Jeff Pearlman

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Category Archives: QUAZ

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Desa Philadelphia

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About 20 years ago, I was standing in the Sports Illustrated hallway when a reporter from Time Magazine showed up and asked—I believe—to use a copy machine.

The moment lasted all of, oh, three minutes, and when it ended I certainly couldn’t have expected Desa Philadelphia to be one of my good friends in 2018, let alone back in 1998. But here we are, two ex-Time Inc.-employed Californians whose families have grown close and who dine on a fairly regular basis.

Which is not, to be clear, why Desa is the 384th Quaz Q&A.

Nope. I asked Desa here because she’s smart and fascinating and the liver of a most unique life. She’s been a reporter at multiple outlets, a writer at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, a Hollywood insider (well, sort of) and attendee at myriad parties. She shares her last name with a city, her husband played in the NFL, she’s been inside Elisabeth Shue’s house and admires Sylvester Stallone’s dedication to cutting hair.

Put simply: She’s one of the most fascinating people I know.

Desa Philadelphia, you’ve been Quazed …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Desa, I’m gonna start with a random one. I just found a small article from Florida Today in 2001 headlined CNN TARGETS YOUNGER AUDIENCE. And it’s about CNN starting a Saturday night talk show featuring young journalists—including Jake Tapper, Roger George and you. Two questions: 1. Whatever happened to it? 2. Why do you think media outlets struggle so much when it comes to the famous/infamous, “Draw a younger audience” challenge?

DESA PHILADELPHIA: Unfortunately 9/11 happened to it. Understandably, after the attacks there were important stories to cover. So everyone who was involved with the show went back to our news outlets to do that very sad work. We never reconvened.

As for the second question, mainstream news shows are not created by younger people. There are always older people who think they know everything who have the final say. So the end product is never really something that younger people want. Let’s use that show, for example. It was called Take Five, and the concept was five younger journalists discussing the week’s news. Think a show like The McLaughlin Group, but much younger. I think I was the youngest journalist they cast. And one of the things I remember, which is illustrative of the point, is that I had to go out to buy “jewel-toned” clothing, because I was told that’s what looked good on TV. Now at the time I was a New York City party girl who looked the part. I wore a lot of black, a lot of high-heeled boots, a lot of jeans or short skirts. My wardrobe could have been themed “day into night” because I almost never went straight home from work. But I remember I bought pinks shirt to be on that show (pink!!). Also, the news we covered was Washington-centric so for example we talked a lot about Gary Condit’s political career after the murder of his intern Chandra Levy, who he was sleeping with. I don’t think young people were as worried about whether Gary Condit’s political career could survive.

I also remember one segment where we talked about Chris Ofili’s elephant dung paintings. I think that segment was considered hip, but really we were talking about art that was in the most prestigious museums, that sold for millions of dollars; also not exactly what the kids were talking about. And I wonder how that show would have looked if we were allowed to just wear what we normally wear. My point is that news shows for younger people aren’t really designed to appeal to younger people. It’s old people speculating about what young people want. Which is ironic because so much of television news is speculation. Also the show aired on Saturday night. What young people are watching CNN on Saturday night? Even the guy I was dating at the time never bothered to stay home to watch. I used to rush to the airport after we were done to catch the shuttle back to New York, then go straight to whatever bar he was at.

With husband Aaron.

With husband Aaron.

J.P.: I just found another piece—this one from 2007. And it’s a profile you wrote on Elisabeth Shue, the actress who was making a comeback in a movie no one wound up seeing. And you start the piece with Shue in her living room, wearing jeans and a tank top. I’m always fascinated by “celebrities being just normal” sorta stories, because it seems like they’re really only being normal to appear being normal. So what do you recall from the Shue experience?

D.P.: That she seemed really normal! First off, she and her husband Davis Guggenheim lived on a really busy, very walkable street in L.A. with no heavy security gates or anything. It was a beautiful home, but it was accessible. I walk by it sometimes and wonder if they still live there; but I doubt it. Also she talked a lot about her family because the movie, which was called Gracie and which Davis directed, was based on her experience of losing her older brother Will who died in a very tragic, very gory accident at their vacation home when they were all gathered there together. I’m pretty sure I didn’t include the details in the piece, but we talked about it at length. I also remember resisting the urge to ask about her brother Andrew. Not because he was a Hollywood hunk. I’ve never watched Melrose Place so I don’t know much about his acting. But when I was in college I was impressed with his non-profit Do Something; I thought it was so cool that a young Hollywood actor had started that. I also remember she had just gotten back from playing tennis and I asked if she was good because I am obsessed with tennis and would love to be good at it but am not. I’m working on it. I just bought one of those tennis trainers that are advertised on Facebook. At first she kind of demurred but then she admitted she kicked ass at tennis, and I loved that. It’s true too; she’s like a semi-pro player. OK, I’m realizing I should qualify the normal comment a little—she seemed really storybook-white-people normal to me. She was like the grown up version of a character in a Babysitters Club YA novel come true. I even thought it was cool that she spelled her name with an S instead of a Z. I also recall that we ate something that I really enjoyed but I can’t remember what, specifically.

Speaking of celebs and normalcy. I get asked a lot which celebrity I’ve covered seemed the most normal and I like the reaction I get when I say Sylvester Stallone. Not because his existence is normal in any way. I went to his house and it was in a crazy gated community of mega mansions owned by Saudis princes and A-List Actors. And there were a few insanely questionable pieces of furnishings; some velvet stuff that his mom had picked out. But HE seemed normal as hell. My favorite thing is how much he loves Rocky, the character. He showed me his Rocky paintings; and this was before he had exhibited them. His daughter also had this very precise Louise Brooks bob that he had cut, and he said he cut her hair to keep up his skills because he used to be a hairdresser before Rocky made him rich and famous. I teased him about needing to keep up his hairdresser skills and he was a good sport about it.

J.P.: You are a communication and development writer at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. So what does that entail? And how does your journalism background come into play with this genre of writing?

D.P.: I’m a jack-of-all-trades writer. I write everything the School of Cinematic Arts needs, from proposals to the admissions brochure to speeches to the bronze plaques on the walls celebrating the donors who have endowed faculty Chairs at the School. It’s marketing, development and communication. I also edit the annual magazine and I oversee student writers who do stories for our website, so those duties are directly related to my journalism training. I consider myself a professional writer but also still a journalist. I don’t think you ever really stop being a journalist if you were a good one.

My journalism training means I’m very precise with details; I fact check everything. And not some willy-nilly I-found-it-online fact check. But like a New Yorker fact check. I once had an informational interview at the New Yorker. The head of the fact-checking department asked me if I had heard about Stephen Glass, The New Republic writer who had fabricated stories. I told him yes and he very firmly said: “that would never happen here!” I was kinda like “alright,” I didn’t really know what to say to that. I didn’t get a call back at The New Yorker. Looking back I realize I didn’t wear the right clothes. The guy who interviewed me, Matt Tyrnauer, grew up in Hollywood and has since directed a documentary about Valentino, the fanciest person on the planet. Tyrnauer himself looked like he stepped out of a magazine. I knew as soon as I saw him that I didn’t have the right clothes. It’s like that “What People Wore to Interview with Anna Wintour” column; you need the right clothes for the Condé Nast building. But I was fresh off the boat and broke as hell. I didn’t know.

J.P.: You wrote a book (“111 Shops in Los Angeles That You Must Not Miss”) that’s been a Pearlman bathroom staple for two years or so. I ask two questions: 1. How did this project even come to you? 2. How does one decide which 111 shops to not miss? And what’s No. 112?

D.P.: So there is a travel book series of 111 Places that you Shouldn’t or Must Not Miss, that had successfully been done in Europe and they decided they wanted to bring the series to the United States and also do a few versions with shops. My friend Katrina Fried was hired as the U.S. editor and she asked me to do the version about Los Angeles Shops.

To answer question #2: If you’re a journalist you begin by gathering stories about Los Angeles history and culture. Then you choose shops that are quintessential in their L.A.ness because they allow you to tell authentic stories about L.A. history and culture. So that’s how I approached the book. I wanted it to be informative and entertaining for people who were coming to L.A. as well as people who live in L.A. And I also wanted it to be enjoyed by someone who would never set foot in L.A. So I did a lot of research and reporting. For example, the stories about Flour and Flowers. My profile of the “urban flour mill” Grist & Toll in Pasadena is about the role that mills played in the development of cities, including L.A. And my story about the wholesale flower marts in Downtown Los Angeles talks about the Japanese-Americans who started them and the flower farms they once owned that made up much of Santa Monica back in the day. Doing the book was also a great way to explore stores I wouldn’t normally shop in. One thing that made the book very difficult is the publisher wanted the shops to be one-of-a-kind. So no chains, all had to be “unique finds.” Also they wanted me to take the photos for the book. I’m not a photographer but since I work in visual media I can tell the difference between shitty photos and skilled ones, and my photos were shitty. So I ended up paying for a photographer myself and she did an amazing job. To decide on 111 shops I visited at least 130 shops. My daughter, who was only about 4 when I started working on it, grew very wary of going “shopping” with me. She’d ask “Are we going to YOUR shops or MY shops”? After a while she outright refused to get in the car to go to see shops. To answer your other question, there are so many 112s. Everyone in my life is tired of hearing “I almost put this shop in my book.”

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J.P.: So you moved from New York to Los Angeles in 2003 when Time wanted you to cover the movie business. And I wonder—what is it to cover the movie business? What does it entail? Is it more fun or nightmare? And did you know what you were doing?

D.P.: The definition of “covering the movie business” depends on the goals of the outlet you’re working for. So Time, being such a mass- appeal publication, really needed celebrity driven stuff. So I spent a lot of time lunching with celebrities or the people who promote celebrities. So let’s just say I had a lot of insincere conversations. Some really great ones too, but there was A LOT of bullshitting. A lot of my job was finding really inspiring stories about movie-making in all that. They exist, but they’re not the ones you get pitched the most.

And it’s funny you ask if I knew what I was doing because at first I did not. I was a hard news reporter so I didn’t know a lot about Hollywood culture. And being the Time movie correspondent was a one-person job in L.A. so I had no one to shadow or learn from. But that’s when your journalism training kicks in and you realize you just have to figure it out. You figure it out because you have to do your job. And because I was working for Time I ended up being schmoozed a lot by people who were often surprised when I walked in the door because they might have been expecting someone who was more Hollywood-polished than I am. I mean Jess Cagle, who is now editor-in-chief of People magazine and hosts a lot of red-carpet shows, did the job before me! He got married in Bridgehampton this year and there were many celebrity guests including Sofia Vergara, Sarah Jessica Parker. And I only know that because I just googled him to make sure I gave you the correct spelling of his name. Needless to say we do not socialize in the same circles. Jess probably knows Matt Tyrnauer.

And if I’m being really honest Hollywood celebrity parties are not as fun as they photograph. I mean I was a party girl in New York; I know how to have a good time. But in L.A. you walk into a party and if you didn’t arrive in the right car with the right people in the right clothes nobody wants to talk to you. These parties are goal-oriented affairs. You’ve only had fun if your career is in better shape when you leave than when you arrived. I did enjoy taking my friends to the parties and watching them enjoy themselves. My friend Seamus, in particular, loved chatting up celebs. And he’s got a great Irish accent and is very relaxed so I could see them trying to figure out if he was someone they needed to accommodate or not. I would of course make sure I was nowhere near. Also I enjoyed going to film festivals. The publicists were always surprised that I actually spent most of my time watching the movies.

Fun story. I went to the Oscars the first week I arrived in Los Angeles and I got invited to the Governors Ball. And because I had just moved from New York, I still smoked socially. So I go out on a balcony to have a cigarette and I start chatting with these women who looked like they were Marilyn Monroe impersonators. I start asking them what they thought of the movies that won etc. They have not seen anything. They knew nothing about the Academy; didn’t even know the party was called the Governor’s Ball. I explain stuff. They tell me they are just there as “dates” for some older dudes. Fast forward a year later I’m told I’m not invited to the Governor’s Ball because I’m not high ranking enough. There are hookers at this party; but I don’t make the cut.

So to answer your final question on this topic. As with everything else Hollywood is more fun once you figure out how everything works. Cause then you spend less time on the bullshit, and you can actually focus on the art. And filmmaking is an incredibly difficult art form to master. People who can successfully think of an idea then do everything needed to bring it to a theater are geniuses who deserve every cent of the millions of dollars they make.

J.P.: You grew up in Georgetown, Guyana—but I know jarringly little about your actual journey to America. So how? Why? When? What was the reasoning? How hard was it?

D.P.: The why I came to the U.S. is that I really really wanted to be a U.S.-trained journalist. I wanted to be a reporter since I was about twelve years old. We got pirated American television stations when I was growing up in Guyana. I was obsessed with Bernard Shaw and Bella Shaw who co-hosted the evening news on CNN. I also loved the “read Time and understand” commercials that ran nonstop on TBS in the eighties. I can still sing the jingle verbatim. I could hardly believe it when I landed a job there.

