your team and give you a mid-major DI schedule. How far do you guys go, and do you contend for a national title?: If LeBron’s history is any indication, we’ll miraculously make it through a depleted east regional and lose in the final four after our second best player goes down with an injury.

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Mike Brennan

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This is going to sound a bit weird, but Mike Brennan is here—in large part—because of the above photo.

I’m not exactly sure how it came to this, but I was scanning Twitter a few weeks ago when his profile crossed my field of vision. And (BAM!) it was eye catching. The paint-splattered glasses and white T-shirt. The striking hair, dancing this way and that. The brushes, pushing up an all-knowing grin.

I was hooked.

What followed was a deep dive into a remarkable, fascinating visual artist who has departed the ministry, faced crippling depression—and now finds himself here, bringing joy to the masses with dazzling pet portraits, one-of-a-kind paintings and a book, “Dear Snow,” that breaks down (happily) why one should do his all to avoid winter and its accompanying bullshit.

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

Mike Brennan, man of 1,000 colors, you are The Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Mike, so I’m just gonna start blunt—what the hell is a “Rockstar pet portrait”? And how did this come to be a thing for you?

MIKE BRENNAN: A “Rockstar pet portrait” is a custom pet portrait I create using vivid colors. It’s for when you know your pet rocks, and want everyone else to know, too. I started creating pet portraits as part of my coming back to my art after a 10 year absence. It was through experimenting and playing that I discovered my love for these portraits. And it just seemed right, given my love of animals, in particular dogs. I have two dogs myself (both rescues)—Biscuit, a golden retriever mix and Cooper, a Chihuahua mix. Pet portraits help celebrate those special relationships we have with our pets, and the art can come to symbolize the fond moments we share with them.

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J.P.: You’re obviously a very talented artist. And I wonder—is that something you’re born with, or taught? Specifically, I guess I mean, well, I suck at art. Always have. But had I been born into an artist colony, with gifted parents and paintings everywhere, does that change? Or am I—artistically—who I am born to be?

M.B.: First, thank you for your kind words. I think some people are born with more of a natural ability, so it might come easier for them. But I believe it’s a learned skill. If you put in hours and hours you will get better and better like anything else.

Someone might be better at color theory and usage, while someone else might be more skilled at technical and precise type of drawing. We are  drawn to certain types of art because of our experiences. And then we invest more time practicing and learning and growing because of that interest.

J.P.: I know of you because I recently Tweeted about my joy of living in warm weather, and you noted your book from last year, “Dear Snow: One Man’s Angry Rant Against Winter.” Which brings me great joy in title alone. So why this book? And what’s your beef with snow?

M.B.: OK, so my hatred of snow runs deep. It wasn’t always that way. When I was a kid I was able to enjoy sledding and building snow forts and the like. But once I became an adult and was the one responsible for snow removal the gloves came off. Snow is nothing but a hassle, stealing time and energy. It complicates life and at a moment’s notice.

The time that “Dear Snow” started to form was back in the winter of 2010. I was having a particularly difficult snow removal session. My earbuds broke while shoveling. I was freezing and frustrated. And when I was near done, the plow came and filled in the end of the driveway I had just finished.

Imagine Steve Martin’s character in “Trains, Planes and Automobiles.” Just a regular guy trying to get by and all of winter seems to be conspiring against him. So I did what any regular Joe today would do—I took to Twitter and ranted my first “Dear Snow” post.

Over the next few years as my angsty tweets grew, people began to follow along, wondering what I was going to post next. The snarky comments came freely.

In December, 2017 we had a surprise storm that got me riled up again. My friends all kept telling me how funny my posts were and I joked about making them into a book. But my friends were all really encouraging me to make it happen.

I thought about it but didn’t want to create this angry fortune cookie type book of page after page of just angry tweets. Then I had the idea to turn it into an illustrated book. I had always loved comic strips like Calvin and Hobbes and the Far Side, so I imagined my book like a cross between those two with some “Trains, Planes and Automobiles” and “Grumpy Old Men.” I, of course, was the main character along with my evil arch enemy “Snow” in the form of a snowman.

Cap'n Abe'Merica

Cap’n Abe’Merica

J.P.: Along those lines, what was your process for getting the book published? I know, ultimately, you used CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. Was that by choice? Did you seek a publisher? And how was the self-publishing experience for you?

M.B.: I collected my past Tweets (thanks to #dearsnow), picked out the best ones and set out to illustrate them. My background is in graphic design, so designing and assembling the book was in my wheelhouse.

I created the book, some T-shirt designs, social media graphics, all while learning how to self publish on the fly through Amazon’s CreateSpace, all in 30 days time. It really has become fairly easy to self publish as far as the process on CreateSpace (now KDP). They’re real good at guiding you step by step.

My choice to self publish came from two reasons: 1. I had no idea how one published a book, and didn’t have any publishing connections. 2. I wanted to get the work out there quickly into people’s hands, and also maintain control over it all.

I like having say over the whole project in self publishing, but when it comes to marketing it, that’s where I wish I had the resources of traditional publishing. I’m a great creator, but not so great maintainer. Once something is completed, I’d rather move on to the next project. That’s a challenge for sure.

I did self publish two other books last year as well, “The Art of Yoga” and “Dear Human: What Your Dog is Really Thinking.” I have more plans to self publish additional “Dear…” titles this year. Self publishing has become a way to get my ideas out there and into people’s hands.

J.P.: You teach an online course, “Your Artist Journey.” And as one who earned his masters degree online (and hated every moment of it), I wonder what are the benefits/limitations of online art education?

M.B.: I’m actually in the midst of re-launching my course “Your Artist Journey: Finding Your Voice & Style Through Daily Practice.” One of the benefits to online education is being able to deep dive into something very specific and do so at your own pace. I think we’ll just see more and more online course as time goes on. It matches the way we consume content in today’s culture, if you think about on demand movies with Netflix, and music with Spotify. People want choices, variety and the ability to approach things so they fit into their current lifestyle. Why should education be different?

I enjoyed my time at art school, but the Internet was very young at that point and there weren’t as many resources available. The biggest asset to being at art school was relationship and proximity to the other students learning and the professors who had connections that were helpful post-graduation. That’s still one area I think online education lacks a bit, community. It’s helpful to have things like Facebook groups and other forums to gather people in to have discussion and ask questions, but it’s still easy to hide or not show up. To get the fullest out of education I think it need to be experienced in community.

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J.P.: I love hearing artists break down their work, and I loved this one in particular. So … where did this come from in your brain? What were you thinking? How long did it take?

M.B.: This is a mixed media piece called “The Hermit.” It was part of a series I did called  “30 Days of Faces” where I explored the relationship we have with the importance of recognizing faces. As far as my process, I started with creating what’s called a monoprint where I applied acrylic paint to a plate then pressed paper onto it so the paint would transfer. These prints were abstract color fields. Once they were dry, I would either draw or transfer a previous continuous line drawing of a face that I felt matched the mood of the print. The final part of the process would be to enhance some features using media like pastels, color pencils, etc. Each piece took a few hours to create.

This particular face was one I came across on the internet. In my mind I created this backstory that this weathered old man had seen some harsh years and now was living in seclusion as a hermit.

J.P.: How did this happen for you? Like, when did you first know you had talent? When did being artistic first bring you joy? When did you know this was your calling?

M.B.: Some of my earliest memories are of creating greeting cards for family members for birthdays. I loved that something I created could make someone smile, and having them hang it on the fridge.

Art has always been about connection for me. I want to create art that fosters a connection either around subject matter, or that creates an experience where there is an exchange. I’m not one of those artists that is driven by process. I’m a heart guy, not a head guy. I want to move people and make the feel. But I also want to build bridges with my art – bring joy and make people smile, or find some common ground. We have enough things dividing people today.

As far as knowing when it was my calling, that’s a bit trickier. I loved cartoons, comic strips and comic books growing up. I was always drawing and my high school art experiences really solidified that this was what I wanted to pursue.

But I had that dreaded starving artist conversation with my parents, and they wanted me to at least go into something art related that could earn more money. So majored in graphic design.

I bounced around from job to job for several years, until I finally hit a wall. I felt like part of the machine, cranking out deadlines every two weeks and not really being able to enjoy my work. It was a “is this it? Is this all there is?” moment. At the same time, I was heavily involved in my church volunteering in ministry. I loved being able to help people and felt the calling to enter full time ministry. And so I did. A wild 10 year ride. I co-planted a church and things seemed amazing and successful. But inside, I was struggling with my place, my identity, and found myself in some roles that really didn’t fit with my areas of gifting. I had taken a 10 year absence from my art, and looking back it was really messing with me.

I ended up suffering from depression, and had to leave the ministry. But it led me back to my art just as a way to climb out of depression. I embarked on a 365 daily art making journey, and almost seven years later haven’t missed a day. I blogged more about it last year if anyone wants to read more and see what 6 years of daily art looks like.

About 2 1/2 years ago I was finally convinced this was my calling. To help people through my art and journey. To make art that makes a difference as well as help others on their own journey. So I started my own business, Mike Brennan Art & Design, where I offer several art initiatives, as well as graphic design and illustration.

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J.P.: How do you take it when someone doesn’t like a painting? The ol’ “Yeah, I’m not feeling it.” Does it hurt? Do you not care? Both? Neither?

M.B.: Honestly, I’ve been at this so long and try to be as prolific as I can with creating something every day, that if someone doesn’t like something I try not to let it bother me. We all have those days where we are more susceptible to criticism though. I try to remind myself that the person who didn’t like it probably isn’t my audience for it anyway. And being in rhythm of daily creation, if there’s something I feel like is subpar, tomorrow is a new day with new creations.

J.P.: On Jan. 11 you posted this quote—”Inspiration comes from many places but you have to have your eyes open.” And I wonder, what do you mean? Like, what do you really, really mean?

M.B.: I think inspiration can come from almost anyplace, but you have to be open to it. It’s too easy to run around distracted and hurried all the time and miss things right in front of us. There are things all around us that can inspire us. We can look but not really see. The trick is to broaden our definition of what an inspiration can be, or where it can come from. When you walk through life a little more aware and curious you can notice beauty in textures of rust and decay, or how the softness of a shadow falls on the person across from you while commuting. Inspiration isn’t reserved for when we listen to music that moves us, or see someone performing with excellence that makes us appreciate their talents.

One of the things I like to do is identify posts from other people’s Instagram accounts that grab me in some way visually. I will use many of them to create some art that I can post and tag the original account. It usually creates some nice moments where I can surprise and delight people with my art. I can make them feel noticed and spread some joy. And even if it’s just for a brief moment say “You helped inspire this.”

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

M.B.: I don’t know that I have a greatest moment. At least not like a single great accomplishment or meeting or opportunity. I really suck at celebrating my wins, as I have a tendency to press on toward the next project. But I would say there have been smaller moments where I was able to help other people in some way either through my art or by sharing life. I’m always in a place where I’m looking for the perfect trifecta – me using my gifts and abilities to help and bless other people, while bringing glory to God.

The lowest is easy. At the end of my full time ministry years, as I mentioned, I was fighting depression. It became apparent that I had to leave ministry, which also meant selling our house, leaving not just a job but friends and family. I had lost a sense of purpose and hope. And shortly after, my father passed away quickly from cancer. It was one of those “Is this what life has become now?” moments where you feel like you are living rock bottom for an extended season of life.

Ultimately, that led me back to my art and a kind of Pheonix moment. Sometimes it’s life’s tragedies that can lead us to some of our greatest victories if we keep moving forward, do the hard work of wrestling and showing up everyday.

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• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: No, I have a strong faith. If it’s my time, it’s my time.

• Four greatest artists of your lifetime: Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat,  Jim Henson, Bill Watterson

• Three memories from your first-ever date: Eating at a Friendly’s restaurant in a local mall. Talking a lot because I was nervous but happy she was smiling and laughing at my jokes. The sound of my leather jacket crinkling when I moved as we spent a few hours talking in the car.

• What’s something that will immediately embarrass you?: I used to be super shy as a kid. I remember feeling my body heat rise and my face get all red when people would call attention to me in any way. Thankfully that faded away as I grew up. Today, I think it’s more getting embarrassed for others – like when someone thinks they are killing it in a performance but the whole room knows they are bombing. Yikes.

• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between you and Sandy Koufax?: Sandy. I’m a lover, not a fighter.

• One question you would ask Jair Bolsonaro were he here right now?: Would you mind if I sketched you?

• Is it OK to bring your own popcorn to a movie theater?: Yes, but not pre-buttered. That can get messy in a hurry, and also the grease stains tip off the employees that you are smugglin’ kernels.

• Two celebrity crushes: Only two? Sandra Bullock. Faith Hill.

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Melissa Isaacson

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Generally speaking, the interviews that make up the Quaz Q&A series are prepared weeks in advance.