Also my older sisters were working as nannies in New York, so I was determined to be with them and study journalism at an American university. So that’s why I chose New York. Yes it was hard because no one in my family knew how to do what I was trying to. So figuring it out was hard and I did most of the research myself, as an 18 year old with no information to start with. I spent a year in New York in limbo with my parents trying to scrape together money to pay for college. Early in the process someone “official” told me I didn’t qualify for financial aid. I didn’t realize that with my grades and high school achievements I probably could have gotten a scholarship to a really good private university. So I enrolled at City College of New York, which ended up being a really great experience, and my parents borrowed money to pay my tuition and my sisters fed and clothed and sheltered me.

During that year in limbo I went out of student status and I wrote a letter to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service explaining all the difficulties I was having and asking them to not cancel my student visa. And they extended it. I think international students today would be too afraid of being deported to write the letter I did.

J.P.: You’re on a college campus, meaning you’re around students all the time. And I often hear, “Ugh, kids today” and “Ugh, 20-year-olds today.” And I wonder, from your experience, whether there’s any generational justification for the frustration with this era of youngsters? Like, are they more entitled? More bratty? Or are we just old assholes?

D.P.: We’re just old assholes. Every single day college kids are realizing there is so much about the world they know nothing about. And that, understandably, is intimidating. And they get a little scared and insecure and they try to front. Once you realize what’s at the root of a lot of the behavior you can genuinely engage them. You just have to let them know that they don’t have to be experts on anything around you; that they won’t be judged for not knowing everything. You have to start with empathy.

That said, I have to admit I can’t listen to their conversations with each other for very long.  But I understand that it’s not because of any deficiencies on their part. It’s just that I’m old. So when I find myself wanting to launch into lectures about syntax or the virtues of vulnerability, I just move on. I move my body out of earshot. But sometimes it’s fun to blow their minds with fun facts from any time before 5 years ago.

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J.P.: Your husband Aaron played college football, then in the CFL and NFL. And I wonder (because I’ve actually never asked this before of someone in your shoes) whether you see the echoes of sports in your man’s existence? What I mean is, from approach to things to limps to impulses to reactions—can you see sport’s imprint?

D.P.: My husband loves being on a team. He really enjoyed playing at Indiana University and he actually graduated so he’s proud he got an education out of it. He coaches high school football now so football and team culture are still a big part of his life.

He’s very disciplined about getting his work done, ticking off any tasks he has set himself, and setting goals. I think that’s because of sports. On the flip side it’s hard for him to switch course or abandon something, even if it’s not working out. A comical example of this is that he will watch a bad movie to the end rather than bail. He just needs to see things through. Play until the last minute.

And yes, sports has definitely taken a toll on his body. He has really bad knees. He’s had several procedures and will eventually need to have them replaced.

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

D.P.: Greatest moment was the first night after my daughter was born when it was just the three of us alone in the hospital room and I didn’t feel like I needed anything more to be happy.

Lowest was realizing just how much being sexually molested as a child has affected my life.

J.P.: You’re a journalist. I’m a journalist. We live in the era of #fakenews. What are we supposed to do to maintain the public’s trust? How do we survive this shit?

D.P.: By doing our best. And I mean that sincerely. We have to strive to do good work, all the time. And we have to call out bad work. I do not watch cable news. I think all the cable news channels do a shitty job. I hate fake punditry, which is what you see on cable news. It does not make viewers smarter or better informed.

I try to remind myself to go read source material as much as possible—the whole speech rather than the clips; the report rather than the teaser “findings.” We also have to understand what we are fighting for even if other people don’t get it. There is no democracy without a free press.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH DESA PHILADELPHIA:

• What are the complications of having a city for a name?: Being accused of making it up. My first class, first day of college, we go around the room introducing ourselves. Guy next to me says, in a really sarcastic voice, think Valley Girl stereotype: “So are you trying to be like Judy Chicago?” Also early Facebook kicked me off because they said my name was fake. I only got restored because a friend had a friend who worked there who hooked me up. Another annoyance, people thinking that there’s a “mistake” that needs to be fixed. An airline rep made me step aside and wait until everyone else had boarded so he could explain they had made a mistake on my boarding pass and printed the city of departure—Philadelphia—instead of my last name. I had to point out there were two instance of “Philadelphia” on the pass.

Another thing, I’m still trying to live up to this great writer’s name. I don’t really have the desire to write the great Caribbean-American novel, but I’ll probably have to; just because.

• Rank in order (favorite to least)—Cam Cameron, Santa Claus, the new Miami Marlins logo, Fruit Stripe gum, Budweiser Clydesdales, Guinness Beer, The Last Bookstore, your daughter’s teacher from last year, Hideo Nomo: My daughter’s teacher from last year (she won a national teaching award), Guinness Beer, The Last Bookstore, Cam Cameron (he coached my husband in college), Hideo Nomo (I love baseball), Santa Claus, Fruit Stripe gum (I bite myself when I chew gum), the Budweiser Clydesdales, the new Miami Marlins logo.

• How did you meet your husband?: He went to high school with my Canadian cousins, and is besties with one of my cousins in particular. Everyone in my family knew him before I did, even my parents. He was a frequent visitor to my family’s gatherings. I had to introduce him to no one. I hit on him at a New Year’s Eve party in Toronto, gave him my number and told him to call me the next day. I’ve been bossing him around since.

• Five greatest Asian-American journalists of your lifetime: Connie Chung, Atul Gawande, Ann Curry, Lisa Ling, Lakshmi Singh.

• I don’t think Eminem’s “Relapse” album was particularly good. What says you?: I probably can’t name a single song on that album. I still listen to Midnight Marauders (A Tribe Called Quest) and Daily Operator (Gang Starr).

• Tell me a joke, please: I’m going to do a standup comedy kind a joke rather than a knock-knock category joke. Here goes …

When my daughter was five and the Frozen movie was huge we were at a birthday party with an entertainer dressed up as Elsa. I was chatting with some moms and I see Elsa trying her best to escape my kid. I walk over to hear my daughter ask: “Is that your real hair?” Elsa says yes. My daughter, accusingly: “Well how come I can see brown hair underneath?” I practically drag my kid away. She is mad as hell at this obvious imposter: “Mom, her name isn’t even Elsa you know. It’s Idina Menzel!”

This is my all-time favorite song. What do you think?: Great choice. I love Shannon Hoon’s voice. No Rain is probably the only song my husband and I would both have on our favorites list. It’s in my top 10 for sure; probably top 5.

• What’s the worst smell in the world?: I don’t know. But the worst smells I’ve ever experienced were the smoke in the air from the 9/11 attacks; you could smell it for weeks everywhere in Manhattan. And a person being hit and killed by a subway train. I was shocked by the fact that there was an immediate small. And we have a fruit in Guyana called Stinking Toe. It smells really bad; I can’t remember what it tastes like.

• You’ve met my dog Norma. I think if I banged my head, fell to the floor and started bleeding while unconscious, she’d happily lick up the blood. My kids think she’d bark for help. What says you?: Hmmm, I love your dog; she is a sweetheart. I think she’d lick up the blood until you stopped bleeding. Then bark when she got hungry again.

• Four great things about being so short?: 1. I always got to be at the front of the line in elementary school. 2. Never dated a guy who was too short. 3. I don’t hit my head much. 4. Always at the front in photos.

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Tiffany Ackley

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A Quaz can come from anywhere.

Some come from TV.

Some come off of movies.

Some are friends. Some are friends of friends. Some are recommended. Some are in the news.

Tiffany Ackley, the 383rd Quaz Q&A, arrives via a Facebook post.

A few weeks ago, while dingling around the information superhighway, I stumbled upon this Facebook post from Tiffany Ackley, a local political activist who had just won an election to serve on a nearby city council …

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And I thought, “Quaz!”

Why? Because, more than ever, we need some positivity. Some inspiration. Someone to look at and say, “Yes, it’s still worth believing.” So I reached out, and Tiffany was all in. Which brings me great joy, because this is one helluva Quaz.

One can follow Tiffany Ackley on Twitter here.

Tiffany, you are the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK Tiffany, so a few weeks ago you ran for a seat on the Aliso Viejo City Council—and won. And I wonder, do you feel like local political elections have lost any semblance of quaintness, of warmth? Like, has the anger of the national seeped into the locals? Did you need to go after opponents? Did they go after you? Were Trump allegiances factored in? Or was it a relatively peaceful process?

TIFFANY ACKLEY: When I decided to run, I wanted to be a force for the good. We were all being inundated with bad politics and politicians on a national level. I didn’t want to be that type of person, and so I kept my campaign positive.

That being said, I more than realize that national anger helped local politicians. Given the country’s temperament, people were mad, and willing to get out and volunteer. I can’t count the times I saw a Harley Rouda volunteer while I was canvassing. It was national anger that motivated people to show up in record numbers to vote.

For the most part the Aliso Viejo race was tame. I was anonymously attacked several times—for example, someone told me I was a bad mother because I was running for office. I was also attacked online by a prominent figure in Aliso Viejo who invented allegations about me. I was attacked anonymously on Twitter. There were mass emails trying to scare conservatives out of voting for me (comparing me to Elizabeth Warren). I had signs stolen. But these are pretty tame, especially considering how bad things can get in places like Irvine.

In the end, I’d say my race was more cordial than not—something I believe Aliso Viejo residents wanted.

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J.P.: On Nov. 28, 2016, you underwent a nine-hour surgery to have a brain tumor removed. You’ve said you woke up and decided to make life changes. What did that mean? And what did you do?

T.A.: When I had my surgery, my children were young—very young. Laurel was 3, and Keith was 6 months. The day before the surgery, I had to drive them out to family members and say goodbye to them for what might have been the last time.

At the same time, the world filled with hope—a world where Obama was President—was gone.  I had spent my whole life doing what I thought was improving myself: education, travel, reading, etc. But what I hadn’t done enough of was improve the world, not only for my children, but for everyone.

I woke up and really understood that life is short. I had spent so many years working at a national law firm—which was an amazing experience that allowed me to grow so much as an attorney—but the job took me away from home too much.

I would travel, work late, work on the weekends, and was on call all the time. I didn’t want that life anymore. I wanted a job where my clients were my friends, and where I was working to make this world better. For me, that eventually translated into working for water districts, helping make sure our water is clean and accessible to everyone.

I also made the decision to be happy and kind. People spend far too much of their lives focused on what is wrong, or that they are unhappy. It was like a light switch went off—I wasn’t going to do that anymore. Just being alive is amazing. There is good in everything, and in everyone. It’s our job to see the good in all situation. It’s our job to tell people what is good about them. It’s a cycle—the more we see the good/verbalize the good, the more good that comes, and the happier we get. If nothing else, I hope that people are kind to one another. Everyone has a struggle. Everyone.

I didn’t wake up thinking I was going to run for office. But I realized that if I was going to be faced with a president who didn’t represent my values, I was going to work hard to make sure this country still embodied my values.

I opened myself to opportunities to make a difference. Opportunities like going to LAX and performing volunteer legal services for incoming foreigners facing the Muslim travel ban. Opportunities like providing pro-bono legal work. Opportunities like taking part in the first-ever Women’s March up in Los Angeles. And, eventually, opportunities like running for office. And I wanted my children to be a part of that—to see that journey, win or lose. And I don’t regret any of those choices. Not for a second.

J.P.: How did you first know you had a tumor? Were there signs? Tell-tales? And what was your reaction when you were told, in fact, you had one?

T.A.: In 2009 I lost all hearing in my left ear. The hearing loss was so rapid, that I made an audiologist cry when he tested my hearing twice in a week and saw how much hearing I had lost in just a few days. I went through some crazy tests—I had a massive shot of steroids injected into my ear drum, all sorts of hearing tests and scans.

I eventually found myself up in Los Angeles dealing with experts who performed an MRI and they found the tumor. I tend to have measured responses to unusual situations, and this was no different. I didn’t cry. I didn’t scream. I just digested the information as fact and tried to go on with my life.

Because of the tumor’s location, it was too dangerous to operate on, so we decided to monitor the tumor’s grown with MRIs every six months. The tumor really didn’t grow at all for a long time. Once I gave birth to my son, I had a “routine” MRI and expected the same result I had been getting for years.

I knew something was different when I got a call from the doctor. I was at the old Redondo Beach courthouse and sent the call to voicemail. That courthouse was always one of my favorites—it was on the Redondo Beach pier. I always made it a point to park with my car looking out on the ocean/pier. That day was no different.

Once I was done in court, I got to my car, sat in the front seat, and returned the doctor’s call while looking out at the ocean. “We need to schedule surgery as soon as possible.” Those words are burned into my brain.