I reach out to a bunch of people, fire off questions, get a bunch back—then have the pleasure of deciding which to run when.

This week, however, something weird happened. Yesterday afternoon I spoke to a sports journalism class taught at Northwestern by Melissa Isaacson, the former Chicago Tribune and ESPN writer whose work has always been exceptional and exceptionally regarded. Everything about the lecture experience was joyful—even via Skype, it was clear Melissa knows how to keep a class moving; how to engage her students.

Anyhow, late last night I thought, “Hmm … Melissa Isaacson would be a terrific Quaz.” So I asked, she agreed—then I woke up this morning to her answers, plus this fun little note …

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I could spend all day reading about her life covering Michael Jordan, her life teaching a new era of aspiring scribes, her life after leaving the Tribune. It’s simply terrific stuff.

One can follow Melissa on Twitter, and check out her website here.

Melissa Isaacson, you’ve been Quazed …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Melissa, we’re both veteran scribes who came up when print was rolling along, and we both teach college journalism. So I ask—what are we supposed to tell these kids? I mean, I love my career, I’ve loved my gigs. But am I as convinced in 2019 as I was in 1999 that this is a viable profession? Well, no. So what are we supposed to say? Teach?

MELISSA ISAACSON: You and I sort of discussed how we hate when old sportswriters come into our classrooms and grumble to our students that they should run for the hills, rather than go into our profession. That happened about twice early in my adjunct career and now I don’t let those old cranks (all my closest friends) come anywhere near my students. These kids pay a crap-ton of money—most on their own at their age—to come to Northwestern and be enriched in various ways. For the ones who make the emotional investment as well, I am there to tell them that I love what I do and I always have, that it has given me a life of amazing experiences and that I adore storytelling and I believe in my heart there will always be a place for good storytellers—that whether people are reading on their watches or in embedded brain chips, I believe that. I told them that days after I was laid off for the second time in my life and I tell them that now. Only now I tell them the work reporters are doing from places like the N.Y. Times and Washington Post and CNN and the New Yorker is nothing short of heroic and that while sportswriters may not be saving the republic, we’re good people doing really important and really good work too. And they’re finding jobs, many at the jobs we vacated, one actually at the job I vacated.

OK, clearly I have to pace myself.

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With her husband, the hard-to-spell Rick Mawrence

J.P.: So you covered Michael Jordan and the Bulls during much of the glory days. What was it like, as a member of the media, having to deal with His Airness every day? Was he relatively accessible? Was he distant? Agreeable? Did he treat women scribes as he did men?

M.I.: Anyone who covered Michael on the beat—and there weren’t many of us in those days (three to be exact who traveled regularly—Tribune, Sun-Times, Daily Herald) will tell you that he was fantastic to deal with and here’s why. He was accessible. Not every single day but most. And when he was under fire. He rarely ducked us. And we all witnessed the mobs at his locker after games and the shy ones in the back from another country or Indiana or somewhere, mustering up the courage to ask him something or to “Say hi to Indonesia (OK, maybe it wasn’t Indonesia but close) and he always would. Always. And he would treat the guy from Oskaloosa the same way he did the N.Y. Times. He really did. I’m sure he got pissed at people, he would be condescending at times to guys he liked—liked Lacy Banks from the Sun-Times, who he kidded mercilessly—but in our world, in mine, he was respectful. In his quiet moments, like on the road when we three would actually catch him alone, he would talk about his kids (who he truly loves even though he never changed a diaper or ever picked up one of them from school). He was also incredibly respectful of me (maybe because I was pregnant a chunk of the time I covered him!) never, ever came into the lockerroom undressed or even in the Carolina blue shorts he wore under his game uniform but always in his full wide-shouldered suit (not because of me but just because that’s how he was). And other than patting my stomach when I was pregnant occasionally, and remarking on my choice of heels when I was in my latter months, he never treated me nor any woman journalist I ever witnessed, any differently than the men. I can go on and on. Oh wait, I have.

J.P.: You are the co-author of “Sweet Lou,” Lou Piniella’s biography. And I say this with total respect, but a Piniella biography doesn’t seem like an automatic huge seller. Cool idea—yes. Great topic—yes. Huge sales—not sure. So why write it? What was the experience like? And did it sell?

M.I.: I get it. Weird. One of those local publisher inspirations in July that the Cubs were going all the way and fans would have to be rewarded by a book on the manager. And so, just as I was ready to go to Beijing for the Olympics, I oh-so-wisely agreed to do it—and, oh yes, have it finished some time in late September. At some point as I was ready to break down after reporting for like 300 hours in four weeks, a wise friend told me to just start writing and so I did. And a remarkable piece of literature was produced. And the Cubs didn’t win the World Series, as you may recall. And it sold like 3-4,000 books, I believe. Ugh. But it wasn’t as awful as it could have been. I LOVED meeting Lou’s friends. It was like being on an episode of the Soprano’s only without the killing, and I believe at some point when I went to interview them in Tampa, I started calling them all “Uncle.”

J.P.: What was it like, when you were a younger reporter, having to deal with male professional athletes unaccustomed to having “a skirt” (their term) in the locker room/clubhouse? And was there a point when you started to see perceptions and reactions change?

M.I.: As a professional, I was indoctrinated to the ways of the women’s sportswriter world when I witnessed the great Joan Ryan being harassed in the Birmingham Stallion lockerroom in Orlando. I was hovering near the door at the time, since we were told we weren’t to come in, but Joan wasn’t putting up with that bullshit on deadline at a USFL game, and went in. One guy rubbed her leg with a tape cutter. The rest simply yelled disgusting things and cursed at her to get the fuck out. And when I looked around desperately “for help,” hoping perhaps one older guy with a Stallions’ polo  might step in, I noticed no, he was laughing too, joining in on the fun. Later, Joan and I wrote about him. He was the team owner, Jerry Sklar. But yes, it got better, mostly because I laughed off as much as we could, tried to blend in, which is what almost all of us did. As I got a little older, I tried educating them, even nicely lecturing the young ones I felt I had a chance to convert to humans. But the assholes will always be assholes. They stopped audibly harassing us sometime in the early 90s, in my experience. And I did my job with the belief that if I worked hard and was fair and was there every day and they got to know me, I would be respected, or at least accepted. And that’s pretty much how it went down. The Bulls were great to me. And the bad stories sort of faded away. But get me a little drunk and I’ll have more.

J.P.: In 2008 you won the Chicago Headline Club’s Peter Lisagor Award for top feature story of 2008 for your Tribune Magazine story on your folks’ fight with Alzheimer’s. And, soon enough, you’ll have a book that details the subject. And I ask, why would one want to re-live such awfulness via writing? I mean, is it therapeutic? Does it help you come to grips with things? Or is it awful, but you feel compelled?

M.I.: For the Magazine story, I worried, truly worried until the moment it was published, that I had done something bad, somehow violated my parent’s dignity or spilled family secrets without their permission, and the writing was done through tears. But to this day, I still hear from people who read it, clipped it, were touched by it in some way. And I know my parents would have been OK with it and proud of me as they always were. I want to kill myself every time I join “The Notebook” mid-stream (why do I do that?), but yes, it was therapeutic. Writing always has been for me. And after people told me the story made them feel a little less alone in dealing with the disease themselves, I know it was a good thing. My book is about my 1979 state championship basketball team and how basketball, in so many way, saved us. For me, high school marked some of the last lucid years of my parents’ lives. One of my brothers told me after they died that me and that team gave them a “second wind.” And it makes me happy every time I write about them now.

Melissa, front and center, during her hoops glory days.

Melissa, front and center, during her hoops glory days.

J.P.: I know many people (myself included) who gripe about millennials and their bullshit. You’re a lecturer at Northwestern. You deal with millennials daily. How do you see the generation? Ate there points to the stereotypes?

M.I.: OK, so I say this by prefacing it that I love my students. LOVE. Almost all of them. But yes, they have some issues, which makes me only sound old when I talk about it because it’s basically the same shit old people said about us when we were that age They don’t appreciate the importance of hard work. They’re entitled. They write for crap (not my students, of course, but a lot of them write like they text). They have a hard time actually speaking to people as in interviewing. But they can’t help that. I grew up loving to talk to my girlfriends (and with any luck, the occasional boy) on the phone. I still do. They obviously did not. My son, who is a junior at Northwestern, had to be locked in a room and forced to make his own haircut appointment at 17. But they’re also so, so smart, and opinionated in good and bad ways, and have big ideas and big plans and are terrified and insecure and want to do good work. In other words, just like us.

J.P.: I know you’ve written for Florida Today, USA Today, the Orlando Sentinel and the Chicago Tribune. But how did this happen for you? Why sports writing? When did the bug bite?

M.I.: I was 13 when Nixon resigned and I remember where I was when I watched it (my friend Bari’s house) and though I can’t tell you I read the Washington Post, I knew who  Woodward and Bernstein were and thought—probably because my parents did—that they were heroes. My parents had three papers at any given times in our house. We got the Sun-Times for much of my childhood all week, the Tribune on weekends (until I started writing for them) and my father read the Chicago Daily News every night. I circulated a class newspaper when I was in fourth grade—I was editor-in-chief, sports editor and the advice columnist. I loved Royko. And David Israel and John Schulian and Ray Sons and Roger Simon and Bob Greene. I remember how my mother savored the Sunday papers, only she made my father get them on Saturday night, and how I had to wait patiently for everyone else to read each section before I could. I loved newspapers. I loved to write. And thanks to two older brothers, I loved sports. There is no point at which I remember that happening. It just was. And so there was absolutely no hesitation in what I would do for my life. I thought I would die at my desk, working for the Tribune. Sigh.

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J.P.: What’s your money story from journalism? Meaning, the one story you tell at parties about your absolute craziest/weirdest experience?

M.I.: I have a lot. They are on a rotation basis. But it usually comes back to the years when I was pregnant, covering the Bulls and the time, in a pregame lockerroom in Cleveland (which is to say it was tiny in the old Richfield Coliseum), when Ron Harper and I got into a conversation about childbirth. Harper had several kids and was well-versed. B.J. Armstrong was listening in and thoroughly disgusted by the very notion, and announced he would be nowhere near the birthing process should his future wife ever have a baby. This prompted Harper to tell him it was really OK and to convince him, had him lie on the trainers table, his feet in imaginary stirrups, a towel over his knees and a basketball serving as the baby. As Harper and I acted as Lamaze coaches, coaching B.J. and very seriously urging the process along, roughly 35 minutes before the Bulls were to play the Cavs, Phil Jackson walked in, I assume to, you know, get ready for the game and address his team. I looked up and I will never forget the expression of part-wonderment, part incredulity on Phil’s face as he looked at this scene, shook his head, turned around and walked back out.

J.P.: In 1994 you wrote a book, “Transition Game,” about a season with the Bulls. I’ve never done an author-along-for-the-ride book. How difficult was that? How rewarding was that?

M.I.: Did it while I was pregnant (seeing a theme here) and it was fabulous because it was the first time I wrote “fuck” in print and I did it a lot. It was my first experience in pure writing freedom and I loved it and got to know the team in so many ways I never had before. I went to a movie (“A River Runs Through It”) with Bill Carwright, and if you’ve never gone to a movie with a 7-foot-1 man, try it sometime. I had off-the-record talks about AIDS with Horace Grant and Scottie Pippen. And I interviewed Steve Kerr in his hotel room, which prompted a lecture from Cartwright.

“Don’t do that,” he said as he saw me leaving Steve’s room.

“What do you mean?” I said dumbly.

“Don’t ever go into a players’ hotel room.” he said.

“But it’s Steve Kerr, for crying out loud,” I protested.

“Doesn’t matter,” Cartwright said. “The other guys will see that and you know what they will think.”

So I never did that again.

J.P.: You wrote of your last day at the Trib: “Being ‘Melissa Isaacson from the Chicago Tribune,’ gave me the confidence I did not always possess on my own, a veneer of credibility I had not yet earned.” So how did you adjust once you left the paper? How hard was it?

M.I.: Thanks for reading that. Hardest moment of my professional life. Cried in front of my kids. Cried for days. This was the place that brought me home to Chicago. The place that gave me chills every time I walked through the lobby. The place where, after I got the job offer, my friend Mark ran over from his job across the street and twirled me on Michigan Ave. and I felt like Mary Tyler Moore. I finished the column I was writing on Denis Savard the day I was laid off. And I didn’t stop writing. That day was my first blog. And I kept going. And someone read it from ESPN, thank God, and they took me in and rescued me. But I never got over it. I still haven’t.