After the call, I sat in my car for about 45 minutes, just looking at the ocean. I’m a planner, so I started planning—who was I going to call first? What would I do with the kids? How would I tell my work? What did I need to do to prepare for the worst case scenario? It was a lot to process.

J.P.: You needed to go through physical therapy to learn to walk again. What does that mean? Like, you come out and your legs won’t listen to your brain? Do you know how to walk, but don’t know-know? In short, what is it to learn to walk again?

T.A.: There is a lot entailed in learning how to walk again. In my case, my legs didn’t listen to my brain at first- but eventually did. At that point, I had to learn how to walk without balance function.

We all use our inner ears for balance. My left inner ear had been removed in the surgery, so without physical therapy, the room spun all the time, and I’d fall over just standing up. I probably looked like I was drunk. It certainly felt that way when I would fall over just standing still. This was one of the most frustrating times in my life.

My physical therapist was amazing. She’d work with me for hours, taking very small steps, catching me when I fell, but encouraging me to keep going. I was pretty adamant about getting back on my feet, so I would go to therapy almost every day, and I would keep practicing my exercises at home for hours on end.

I still have something called oscillopsia (best described as your visual field feeling like it’s shaking)—which makes running impossible. And I still lose my balance every once in a while, but overall I function just fine.

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J.P.: How does that experience change your relationship with death? Does it make you more scared? Less? Neither?

T.A.: My experience didn’t change my relationship with death, it did change my relationship with life. Life is too short to not do something to make this world better.

J.P.: Your website bio says, “As an attorney I have spent the last decade of my life defending cities.” What, exactly, does “defending cities” mean?

T.A.: Smaller cities do not have in-house attorneys to represent the city in litigation, because the cost of such attorneys isn’t justified. As a result, the cities often participate in a joint powers authority—similar to an insurance program. When the cities are sued, the joint powers authority will hire counsel to represent the city in the litigation. My firm was one of the firms that provided that service.

The cities I represented—from San Clemente, Aliso Viejo, Laguna Beach, Rancho Palos Verdes, and more—would be sued for various things ranging from a fall that someone sustained as a result of crack in a sidewalk, to wrongful termination, to wrongful death, to discrimination.

J.P.: You posted something on your Facebook page recently that said BE GOOD TO PEOPLE FOR NO REASON. I feel like that’s a beautiful, necessary statement in 2018. I ask you—why does humanity seem so awful right now?

T.A.: I think humanity seems so awful right now for several reasons. First, things are bad, and we have elected a bully to the White House and our top governmental officials are committing crimes.

Second, bad news sells. There are more clicks on the articles highlighting the bad, and news media has to make money, so they post more of the “bad” news.

Third, we are all constantly on our devices. Seriously, when you walk into an elevator, look around and you’ll note most people are staring at their phones. And when you compare yourself to a curated image on Facebook, Instagram, etc., it’s easy to think our lives are bad comparatively.

But here’s the thing—take a second and look up. Ask the person in the elevator how his day was. Compliment her on something she is wearing.  When you are in a drive-thru, pay for the person’s meal behind you.

When we stop interacting with people, we start thinking we are the only ones with problems and we become bitter. But everyone—everyone—has a struggle. Be good for no good reason. It might take 2 seconds of your time, but it might mean the world to that person.  And maybe that person will do something kind to another person for no good reason. And the cycle goes on and on. I promise you, it’s worth it.

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J.P.: So we’re here in Southern California. The rain never comes. The fires are getting worse. We have a president who doesn’t believe in climate change. What do we do? And do you—optimistic-thinking Tiffany—think we somehow figure something out? Or is humanity doomed?

T.A.: Do I think humanity is doomed? Yes. Is that because of this president? No. Are we doomed because of climate change? Possibly. I would defer to people more qualified to answer that question.

I don’t believe the human race is meant to live forever. But I also don’t think we need to hasten our extinction. We should take care of this planet, starting with fighting climate change.  We should pour money into NASA and space exploration. We should keep doing everything in our power to move forward. In the words of Dylan Thomas, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

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

T.A.: Superlatives are tough for me.  The greatest moments of my life are the births of my two amazing kids. The lowest moment of my life was struggling with post-partum depression following the birth of my daughter.

J.P.: You and I both live in Orange County. When I moved here four years ago, I was warned that it can be a very sheltered, shallow bubble where people are more concerned with their lattes than homelessness; where people rarely venture into LA because it’s “scary” and chain restaurants rule the landscape. And, eh … well, as much as I dig it here, they sorta have a point. Tiffany, you seem to love it here. So what am I missing?

T.A.: I have lived around the world—literally. I’ve lived in Connecticut, Italy, Spain, Austria, Sacramento, Louisiana, and Los Angeles. I’ve also traveled a lot. But I always come back to Orange County.

Do people here care more about their lattes than homeless? Yes. Do people here rarely venture into LA? Yes. And do chain restaurants rule the landscape? Yes. Are these statements even truer in South Orange County? Yes.

Look, we can call these things a downside or, we can chose to see them as a challenge to make positive changes. I chose the latter.

The time period from November 2016-thru-November 2018 was really inspiring in Orange County. Thousands of people came out of their sheltered lives and started to speak up for the rights of others. They marched, they volunteered, and most importantly, they voted in 2018.

Orange County of 2018 is not the Orange County I grew up in. We are changing—and the amazing thing about those “downsides” is that we have an opportunity to change for the better! It’s not as easy as saying Orange County is a blank slate, but it is a work-in-progress, and we all get a chance to participate in that progress.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH TIFFANY ACKLEY

• Five reasons one should make Aliso Viejo his/her next vacation destination?: 1. Aliso Viejo has one awesome City Council woman; 2. We are ideally located- close to beautiful beaches, amazing dining, Disneyland, great parks, Los Angeles and San Diego; 3. We have some great hiking and outdoor areas; 4. We are an example of a sleepy, coastal Orange County town; 5. Soka University is one of the most beautiful colleges in America, and hosts amazing performances throughout the year.

• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between you and Melania Trump? What’s the outcome?: I’m 5’10” and played ice hockey in high school.  She’d be knocked out two seconds into the first round.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Meek Mill, Jenna Bush, Jason Spielfogel, Good Morning America, Ryan Seacrest, Wonder Woman, Michael Lewis, cranberry juice cocktail, Harley Rouda, Bach, Donovan McNabb: Wonder Woman (DC and Justice League for the win!), Harley Rouda, Bach (Cannon in D), Cranberry Juice Cocktail, Michael Lewis (I mean, he wrote Moneyball), Jason Spielfogel (I’ve only met him once, and while he attacked me online, our democracy depends on people running for office)., Donovan McNabb (next time pick a baseball player and we can discuss), Jenna Bush, Meek Mill (I don’t know who that is!), Good Morning America (I don’t have cable TV), Ryan Seacrest.

• First legit meal you ate after surgery?: I honestly can’t remember.  Maybe sushi?

• Tell me three things about your first pet: She was a black Labrador. Her name was Pappy. I still miss her.

• What are the world’s three worst sounds?: Loud gulping. Fingernails on a chalk board. Fran Drescher talking.

• Elton John is on a two-year farewell tour. Doesn’t two years seem a bit long to say farewell?: Apparently not for Elton John.

• Five emotions you felt when Donald Trump won the presidency: Shock. Embarrassment. Solitude. Fear. Anger.

• I’m Jewish. What should we bring to your house for Christmas dinner? And what time should we get there?: Matzo Brei (i.e. MatzoEggs)-  I only recently discovered this amazing dish, latkes, wine- really anything.  7pm.  See you then!

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Maggie Langrick

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Some eight years ago, the Quaz began when—while watching an episode of The Wonder Years with my kids—I saw one of Kevin Arnold’s girlfriends and thought, “Hmh, I wonder what ever happened to her?”

Enter: Wandy Hagen.

Enter: The Internet’s most random Q&A series.

Over the ensuing 400 or so weeks, many of these interviews have been the byproducts of that sort of curiosity. What ever became of Phil Nevin? What ever became of Jenn Sterger? What ever became of the third guitarist from Styx? Or, in other words, I’m a big “What ever became of …” guy.

Maybe the biggest.

Hence, I’m happy to introduce the latest Quaz, Maggie Langrick, who is here because, not all that long ago, the kids and I were watching “Harry and the Hendersons” and I thought, “Hmm, what ever became of the two kids?” One, Joshua Rudoy, sort of vanished into the world’s abyss. The other, however, is Maggie, who spent a solid decade doing the Hollywood thing before becoming a (gasp!) journalist.

These days, Maggie is the CEO and publisher at LifeTree Media, a company that provides premiere editorial and publishing services to non-fiction authors. Her blog is awesome, her acting memories fantastic, her anti-Trump feelings raw and righteous.

One can follow Maggie on Twitter here, Facebook here and Instagram here.

Maggie Langrick, you are the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Maggie, I first learned of you about a week ago, when my kids and I watched “Harry and the Hendersons” on Netflix. Mainly because I have this disease where I always wonder what became of actors, singers athletes, etc. And I am fascinated by the film, because it was very quirky, very, very enjoyable. So—how’d you land that gig? And, looking back three decades, how do you feel about it?

MAGGIE LANGRICK: Harry and the Hendersons was such a fun gig. I got the part the usual way, by auditioning for the director and producers. I guess I was pretty good at sarcastically rolling my eyes as a teenager, and that’s exactly what they were looking for. The shoot was long – about three or four months, half of which was spent on location in Seattle, and the other half on the back lot at Universal Studios.

J.P.: So you’re the head of LifeTree Media, a company that “provides premiere editorial and publishing services to non-fiction authors.” And as we sit here in 2018, I wonder how you feel about the future of printed books. Will they exist in two decades? Has there been a revival? Do we all need to just embrace digital? Does it matter?

M.L.: I think we do all need to embrace digital media, as more and more aspects of our lives are conducted in the digital space. However, I also don’t believe that printed books are going away, at least not anytime soon. People have their preferences, and all three major formats—print, ebook and now audiobook—have their fans. Personally, I read both ebooks and print books and find that both have their place.  The good news is that people are still buying and reading books. Ultimately, I don’t think the format matters at all. What’s important is the content, not the container.

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J.P.: You’re the former life and arts editor of the Vancouver Sun, and I’m a former life and arts writer for The Tennessean. And I really, really miss the intensity of the newsroom, the smell of paper off press, etc. How do you feel about newspapers? And, like books, is there any hope?

M.L.: Journalism is in a very, very tough spot. I believe the economic challenges to the newspaper industry are much more serious than those that book publishers are facing because the bulk of their revenues come from ads, not from consumer sales. Those ad dollars have all but vanished with the rise of digital media, and the money earned from online subscriptions is nowhere near enough to replace what’s been lost. Print newspaper newsrooms, especially smaller metropolitan dailies, are dramatically shrinking their staffs or closing down altogether. It’s very worrying when you consider how important a free and robust press is to democracy. I do, however, feel encouraged by the rise of credible online-only news outlets. As with books, it’s news reporting that matters, not the paper it’s printed on.

J.P.: You identify on your site as a feminist. And, on Nov. 12, 2016, you began a blog post with “I woke up crying the morning after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States.” So I have to ask—how are you holding up in the era of Donald Trump? What are your survival techniques?

M.L.: I’m white-knuckling it and praying for a return to decency and democracy in 2020.

J.P.: You wrote a blog post titled, THREE MISTAKES NEW AUTHORS MAKE WHEN WRITING A NONFICTION BOOK. And, under one, you write, “How-to books, memoirs, “big idea” books and narrative non-fiction books all follow particular conventions, and must have certain qualities in order to be successful. Failure to understand or observe these norms is almost certain to lead to an unsatisfying book that feels “off” to readers.” I was wondering if you could elaborate, because I don’t quite get it.

M.L.: This is a great question with a fairly complex answer. I can’t go into detail here about the qualities and norms of every type of book, but as an example, a how-to book must feature clear instructions and solid information in order to be successful. Memoir requires exceptional creative writing talent and storytelling skills, while a big idea book must present a comprehensive and compelling argument from a bona fide expert. Novice writers often miss the mark, for example by using case studies ineffectively, or relying too heavily on their own opinions and conclusions at the expense of facts and evidence.

J.P.: I’m currently reading Justine Bateman’s book, “Fame.” And the premise is, really, “fame is bullshit.” You experienced a good run in Hollywood. Is fame bullshit? How did you feel about the spotlight? Red carpets? Being recognized? Etc?

M.L.: I guess it depends on what you mean by fame. Celebrity is bullshit, for sure. But being well known for doing excellent work in any field is not a bad thing. I think most people with big dreams or ambitions would like to make a mark on the world, and that usually brings with it some recognition. As an actor, I was recognized from time to time and it was almost always a pleasant or neutral experience – just a brief encounter with a fellow human being wanting to share their appreciation for my work. I never got famous enough for stalkers or harrassers to become a problem.

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J.P.: Along those lines, why did you stop acting?

M.L.: Acting was tons of fun, but the work was so erratic. I never felt in control of my own career progression. After my daughter was born I studied fine art for a while, then pivoted into editing, which is something I’ve always enjoyed and am naturally good at.

J.P.: You refer to yourself as “an optimistic cheerleader for the human race.” And, Maggie, I’m having a shitload of trouble right now. Climate change, xenophobia, guns. Is there really a reason for optimism?

M.L.: Sigh. I know. It’s not an easy time to be an optimist. Humanity appears to be taking a pretty big step back at the moment. But here’s the thing. Humans have been doing vile and despicable things to each other throughout history, on both a grand and intimate scale. Yet even in the midst of the most horrific events or conditions, individuals will show each other kindness, feel and express love, and perform heroic acts of generosity. Relieving the suffering of another person, even just a little bit, feels good. We all commit acts of cruelty, selfishness and aggression too from time to time, but it feels bad to do it, even when it brings us some sort of advantage. That tells me that love, kindness and generosity must be our natural state. The impulse to intentionally inflict suffering on another person is an unnatural one that stems from suffering that we ourselves have experienced in the past. Underneath our dysfunction we are constantly trying, or at least longing, to return to that harmonious natural state so that we can feel peaceful and happy. There is in each of us an overwhelming desire to heal and repair. That is the basis of my optimism. That’s also why I decided that my company LifeTree Media would publish books that help, heal and inspire.

Maggie (right) and the Hendersons.

Maggie (right) and the Hendersons.

J.P.: What’s the most memorable assignment of your journalism career? And what do you remember about it?

M.L.: I was never a reporter, always an editor, so I haven’t had a lot of assignments of the sort I think you’re referring to. However, I was fortunate to be Arts and Life Editor for the Vancouver Sun during the 2010 Olympics. That was an electrifying moment for the city, for our newsroom, and for me personally.

J.P.: So I’ve had a bunch of my books optioned, and it’s always the same shit: This is amazing! This is gonna be a great movie! We know just the guy to star in it! Oh, this is happening! Then, one day inevitably—silence. You’ve experienced Hollywood. Serious question: Why is there so much bullshit?

M.L.: I think you’re referring to the insincere flattery and empty promises that Hollywood is known for. I sure don’t have the inside scoop on why that is or where it comes from, but if I suspect it’s due to a combination of laziness and opportunism. It’s easier to pay someone a hollow compliment than to tell them a difficult truth. And in a fickle town like Hollywood where you never know which dumb idea is about to become the next Big Thing, people tend to string each other along to keep their options open. And now that’s become part of the culture; everybody knows not to pop any champagne until the ink is dry on a deal.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH MAGGIE LANGRICK:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): the BLT, Henry Burris, T.J. Scott, Law & Order, Washington Post, Bryce Harper, your left hand, big glasses of root beer, Elena Kagan: My left hand, BLT (assuming you mean the delicious sandwich), Washington Post, Elana Kagan, Root beer, Law & Order, T.J. Scott, Henry Burris and Bryce Harper are tied for last place because I had to Google them to find out who they were.

• The next president of the United States will be …: …very busy restoring faith in our public institutions.

• Five all-time favorite books: Oh, no, all-time faves are too hard! But here are five random books that I liked reading a lot.

  1. Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides
  2. The Crimson Petal and the White, by Michel Faber
  3. Good to Great, by Jim Collins
  4. The Wives of Bath, by Susan Swan
  5. The Maggie B, by Irene Haas

• Three memories from playing Dolores Lucas in “Cold Comfort”: 1. Maury Chaykin (who played my father) trying to crack me up during my closeups by feeding me goofy lines from off-camera; 2. Shooting the topless scene. I was super nervous, but only because I felt insecure about my body; 3. A poem that Maury made up, which made it into the birthday scene. It went: “My daughter, my daughter // Part of me, part of your mother // But mostly, part of me.” Man, that is just the best thing ever.

• Three reasons one should move to Vancouver: Mountains, ocean, BC bud.

• Would it have been theoretically possible for the Hendersons to just renovate the basement and have Harry move in?: Not really because the movie was shot in a sound stage at Universal Studios… :/

• What are your five most-overused writing words?: I have no idea. But I do know that I use way, way too many parenthetical clauses.

• I once had a book sitting at No. 13 on the NYT best-seller’s list. Snooki’s book was No. 1. Am I allowed to pull my hair out over this?: No. You are allowed to count yourself very, very lucky to have found a place on that list at all. And then you are allowed to brag about it as much as you want for the rest of your life! I sure would.

• Name seven people you’ve never met: Justin Trudeau, Oprah Winfrey, Tilda Swinton, Jane Goodall, Chris Ofili, my paternal grandmother

• I’m not feeling Kevin Knox as a Knick. You?: Who is Kevin Knox?

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Roger Alan Nichols

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Today is Thanksgiving, which means we gather around the table, argue about politics, drink too much, eat to excess, then wonder where it all went so terribly wrong.

Or, we just give thanks.

So, in that secondary spirit, I’m going to offer genuine appreciation to today’s Quaz Q&A—the great Roger Alan Nichols. The two of us first met 23 years ago, when I was a crap writer for The Tennessean and Roger was the lead guitarist of Dreaming in English, a Nashville rock n roll band with dreams of fame, fortune and musical glory.

I pitched the group’s saga as an idea for a long feature (struggling outfit trying to make it), and my editors bit. So I spent myriad days following Roger and his cohorts around, from rehearsals to gigs to windy nights hanging flyers on telephone poles. The resulting piece, headlined DREAMING OF BETTER DAYS, was simultaneously glorious (it was probably 2,500 words, and ran on the section front) and nightmarish (I got the lead singer’s last name wrong), and while the band ultimately came and went, Roger and I have maintained casual contact through the years. Nowadays he’s the president, CEO, owner and head guru of Bell Tone Recording, a Nashville recording studio, and he’s worked with some of the biggest (and most talented) artists in music.

Hence, I’ve brought Roger here to chat band dreams dying, music dreams soaring, unorthodox wedding locations and what it’s like working with Aerosmith’s iconic lead singer and Kermit the Frog.

One can visit Bell Tone Recording’s website here, and follow Roger on Twitter here.

Roger Alan Nichols, you are the 381st Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, so Roger, I’m insanely psyched to have you here—mainly because there’s a question I’ve long wanted to ask. Back in the mid-1990s, when I was a writer at The Tennessean, I spent a bunch of days following around your band, “Dreaming in English,” for a lengthy profile. And I was truly convinced you guys were going to make it big. And you did not. So I ask, 25 years later—why not?

ROGER ALAN NICHOLS: Making it big and being successful can be viewed as two completely different things. On a regional scale Dreaming In English was quite successful and I think that we along with numerous other rock bands during the mid nineties laid the ground work for many bands that followed. At that time (1989 thru the early 90s) referring to Nashville as our home base was viewed as a liability and not an asset. I remember we had this west coast attorney who would bring A&R guys into town to see us and he would always instruct us to say, “We are in Nashville on business, and not from Nashville.” He was afraid that any association with the city would equal an automatic “no.” Remember this was on the heels of the Seattle explosion and everyone was looking for the next hotbed for rock n roll.

There were numerous bands (Bedlam, Jane His Wife, Human Radio) that had critical success and moderate sales, but being a rock band from Nashville at the height of the country music boom was often doomed with “The Nashville Curse”.  It wasn’t until 2009 that people nationally adopted the idea that not everything musical in Davidson County wore a cowboy hat. I think what we were trying to do in Nashville was too early, timing-wise.

Being in D.I.E., though, provided me the opportunity to refine my writing, engineering and production skills and ultimately it exposed me to some life lessons that I still reflect on today. As you can imagine for a band to “make it big” there are numerous events that have to happen, all of which ultimately cannot be ordained without an enormous amount of luck. In full disclosure, when our band finally imploded in 2001 I was completely lost for the next several years. For the first time in my life (since grade school, actually) I wasn’t in a band and it took me a while to figure out my next step. Those were dark years indeed but ultimately it was the best thing that could have happened to me.

Playing with Dreaming in English at Nashville's 12th & Porter in the mid 1990s.

Playing with Dreaming in English at Nashville’s 12th & Porter in the mid 1990s.

J.P.: That story stands out to me for myriad reasons, but one in particular. Namely, throughout the entire piece (which was really long) I misidentified your lead singer, Ty Banks, as Ty Brooks. And I vividly recall you calling, saying, “No big deal, but …” And I have to think, looking back, y’all were pissed. No? At least that he was …

R.N.: If my memory serves me right I don’t remember Ty or anyone being especially pissed. As you may recall, Ty was absent quite a bit so his connection with you was not the same as everyone else in the band. I will never forget how big the article was. We were coming back into town from a show on that Saturday night so we stopped at a gas station to buy a copy of the Tennessean. I’ll never forget walking out of the Mapco at 5:30 in the morning and opening that paper up—“Holy shit! Look at the size of this article!” I think the misidentified name was more of parallel to what we were facing as a band at that time, struggling for recognition and acceptance. My fondest memories from those interviews were the conversations you and I would have, Bongo Java on Belmont comes to mind. Our conversations would start with the subject at hand but often drift to things we were dealing with on a personal level, as young adults trying to figure it all out.

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J.P.: You own a Nashville recording studio, Bell Tone Recording. I have no idea what such a job entails. So, Roger, what does it entail?

R.N.: HA! It’s a daily adventure. I opened the room eight years ago mostly because I worked 24 hours a day when my studio was located in my house. I sensed the business was starting to change and I knew that if I had a commercial location to work out of, I could flourish. Before moving I had already worked on quite a few records and was starting to suffer from burnout due to proximity. I also started noticing that as I would bring artists into the house there was always this weird obligation for them to ask me about my dog, my wife, why we painted a wall that color, etc. I’m in a great space now and it’s primary use is for writing, mixing, recording guitars, vocals etc. For tracking dates I normally move to Electric Thunder Studios which is located downstairs from my room. It’s run by Geoff Piller. Side note regarding the studio name: When a electric guitar possesses a bright but punchy sound it’s sometimes referred to as having a nice “bell tone.” My father was a photographer in West Virginia (Bridgeport/Clarksburg area) and had a studio called Bell Studio for 45 years before retiring. I chose the name as a nod to both

 J.P.: I was recently in Nashville, and it hit me—hard—how much the city has grown, changed. From the traffic to the “trendy” restaurants and bars to the … traffic. It feels like an altogether different place from the one I left. Is that a good thing? And how has it impacted the music produced?

R.N.: The impact on Nashville regarding how music is produced hinges more on technology than a population shift, but that’s a whole separate conversation. As the Internet broke down barriers, Nashville became a more desirable place to live. Property was cheaper than LA and New York City, the ground didn’t move and up until a year and half ago, traffic wasn’t really an issue. The biggest issue was, “Are there any good restaurants?” (no longer an issue). Remember, pre- and early-internet, most genres of music outside of country or Christian were routed through label offices more than likely found in LA or New York. Being a band from Nashville always brought with it an association to country music or Christian music so east and west coast labels weren’t really interested. The mindset being, “You’re from Nashville, so you must be a country band and you have labels there that handle what you do.”

But finally bands started showing up on A&R radars due to activity based on Internet chatter and socials. Bands could also have bigger mass appeal regardless of geographical location. Being a rock band from Nashville finally started making sense to those at labels who typically made decisions based on geography over content. The coup was the migration of artists like Jack White and The Black Keys, along with the success of Paramore and Kings Of Leon. That finally gave the musical lemmings the stamp of approval that was needed to relocate half of Brooklyn to East Nashville. Next thing you know … the New York Times was calling Nashville the new “it city” as was Forbes. Then ABC aired the drama “Nashville” and of course the revenue from the NFL and the success of the Preds NHL team … so on and so on.

J.P.: In 2017 you were a vocal engineer for Steven Tyler’s “We’re All Somebody from Somewhere.” That just strikes me as sorta weird/cool/fascinating. So what was the experience like?

R.N.: Up until two years ago a large portion on my revenue came from working with writers and publishers. The Warren Brothers, who I’ve known since before they moved to Nashville 20 plus years ago, were artists and now very successful writers—“The Lights Come On,” recorded by Jason Aldean, “Little Bit Of Everything,” Keith Urban, and “Highway Don’t Care,” Tim McGraw (with guest Taylor Swift) are just a few of their songs (and by the way, they are two of the nicest and completely batshit craziest and talented guys I’ve ever known).

I had been working with them for several years building and mixing tracks, cutting vocals, and occasionally writing. One afternoon Brett called me and said, “Hey we’ve written three songs for Steven’s new solo record, can we come to your studio to flush out the demos?” Next thing you know, he’s pulling up in a white Rolls with his security guy in tow and we’re going to work. He was completely awesome at every level. Very gracious, on top of it musically, vocally and with an incredible sense of humor. A really great couple of days in the studio.