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• I just visited your website, and you haven’t blogged since 2011. Why?: A big mistake. I started after leaving the Tribune and it was some of the best, most enjoyable writing I have ever done—not important in any way, just pure, unadulterated joy—and I actually, from nothing, got an organic following of a few thousand people, some of whom still ask me when I’m going to start again. I got busy with ESPN and just stopped. My book is going to be the impetus for me to start again. Clearly, I like to write. I have things to say. But I need to be better at social media and I need to blog.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Bienen School of Music, B.J. Armstrong, “Elf,” potassium citrate, rocking chairs, Handel’s Messiah, Matt Suhey, line dancing, Covington Catholic High School, Russell Martin: Bienen, Matt Suhey (butt-dialed him the other day—hadn’t talked to him in maybe 10-15 years—and he called back and we had a great conversation. Love Matt Suhey. But my kid is in the Bienen School of Music), Chromium picolinate (don’t know about potassium citrate but mine sounds like it. I love vitamins and take many), rocking chairs, “Elf,” Handel, line dancing, B.J., Martin, Covington (no f-ing way they weren’t jags).

• The world needs to know—what was it like covering Stacey King?: Wonderful. Michael was mean to him, so was Phil. I felt sorry for him. I loved Stacey and still do.

• Your husband’s name is Rick Mawrence. What are the myriad ways that last name is butchered?: For a second, I thought it was literary-sounding and was going to change my name. But my first editor at the Tribune, when I told him I was engaged, said, and I quote, “You’re not going to do that hyphenated byline shit, are you? No one wants to see that. Just keep your name. That’s how people know you.” I’m pretty sure I hadn’t asked him for his opinion. Then he asked me when I was going to get pregnant and that I probably would have to stop covering the Bulls when I did. True story.

• Five nicest athletes you’ve ever covered?: Roger Federer, Pam Shriver, Horace Grant, Steve Kerr, Jim Miller.

• Three biggest dicks?: LaTroy Hawkins. Ted Washington. Dick Butkus (made me cry on a phone interview when I worked for the Orlando Sentinel and called to do a story on the Butkus Award for best college linebacker being named for him. I believe liquor was involved).

• What are your four most overused writing words?: Mine or others? “Clearly. Generally.” I like qualifiers. “Likely.” I think I do that too much. But I think you may mean what are just overused in general. Anything that approaches a cliche, I loathe and makes me yell out loud when I grade. Sorry, I know I’m not answering this question well.

• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between you and Michael Wilbon? What’s the outcome?: I do strength training at my Y. Last 25, 30 years. If a fight broke out, I can handle myself. And I can kick anyone ass who’s over the age of 60. Possibly.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I’m not a great flier. Flyer? So a bad taxi will have me thinking “This is it.” I try not to think about it and I don’t think I ever came close.

• Is humanity fucked, RE: climate change, or will we figure something out?: Oh God, as my mother used to say whenever my father would talk to her about burial plots as people used to do, “I’ll be dead. What do I care?” I do care, obviously. For my kids and their kids. But I’m an optimist. I refuse to believe we won’t fix things, just as I believe Trump will get his.

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Michael Moodian

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As a rule, I’m not a huge fan of meeting people whose intelligence dwarfs mine.

I mean, it’s awkward and uncomfortable, right? We all enjoy thinking we’re smart, so to have that belief punctured by another human, well, it sorta sucks. It’s deflating, it’s disturbing, it’s … it’s …


Every so often, however, you come across a person whose intellect—while far superior to your own—is far more inspiring than it is crushing. You talk to such a person, observe the speed at which his/her brain absorbs ideas and concepts, and just think, “Damn, that’s absolutely astonishing.”

Enter: Mike Moodian.

I first met Mike about four years ago, shortly after we relocated from New York to Southern California. The wife landed a job teaching at Brandman University, and she spoke glowingly of this co-worker with, well, a glow. So she invited Mike and his awesome wife Margaret over for dinner or lunch or something, and—whooosh! Mike’s brain was off. It was c-r-a-z-y stuff: Jeff, on page 47 of your Lakers book you … and See, the thing about penal law in Utah is …

On and on, a breathtaking, dizzying, ego-free discussion of this and that and that and this and up and down and high and low. Truly, Mike Moodian is the smartest person I’ve ever met. Which is cool, because he also happens to be one of the absolute best. When he’s not working as an associate professor of social science at Brandman University or teaching classes at Chapman or co-directing the Orange County Annual Survey or collaborating with Michael Dukakis or serving on California’s Commission on Judicial Performance Commission or hanging with his son, Mikey, or caring for a chinchilla named Marshall or watching his beloved Rams at the Los Angeles Coliseum, Mike is … doing 100,000 other things. You can follow him on Twitter here, Instagram here and visit his website here.

Mike Moodian, welcome to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Mike—this is a weird first question, but that’s OK. We’ve known one another for about four years now, and your mind moves at 7,000 miles per hour. Which fascinates me. In particular, you’ll say something like, “Hey, Jeff, on page 47 of Gunslinger you wrote about …” And later on I’ll say to Catherine, “How the fuck did he know that?” So I ask, with total respect and admiration—How does your head work in this regard? Do you just have a preposterous memory? Do certain things stick?

MIKE MOODIAN: Jeff, my wife always says the same thing. Here’s how I can best answer your question: My mind tends to travel very quickly, often remembering different things by association. For example, I am a fanatical L.A. Rams fan who has season tickets to home games at Memorial Coliseum. Team representatives keep calling me trying to persuade me to buy seat licenses for the new stadium in Inglewood. My wife’s aunt Mary Beth was human resources director for the City of Inglewood for a short time. Mary Beth used to live in Portland, which happens to be home of one of my favorite bookstores, Powell’s Books. When I last visited Powell’s, they had an entire section composed of work written by Noam Chomsky, the famous MIT linguist and activist. Chomsky gave the keynote address at a globalization conference I spoke at five years ago at UC Santa Barbara. The City of Santa Barbara has a small aquarium that my toddler loves. The aquarium houses some cool starfish, so does the Ocean Institute in Dana Point, which my family and I like to go to each October around Halloween for a kids event they put together. This process goes on and on. My mind ventures through these various associations. As I result, I can sometimes be socially awkward when I talk to people because I bring up random things. It’s just how my brain works. My wife can talk about a trip to Buenos Aires we took once, and I can start discussing Golden Spoon frozen yogurt moments later. This goes on and on. My mind works by rapidly connecting things.

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Giving the morning keynote at the California Alliance of Paralegal Associations Education Conference, 2018.

J.P.: In 2015, Jerry Brown appointed you to the State of California Commission on Judicial Performance. Your task is to investigate judicial misconduct/incapacity complaints and for disciplining judges. We’re coming off of a hotly contested, painfully partisan Supreme Court nomination, and I wonder how you view this nation’s relationship with judges. I was raised believing they could be impartial, decent, caring, respectable, empathetic. Was I just a naïve punk?

M.M.: Serving on our state’s Commission on Judicial Performance Commission is the greatest honor of my career. California, in 1960, became the first state to establish this type of judicial watchdog agency. Now all 50 states and the District of Columbia have similar commissions that vary in their authority. My work as a commission member keeps me busy, and I never take lightly our role to protect the public, enforce rigorous standards of judicial conduct, and maintain public confidence in the integrity and independence of the judicial system. Because of the sensitive and confidential nature of the work we do, it would be best if I pass on commenting on the judiciary.

J.P.: You’re a professor of social sciences at Chapman University and Brandman University. There’s always a lot of complaining about millennials and their lack of compassion, their lack of attention spans, their materialism. What, as a professor, are you seeing?

M.M.: The students are great, Jeff. You get those who are just skating by, but the dedicated ones make this job worth it. When we reach the end of the term and they present their work—projects they worked so hard on—and you see how far they have come, you develop a lot of hope for our country’s future. I cannot complain about millennials because my generation was certainly no better.

J.P.: You’ve been on a ton of panels. You’ve sat in on endless meetings You’re involved in politics, in social issues, in education. And I wonder: Are people listening, generally? When you’re all gathered in a circle of chairs, and people are speaking their piece, are most just waiting to talk? Or are they absorbing?

M.M.: It’s a mixed bag. You and I encounter so many different people from different walks of life. I pride myself on having an ability to try to see someone else’s perspective, even if I disagree with their viewpoint. I do get concerned that many of us are siloed, the distrust of established news media, the garbage spread on social media, and the embracing of these conspiracy/deep state theories.

J.P.: When I released my USFL book, I was sorta worried the topic wouldn’t lend itself to huge sales. You are the author of a book, Images of America: Rancho Santa Margarita. I’m guessing you knew this wasn’t landing on the Times list. So, what’s the motivation of writing a book with what, from afar at least, seems like a limited readership and audience?

M.M.: That’s a great question. I tend to be extremely curious about everything. Before we had a kid, my wife and I used to hike various trails in OC. One time we hiked an area in O’Neil Regional Park and came across a marker that stated that the Portolà Expedition members had camped at the site while establishing the first overland trail through Alta California in 1769. It was so cool to me that during a time in the 18th century in which the country we know as the United States was being formed on the East Coast, there was significant activity by indigenous groups and Spanish explorers on the West Coast. I also started to research the fascinating untold stories about the land surrounding Mission San Juan Capistrano. Then I spent a summer writing about the ranchos of North San Diego and South Orange counties. I guess I always saw the project of my way of contributing to the area I grew up in by documenting its history dating back to the 1700s. In the years after the book’s release, I gave lectures on Orange County’s ranch history to community groups. I know this sounds corny, but one of my favorite experiences was speaking to third graders about the history of the area. The project is not related to my academic work on leadership and cross-cultural competence. It’s just my contribution to my community, and working on it was rewarding.

Interviewed by Vikki Vargas

Interviewed by Vikki Vargas

J.P.: You’re good friends with Michael Dukakis—who even officiated your wedding. Um, how did this happen?

M.M.: We first crossed paths years ago when I was doing research for a project, and we became close during the years. We coauthored op-eds on the Massachusetts Expanded Learning Time Initiative, and he wrote the foreword to my first book. He is one of the most decent human beings I know, he is probably the wisest person I know, and he subscribes to an ethical framework that all policy leaders should emulate. I love Michael and Kitty Dukakis like family members.

J.P.: You served in the military, which fascinates me because I’d never guess it. You’re a liberal intellectual who’s wed to Hawaiian shirts. So why did you enlist? What did the experience do for you? Do you think it caused you to see military personnel in different ways?

M.M.: It’s certainly something that I’m proud of, but I guess it’s something I don’t talk about much because it seems like a lifetime ago, and my time in the service was relatively uneventful. Your allusion about military service and liberalism perhaps being antithetical makes me think about how ironic it is that the political right in this country seems to own patriotism. To me, there is nothing more patriotic than standing up for those who are voiceless, treating compassionately and humanely children of color who are trying to seek refuge in this country, and disavowing unequivocally the Ku Klux Klan, Nazis, and the Kremlin. The Republican Party today resembles a hate group more than it does the party of honorable people such as Jack Kemp and Bob Dole.

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Debating former California Republican Party Chair Shawn Steel on PBS-SoCal, 2018.

J.P.: You’re very involved in Orange County politics. My former congressman, Dana Rohrabacher, is insane. Not exaggerating—insane. How do you explain his lengthy career?

M.M.: His staying power was the result of the fact that he resembled his district. He is that traditional, old-school Orange County Republican who came from the Reagan administration. Also, as you have written many times, Rohrabacher came across as this loveable congressman who surfs, plays guitar, and is fiscally conservative. That goes far in Huntington Beach and the other OC coastal communities. However, as we saw in the most recent election, Orange County is changing and is starting to look more like the rest of the country.

J.P.: You’ve been teaching a long time. What’s the difference between impactful teaching and meh teaching? When do you know you’ve reached students? When do you know you haven’t?

M.M.: There are many who are much better at this profession than I, but the approach that has worked for me is to try to be relatable and to try not to take myself too seriously. Earning a college degree is hard work, and when you get to know many of these students, you realize that some have overcome enormous challenges to get here. I admire anyone who is trying to better themselves and their communities by obtaining an education. For me, my approach has always been to foster an environment that focuses more on collaboration versus an autocratic/dictatorial approach. But again, there are many different impactful teaching methods.

J.P.: You’re a uniquely optimistic person. How have you maintained that during Trump? During climate change indifference? During the Kardashian reign? Because I struggle.

M.M.: Jeff, before Margaret and I adopted our beautiful boy, he was our foster child for 13 months. This precious boy survived hell before he joined us. A community of gifted, kindhearted people—social workers, doctors, nurses, therapists, teachers, friends, family, and our attorney—came together to help our son. The national headlines are depressing, but one can only be an optimist after living life in our shoes.