J.P.: Along those lines—in 2011 you were the vocal engineer and vocal producer for “Muppets: The Green Album.” Um … how? Why? What?

R.N.: HA! Ah, yes! Years ago I worked with the band Paramore. I had written a bunch of songs with the singer Hayley that helped the band get their deal with Atlantic/Fueled By Ramen when they first started. I had produced, engineered and mixed a a body of work for them early on. Fortunately Hayley and I are still friends today and I love every opportunity I get to spend time with her. She’s a remarkable artist and a remarkable young woman. After Paramore launched, I occasionally would work with her on some side projects. This record being one of those. It was a collection of songs featured during the run of the Muppets reinterpreted by artists that were popular at the time. She did a duet with Rivers Cuomo from Weezer. It was the song written by Paul Williams and Ken Asher called “Rainbow Connection.” It’s awesome! I cut Hayley’s vocal in my living room in East Nashville.

With Aerosmith's Steven Tyler.

With Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler.

J.P.: In 1998 Dreaming in English released an album, “Stuff,” with a song called, “Where’s the Sun?” And, not blowing smoke, I think it’s insanely good and could have been a breakout hit. I mean that. But I’ve never understood the opening few seconds—the hard, metallic-sounding riff. Probably because I’m a music idiot. So what were you thinking? And am I way overrating the song, or do you agree?

R.N.: That song connected with a lot of people. It was a well-balanced combination of testosterone, groove, message and social commentary based on current events. Unfortunately what really makes a hit is about $1 million in promotional muscle and we had zero access to those type of numbers. The intro for that song was a series of loops and keyboard programing produced by Jim Stelluto and Shane Gue. We knew that song was going to be the opening track on the record so our thinking was to create some tension at the top of the song. I can still remember writing that song. It was like Ty and I found north with our creative compass. I have an unreleased version that we demo’d after the record (in 2001 right before we dismantled) that is so badass! It’s on my hit list to remix one day.

J.P.: I’m not asking names, but what’s the story of the biggest asshole you’ve worked with, musically?

R.N.: HA! Oh man, I can’t go there! As a producer, engineer and writer, I’m in a unique position to be in the room when the artist is the most vulnerable. This is an opportunity I do not take for granted. It’s truly special to be working on a song and have conversations that are so open, honest, and occasionally so raw yet solely in pursuit of crafting a song that moves an individual regardless of outside endorsements. Now, I will say this. The artists with the least amount of real estate or “ownership” are normally the most protective and insecure. So yes, I’ve worked with some raging assholes, all of whom I made sure were properly invoiced.

Back in the day.

Back in the day.

J.P.: I’m asking names—what’s the story of the coolest person you’ve worked with, musically?

R.N.: Anyone who spends the majority of his adult life working with artists in numerous stages of their careers will have multiple experiences that are special. One of my personal favorites is a guy named Tyler Dow Bryant. I’ve worked with this guy for the last 10 years and produced an early solo record he did in the late 2000s. Since then he has put together a band called “Tyler Bryant And The Shakedown.” This band is a remarkable group. Each member is a total badass. Tyler and his band continue to write, produce, engineer and basically outwork everyone in the room. To this day, we still write quite a bit and work together whenever our schedule permits. The only thing more impressive than this guys gift as a writer and guitarist is his thoughtfulness, respect and basic decency. After 10 years of creative “prodding” I’ve yet to see his limitations in regards to creativity and talent.

J.P.: I ask this of baseball players a lot, so I’ll ask it of you. What is the different between someone like you—a pro’s pro—and an Eddie Van Halen or Jeff Beck? I mean literally. What’s the difference between all-time legend and really, really excellent?


R.N.: There’s an enormous amount of excellent artistry in the world. Unfortunately “excellence” and “artistry” are completely subjective. If you scour YouTube it’s easy to find amazing musicians and artists. The all-time legends though, are the ones who resonate with the masses. They are the ones who are just far enough ahead of the curve to feel fresh; the ones who absorb outside influences without actually replicating them … the ones who are lucky enough to be tagged as the starting point or influencer of an extended creative wave. These days, people are able to gain a lot of information and instruction via the Internet and they can practice developing skills in replicating what they see and hear.  Essentially they are technicians who are able to reproduce performances and sounds.  Then you see people who are more thoughtful about their output and content. They absorb and assimilate what they see and hear and create something new from it. This type of person I think of more as an artist than a technician.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH ROGER ALAN NICHOLS:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Phil Bredesen, Moe Loughran, Dusty Baker, Archie, Tyrod Taylor, microwaved popcorn, George Foreman Grill, kayaking, Disturbed remake of “The Sound of Silence”: I think these are actually in a really good order now. My only suggestion would be to move the Disturbed cover even lower than last place, move Dusty to the center (after all, his winning percentage was .532) and move Bredesen to the White House.

Your mayor resigned in shame earlier this year. What was the strangest part of it all?: I’ve met Megan and her husband Bruce many times over the years and my wife Erika knows her personally. We were so excited about her election and how optimistic the future seemed with her in office. She was a rising star within the Democratic party and who knows where she may have ended up. It was a sad day indeed when she resigned but considering the charges, absolutely necessary. I only wish our current POTUS would look at her example (and Al Franken’s too) and follow suit.

• Five all-time favorite guitarists?: Influence wise as a guitar player: 1) Ritchie Blackmore. 2) Steve Lukather. 3) Jimmy Page. 4) Jimi Hendrix. 5) Mick Ralphs; Players who I know personally and think as highly of as people 1) Reeves Gabrels. 2) Dann Huff. 3) Tyler Bryant. 4) Tom Bukovac. 5) Larkin Poe. Oh, and Mike Seal for sure!

• You and your wife got married in a shopping mall. Why?: Actually we got married in an art gallery, the Greater Nashville Arts Foundation Gallery. This gallery just happened to located in the now-defunct Church Street Center Mall  (where the library is now located). A funny side note: Robert K. Oermann, Nashville’s unofficial historian of all things music, did a “review” of our wedding in Music Row Magazine the following week.

• Will music save your mortal soul?: It already has and continues to do so, daily.

• How did you learn the news of Demi Lovato’s drug relapse?: Hmm … this is an interesting one. On Twitter of course.

• What do you tell people when they try smoking cigarettes in your studio?: If this were 12 years ago, I’d ask them for a light. Most pros know you don’t smoke in a studio. The smoke is harmful to microphone diaphragms and volume pots. If someone lights up in my room without the common sense to ask permission, I know I’m dealing with a novice …

 • Greatest moment of your life?: When my anxiety subsides long enough to realize how lucky I am to be doing something that I truly love and how lucky I am married to someone as amazing as my wife Erika Wollam Nichols for 22 years.

• Lowest moment of your life?: Way to personal to expose on the internet but for the record I have no delusions of grandeur. I’ve proven time and time again that I’m capable of showing my ass at any moment.

• In exactly 12 words, make an argument for Styx: Wow!! What a question! OK, here we go. 45 years, 32 albums, 73 EP’s and Singles, seven labels, 10 members. If that does’t work might I suggest this … Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto Thank you very much Mr Roboto I’m Kilroy.

With Lionel Simmons, La Salle legend.

David Grzybowski

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Even though this site draws a large number of sports enthusiasts, there’s a solid 79.3 percent chance you’ve never heard of Tom Gola.

That’s OK. The former La Salle men’s basketball star was drafted into the NBA 63 years ago. And while he was a three-time All-American and five-time All-Star, the black-and-white footage and oft-grainy video clips hardly lend themselves to OOH! and AAH! and WHERE CAN I BUY MY GOLA JERSEY? Plus, Tom Gola died four years ago in relative silence. He was a star whose star had faded. Or, put differently, he was a product of a bygone era of basketball, and oftentimes bygone errors are (sadly) forgotten.

That said, Gola’s life story is riveting and unique, and the subject of Mr. All Around: The Life of Tom Gola, a new book from today’s Quaz, David Grzybowski. And what fascinates me—truly fascinates me—is the idea of undertaking a project of this magnitude, when it’s not an obvious seller. What I mean is, the vast majority of my books have been about large topics with immediate PR energy. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Brett Favre. They’re names, and even if they’re not 2018 names, well, they’re close enough.

And that’s why I love having David here. Because he did this purely out of love and respect for a man whose legacy deserves to be passed forward and kept alive.

So if you’re a fan of strong writing powered by high integrity, today’s Quaz is all you. One can follow David on Twitter here, and visit his website here.

David Grzybowski, you are the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Dave, I’m gonna start with a blunt one. You devoted much of your recent life to writing the biography of a man most people have never heard of. I mean, I’m a sports writer and I had to Google “Tom Gola.” So—I ask with respect and admiration—why?

DAVID GRZYBOWSKI: I am a proud La Salle University alum. I covered the La Salle men’s basketball religiously (No pun intended) during my four years in Philadelphia. Before La Salle had their Sweet 16 run in 2013, I interviewed Gola for our student newspaper, The Collegian. I kept in contact with the Gola and his family when I graduated and someone told me “someone should write a book about Tom Gola”. I thought about it and here were are.

I think Gola’s story is so fascinating from multiple angles. He succeed in everything he did in the same city he was born and raised in: Philadelphia. He won the 1952 NIT championship, the 1954 NCAA championship, lost to Bill Russell and the San Francisco Dons in 1955 in the NCAA championship game, won the NBA championship in 1956 with the Philadelphia Warriors, became La Salle men’s basketball head coach in the late 60’s and had a brief stint in Philadelphia politics.  He is the all-time leading rebounder in NCAA history and will forever hold that record. His story needed to be told and I’m ecstatic to be the person to do so.

J.P.: I feel like every book project comes with a money reporting story—about finding someone, about tracking someone, about a gem. What’s yours?

D.G.: When I was researching this book I never heard of the “1964 Behind The Iron Curtain tour” before. It was kind of the dream team before the dream team if that makes sense. The tour consisted of NBA players from the United States playing against other countries’ top basketball players in Poland, Romania, Egypt, and Yugoslavia. The team was coached by Red Auerbach and had players such as Bill Russell, Tom Heinsohn, K.C. Jones, Bob Cousy, Jerry Lucas, Oscar Robertson, Bob Pettit and Tom Gola.  (Each of these players would be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.)

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With Lionel Simmons, La Salle legend

J.P.: I also feel like every book project comes with severe letdown and disappointment. A moment of rejection, of doubt, of despair. What’s yours?

D.G.: I really wanted to interview Bill Russell for this book. He was such a big part of the 1955 season when La Salle faced the San Francisco Don in the NCAA championship game. I tried multiple times to find a way to snag an interview from him, but failed. I also tried to interview K.C. Jones, but had no success as well. One of my favorite interviews was with Bob Knight. He left me a voicemail and I was so nervous to call him back. Nonetheless, it was a great interview and Gola was one of Knight’s heroes growing up. I interviewed close to 125 people for this book.

J.P.: So your background is TV—you worked for WPHL in Philly, WNCN in Raleigh. And there’s a lot about television news I hate. The mad dash for bloody stories, the “We only have a minute left, so tell us …” lead-in to questions, the fake nods, the push for clicks. Tell me why I’m wrong, or right, about the medium.

D.G.: I worked in the TV business for almost five years and I am not the biggest fan of “hard news”. I was always the reporter to pitch feature, exciting and happy stories rather than death/destruction type of stories. The fake nods crack me up, but its so common that you actually do it by accident. I still think TV stations need to invest more into digital rather than worrying about who is watching TV at 5pm or 11pm. I believe stations need digital/social media reporters where they are consistently pushing out content nonstop throughout the day from a news desk on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Not just clicks for the website, but actual studio social media production content.

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Tom Gola

J.P.: You covered Pope Francis’ 2015 visit to America. What did that entail? What was it like? Are you hoping for something you can’t get? Is there a goal with that sort of coverage?

D.G.: Covering the Papal visit in September of 2015 was the highlight of my television career. I think I did close to 25 news stories prior to the arrival of Pope Francis. My goal was to tell unique stories surrounding his arrival to the city. I did a neat story on a company called Bleacher Creatures, a plush doll company in Plymouth Meeting, PA where they sold over 1 million units of their “Pope Francis plush doll”. When he came to Philly my assignment was to cover his arrival at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Center City Philadelphia and a last minute visit to Saint Joseph’s University. I was literally 20 yards from Pope Francis as he was talking to students and blessing a statue. It was a great moment!

J.P.: You interviewed Tom Gola in 2013, a year before he died. What were the circumstances? How was that arranged? And what was the experience like?

D.G.: I found out that the schools University archivist, Brother Joseph Grabenstein, had a relationship with Tom Gola and I asked to met him. Gola was not in the best state of health at the time, but I managed to get a lot of great quotes out of him that day. It was a great experience meeting Gola that day. Crazy how that meeting eventually turned into a book.

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J.P.: Your book is being released by Temple University Press. How did that happen? What I mean is, how did you land the deal? What was the process? And why them?

D.G.: Philadelphia Inquirer sports writer, Mike Sielski suggested me reaching out to Temple University Press for this book. It was a perfect match. A Philadelphia basketball book teaming up with a Philadelphia based publishing company. I actually wrote the book first and then presented the book to Temple Press. It was a great relationship working on the book with them. They were so accommodating working with a first time author.

J.P.: You say you’ve been working on this for five years. That makes my head explode. Like, what does that mean? Five years feels like forever in research world. Five years?

D.G.: If you breakdown the book process it really took about three years or so to finish Mr. All-Around: the Life of Tom Gola. This book was kind of my side hustle for such a long time. I am not a full-time writer, so I didn’t focus on it every day. Writing the book and working in the TV industry was a hard combination, but I got it done. I always admired guys like Seth Davis and Ernie Johnson, who had job 1A and also came out with books on the side. I say five years, because I did start it in November of 2013.

J.P.: So Tom Gola is considered one of the greatest basketball players of all time. He played at La Salle from 1952-55, then had a terrific NBA career. And I ask this is the very literal sense: If we take Tom Gola from 1955, literally transport him to 2018, is he an NBA player? Is he a Division I college player? Who is he?

D.G.: I think Tom Gola would fit into the 2018 NBA game. He was averaging nearly triple doubles every night while playing in the NCAA from 1952 to 1955 and he absolutely is a Division I college player too. I think Gola’s game is similar to a Draymond Green or Ben Simmons type of player. A triple double waiting to happen who can do anything on the court. Bring the ball up, rebound, defense and a decent shooter.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH DAVID GRZYBOWSKI:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Speedy Morris, Cardi B, William & Mary, Whole Foods, gratuitous cursing, name tags at work, World B. Free, Lindsey Graham, bacon, French accents, William Hurt: Speedy Morris, Whole Foods (highly recommend their tacos!), bacon, Cardi B, name tags at work, World B. Free, French accents, William & Mary, William Hurt, Lindsey Graham.

• Five greatest women’s basketball players in La Salle history: Cheryl Reeve ( Current WNBA Minnesota Lynx head coach), Jennifer Cole, Chrissie Donahue, Amy Griffin, Crista Ricketts.

• Three greatest moments of your life: In no order: Meeting/marrying my wife, Jodi. (Met at La Salle University) traveling with the 2013 La Salle Explorers on their Sweet 16 run in the NCAA tournament and writing/finishing this book.

• Four memories from your senior prom: I had a very boring senior prom to be honest. I remember having a last minute date a week before senior prom. I’m confident my dancing skills are top notch though.

• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between you and Bobby Cox? What’s the result?: HAHA! Bobby Cox is a legend.

• The Democratic nominee for the presidency in 2020 is …: Corey Booker?

• How do you snap out of writer’s block?: Literally don’t write. It’s that simple. I think I went two or three months at one point without writing or researching for the book. Sometimes you have to just put the project on hold for a second to collect your thoughts and regroup.

• Why doesn’t humanity do everything it can to mitigate the impact of climate change?: Climate change is a real problem. I think people will continue to ignore it, until climate change smacks us all in the face one day.

• Best advice you ever received: Put blinders on! Worry about what you can control and out work everything one else. My mentor Steve Highsmith (longtime Philadelphia broadcaster and voice of annual Philadelphia Mummers Parade told me that) Things start to click in your life/career when you focus on what is in front of you.

• This is my all-time favorite song. Thoughts?: HAHA! Nice! Everyone has a different taste, right? My jam right now is anything Lauren Daigle! I came across her when I was living in Raleigh, NC. Check it out.

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David Aldridge

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David Aldridge is not “D.A.”

Yeah, that’s perhaps how you know him, based off of myriad years of NBA television work and hearing the studio hosts “sending it down to D.A.”

But, truth be told, the brand new editor in chief of The Athletic D.C. is a man of the written word. He cut his teeth at the Washington Post and Philadelphia Inquirer, covering the very awful Bullets, the equally awful Redskins, the exciting Georgetown Hoyas—and myriad other events and moments. He’s not merely a student of sports, but a student of monitoring sports. How to approach an athlete. What to look for in a coach-star interaction. When has a team given up. When is a player faded.

In short, he’s one of the absolute best.

That’s why, for the 379th Quaz Q&A, David Aldridge joins us to explain the new gig; to talk Ralph Sampson’s Washington Bullets and why #fakenews drives him to the bring of furor.

One can follow David on Twitter here.

David Aldridge, you are the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: I’m gonna start with a broader question than usual. Hope that’s OK. So you’ve covered a ton of sporting events for major outlets. The Washington Post. ESPN. TNT. The Philadelphia Inquirer. And I feel like, in our business, most of the events we attend fade to murkiness. So what’s an unexpected one that hasn’t? What I mean is—I know World Series and NBA Finals and such are big, because they’re big. But what’s something you’ve covered that really stuck with you? And why?

DAVID ALDRIDGE: I’m not sure I’m weaseling out of your question, because one story I’ve always remembered was at a big event—the Indianapolis 500, in 1988. But the story was about someone not all that famous: the late driver/racer Jim Crawford. The year before, Crawford had been in a terrible accident at Indy during practice—he crashed into a wall, and the resulting impact badly injured both his legs and feet. He had rods in his ankle and they had to jerry-rig a way for him to drive the car the following year to lessen the impact on his feet. He was still using a cane. But he got back in the car to race.

I asked him before the race how someone can do that without giving in to fear. I don’t recall his exact words, but they fell along the lines of “This is what I do for a living.” And it was startling to me that he was so matter of fact about potential serious injury and/or dying. But it made me realize that there’s a huge difference between what civilians like me think about sports and what professional athletes think about them. They understand the risks involved but they believe that their talent and/or experience mitigates those risks to the point of absurdity. As it turned out, Crawford not only raced again in 1988, he led the race for a bunch of laps and was second late before a blown tire dropped him to sixth. It was still an incredible run, especially considering he was the only Buick driver going against the legendary Roger Penske team (and, in the end, Rick Mears won his third of four Indys that year). Incredible. I may or may not have been rooting that day—for the story, to be sure. But also for the guy.

J.P.: Sorta random, but I feel like we in sports media have largely escaped the #fakenews drama. No one hashtags #fakenews about whether Tyrod Taylor should start at quarterback, or whether the Sixers need help at shooting guard. But, man, it still really wounds me, pisses me off. And I wonder A. How you feel about it; and B. What impact you think it’s had on our industry?

D.A.: I don’t believe there’s a journalist of any bent who hasn’t been impacted by the #fakenews insanity. I’m sure if you interviewed writers who cover college sports and teams, they’d have a much different tale to tell you than someone like me who’d been national for a long time. A story like Maryland’s here in the D.C. area is rife for that kind of “My side is the only side” takes by readers. There are people who staunchly defended, and continue to defend, D.J. Durkin. When it involves the alma mater, people don’t always think clearly.

Of course, generally, as a journalist, I’m offended by the notion that “reporting about things I don’t like or don’t want to hear that could impact my worldview=fake news.” But, I live in D.C. I am about 10 minutes from Comet Pizza, which is where the whole “Hillary Clinton is running a child prostitution ring out of the basement of a pizzeria in D.C.” idiocy was supposedly located, and where the guy from North Carolina drove up to, and came in with a gun. And I have friends on that same block who either own or run businesses who’ve received death threats. They aren’t in any way affiliated with Comet—which, again, was not at the location of this (non-existent) child prostitution ring—but they still got death threats, just because they were on the same block. That’s how insane this has become.

I don’t worry about big institutions like CNN or The Washington Post; they’ll be fine. They have strong, long-lasting followings and followers—and, more important, they have access to high-powered lawyers and law firms. What worries me is the small, independently-owned paper in Michigan or Arkansas or New Mexico that tries to speak truth to power, no matter what the power is in that particular place, and is harassed by people for political reasons. Those institutions don’t have the financial wherewithal to survive an economic boycott. And so, what happens? You stop covering the city council. You stop covering the mayor’s office, or the cops–or, at least, you stop covering them as aggressively. And people who live in those places don’t find out how the deputy mayor is using the city coffers as his or her personal ATM, or whatever. The chilling effect is real.

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J.P.: You covered the 1991-92 Washington Bullets for the Washington Post. They finished 25-57, and their roster featured the likes of Ledell Eackles, Tom Hammonds and a battered and feeble Ralph Sampson. What is it like covering a crappy team, night after night? Is there joy in it? Is it a nightmare? Is there a way to find fresh copy when it’s lose-lose-lose-lose?

D.A.: I learned so much more covering bad teams than good ones. (I was the kiss of death as a beat guy. Covered the Bullets—they were the Bullets then—for five years, and their “high-water” mark with me was 40-42. Then covered the Skins for three years, and they went 3-13, 4-12, 6-10.) But you learn so much about people in those times: who is a stand-up guy in the locker room, and who goes and hides.

So, guys like Darrell Walker and Jeff Malone, who talked to me every night, loss after loss, were and are some of my favorite people ever in this business. What coaches tell you the truth, even when it’s against their self-interest, and which ones don’t. And, you have to grow as a writer. The 17th time in 23 days you have to write a variation on “This team sucks,” it’s hard. One time, in Atlanta, I remember just throwing my hands up. The Bullets were losing by a hundred in the first quarter, as usual. And this was when Ted Turner still owned CNN, so he came to the game with his then-wife, Jane Fonda. And I wrote a lede about how gorgeous and hot Jane Fonda looked (she did), and how striking Ted Turner looked (this was, for your conspiracy-minded readers, about 15 years before I started working for Turner Sports—which, by then, Ted Turner no longer owned). And my editor spiked it. And I said something along the lines of, ‘well, you come down here and cover this shitty team, then.’ I think that may have been my last year on the beat.

J.P.: You are a recognizable sports media figure. Players call you “D.A.,” coaches call you “D.A.” They know your face, they know your name, they wish you well. And maybe this sounds dumb, but was that level of fame ever enticing or overwhelming? Like, is it sort of an aphrodisiac to have famous, rich, recognizable heroes acknowledge and embrace you? Or is that just dumb?

D.A.: Nota Bene: I hate “D.A.” It’s a totally, made-up, TV thing. But, since it’s short and to the point, I live with it.

I never bought into the fame part of being on TV. And that’s not because I’m extra-crispy virtuous or anything. It’s just that I grew up when newspapers were the most important thing, and I wanted to work for one, and almost nobody I knew at the time who worked for a paper was famous. (I worked in the same building with Bob Woodward, at the Post. We were not, in any way, colleagues. I saw him at a National Press Club event last year, and said “Hi, Bob.” He looked at me like I was a crustacean. I guess the nine years together didn’t produce strong memories for him.) I think, also, I saw how other people acted around famous people and just found it repulsive. If you’ve ever been in a bar or a club with Michael Jordan, you see some of the weirdest things. People lose their damn minds. So fame was never a thing I sought. It was weird for me to try and use my name to get a reservation at a restaurant. Really. If I was 25 now, I might think differently about it. I don’t know. I’m a pretty shy person so the idea of everyone knowing you never appealed to me.

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J.P.: You recently accepted a position as editor in chief of The Athletic D.C. A. Mazel tov. B. Why?

D.A.: Everything pointed to the same thing: you have to take this job. I loved working at Turner. It’s the best place I ever worked. The people were terrific, from top to bottom. They treated you great, and they paid you well. Being on set with Chuck and Kenny and EJ and Shaq was always a kick, but so was doing NBA TV with Matt Winer or Casey Stern or Kristen Ledlow. The travel was just starting to kick my butt. You don’t bounce back as quickly as you used to. Our kids are 14 and 11, and my dad is 90 and still lives here. I wanted to maximize my remaining time with each of them, for obvious reasons.

And, the opportunity to work with a new company that really is thinking differently about covering sports, in my hometown, was so enticing. I just knew I’d hate myself if I didn’t make the jump. I could have covered the NBA exclusively forever. I love the games and (most) of the people. But I also wanted to try and stretch and grow, not just as a writer, but as an editor, working with both experienced and young reporters. I really want to help people get better in our business. This was a great chance to try and do that. I just am in love with words. Always have been, and always will be.

J.P.: When you and I were coming up in the business, there was a path. You started at the Post, I started at the Tennessean. We moved to bigger places, sort of this logically linear progression. And nowadays, I’m not always sure what to tell aspiring journalists about entering the field. What to do; whether to do it; etc. What says David Aldridge?