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• Rank in order (favorite to least): Paul Stanley, Meek Mill, Sandow Birk, The 17thDoor, Darrell Issa, the elementary school spelling bee, Wilson Betemit, the smell of blacktop, Bernard King: Wow, I cannot stress enough how much I admire Sandow Birk’s work. I consider him, Elyse Pignolet, and Victor Hugo Zayas to be the three best Southern California-based visual artists today. I walked past the SFJazz Center in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley neighborhood once and talked the security guard into letting me in for a few minutes so I could see Birk’s mural inside. His work is incredible. As an aside, Zayas took guns from the LAPD’s Gun Buyback Program—weapons used for violence and killing—and transformed them into these beautiful sculptures. I never saw anything like them. So going back to your question, Birk is number one. I have not heard Bernard King’s name in a long time. He was one of my favorite non-Lakers in the 1980s, and he was so good. King is number two. The elementary school spelling bee is third. We also had a geography bee when I was young that I believe National Geographic sponsored. I don’t know if schools still hold these, but I thought it was great. The 17th Door is fourth. Wilson Betemit is fifth. The Orioles’ uniform design is one of my favorites. I am not familiar with much of Meek Mill’s work. He is sixth. The smell of blacktop is seventh. Issa was my congressman until recently. My buddy Mike Levin just took over that seat and will do a hell of a job in congress. Issa is eighth. Explaining my disdain for Kiss would require a separate interview. Stanley is ninth.

• One question you would ask Mike Gminski were he here right now: When I was a boy in the 1980s, I had a poster on my wall of the United States with NBA logos placed throughout the map on the geographic areas their respective teams represented. Next to each logo was an illustration of a star player from that team. So when looking at the L.A. area on the map, there was a Lakers logo next to Kareem shooting the sky hook. I believe Michael Cage was next to the Clippers logo. Alex English was on the Colorado area of the map next to the Nuggets logo. Dominique was over Georgia with the Hawks logo. Anyway, I would stare at this poster almost every day. I loved the logos and team colors. The players were larger than life. No one played defense, and anyone who was halfway decent averaged 25 points per game. The 1980s were the best, most colorful era in professional basketball. Remember the NBA VHS series? I was hooked on it. I look at 1980s NBA with the same fondness that you look upon the USFL with. Filmmaker David Lynch once wrote that he thought the sunlight in L.A. shines differently than the light in Philadelphia, and I always thought that NBA uniform colors were vivid and brighter in the 1980s. The league lost some of that zest in the nineties. So if I interviewed Mike Gminski, I would ask, “What was the experience like?” If there is anything we have learned from your books, Jeff, it’s that the most fascinating stories do not come from the Troy Aikmans and Magic Johnsons of the world; they come from those who were not necessarily the major superstars. Gminski was a pretty good player on a bad to mediocre Nets team during a larger-than-life era in basketball. What was that like? What were the locker room dynamics like? What happened behind the scenes? You’re on a team with 11 other men, and you’re all highly competitive people. The Nets were sometimes good enough to make the playoffs, but were never able to achieve the greatness of the Lakers, Celtics, Sixers, or Pistons. How does Gminski reflect upon that? One point that strikes me about professional sports is that athletes eat, sleep, and breathe winning with one team. Then they get traded, or they get waived, or they take a better offer with another team. What is that experience like? I would imagine it’s akin to a painful divorce.

• In exactly 15 words, make an argument for White Lion’s inclusion in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: I love rock music, including most genres of metal, but I never really got into that 1980s MTV glam metal scene. Give me Ozzy or Deep Purple any day of the week, but I will pass on the Ratts and Warrants of the world. That said, Zakk Wylde, Ozzy’s legendary and longest-serving guitarist, started a band in the mid-1990s called Pride & Glory. One can best describe that band as Lynyrd Skynyrd meets Black Sabbath. If the Allman Brothers decided to be a hard rock band, they would be Pride & Glory. The band released one album, a self-titled LP, and I never met anyone who owned it other than me. Man, that album is so good. To me, it is an overlooked gem of the 1990s. Even today, I will listen to tracks such as “Lovin’ Woman” and “Harvester of Pain” as I fold laundry. Back in the nineties, I remember thinking how crazy it was that Zakk started Pride & Glory with two guys from White Lion, a band Pride & Glory sounded nothing like. One of them was bassist James LoMenzo, who has also performed with Zakk on his various other projects. Separately, it’s worth noting that most of these glam metal or hair metal bands were, in fact, very good musicians. Their vocalists were pretty bad, but their members were often the world’s best electric guitarists and drummers. LoMenzo is a superb bass player. Therefore, if I were to make a 15-word case for White Lion’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, I would say, “White Lion’s members branched off to form Pride & Glory, and James LoMenzo is talented.”

• How did you meet your wife?: Margaret and I worked in the same building in Santa Ana, CA, in 2004. She was working one of her first jobs after earning her bachelor’s degree from Chapman. I was working a job I hated as I earned my master’s degree from Cal State Fullerton. I would see her now and again in a break room both companies shared, and I started to figure out that she would arrive at work each day between 8:13 a.m. and 8:22 a.m. She would enter the front door, proceed to her desk, set her purse down, and head over to the break room to pour herself a cup of coffee each day. I made sure I was coincidentally in the break room at the same time each morning to toast a bagel I brought from home. We would chat each morning, and after a few months, I mustered the courage to ask her out. On our first date, we saw the Angels defeat the Indians 6-2, played Skee-Ball at Dave & Buster’s, and walked around Huntington Beach. I was so nervous. For our second date, we had dinner at P.F. Chang’s in Santa Monica, walked around 3rd Street Promenade, and had drinks at a West Hollywood bar I will miss forever called Red Rock. I rarely drink today, but I looked up Red Rock recently and was disappointed to learn it closed. The rest is history. You and I married up.

• Three memories from your senior prom: I was one of those awkward kids who did not go to proms and other dances.

• Who are the five most famous people you’ve encountered?: Alphabetically by last name, I guess I would say Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Buzz Aldrin, George Foreman, John McCain, and Barack Obama.

• On a scale of 1 to 100, how burdened are you by the inevitability of death?: Every night, just before I go to bed, I quietly enter my three-year-old son’s room, turn the light on, and gaze at my boy for a minute or two as he sleeps. During this time, I often think about how exciting it is that his entire life is ahead of him. I think about how thrilled I am to accompany him through his childhood years, the ballgames we will go to, the fun times we will have, the 2028 L.A. Olympics, and how I will be there for him when he stumbles along the way. Then I consider the fact that as he grows older, I will also grow older, and I find myself reflecting upon my own mortality more than I ever have. I sometimes worry about how awful it would be if something happened to me and I left my wife and boy behind. I start to think about how I need to take better care of myself, eat less carbs, drink less caffeine, and practice breathing techniques to relieve stress. When you are 20, you can look ahead 15 years, and you will still be young. When you are in your forties, it’s different. So, in short, the burden of the inevitability of death is not something that really bothered me in years past, but it’s something that crosses my mind more often today. On a scale of 1 to 100, I would say 55.

• Donald Trump promised he would solve the California drought. In your professional estimation, how’s that going?: It’s going about as well as his efforts to broker Middle East peace.

• The Democratic nominee for president in 2020 will be …: Back in 2006 and 2007, I had a strong feeling that Barack Obama would be the 2008 nominee once the rest of the country got to know him. In 2016, it was always Hillary’s race to lose. I truly see no clear-cut favorite for 2020. I suppose it will either be Kamala Harris, Joe Biden, John Kerry, Elizabeth Warren, or Beto O’Rourke. Maybe Tom Steyer, Mark Cuban, or Michael Bloomberg with join the race and provide formidable challenges. It would not surprise me if we see as many as 30 candidates encompassing all sides, from socialists to pragmatic centrists. For the sake of answering your question, I will say Kamala Harris. On a side note, the Democratic establishment should not do what the Republican establishment did leading up the 2016 election by having a debate featuring long-shot candidates early in the afternoon, followed by a debate the establishment considers front-runners during primetime. Prof. Larry Sabato proposed a better idea a few years back: Allow anyone polling at 1% or higher—along with any current or former governors or senators—to debate. If the pool is composed of 20 or so candidates, hold back-to-back primetime debates with participants in each determined by a lottery. If these candidates are going to start debating by mid-2019, the public has the right to see all candidates side by side, not just those with higher poll numbers as a result of name identification. Organizers can start cutting the number of participants after these initial debates.

• What’s the word you way overuse?: It’s funny that you ask that because I tend to pay special attention to word use. I guess “cognizant” is a word that I overuse lately. I notice that you tend to use “myriad” and “digress” quite often. I read a lot of what you and Catherine write and see that she is also using “myriad.” I recently finished Ronan Farrow’s excellent War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence and notice that Farrow likes to use “purse,” as in “Diplomat A pursed his lips during the interaction.” I believe Farrow will be this generation’s Bob Woodward. What a talent. Former Sunday Times Editor Harold Evans wrote a book that everyone who aspires to be a better writer should read titled Do I Make Myself Clear? Why Writing Well Matters.

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Mike Stahr

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Back when I was a teenager in Mahopac, N.Y., distance running was my thing, and I was pretty good. Not amazing, mind you—but legitimate enough to have the fastest 800 time in the county as a senior, and go on to spend a year running track and cross country in college.

There were many of us throughout Putnam. Jeff Cascone. Mike Barrett. Daiji Takamori. Tim Giambalvo. Good-to-excellent harriers who ran hard and knew how to navigate a winding three-mile trail.

Yet, ultimately, we all existed in the shadows of Mike Stahr.

Back in the early 1980s, Mike was arguably America’s best high school distance runner. The Carmel High standout captured four New York State Mile Championship titles, and won back-to-back Millrose mile crowns. Upon graduating, Mike went on to run at Arizona State, then Georgetown. He was, at both schools, among the elite of the elite—winning the NCAA indoor mile title, helping Georgetown’s distance medley relay set a world record, scoring multiple All-American nods.

In short, he was the best runner (and arguably the best athlete) Putnam ever produced.

Now retired, Mike teaches computer science at Miami (Ohio) University, and also coaches running and operates Running2Win, an online running organizer. One can follow him on Twitter here.

Mike Stahr—to hell with the Olympics. You’ve been Quazed …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Mike, I just spent a half hour at the gym watching YouTube clips of your high school and college races. They were dazzling, breathtaking, inspired, etc. And I wonder, now as a 54-year-old man with four kids, what it’s like for you seeing yourself at that point in life. Does it feel like watching another person? Another existence? Does it feel like yesterday? Do you enjoy the visuals? Sorta hate it?

MIKE STAHR: Thanks, Jeff.  Yes, sometimes it does feel like someone else out there running. The last time I was competitively running was in the mid 90’s so it’s been a while.  When I look back at videos I remember the races very well but it does seem like it’s been a lifetime ago.  Watching them is good and bad. Good in the fact that the adrenaline rushes but bad because I typically find myself way overworking my muscles on my next run or weightlifting session.

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J.P.: Long ago you coached track and field at John F. Kennedy High near where we grew up. And during my time covering sports, it’s always been said that the best players make the worst managers, because, well, how can Ted Williams relate with a guy hitting .210, or how can Jason Kidd understand a point guard who can’t go left. So what was coaching like for you? Could you empathize and help the 5:40 miler?

M.S.: Great question. I think there could be an argument there; however, I think it has more to do with the person’s love of coaching that means more.  I have had great results over the years I’ve been coaching. I attribute this, mostly, to the fact that coaching is a passion for me.  I truly enjoy helping young (or old) athletes achieve levels they never thought possible.  I don’t recall exactly how well the JFK teams I coached did but I do know we were successful.  I can, however, speak about later years I’ve coached. After moving to Cincinnati I coached at Purcell Marion HS for one year prior to going to Graduate School. The Cross Country team was made up of 1 runner, 4 basketball players, and 3 wrestlers (the basketball players and wrestlers were running XC by order of their coaches to get in shape for their sport).  I am most proud to say that the team came together so well – like a family – that they ended up qualifying for the regionals – something the school had not done in over 17 years. The kids did so well all but 1 wrestler quit their sport in order to continue running. To me, it’s all about what you love to do. A successful athlete has the same chance at developing young athletes just as much as a non-successful athlete and in many ways has a greater potential.  It’s all about dedication and passion.

J.P.: How did running happen for you? I mean, I know you’re from Carmel, know you went to Carmel High? But when did you first realize you had a gift? And when did you first realize you wanted to nurture it?