D.A.: The great thing about being an emerging journalist today is there is no path. You don’t have to do that small paper to regional paper to big paper trek. You don’t have to do “paper” at all, of course. The Internet has democratized the world, and while that has serious and significant drawbacks (see “fake news,” above), it also makes it so much easier for young reporters trying to break in. A cell and a laptop, and you’re a content producer. Monetizing that is obviously the nut, but you can at least produce real content that you would not have been able to when we started. There are no gate-keeping media any more. It’s scary, I’m sure. But it also means the truly creative and hard-working young reporters can be seen a lot quicker by a lot more people, potentially by both consumers and employers.

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J.P.: You’ve covered sports for a long time. How does it still hold your interest? (I ask because I struggle with this all the time)

D.A.: I’m not going to lie—I wasn’t thrilled by every game every Thursday on Turner during the last 14 years. But the amazing thing about sports is you still, more often than not, see someone do something you can’t fathom. Sunday, I was at the Skins-Giants game. And it was a terrible game. But Odell Beckham made the most amazing, one-handed catch in the fourth quarter. Just a ridiculous display of athletic ability. Literally—”did he CATCH that??” So the win-loss part of it has lost a little steam for me (which is another reason I joined The Athletic, which is all about telling stories, not about the agate). But you still, frequently, see people do things that boggle the mind.

J.P.: You’ve covered the NFL at both the Post and the Inquirer. I always thought the league was far more difficult to chronicle than the NBA, just because the access sucks and their faces are behind masks. What about you? NBA v. NFL as a writer?

D.A.: Completely different sports and mindsets. It’s harder to cover football for numerous reasons. The intricacies of the game are almost unknowable to non-players, and even harder to explain. We have a guy at The Athletic D.C., Mark Bullock, who breaks down film every week to tell our readers exactly what happened on a given play. And it’s remarkable how many different concepts and ideas go into every play. Trying to explain that is extremely difficult. Determining exactly who was supposed to block who on a given play is almost impossible—because guys don’t want to sell each other out: “Well, Troy fucked up his assignment; that’s why the QB got blindsided.” That sort of thing. The access is awful, always has been.

But the access in the NBA isn’t a whole lot better these days. Yes, LeBron speaks most every day after practice, but almost always in a scrum and never for more than a few minutes. It was almost impossible for us to get him to do a sit-down at Turner, and we were a partner ($24 billion, along with ESPN)! And this isn’t personal: LeBron and I had a good relationship. But it’s reality. Having said all that, the NBA is still so much easier to cover, simply because, even though every team has kicked almost all of the media upstairs, you still are so much more closer to the action than you are covering the NFL. And, there are only 12 guys as opposed to 53 on every team. It’s so much easier to establish relationship with pro ballers than football players; there are a third as many. Plus, there’s still a top-down approach in the NFL that doesn’t exist in the NBA, so coaches and front offices have all the juice. As the late Chuck Daly said, in the NBA, players allow you to coach them. Players run the show in the NBA, and they’re finally starting to see the power they really have—again, thanks in large part to LeBron.

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J.P.: I just Googled “David Aldridge sucks,” and I found someone who wrote, bluntly, “David Aldridge sucks monkey nuts.” I’m assuming this is not literally true. But I wonder, how do you feel about the world of social media as it pertains to media? Do you like the engagement? Hate it? Has it changed the way we, as a profession, operate?

D.A.: I wouldn’t say I hate it. I don’t think it’s especially healthy. The anonymity of Twitter makes it incredibly toxic. You can literally write ‘the sky is blue’ and have some egg respond “Fuck you.” And we’ve all seen how influencers like Twitter and Facebook can easily be manipulated for nefarious ends. Yet there are still people who are truly thoughtful and genuinely are seeking dialogue and/or feedback, and you can learn a lot if you’re willing to be humble and accept constructive criticism. It has certainly freed athletes to speak their minds more, and that’s obviously a good thing (as I see it). You have to report via Twitter most of the time now, though, and it is not designed for that purpose. But it’s how young consumers consume and communicate. So you have to as well.

J.P.: Here’s your random question of the date: I thought David Wingate was going to be an NBA star. I truly, truly, truly did. You covered Georgetown (after he was there, albeit), you covered the Bullets when he was there. What the heck happened?

D.A.: David didn’t make it ’cause he couldn’t shoot. Point blank. He could defend and he was a willing passer, but he couldn’t shoot. Even back then, in the Fred Flintstone era of the NBA, you had to be able to shoot a little, and especially if you were a two (shooting) guard. But David was a cool guy. Liked working/talking with him.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH DAVID ALDRIDGE:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): A.J. English, Tashan Reed, Dave Wohl, Beyonce, Naomi Watts, Luke Walton, Robert Mueller, Toni Braxton, “The Princess Bride,” the musical catalogue of Hall & Oates, the number 17: 1) The Hall and Oates musical catalogue. I happen to think ‘Kiss on My List’ is a damn near perfect song. I am also in love with Liz Clarke, who works at the Washington Post and with whom I do Tony Kornheiser’s podcast. And, as you probably know, Liz is one of the biggest Springsteen fans out there. She’s seen him hundreds of times over the years. And she loathes H and O! Thinks they’re a treacly, unthoughtful, awful group, especially compared with Bruce, not that she would ever compare them, as much as she holds H and o in contempt. And I love that we fight about this, as (imaginary) couples often do about music. 2) Robert Mueller. I happen to think this country is worth saving. Even now. 3) Beyonce. ‘Cause, of course. Summer of ’04, when “Crazy For Love” came out, I was covering the NBA Summer League in Boston. And everybody was listening to it, it seemed. She’s incredible. I remember when she sang for Obama at his second inauguration, I think it was. I sent out a Tweet saying ‘it’s so sad how God didn’t bless Beyonce with incredible talent, or looks, or work ethic.’ And it showed me how Twitter is NOT the place for sarcasm. 4) The Princess Bride. “Have fun storming the castle!” 5) Toni Braxton. Just downloaded her latest album. Toni’s pissed! 6) A.J. English. I assume you mean the father and not the son. If the former, nice kid out of Virginia Union. Had some talent. He could have probably played in the league today; he could shoot. His claim to fame was that one night, somehow, the trainer or whoever put the players’ names on their jerseys misspelled his name. It read E-N-G-I-L-S-H on the back. 7) Luke Walton. A go-to talker as a player. A little more reserved as a coach, as you’d expect. But has that smooth, sonorous voice. Like opening up a can of Barry White. 8) The number 17. I associate this wholly with Billy Kilmer, the quarterback in the ’70s in D.C.. Couldn’t throw the ball more than 20 yards, or run more than 20 yards, it seemed. But a hell of a leader. They called him ‘Whiskey’ for a reason, I reckon. 9) Tashan Reed. Kid wrote a great lede last week on the Clemson-Florida State game, on the professor who was at the game and was so bored—FSU got beat 52-10 or something—he went to the top of the stands, took his shirt off and started reading a book. Tashan walked up there and talked to him. Great idea. 10) Dave Wohl. Just never got to know Dave very well. Nothing personal.  11) Naomi Watts. Nothing personal; I just am not all that familiar with her oeuvre. I had to look her up on iMDb, and the only thing I think I’ve ever seen that she was in was “Fair Game,” and I only saw about a third of that.

• In exactly 16 words, make a case for the Hall of Fame credential of Morlon Wiley: Morlon has become a hell of a personal trainer for guys going into the draft. Done.

• Three memories from your first date: 1) Her name was Carol. 2) I took her to a dance party at someone’s house, whose name I can’t remember. 3) I was driving my dad’s car—a ’77 Cadillac Coupe de Ville—and I spun out on the way. I can’t remember if the road was slick with ice or rain. But we did a 360—a complete loop around—and wound up exactly where we started. How no one hit me remains one of the mysteries guarding my life.

• Who wins in a game of one-on-one—right now—between you and John Mengelt? Game to 15, what’s the final score?: Okay, John is still alive. I checked, and trust you did as well. But he is 69. But he was a former professional basketball player. So, this comes down to shape. If he’s anywhere near his playing weight, he beats me 15-2 or something like that. If he’s three bills or more now, I have a shot at squeaking out a 15-13 deal. If it’s halfcourt.

• What’s the worst sports prediction you ever made?: Didn’t see how Greg Oden could miss as a pro.

• The kid across the street is screaming obnoxiously right now. Do I have your permission to berate him through the window?: Of course. Soggy little brat.

• Five friendliest professional athletes you’ve ever dealt with: In no particular order: Peyton Manning. I know it’s likely an act, but when I was covering football, and this was after ESPN, so maybe he knew who I was, he had mastered that player’s art of greeting me by name when we were re-introduced and working my name into his answers: “well, Dave, you know, I thought they were in Cover Two, so what we had to do there was,” and of course, I fell for it every time, like a dummy. Darrell Walker. Like I said above, I would go to him every night when I covered the Bullets, whether they’d were on a rare winning streak and he’d played well, or they were on a 16-game losing streak and he’d been awful, and he’d have the same greeting every time: “what’s up, Aldridge?” You love guys like that. Brian Dawkins. Hell of a good dude to cover in Philly. Always accessible and available. (I was in Dallas a lot when the Cowboys were rolling in the ’90s as well, and I’d say the same about Darren Woodson.) Steve Kerr. Good God, we abused him in Chicago. Every day, especially when Michael and/or Scottie Pippen weren’t talking. But Steve was the same in Orlando and Cleveland as he was in Chicago. He never blew us off, ever. He’s still great to talk to. Incredibly thoughtful. And, after thinking about it, I do have a number one: Charles Barkley. The Chuckster was gold. The most down to earth superstar I’ve ever dealt with, both as a beat reporter at the beginning of my career in D.C., to the last 14 years working together at Turner. When he was in Philly, my buddy Bob Ford was the beat guy for the Inquirer. And Bob would get the most pained look on his face when the out-of-town guys like me would goad Charles into saying something inflammatory, because we’d skip out of town with a great item for our notebook or whatever, and Bob would have to clean up the mess the next day. I have been with Charles in so many restaurants and bars and clubs over the years. Dozens of dozens. And, every time—every time, I’m not exaggerating—he picks up the tab. Not for me. For everyone. Every night. Night after night. He doesn’t big-time anyone. I was there in Barcelona in ’92, when he out on the Ramblas after a game, and he gave a homeless woman a wad of bills–had to be 10 grand–out of his pocket.

• What do your shoes smell like after a long day at work?: Are they supposed to smell like something other than feet? It would alarm me if they smelled like, say, fried eggs.

• What’s your all-time favorite restaurant?: Probably Prima Piatti. Closed a while ago. Used to take the wife there for dinner before she became the wife. Lovely place in Northwest D.C.

• Tell us a joke, please: I can show you better than I can tell you (h/t The Edge comedy show, circa 1992):

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David Rae

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Of all the LGBT-focused-financial-planners-whose-fathers-once-won-a-Super Bowl I’ve had as Quaz Q&As, David Rae is easily the most interesting.

But, truly, he’d be interesting were he living in a cardboard box eating vanilla ice cream. He’d be interesting had he settled down in Kansas City, Kansas. He’d be interesting were his favorite show the Yule Log.

See, while all people have interesting stories, some are just interesting.

That’s David Rae.

So I brought him here to Quaz Land because he is, truth be told, a certified financial planner who does focus on the LGBT community. And while that may well seem a tad niche, eh, it isn’t. He’s made this amazing career for himself—both behind a desk and in front of a camera—by helping (in large part, but not exclusively) a community that still finds itself unfairly marginalized and often shunned. In other words, he saw a need and merged empathy and intellect to attack it. I absolutely love that.

Anyhow, one can follow David on Twitter here and Instagram here, and visit his website here.

David Rae—you’ll never win a Super Bowl. But so what? You’ve been Quazed …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So David, you’re a Los Angeles-based certified financial planner with a focus on the LGBT community. And I wonder—what does that mean? What I mean is, do you feel gays and lesbians have different needs than straight folks? Is it about giving them a comfortable place? Explain, because I’m fascinated.

DAVID RAE: It may seem like the LGBT community has it all now that marriage equality is law of the land. It is true we face many of the same financial challenges as everyone else. As our community we do have our own set of challenges and likely some advantages. We can still be fired for being gay in some 30 states.  Whereas I’d say not having kids allows many of use to have more money to spend on fun stuff. Or more time to advance our careers for that matter.  On average Gay & Lesbian married couples make more money than heterosexual married couples. At the same time, we also well represented in portion of the county living in poverty.

At the very least financial planning for the LGBTQ community is about giving people a comfortable place to bare their deepest and darkest financial secrets. With marriage equality, the LGBT community has access to all the tools that many other married couples still ignore but can use to improve their finances. My specialty is officially “friends of the LGBT community” so clients really can be anyone. I have built quite a diverse client base across race, religion, sexual orientation and gender.

There are specific challenges that affect a larger portion of the LGBT community. We tend to live in cities that are located in more expensive parts of the country. Procreating is quite expensive in many cases. The current tax system is not particularly kind to double-income couples without kids. Additionally, many LGBT retirees still face going back into the closet in retirement or nursing homes.