M.S.: You have now touched on one of the most important area in my life. I don’t mean that to be dramatic but this is a story of the love and dedication of a father and of a son. I will condense the story but the unabridged version is quite a bit more interesting:

I was born into a “disturbing” family. As the youngest of 5, I was seldom cared for during my first year of life – twice ending up with pneumonia.  It was my aunt (Lucille) who moved herself and her 3 children to the south side of Chicago in order to protect me.  Not something minor as a single mother of 3 and putting herself through college while working full time.  She had met a man (Don) where she worked and they completely fell for one another. He was 11 years younger and looked like a larger version of Grizzly Adams. He didn’t want anything to do with me – as he later said he thought he would break me – but due to chance, I was trusted into his arms one night while Lu and her daughter were making dinner.  It was, from everyone’s account, love at first sight. Don, who I call my father, became my hero. Lu, Don, and I moved to NY (Queens) until I was in 7th grade.  We then moved to Carmel, NY the summer before school started. My dad was a big smoker – I didn’t know it was bad for him, and in fact, I would help roll his cigarettes. We were as close as any two people could be and I didn’t realize until taking a biology class that his habit was a deadly one.  I began to panic that my dad (again, Don) would pass away because he was a smoker so I began to come up with challenges to bet him in exchange for him quitting.  I would bet him I could do 100 push-ups. If I won he would have to quit smoking…  He never agreed to any of them…

It was during gym class one afternoon that our gym teacher wanted the group to race about 1/2 mile around the soccer fields. There is more to the story but in the end I won, beating all the runners that were on the XC team and, by chance the gym teacher WAS the XC coach.  He told me I needed to join the team.  I did but never really did anything great – probably due to never running before. That being said, the times I would do well would be if there was a medal or my parents were able to make the meet.

I continued to improve over the next year – so much so that I broke the school record in the 800 during 8th grade.  This was a great springboard into my freshman year. My parents were able to change their schedule around so they could be at almost every meet and I reacted well to the more mature competition.  I ended up making the State meet in XC and running a 4:25 mile my freshman year.  The story behind these accomplishments is, however, the key.  The summer between 8th grade and freshman year set me on a path that I consider most influential to my career.  It was in the middle of the summer when my dad and I were watching Seb Coe, Steve Scott, and the other great runners of the time when I attempted to bet him I could run 300 miles before the start of school (note: I never even made the 50-mile club during middle school where you only had to accumulate 50 miles during the entire season).  My dad, as expected, said “no”…  but then he added “But, I’ll tell you what I will bet you…  If you can break 4 minutes in the mile I’ll quit smoking”.  It was set and I never turned back. I set my goals and continued to work past disappointments, injuries, and the odds against me.  So, in answer to your question – I realized I had a gift when I would not allow my coach to tell me that running a 4:25 mile my freshman year was impossible and then I went out and did it.

Feb. 12, 1983 New York Times

Feb. 12, 1983 New York Times

J.P.: You began your collegiate career at Arizona State—which sounds lovely. Then you transferred to Georgetown. Why? What happened? And did you ever regret it?

M.S.: I really enjoyed my time at ASU. I was being coached by Len Miller, Steve Scott and Tom Byres’s coach as well. Training was amazing and we had just set the American Collegiate 4x800m record (still standing today). Unfortunately, coach Miller and the A.D. at the time did not agree on issues and he ended up leaving ASU.  I stayed on for another year but was went through 5 completely different coaches. Running was going downhill and I wanted to just give up at times but I had not broken 4 for the mile and that was still one of my most important goals.  I was recruited to go to a number of schools, Georgetown being one of them, and after meeting the coach at GU (Frank Gagliano, aka, “Gags”) I knew that was home.

J.P.: So, this, from your bio (After retiring from track and field, Mike was offered the first developer position at a small computer software company in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho building a 3D CAD system which today is one of the leading architecture programs on the market) sounds absolutely fascinating—and I have no remote idea what it means. So, eh, Mike, what does it mean?

M.S.: After graduating from GU I moved back to Carmel to train under my father.  It was something I knew would be difficult but being with him on that level was important to me.  While there, I was teaching at JFK and, on the side, was helping a friend with his computers and software he was using.  The software was (is) called Chief Architect and it allows the common person to draw house plans – complete with automatic everything.  I caught on to the software and was able to teach other builders how to use it.  The company (of 2 people) asked me to attend a builders expo and help sell the product.  I did so well during the weekend I was offered a job as their QA and “tech” guy.  This lead to small coding projects and eventually they moved my family and me out to Coeur d’Alene to help run the company.  This lasted less then a year once I realized the president of the company was extremely unethical and left there to move to Cincinnati.

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J.P.: So this might sound offputting—but we’re both from Putnam. And over the past decade or so I’ve really struggled with Mahopac and the vast number of “Obama is a Kenyan Muslim” posts and #MAGA Facebook hashtags. I loved growing up there, but … well, I don’t know. I’ve been turned off. Hell, for all I know you believe Obama is a Kenyan Muslim and you love Trump. Which is all your right. But I wonder, looking back, how you feel about Putnam? About where we grew up?

M.S.: Wow, this is sad to hear. I’ll always think of Carmel as home even if there are those that believe such nonsense. When I get upset and can’t understand why so many people are wearing blinders I think of this story: In 1976, the last season of Gilligan’s Island was aired. The Navy was inundated with letters from actual Americans that were serious in there request that the Navy needed to rescue the stranded castaways … so, I think to myself, if people didn’t have the common sense to realize that Gilligan’s Island wasn’t real then I guess I can understand how people can be so misguided these days.

J.P.: You’ve taught theology at multiple places. I struggle mightily with God, and faith in general. I mean, I look around—poverty, viciousness, drought, famine, murder, etc. Climate change is destroying the earth. On and on. So, being serious, how do you maintain faith?

M.S.: It’s difficult for me, too. I can’t say I’ve come to grips with it all but that’s not a bad thing. Challenging your faith is normal and everyone goes through it.  Although I taught theology when I was a high school teacher, I have been teaching computer science now at Miami University for the past 22 years.

J.P.: In 1988 you qualified for the Olympic Trials in the 800 and 1500, but didn’t make the Olympics. How big of a disappointment was that for you, never being an Olympian? Could you still watch the Olympics in, say, 1988 and enjoy them? Did you have to look the other way?

M.S.: Another great question. Well, it was absolutely a big disappointment for me.  There was every indication I would make the team in the 1500 m; however, a poor decision was definitely a major factor not making it.  There is no question I should have been there in ’88 but what every athlete needs to realize is that making the Olympic team comes down to many things falling in place. Those that make it to the finals of the trials still need many things to go right.  It’s not always the favorites that make the team.  I think I was a bit in shock at the time the Games were aired so I was sad to watch but still excited for our team. In the back of my head I always assumed I would make the ’92 team so I was able to cope pretty well. In later years, the sting of not making the team still gets me but there is one thing that takes it all away – I think to myself, if I had made the team I would not have what I have today – an amazing family – and when I think of missing out on them everything gets put back in perspective.

Working with students at Brahms' Running Camp‏.

Working with students at Brahms’ Running Camp‏.

J.P.: What does it feel like to be leading a race with one lap to go, knowing you’re in charge? Like, what is that? The emotions? The thinking?

M.S.: In high school I often led the races. There were times in my younger years that I probably should not have but did it anyway.  By the time I was a Junior I would not allow anyone to lead a race for long or at all. All I can say is there is a feeling of control. A feeling that the race belongs to you and that you make the rules for it.

J.P.: You had this superpower—you were one of the fastest humans in the world. When did you start either A. Losing the superpower? Or B. Losing interest in the superpower? Is it a gradual aging thing? A gradual indifferent thing? And do you still run competitively at all? Can you still enjoy it?

M.S.: This is, surprisingly, a simple one for me to answer.  Growing up I was seldom injured. Other than the week of the 1983 Olympic Invite 1000m indoor race where few people know that I had bronchitis, a sprained ankle, and was recovering from having a fork thrown in my eye, I was pretty lucky in the health area.  Once injuries begin to set an athlete back it takes a lot to overcome them and “start over” getting ready for the next season.  In the beginning it is much easier to get back on the horse but the more one has to endure this type of struggle the harder it becomes.  In the end, for me, it came down to the fact that I was married and raising a child and trying to focus on training and recovering from one setback after another.  I took a long look at what was most important to me and the choice to retire became much easier.

It’s funny, I have met many athletes that competed on the national or World level and many of us say the same thing: that knowing how fast you once were it is difficult to get excited about running times we could have run in high school. So, when I run a race it is just for fun these days – not to see how fast I can run them. That being said, I rather coach than compete myself.

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• Rank in order (favorite to least): The Mahopac Diner, Edwin Koech, James Van Der Beek, “Dances with Wolves,” DJ Jazzy Jeff, University of Arizona, rainy days, Newport Beach, napkins, LA Gear: The Mahopac Diner, Edwin Koech, rainy days, University of Arizona (did you mean Arizona State? If so then this comes before rainy days), “Dances with Wolves,” Newport Beach, DJ Jazzy Jeff, James Van Der Beek, napkins, LA Gear

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Yep … while in Europe traveling with the US Track & Field team our plane all of a sudden started nose diving. All I focused on was my family. As it turned out, our head coach was sitting in the “deadhead” seat in the cockpit and told us that another plane came into sight heading straight for us – our pilot shot down and their pilot pulled up.

• Greatest single moment of your running career?: Hmm … I have so many amazing moments but one stands out among the rest: The day I broke 4:00 for the mile came with the joy of attaining my goal coupled with the realization that my father would be giving up smoking.

• Who wins, right now, in a one-mile race between you and Lamar Jackson?: Sorry Lamar, I’ll have to take that one.

• How did you meet your wife?: This is a long but amazing story filled with a series of events falling in place that sound like I made them up.  So, the short version is that we met while I attended graduate school at Miami University.

• What do your sneakers smell like after a long run?: Actually not too bad—my long runs are over pretty quick these days

• Favorite Bible passage?: 1 Corinthians 9:24 (Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize)

• Five colleges that recruited you to run that you never even remotely considered attending: Einstein University, University of Arizona, Baylor University, University of Texas, University of Florida

• One question you would ask Lou Piniella were he here right now: Who was your all-time favorite player you coached? And why?


Christy Berrie

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It started in high school.

She was a senior in social studies class, bored and indifferent and observant enough to see how her teacher responded to a low-cut T-shirt.

So she wore one again.

And again.

And again.

The result? An A for minimal work.

At that moment, Christy Berrie says she realized how easily manipulated men could be via sexuality. So, despite having attended college and studying microbiology and physiology, she thought it’d be wiser (and more enjoyable) to focus her professional life on selling sex. Not literally, mind you—but visions, sounds, fantasies, clips.

Which makes her a unique entrepreneur.

And a unique Quaz Q&A.

One can follow Christy on Twitter here.

Christy Berrie, you are the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: In your bio you write, “I’ve been manipulating males since I was a teenager.” But what does that REALLY mean? Hell, we all manipulate from time to time, no? Is this real, or more business talk?

CHRISTY BERRIE: Growing up, I quickly learned there was no way I’d manipulate or get one past my mother. I was very much a “daddy’s girl” and got what I wanted from him each and every time. I don’t think that’s surprising as that’s how many girls are with their father. But as I got a bit older, into my teenage years, I quickly learned that many men would do silly things, even dangerous things for a woman’s attention. For instance, in high school I hated history class almost as much as I hated the teacher. But I saw right through him. I knew that years earlier he had an affair with a student so I knew there had to be some way I could pass my class with very little effort. Instead of sleeping with the old pervert, I remembered he complimented a shirt I was wearing on day after class. It was nothing special, just a plain, low cut v-neck T-shirt. I knew exactly why he liked it! So, all it took was v-necks and a desk close to his. I wasn’t even exceptionally nice to him, but he couldn’t keep his eyes off of 18-year-old breasts. I couldn’t care less about watching videos on The Cold War or memorizing the order of our presidents, but that was an easy A class that year. My friends thought that was pretty naughty, but I always thought that was a harmless use of my sexuality.

J.P.: When you started doing web cam in 2014, you would masturbate on the screen. But I’m guessing that was often, if not always, pure acting. Like, I’m sure you’re not getting off to the schlub paying you $8 a minute. So—is that easy or hard? And what were the keys?

C.B.: It was definitely never the customer bringing me to orgasm! It was hard to read their one-handed typos and stay focused on making myself feel good, so ignoring a lot of the messages being sent helped. I’d usually zone everything else out, pretend the computer wasn’t in front of me and do my own thing. I think it’s important to still make yourself feel good and make the experience as pleasurable for yourself as you can because if you don’t and it’s all acting, all the time then the job gets old quickly! I was usually in the mindset of “I could be wiping someone’s ass in the ER right now.” That made it easier.

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J.P.: You were raised Mormon—which is, morally and behaviorally, a pretty huge departure from your gig. How did your religion impact your career? Your views on morality and sexuality?

C.B.: Christianity and FemDom have a lot in common! Dropping to your knees, questioning your morals, asking for forgiveness from someone who threatens you with punishments. I am a personal Jesus to lots of guys but this is much more fun than going to church.

I grew up in a household where sex really wasn’t talked about. The only sex talk I had as a teenager was, “Don’t have sex, you’ll get pregnant!” The Mormon church, like many other religions, tells children that sex is only for procreation when you’re married. As a young girl, I never had the daydreams about what my wedding dress would look like or my father walking me down the aisle, so I kind of always knew I wasn’t “waiting until marriage.” I don’t think I was ever really a “good” Mormon. I was scolded for wearing lipstick to church when I was 7-years old because it was “tempting” the boys. At 13, I had to have my mom bring me a long dress because the shorts I wore to “Young Women’s” night were too short. I always knew that morality to Mormons was much different than a lot of other religions. Most of my childhood friends were Catholic and none of them were denied caffeine or alcohol. There was no way my friends were going to hell just because they drank a Dr. Pepper. By 16, I kind of said “Fuck Mormon morals” and never went back to church. Instead of feeling ashamed I went the opposite direction. If they didn’t like my lipstick, I wonder how they’ll feel about my career now …

J.P.: Do you ever feel emotionally attached to customers? Do you ever break down the wall and talk real life stuff? Or is that a huge no-no?

C.B.: Webcamming in a chatroom let customers into a big part of my real life. When I first started out, I was online about six hours a day so customers knew a lot. They saw different parts of my home, they knew when my dog died, things like that. I gained several regulars who I was fairly comfortable talking about life with. I think that can take away from the “fantasy” for some, though. To some guys, seeing a dirty dish in my kitchen sink might take away from my domme persona since I should have a live-in slave cleaning up after me, every second of the day. It’s silly, but it’s money.


J.P.: You studied microbiology and physiology in college. You’ve worked myriad jobs. So—how did this happen? This gig?

C.B.: I’ve been interested in sex work for as long as I can remember. I had a friend whose older sister was a stripper and I thought she was a total badass. I had even searched “how to become an escort” while in college, but never really had the guts to do it. I had no idea getting naked online was a job until a doctor I worked with told me about it. Any time I wore my hair in braided pigtails, he joked that I must’ve just got done playing the school girl part on webcam. Of course, I went home and immediately searched “web cam girl” after work. I watched a few girls from time to time, amazed at how much they were getting paid for hanging out at home. Around that time, I had just gotten out of a long-term relationship and was living on my own again. I had gotten used to a certain lifestyle with him, and knew I needed to make more money and before I knew it, I was sending my identification to MyFreeCams. The next night I was half naked online making $850 in about 5 hours.

J.P.: Last April there was a lengthy Washington Post story about financial domination, and how it’s exploded into a huge industry. But I don’t really get it. Why would someone send you money—for the right to send you money? What am I missing?

C.B.: One great thing about financial domination is that some people just don’t get it. The fact that some, maybe most people can’t wrap their heads around it makes it that much more exciting.

Some men just love to be used. Very rarely is the transaction as easy as “Fuck you, Pay Me” and that’s the end of the conversation.

Many “pay pigs” are looking for humiliation, and when you press the right buttons they send even more. Humiliation junkies tell me embarrassing things that they’d never tell anybody else. Other women would never talk to them again if they told them these fucked-up secrets and kinks. They pay to tell me, then they pay for me to use it against them.

There are also money slaves who get off on just sending money and being used for my own pleasure and profit. They want to lose control, forget about everything else and simply submit. They love to be told what to do, what to buy, how much to spend. In my experience these are men who are buying “Goddess Worship” types of clips and then sending hefty tributes after watching as a “thank you.”

For the most part there is some sort of communication and relationship between myself and my financial slaves. There are times when someone I’ve never spoken to will have an all night clip binge, then spend thousands more on tributes and gifts then never to be seen or heard again.

Some have control over their spending and some are addicted to the rush of spending way too much. Each of my financial slaves is different from the other but the one similarity they have is that they love to see me happy!

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J.P.: It seems like much of your business (maybe most) is illusion. You’re selling the ideas of sexiness, of servitude, of lust, of domination. But I’ll take a stab and guess you go to the bathroom, stub your toe, burp and fart and snore. So do you have to “become” someone/something when you’re doing a session? Like, is there a temporary transformation that you go through?

C.B.: Much of it is an illusion, which is why I usually film in the same couple of spots around my home. Like I mentioned earlier, some guys want to imagine that I have servants and slaves cleaning up after me, wiping my ass, and carrying me around on a pedestal all day. Besides that I don’t really have to turn into someone else. I have a strong personality that some guys in real life find intimidating. I also really do like nice, sexually inventive, somewhat submissive guys. So when I’m telling a customer to worship, it’s something I really would say in a real relationship. With that being said, there are also many customers who love the private-life kind of realness. If I have a cold, I know I can make money off of that now. I’ll record myself coughing, sneezing, and blowing my nose. I also have a returning customer who orders custom clips of me burping while wearing pretty lingerie.

J.P.: Craziest/weirdest request from your domme career? Lowest?

C.B.: I think most women in this career have had requests to mail shit or pee to a customer so I don’t even think that’s weird any more. My weirdest is probably sending someone my snot after recording a nose blowing clip. I packaged it up in a jar, threw in some used tissue and sent it off. I’m curious to know what he did with it and if he got sick from it.

I can think of a couple unfavorable requests. The bad ones usually involve someone else, like an unsuspecting wife or neighbor. I’ve had a lot of home wrecking requests that involve a husband cumming in his wife’s shoes or pillow. I’m not proud of it, but I have gone along with requests like that when I first started this job. As I found my own voice, I realized that it goes against femdom, or at least my own interpretation of it. Any woman, no matter who she is, is above filthy males.

The worst was someone requesting jerk off instructions while they fuck their dog. Those people don’t even get a reply.

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J.P.: You have clients you see in person. I’m sorta riveted—what is this like? Also, do you bring along security? Isn’t it sorta scary, going to meet these people? 

C.B.: I’ve met three of my clients in person. Each of them are financial slaves, not looking for any sort of sexual sessions. I got to know them pretty well beforehand either through Skype video calls or texting. I’m a good judge of character and neither of them ever made me think twice about meeting them. I’ve always met them in public places, with a friend somewhere near.

Although I’ve only met three, I’ve had hundreds of other requests to meet which I don’t think I’ll be doing.

J.P.: Donald Trump is president, and it feels like our nation is turning to dogshit. I mean, outside of the strictly political, there’s so much anger. And it’s raw. Does this impact your gig at all? Like, does more stress=more customers? Does it ever come up in your job?

C.B.: More stress definitely equals more spending. I don’t know if it’s politics that has brought me more customers but the spending has gone up, definitely. Porn is a way to decompress and forget everything else for a while, even I watch more porn when I’m stressed!

Very rarely are my pre-made clips political, but I get a custom request every now and then to bash someone for their political views. Last year, a customer requested I humiliate him for pretending he voted for Trump. He grew up conservative and lived in a red state, but he really voted for Hillary. He was too ashamed to let his friends and family know he voted for a woman. I made him send me a video of himself with “Hillary’s Bitch” written on his chest while sitting down on a huge dildo.

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• Rank in order (favorite to least): trophies, plastic cups, dirty feet, Michael Jordan, The Cure, Phil Niekro, “Stranger Things,” a slice of saudage pizza, Steve Young, MasterCard: Mastercard, dirty feet, Stranger Things, The Cure, sausage pizza, trophies, plastic cups, Michael Jordan, Phil Niekro, Steve Young

• One question you would ask Ken Griffey, Sr. were she here right now?: Who are you?? (I had to Google … not into sports!)

• Why “Christy Berrie”?: It’s a play on my real name. Pretty tough to figure out.

• Five things you hate about humanity: Social media addiction, tribalism, 24 hour news channels, gender reveal parties, small talk

• Five things you love about humanity: Humans invented the dog, medical advances, dance, space exploration, storytelling

• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between you and Vanilla Ice? Me. He wouldn’t hit me. Look at me.:

• What’s the funniest request you’ve ever had in your gig?: Jerk off instruction video to the beat of David Bowie’s Rebel Rebel

• What do your folks think of your gig?: They don’t ask many questions. I’m sure they assume I’m doing hardcore incest porn.

• What are three things men generally don’t understand about women and sex?: Tough one since I always tell my partner what feels good and what I like. 1. Foreplay is a 24/7 job. Inside the bedroom foreplay is touching and kissing, outside of the bedroom foreplay is doing the dishes and mopping; 2. Don’t be afraid to ask “does this feel good?”; 3. This might just be me, but we don’t want marathon sex. I’ve had guys say they can fuck for three hours. NO! 20 mins and cum already!

• Is Eli Manning an automatic Hall of Famer in your eyes?: Only because he’s the cute brother.

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Ritesh Rajan

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So this is sorta random, but the other day I was reading my high school yearbook on the toilet. It’s something that happens, oh, four or five times a year. I’ll be standing in our den, itching for a potty break and needing something light-yet-engrossing to peruse. Inevitably, I’ll reach toward a shelf and grab the ol’ 1990 Wampum, what with its faded photos and long-ago glories and hopes and dreams and prom pics and …


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If one looks closely, he/she can see the word JEW written alongside the photos. The classmate who did so was trying to be funny. I still remember him writing the word over and over, knowing it was wrong but not wanting to make waves. In a way, it’s sorta perfectly representative of Mahopac, N.Y., my glorious-yet-painfully sheltered hometown. I don’t think the JEW writer meant to be anti-Semitic, just as I don’t think the kids who referred to my best friend as “one of the good n—-rs” considered themselves to be racist.

Wait. I digress.

Today’s Quaz Q&A stars a man who knows whereof I speak. Like me, Ritesh Rajan is a product of Mahopac. Like me, Ritesh Rajan didn’t (demographically) fit into the Mahopac typecast. Like me, Ritesh Rajan loves our hometown and takes issue with our hometown. Like me, Ritesh Rajan now lives in Southern California, where he has carved out an impressive career as an actor in such TV shows as “Stitchers” and “Criminal Minds” and films like “The Jungle Book” and “Campus Code.” He’s a fascinating guy with an inspired outlook, and one can follow him on Instagram and Twitter.

Ritesh Rajan, you are the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Ritesh, we’re both products of the mean streets of Mahopac who now live in California. And I’m very fascinated by your relationship/feelings for our hometown. Because, to be honest, mine are mixed. Great place to grow up, safe, good friends. But also hard-core Trump country, not diverse, definite strands of racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism. So … what says you?

RITESH RAJAN: I have to say, you and I have similar feelings about this. I loved where I grew up. I always enjoyed school, my friends, and what the town had to offer: a safe, beautiful and, at the time, charming place to live—not to mention an overabundance of delis and local pizza shops. I never once experienced direct racism towards myself growing up in Mahopac, but there was definitely an attitude shift post-9/11. The close proximity to New York City, along with community members losing loved ones, there was a slow looming tonal shift in the town. I believe my parents status protected me from a lot of it. They are both doctors, we have been there since 1992, and my dad still has a practice in town. We were also probably one of first Indian families to go through the Mahopac school system. Having an older brother and younger sister who went to the same school (they graduated in 1996 and 2008, respectively) and all of us being involved in school activities, the community knew us and this  helped combat the general ignorance that was floating around.

I would say it has gotten much worse in the past 4-to-5 years. I think people are in denial if they say it has nothing to do with Trump and the political climate. His actions and way of carrying out his politics has, without a doubt, emboldened people to voice their previously socially unacceptable views. I also feel diversity was lacking in the town which maybe adds to the issue, but who knows. It’s funny to me that our town name finds its roots in the local Native American culture yet there are zero threads to connect us back to that. In fact, I always wondered why the high school mascot was an “Indian.” I am an Indian. My parents were born and raised in India. My brother was born in India. Why can’t a conversation occur that changes the mascot to a local tribe name or just even a word that represents the town roots? Even our yearbook is called Wampum. Our school newspaper is The Chieftain. The short answer is I don’t think anyone cares or has even given any thought to it. I think it’s these many small things being ignored that add to the bigger picture. It’s hard to say why people feel and act the way they do without knowing each other’s stories, struggles, and environments. I do know that most of people in my hometown disagree with my social and political views—gotta love Facebook! I will say this, I still love going home. I find it grounding and, considering my career choice, that’s important.

From the Asian Bachelorette Calendar.

From the Asian Bachelorette Calendar.

J.P.: Gotta jump to an important one right here, right now. According to your IMDB page, you appear in the 2019 Asian Bachelorette Calendar. Ritesh … what?

R.R.: Are you jealous? Haven’t you always dreamed of being in a calendar? This project started off with a just a simple question: why aren’t there any Asian men on ABC’s “The Bachelorette”? WongFu, a popular YouTube channel, decided to take this issue head-on and create a spoof. The premise: one Caucasian Bachelorette and only contestants of Asian descent. I had the honor of representing Browntown, aka the Indians, by playing a dentist from Edison, NJ. Edison is basically the little India of the Northeast, if you are not aware. You should check the video out on YouTube when you get a chance. The video was so popular that the creators actually got a call from ABC to talk about diversity. WongFu thought doing a spoof pin-up style holiday calendar to promote diversity in entertainment would be a great idea. I have to say, it’s pretty hilarious. Do you want one? I’ll hook you up! We can post them all around Mahopac!

J.P.: So you’ve been in everything. Seriously everything. Films, TV shows, animated, soaps, etc. And I’m fascinated—how did this happen for you? When do you know you wanted to act? When did you know you could act? Was there an ah-ha moment?

R.R.: Well I knew pretty early on that I wanted to be in entertainment. I was always obsessed with martial arts and movies. I religiously watched Power Rangers; all I wanted to do was be a Power Ranger. I had the Green Ranger at my sixth birthday party. My mom put my sister and I into Taekwondo when I was 5, which basically made me feel I could be an action star. I am still trying to be an action star and practice martial arts today in hopes my dreams will come true. My first memory of acting was when my second grade class (shout out to Mr. Crasson, who was one of my favorite teachers) put on a production of a “Magic School Bus” episode. It was basically to teach us about the solar system, where I was given the roll of some nerd (getting typecast even back then) explaining the what the red dot on Jupiter was. I loved practicing lines and being on stage. I didn’t understand it at the time, but there was something about theater that just connected with me; I think it had to do with having the whole room’s attention.  As far as knowing when I was good at acting, that is hard to point out. I just got better everyday, at least I think so—haha! I read and saw as many books, plays, and movies as I could. I tired to involve myself in as many local productions just so I could exercise those muscles. I went to NYU Tisch for undergrad and that’s when everything solidified.

My ah-ha moment happened in two parts. The first one was in the Magic School Bus play I mentioned before. The second was during the audition process for a fifth grade musical. Every year, my elementary school (Fulmar Road, I am a Mahopac OG) did a spirit day. This was a big deal for all the kids and an event that every student looked forward too, especially because they catered McDonald’s for lunch … how could you not love that!? On this day, the entire fifth grade class put on an original musical where the whole grade tried out. Being a small, skinny, nerdy Indian kid, I was never the strongest nor the fastest. I never felt physically awkward, but it was so hard for me to be the best at something athletic, which everyone strived to be. I knew singing and staying on pitch came much more easily to me than other kids, but it didn’t seem “cool” at the time, so I let it sit in the back of my mind. When it came time to audition for this musical, I thought I would do well, but I remember being nervous. A fellow student, named Martin, had a mom who was in the Broadway production of CATS, so I felt he had the upper hand and would get the part. He could also carry a tune. I don’t remember the audition process very much, but I ended up getting the lead of the show. If you were wondering what the role was … I played an anamorphic version of a tuba. This was the first time my parents actually saw me perform and they have encouraged me ever since … probably because I didn’t suck. It was a more solidifying ah-ha moment and, if it didn’t happen, there is a good chance I would be a doctor today. Thanks Mr. Moriarty, hope you are watching from above.

J.P.: According to IMDB your first credited roll is “Mustafa” in Law & Order. So … how did that gig happen? What do you remember of the experience?

R.R.: Well, I was a senior at NYU and the school always had a strict policy of attendance. I had to miss class for the Law & Order audition. I personally didn’t care about it, but I got  a C+, which stopped me from graduating with honors. My parents were irritated … still very Indian. Obviously, I made the right choice, though. It was standard procedure: my agents in New York sent me out on the appointment, I read for the casting director, and was told to wait 30 minutes for the director of the episode. That ended up being two hours, but after reading for him, he was impressed. I got a call the next day saying I booked the role—I was ecstatic! I celebrated the next day by skipping classes and going to Halal Guys (at that time it was only on 53rd and 6th and I probably ate too much hot sauce, which I still do). The actual day of filming was pretty smooth. I only had two scenes but I remember hanging on set as long as I could to learn and absorb everything. We shot in a real pizza shop so instead of eating the catered meal, I ate pizza with the cast and crew on location. I was really proud of the fact that my first role was a character named Mustafa and I didn’t have an accent. Plus, doing the original Law & Order is a bucket list item for any New York actor. The show was cancelled that season I believe … oops!

J.P.: How hard is it to get into character? What I mean is—can you act and feel who you’re supposed to be? Can you actually turn into Ben or Tesh or Arum or whoever your character is? Or, is there always 5% thinking, “What should I have for dinner tonight?”

R.R.: This is a process that is very specific to each actor. I know people who write tons of notes or try to go method living as their character. I know people who do nothing. I personally enjoy the rehearsal process. It lays down the foundation of the character, because creating their specific thoughts and ideas is essential. The goal for me is to figure out which version portrays the most truth. It’s not about being right or wrong, or making the first choice. It is about creating a foundation you can live and be truthful in. If you live in that foundation you won’t be thinking about “when are we breaking for lunch?” When I am in the space, it’s actually difficult to think about anything else other than what my character is going through. Not as Ritesh, but as who I am playing. Ritesh gets upset, but how does Linus get upset? I know when Ritesh is speaking and Linus is speaking, because they are foundational different in my mind and body. I think all actors carry a certain color of themselves in the characters they play, but it’s a matter of management. Sometimes you get a character who is closer to you and it requires less work, but I would liken it to an athlete thinking about his weekend vs. the play at hand. Do you want to be JR Smith or LeBron? Obviously there are days when you are less focused, but I always think about how lucky I am to be doing what I am doing. I don’t take those moments for granted. Plus I want to do my best work, it will only allow me more opportunities to present my artistic talents.

Thanksgiving 2018 with the family.

Thanksgiving 2018 with the family.

J.P.: On Nov. 5 you posted on Instagram a message you received that read: “Ritesh motherfucking son of a bitch Rajan how dare you to eVen touch white girls in movies and tv series you perv asshole Asian bastard go fuck your mother sisterfucker rather pathetic how dare you asshole you sisterfucker dickhead go touch your sister instead brown piece of shit.” And, interestingly, earlier this morning someone on Twitter wrote how I don’t own guns so my house and family is unprotected. And I wonder—how seriously should we take these things? How seriously do you take these things? And how are we supposed to respond?

R.R.: I never take these things seriously or personally. Haters are always going to hate. Unless the situation escalated to point where I, or anyone I know, was in actual danger, I just find it best to use it as motivation. Clearly, this specific person follows my work, otherwise he wouldn’t know who I am. Sorry I’m a brown guy on TV kissing white girls. Most of my trolls are racially fueled and people don’t realize it’s still a frequent occurrence. Both friends and fans were shocked that I would receive messages like this, but it happens all the time. Responding is always tricky, because you don’t want to fuel the fire but, sometimes you want to stand up for yourself and others. In this case, I felt like it was a great opportunity to take negative words and use them to create a more positive and informed attitude about racism in this country. If we can make people more aware of the struggles other people go through, then I think we can be more understanding as a society and hopefully improve our relationship with others.

J.P.: You voiced Ken in the TV series, “Barbie Dreamhouse Adventures.” I’m super fascinated—how did you land the gig? What are the challenges of doing voice work? Is it fulfilling? Annoying? A mere paycheck? A terrific challenge?

R.R.: I worked with Mattel before on another Barbie show called “Barbie Dreamtopia.” I played a close friend of Barbie, named Derrick. He doubled as forest prince; he looked like me and was the only male in Barbie’s crew. I had a running joke with everyone that Barbie was tired of Ken and was into Indian guys now. The director referred me as a good fit for Ken to the producers of “Barbie Dreamhouse Adventures.” I sent in a tape reading a sample scene and that was about it. I remember just being grateful they would even read me. Malibu Ken, blond hair, blues eyes, six pack—very different than Mahopac Tesh. When I got the call that they wanted me, I was shocked. It’s pretty amazing to be part of a franchise as legendary as Barbie.

I really hope when people Google me (if they even do that haha) they see that credit and say, “NO WAY! KEN IS AN INDIAN GUY?” Hopefully, it will inspire some Indian young kid somewhere. VO work is really amazing and I fucking love it. As long as you take it seriously, you can show up in your pajamas. The microphones can pick up everything, so  if your voice is not 100 percent you can tell. I have to be aware what I do a few days before I record, because people will know if I’ve had too many beers beforehand. For Ken, I use my natural voice about one to two steps higher and my energy is much more boyish and punched up. I absolutely love it, I hope I will be Ken for as long as I can!

Side note, I watch a lot of anime. Everyone makes fun of me for it, including parents, friends, or anyone I come in contact with that doesn’t watch anime. I think listening to hours of Japanese voice actors, who are incredible, has paid off.

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J.P.: You played Linus Ahluwalia on the TV show, “Stitchers.” What is it like being a recurring part of a production? I’ve had people describe it as akin to summer camp—this sorta communcal experience where you form strong attachments. I know others who just wanted their show to end. How was it for you? And what is it like when a show ends? The emotions?

R.R.: I liken my whole experience on Stitchers to one of those traveling carnivals. There are so many moving parts. I mean that in the best way. Everyone comes together to create something they have no idea what the end result will be. Time, blood, sweat, tears, and, of course, money is all put into something you hope people will like. We all have our skills and when the show stops making money, we have to disband and pack it up. My personal experience was amazing. I met some of my closest friends and mentors on that show. I was lucky enough to have three seasons, which seems to be rare nowadays. There wasn’t a single day I wasn’t smiling or laughing at work. Being my first gig as a regular on TV, Stitchers will always have a special place in my heart. I loved being on it show even if I was starting to outgrow it (which I believe I was). I could spend all day with my castmates. I think we were very lucky in that sense, because I have heard horror stories about cast compatibility. I still talk to them daily. When we got cancelled it was a terrible, confusing feeling. I was ready to move on, but I was devastated.

I love what I do. We knew it was coming, but we still had hope maybe the network would give us one more season to finish it out. I received the phone call from my showrunner who thanked me for the last three years and I did the same. When I got off the phone I sat there and cried. It is a terrifying feeling. What people don’t understand is that the entertainment world can be feast or famine and I felt like I was going to have to go back to my former day job (Zumba instructor and Uber driver—yes this is it’s own question, ha!). It’s tough being fired and not having a consistent paycheck. It’s hard being a struggling actor, but I think it’s harder to fall from a higher place. You have tasted a form of success and all you can think about is getting back on top. You really know what you are made of when you are tested in a position of defeat. You have to bounce back and stay focused. That is all I said to myself for the next week. Work will come as long as I stay dedicated and focused. I was once told by a teacher that my job will be auditioning. Working will be a vacation. Pretty damn true.

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J.P.: You trained at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting. Do you feel like all actors need this sort of training? Are there some people who are simply naturals, and others who require the work? And what did it do for you?

R.R.: I believe so, maybe in varying degrees, though. The truth is, there are people who are just better at certain things. Acting is no different, but it’s hard to articulate that because it can’t be quantified by some score or number. Great actors may never get commercial success and commercial actors may be terrible. It’s a crazy business. I personally benefited greatly from my training. It laid the foundation to my growing skill. Acting is hard and the reason why everyone thinks they can do it is because the good ones make it look easy. You would be shocked how to see many people can make walking across a room look awkward and terrible. I think training can keep you more consistent. It’s closer to sports than you realize. You can dial into your character faster and you can stay in character longer, which allows you explore more interesting choices, thus making you a better, or rather, believable actor. With practice and repetition, you can recreate results faster and more accurate than without a regimen. Of course the art form is much more fluid because it’s based purely on human interaction and characters needs, but training gives you the tool kit to make the audience say, “Wow what a great performance,” or, “That person was really living in the moment.” They don’t know why it was great, they just believe it was great because it seemed real to them. They have no way to measure or articulate it beyond its surface. My time in school was very important because, even though I learned quite a bit on set, it’s rare that productions will have the time to explore characters the way you do in school. There are just a hundred other things going on and the director may or may not have the time to prioritize that. It’s your training that gives you the tools to go home and lay the foundation to your work..

J.P.: When you’re working on a project, how do you know whether the finished product will be good or not? When do you know?

R.R.: Honestly, you don’t. It’s fucking terrifying. You just have to be honest with yourself. I know when I half-ass something, the result will reflect that. If you are working from your heart and soul, you won’t be unhappy with your result. You can’t control other people’s expectations or tastes, but you can control the quality of your own work.  Sometimes when I thought something was amazing people think it’s average and vice versa. Hone in on creating work that resonates with you and chances are it will resonate with others. More importantly if something does fail, understand why people didn’t like it. You have to be learning constantly and adapting. So much of this industry is out of your hand the only thing you can do is keep working hard and striving for self improvement. Luck favors the persistent.

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• Rank in order (favorite to least): Emma Ishta, LL Cool J, Disneyland, espresso, Vincent Collins, Rajon Rondo, snowball fights, “As Good as it Gets,” Buzz Feed, Robinson Cano, the number 57, Abercrombie: Emma (we have been through it all, how could I not list her 1!), LL Cool J, espresso, snowball fights, Disneyland, “As Good as it Gets,” Buzz Feed, the number 57, Robinson Cano, Vincent Collins, Abercrombie, Rajon Rando (The Celtics suck … Huge Knicks fan. He also spit in Chris Paul’s face)

• Three memories from the Mahopac High senior prom: 1. Saying to myself that my prom date looked beautiful; 2 Drinking alcohol we sneaked onto a bus by emptying Costco sized contact solution bottles, washing them soap and hot water, and refilling them with vodka; 3. One of my best friends squeezing my hand, and almost breaking it, as he got his nipple pierced. It got infected the next day.

• On Mahopac’s Wikipedia page, both of us are listed as NOTABLE PEOPLE along with former Mariners pitcher Dave Fleming, the actor Jay Acovone, Sour Shoes from the Howard Stern show, Henry Winkler, Major League pitcher C.J. Riefenhauser, a motorsports journalist named Doug Auld and Ryan McClay, a lacrosse player. Who you have as No. 1?: Henry Winkler. He is the only person to have influence on me and, more importantly, both my parents would know who he is. When your immigrant parents know you are, you are doing something right.

• What’s the dumbest line you’ve ever had to utter on a show?: I said a lot of nerdy things on Stitchers, but I never felt uncomfortable saying them. On the next season of Barbie I have to make whale noises … I had no idea what the hell I was doing. What does a whale even sound like? I don’t think Ellen knew, either, while doing Finding Nemo.

• I’m sitting in a café. It smells moldy. But … they have free coffee refills. What should I do?: Find the source of the smell … take a picture of it. Text it to your friends who would find it annoying…oh and drink two cups of coffee. No more, no less.

• Five reasons one should make Mahopac his/her next vacation destination?: 1. It’s home to you and I. 2. It’s actually really pretty during the summer and fall. 3. Have you been to Kobu? 4. Meet a bunch of people who say they are from the Bronx and are super Italian but have no idea where their family is actually from. 5. Go see my parents—you will get some incredible Indian food you will never get in an Indian restaurant.

• Who’s someone famous you’ve met who made you nervous?: Will Smith and Micheal J Fox.

• What are the most overrated food products in America?: SPAM, pretzel sticks, Diet Coke.

• The next president of the United States will be …: A woman of color. If you don’t believe, it won’t happen.

• Two memories from playing “Softball Player” on an episode of the TV show “Baby Daddy”: 1. I spent a lot of time watching Taj Mowry growing up on Full House and Smart Guy. It was validating and fun to be able to share the screen with him…even if it was only for a scene or two. 2. Just being so welcomed by Jean, Taj, and Chelsea. I was a newbie and they were very kind and funny. I remember running into Chelsea at a Disney event right after Stitchers had aired and she remembered by name and gave me a big hug congratulating me on the show. It was all very sweet.

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Cynthia Dale

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Here’s the magic of the Internet is one big gulp of a weekly Quaz introduction.

In 1987 I was all about this movie …

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It was a made-for-TV Disney ditty called “The Liberators,” and it told the story of these guys (one black, one white) who liberate slaves. The white guy falls in love with a slave, and the whole two-hour saga tells the squeaky-clean-for-squeaky-clean-eyes story of love and heroism and … and … and …

I absolutely loved it.

Anyhow, time passes. Days turn into weeks and weeks turn into years. You forget about the flick you dug as a kid until, one day, you somehow stumble upon it. Then you plug it into IMDB. Then you think, “Hmm … I’d sure like to ask one of the stars about the experience.” Then you find an actress named Cynthia Dale on Twitter. Then you go to her website. Then she says, “Sure, I’ll answer your questions.” And she’s awesome and accomplished and amazing.

And here we are—with the new Quaz Q&A …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Cynthia—It’s 1987. I’m 14, living in my small, conservative town of Mahopac, N.Y. And this made-for-TV Disney flick called “The Liberators” comes on. I’m friggin’ mesmerized—all I want to do is help free the slaves and jail the awful white people. On and on. I loved that film. And you: A. Starred in it as “Elizabeth,” the freed slave and B. Probably remember almost nothing about it. So, eh, what do you remember about it? Anything?

CYNTHIA DALE: I actually remember a lot from it—some good, some bad.

I love doing period films, so the costumes and sets and all that were fabulous. As was the cast. But in the white water rafting scenes I had to wear a wet suit under my period costume of huge hoop skirt and heavy wool dress and hat so I remember feeling like I was almost going to drown trying to get out of the water. It was scary—very, very scary. They were unprepared for the realities of shooting the scene the way they wanted, I believe.

Also, not to be a huge downer but a cast member did die on that set. He had an asthma attack because of the cold weather and shooting conditions and then sat in a honey wagon without a proper amount of oxygen in it. Soooo yeah, mixed feelings about a lot of that experience.

Dale (bottom right) with her Liberators co-stars.

Dale (bottom right) with her Liberators co-stars.

J.P.: So you’ve been in a gazillion shows, movies, plays, musicals. I mean, a countless number of projects. And I wonder—is this the career you aspired to? Like, when one enters the profession, is the dream to have a Streep, a Denzel type of career? Or is it to do a shitload of different projects and taste a little bit of everything?

C.D.: Yes, this is absolutely the career I aspired to. I started in show business when I was 5, and I guess at some point as a teenager or young adult I made a commitment to this as a profession for life. I am a musical theatre performer through and through which means I work at acting, singing and dancing all at the same level.

I briefly toyed with working and staying in the states at some point in my life, but I am also a Canadian through and through and felt more happy and fulfilled here.

J.P.: You spent six years playing the character of “Olivia Novak” on the TV series “Street Legal.” Then, according to an article I read, you sought to escape that genre of role, for fear of being typecast. Now you’re back taping new episodes of the show, as “Olivia Novak.” How did that happen? And why?

C.D.: Actually, I don’t ever reeeeally remember feeling typecast as Olivia, and I only stopped doing her because the show was eventually cancelled. I’ve spent the last 27 years doing mainly theatre and playing characters nothing like her so when CBC did ask me to bring her back (after getting my jaw up off the floor) I realized she was probably still somewhere in my DNA and that it could be great. Last month we finished filming six episodes with mainly an entire new cast. The new show is completely different in tone and texture from the old one. Completely!

Preparing to receive an Honourary Doctorate from McMaster University in 2017.

Preparing to receive an Honourary Doctorate from McMaster University in 2017.

J.P.: In 1987 you played “Sheila” in Moonstruck. And I wonder—as you’re working on the film, did you know it was great? Is that how it works? Or does a project need to be completed before you truly have an idea?

C.D.: I spent only one day filming “Moonstruck,” but I knew it was going to be special because of the cast and crew. John Mahoney was an absolute prince and so was Norman Jewison. I was, believe it or not, completely head over heels and excited that I was working with David Watkins, who was also the director of photography of “Chariots of Fire” and “Out of Africa.” I was a huge fan of his and I remember sitting with him at the lunch break and just asking questions and listening to his stories. I also remember that the Academy Award nominations were announced the day I was on set and he was nominated for “Out of Africa.” It made for a huge celebratory day.

J.P.: Your first credited role, according to IMDB, was playing “Patty” in the 1981 film, “My Bloody Valentine.” How did you land the role? What do you recall from the experience?

C.D.: IMDB is odd, in that it doesn’t actually take into account a lot of your career. Anyhoo—”My Bloody Valentine” … I remember we shot often in an actual mine underneath the ocean out in SydneyMines Nova Scotia. It was terrifying going down in the cage everyday. And we came up with our nostrils black from breathing the air down there.

I also got fat. I ate a lot of comfort food on set, probably out of fear. But it was a big cast that all had a blast working together.

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J.P.: Why acting? Was there a childhood directive? Was there a moment when you knew, “This is for me”? A lightbulb? An ah-ha! Experience? I mean, I know you made your debut in a Royal Alex production of Finian’s Rainbow when you were 5. But … how did this happen?

C.D.: I have worked all of my life in show business. As a child I was out of school more than I was in, and I was kicked out of classes by teachers who thought I shouldn’t pass because I wasn’t there enough. I was bullied by kids in grade school because I was different and they could see me on TV after-school commercials or in TV shows.

I just think I must have been born knowing that this was what I wanted to do.

J.P.: In a 1989 interview with the Edmonton Journal you said, “As an actress you so rarely have control over your life let along your life in the business.” What did you mean by that? And does that change as one gets older? More experienced?

C.D.: As an actor most of the time in your career you have no control. you spend your life auditioning trying to get a job.

Someone else decides if you can get that audition and then someone else decides if you will get that part and then someone else decides if it will be a success and have a long run or a network decides if a show will get picked up.

Maybe that’s why i recorded and produced three CDs, or did one-woman shows and concerts or am on as a producer of “Street Legal” this year. In some small way you want to be a part of the decision making process.

And yup, I’m lucky. I have been able to sometimes have a say in who I work with and when I work.

J.P.: When you play a character for as long as you played Olivia Novak, and when that character is sort of known as a “bitch-goddess” (in the words of Richard Ouzoinian of the Toronto Star) is it at all hard for people to separate you from the character? Like, in the real world, do folks have assumptions of what you’re like based on characters?

C.D.: I think people are smart and savvy enough to know when people are acting and that most actors are not only like the characters they play. None of the theatre work I did for 13 seasons at The Stratford Festival was at all like Olivia, so people saw me play completely different characters to what they saw on “Street Legal.”

It will be very interesting to see what the reaction is to Olivia when she comes back in March.

J.P.: I’ve never asked this of anyone, but what’s it like acting alongside someone you just do not like. Detest. Hate. Is it hard to get past that? To set such emotions aside? Can it ruin a show?

C.D.: I have never worked with anyone I hated, thank gawd. But I have certainly had to be ‘in love’ with people I was not remotely attracted to in any way. it’s difficult and can be reeeeally challenging. I guess you do a lot of ‘endowing’ and just act like you love them.

J.P.: What’s the biggest regret of your career? Is there a gig, when you look back, you think, “Eh, I probably should have skipped that one?” Does it work that way in your mind?

C.D.: I don’t have huge career regrets. Sure there were gigs that aren’t in the top 10 in my heart. But still, I feel unbelievably lucky to have done all that I have done. I really, really do!

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• Five reasons one should make Toronto his/her next vacation destination: Great food, great shopping, great walking, great theatre, it’s where “Street Legal” is set.

• The world needs to know–what was it like working alongside Betty Buckley in “Babycakes”?:  don’t remember working with Betty. Most of my scenes were with Ricki and Craig. I think (evidently my brain is old, and my memory needs some work!)

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Connor McDavid, Yvonne Chapman, the Academy Awards telecast, “Spenser: A Savage Place,” hot chocolate, maple syrup, Dan Fogelberg, J.Cole, Barney Rubble: Yvonne Chapman, Barney Rubble, maple syrup, Academy Awards telecast, Connor McDavid (Auston Matthews would be higher though), J.Cole, “Spenser: A Savage Place,” hot chocolate, Dan Folgelberg.

• What are your three favorite smells?: Roses, fresh-cut grass, roast chicken.

• Name four people you’ve never met: Beyonce, the queen, the dalai lama, Oprah.

• Can you tell us five things about your dad?: He was Italian, he was a championship golfer, he was an amazing card player, he had a huge heart, he died 20 years ago.

• One question you would ask Peabo Bryson were he here right now: “Peabo, you’ve sang a duet with so many other women, would you sing one with me?”

• Most people seem to think the Giants should have drafted a quarterback with the No. 2 overall pick. What says Cynthia Dale?: Currently (going into week 15) Saquon Barkley is third in the league in rushing yards, so i would say that that was the right pick. The Giants offense going forward will have two of the most explosive playmakers in the NFL, in OBJ and Barkley. Their quarterback problem could easily be remedied this spring, either through the draft (Justin Herbert?), free agency (Teddy Bridgewater?), or via trade (Derrick Carr?) .The real problem however is their offensive line, as problems will continue regardless who is at quarterback if they cannot get some protection. With Baker Mayfield off the board already. Saquon was the best offensive player available. Aside from Mayfield, have any of the other quarterbacks from the 2017 draft shown really anything aside from flashes here and there? Saquon was the best pick for the Giants.

• Who are the four friendliest celebrities you’ve ever met?: Eric Peterson, Allan Hawco, Rick Mercer, Peter Mansbridge.

• If you could save time in a bottle, what’s the first thing you’d like to do?: The first and only thing I would do is what every mom would do—save every moment with her boy.