I just get it in a way other people might not be able to. As a financial planner, I will judge you based on your finances, not your sexuality.  At the very least, it lets people know I’m not some boring guy in a suit that is going to shame you for all that money you are spending at Starbucks.

J.P.: Very basic, blunt question: What are the biggest mistakes you see, financially? How are we screwing up?

D.R.: I think the most glaring mistake people make is confusing income with wealth. There are so many people across this country who are earning a great income but have nothing to show for it beyond a leased car or rented house. Those individuals are spending and spending on all the trappings of wealth. As a result, they never actually do the things necessary to actually become not poor, let alone become wealthy.

It’s not what you make but what you keep. You can still have a fabulous lifestyle while saving in order to achieve financial security. However, you have to start saving sooner rather than later. Let compounding interest work its magic. Even small amounts of saving will add up over time.

Most of my childhood memories are after my father retired from playing professional football. I really was taught that money has to last. There was money to go around, but it wasn’t some unlimited or renewable resource. Today, that isn’t the case for a lot of Americans. A lot of people are on the treadmill of earning more and more so they can buy more and more stuff. Spending money faster than they can earn it.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy spending money but I make sure I spend it wisely and get value from my hard-earned dollars. Skimping in certain areas allows me to travel and go out to dinner with friends on a more frequent basis. Don’t be surprised if you see me pull out a coupon at the grocery store.

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J.P.: You’re the son of Mike Rae, the former USC, NFL and USFL quarterback. And while he retired long ago, I do have a cliched tough guy view of football players from that era. So, I wonder—how was your dad when you came out? Your family? And how did you actually come out?

D.R.: Long before I came out, my family and I knew I wasn’t going to follow in his footsteps unless I had a special knack for kicking. I’m athletic but not big enough to really have any chance playing as a QB at a school like USC or in the NFL. For a soccer player, I’m rough and tuff. That isn’t the case on the football field when linebacker, twice my size, is coming at me. Although, I did play football in high school and that was enough for me.

As far as coming out, my father handled it well. I have no doubt that he probably made some assumptions about my sexuality before I actually told him I was gay. I edged out of the closet shortly after high and it was my year abroad in college (semesters in Salzburg and Vienna) when I really came into my own. It was my time to be away from family, free to run around and have fun. It was the first time I was on my own. Being away from home allowed me to explore Europe, learn about new cultures and more about myself. It also gave my parents time to “deal with it”

For me, the thought of coming out was terrifying. But I began to realize a lot of people knew someone who was gay. As it turned out, I have a gay cousin and my grandmother’s best friend has a gay son. I’ve met people my father played football with who are (now) gay or have gay kids or family members. Perhaps that helped my parents understand and accept me. I hope time has made it easier for my parents, who of course only want the best for me. I’ve had some amazing opportunities and experiences in my life, many of which would not have happened if I was straight, raising kids in the suburbs.

It's not every day you get to have your photo taken with David Rae.

It’s not every day you get to have your photo taken with David Rae.

J.P.: Everyone on the right keeps raving about “the Trump economy.” What are you seeing? Does he deserve any credit? All credit? No credit?

D.R.: I’d like to point out that Trump inherited a booming economy, from President Obama, when he took office. As a Republican president, he believes in deregulation and lower taxes, especially for corporations. That makes big businesses happy and tends to instill confidence in investors, which can be good for the stock market. While it seems like he enjoys taking credit for all the good, it also seems like he always points his finger at others when things go poorly. As I write this, the stock market is down more than 1,300 points in two days. I think Trump gets credit for some of that but true to fashion, he blamed the Federal Reserve and the decision to raise interest rates.

The Trump economy is something I’ve discussed across the news spectrum—Fox and Friends, Nightline, NBC Nightly News. I’ve referred to one of his books as “The Shart of the Deal”—I think we will be paying for his policies, and supposed tax cuts, for the rest of our lives. The mood of the economy has improved under Trump. I’ll give him props for that. However, I think what he has done can be compared to those people, at the bar, buying shots on a credit card. I’m sure they feel great in the moment and for a while thereafter, but then the morning rolls around and they feel like crap. Once they recover from their hangovers, they end up paying those credit cards bills well into the future.

While corporations, and some individuals, will see their taxes go down this year, mine will be increasing dramatically. I’d be fine with that if my tax dollars were going to be applied to something useful. Unfortunately, I don’t anticipate that will happen. Also, I think many of his supporters are going to be harmed by his policies at some point.

Since we’re on the subject of politics, I should point out that advisors are typically advised to avoid all discussions of politics. I recently attended a conference that dedicated an entire session to that topic. I may agree in certain situations. But as Gay Financial Planner in Los Angeles—let’s be realistic. Who am I going to scare away by putting a picture of me, with Michelle Obama at The White House, on my website?

J.P.: You recently wrote a piece, “5 Reasons to Ignore Stock Market Forecasts.” Which was smart and insightful—but also a bit bewildering. If you should ignore stock market forecasts, how in the world do we know what to do?

D.R.: Thanks for reading that piece. The point I wanted to convey was that people should invest for their specific financial goals for the long term. My advice is to ignore the 24-hour news cycle. What some person says on CNBC about what the stock market will do tomorrow has nothing to do with your retirement account, or you child’s college account for that matter. You can give yourself whiplash watching the market go up and down throughout the day. That being said, if you skip the stock market, you have literally no chance of being able to save enough money to provide a secure standard of living in your golden years. In my (expert) opinion, the risk of not investing is much greater than the risk of the overall stock market.

Average Americans (with some money to invest) need to find one source or person they trust to help them build well-diversified portfolios. People should invest money, automatically and on a regular basis, and let it do its thing. It’s also a good idea to check in once a year and rebalance, if needed, etc.

Google just about any financial topic and you will find an overwhelming amount of information. Each topic almost always has an argument for and an argument against some strategy, viewpoint, etc. Is the market going up? Yes. Is the market going down? Yes. You will drive yourself nuts. Also, the more you mess with your investments, the worse you will do over time. Often times people end up owing more taxes, paying more fees and increasing their chances of making an idiotic mistake. By hiring me, people are able to reduce their financial stress and go back to whatever makes them happy. I’m a money nerd and love this stuff, but most people hate it.

With Frances Callier and Angela Shelton on the ste of Me Time with Frangela.

With Frances Callier and Angela Shelton on the set of Me Time with Frangela.

J.P.: You’ve emerged as this media guy—for lack of a better word. Which fascinates me. How? Like, there are thousands upon thousands of CFPs around the nation. Very few are as publicly present as you. How did this happen? Why? What was your first media gig? And how does it impact your career?

D.R.: My first big media gig was writing for the national LGBT magazine, The Advocate, covering serious topics like gay marriage to writing articles with humorous angles such as the Golden Girls and whether or not your gay friend will leave you broke. Doing so allowed me to cement my name as the go-to LGBT financial planner, which led to regularly contributing to The Huffington Post, and currently, Forbes.com.

I enjoy writing, but I really love going on camera. Because finances can be really dry and boring, I try to inject a fresh and fun voice into the financial jargon. Believe it or not, my first big national news segment was on Fox and Friends talking Hillary versus Donald, and their tax plans, during the presidential election. Before that, I’d done every LA news channel and some shows on Bravo.

Standing out from crowd (and being an expert) means I get asked back time and time again. So often you watch people only giving facts and figures which can be overwhelming, down-right boring, and unnecessary in order for a lot of people looking to make smarter financial decisions. By making things fun, and injecting some humor into the conversation, I seem to stay top-of-mind when shows are looking for guests. Who knows? Maybe all of my TV success stems from my gay genes and just dressing better. If nothing else, adding a little flair to finances helps people take notice.

As far as my career, media and TV has been huge. I know many of my clients enjoy seeing me on TV. It also frees up a lot of time because I now have videos of segments where I talk about almost every client question I could ever receive. People come in ready to act and ready to hire me.

I may a point to not sound or act like the other million financial advisors out there.  All this media just gives me a bigger soapbox to convey smart money moves to the masses.  While attracts some great clients from across the country along the way.

J.P.: You write a piece for Forbes headlined, WHAT WOULD YOU PAY FOR EXTRA YEARS OF PERFECT HEALTH. It was riveting stuff, and included this paragraph: “Money can’t necessarily buy you a long and healthy life, but it doesn’t hurt. There is about a 10-year difference in life expectancy between the top one percent of women and the bottom one percent according to the American Medical Association. For men, the gap is even wider at 15 years. Based on that statistic it seems men need to work on becoming rich.” And I wonder—does this at all infuriate you? Because it strikes me as such bullshit, the way greed actually pays off in yet another way.

D.R.: I could go on all day about healthcare in this country and what it costs compared to other countries. That being said, you don’t have to be uber-rich in order to make healthier choices throughout your life that will help eliminate, or minimize, many of the most expensive medical costs throughout life.

There are a bunch of ways that the middle class can take steps to extend their lives. Eating healthier, regularly exercising and receiving recommended medical screenings based on your age could make a huge difference. Many cancers are highly treatable if caught early. Of course, all of that is easier when you have more money, but you don’t have to be a one percenter.

Personally, I think my choices to stay active, and watch what I eat, will have much more to do with how long I live compared to my net worth. That being said, my great-grandfather drank and smoked – and still lived to the age of 99. My dad is as healthy as a horse, so I’m planning on being around for some time.  This body has to last a long time, so I better take care of it.

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J.P.: Totally random, but I have little hope for the future. I see Trump, rising oceans, rising temperatures, tribalism, on and on. So … do you? Are you at all optimistic?

D.R.: The future is looking bleak in many ways, and we can’t 100 percent blame Mr. Trump for that. Although, he pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement and continues to ignore/doubt the scientific evidence of climate change including the most-recent climate report lead by 91 scientists, from 40 countries, who reviewed more than 6,000 studies.

At the same time, I try to maintain a positive attitude and be realistic about what I can do to combat ruining our planet. I’ve shifted to a mostly plant-based diet as scientific evidence has shown plant-based diets are likely to help combat climate change. Additionally, when shopping, I look for brands who have made it their missions to approach business in ethical ways that consider both people and the planet. Simply sitting at home and waiting for the world to end won’t help anything. I also don’t think building a bunker will help. If you have a bunker, and it gives you peace of mind, then good for you.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m expecting to live a long time. Perhaps I will eventually have a waterfront home if climate change continues to worsen. There is no doubt in my mind that we all will face some major challenges in the coming decades. While civilizations have crashed in the past, humanity managed to survive and thrive. Only time will tell.

J.P.: I’m gonna ask you a strange one. You’re married. And I still think, to a certain degree, a segment of people respond awkwardly (slightly or otherwise) when a man introduces “my husband” or a woman does so for “my wife.” Do you ever sense that? Do you ever feel that? Does it/did it bother you? Or does my entire question sound very 1998?

D.R.: I may live in a bubble where people either don’t care or don’t notice. From time to time, I do surprise some people with the news that my spouse is a man. I don’t have time to worry about it.  If people don’t like it, it’s their problem. Most people I run into these days have a positive response, or at least keep negative responses to themselves.

J.P.: Your dad played in the USFL—a league I just wrote about in book form. So, growing up, how aware of the league were you? Do you have any memories about it? Does your dad look back fondly? Angrily? Oddly?

D.R.: I wasn’t even born when he played in Super Bowl XI for the Raiders. My only real memories of my father playing football are when he was in the USFL. I was still very young, just starting school, when the league folded. I remember taking a trip out (I grew up in Orange County, CA) to see my dad during the ‘84 season when he played for the Michigan Panthers. Pretty much all I remember was running around the Pontiac Silverdome during a practice.

I also remember when he played for the LA Express and that the locker room at the Memorial Coliseum was stocked with small Cokes and vitamin C. I can specifically recall one game he played there. From what I’ve been told, it was the longest football game ever. The Michigan Panthers played the LA Express and the game had several overtimes. My mom says we left the game, went to the museum across the street, returned to Memorial Coliseum and the game still went over forever. In your book, I think you said like only 7,900 people showed, and I’m sure there were even less by the end.

If I had to guess, I’d say my dad looks back at it oddly. He is better known for his time at USC and when he played for the Raiders. I think he was in his 30s by the time he was playing in the USFL and wise enough to appreciate the positives of the league and still being able to play given his age at the time. Also, having played in the NFL previously, I’m sure he was aware of some of the shortcomings, cheapness and budget constraints of the USFL referenced in your book.

After reading your book, I now blame Donald Trump, and a few others, for putting my dad and his friends out of work.  Thanks to you Jeff for trying to … Make the USFL great again!!!!

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH DAVID RAE:

• How did you meet your husband?: On a cruise to Mexico. What are the odds? You could say it was meant to be. We’ve been together nine years, married for a little more than four year. We were married at Sonny & Cher’s old house in Palm Springs.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Tom Ramsey, cargo shorts, The Lego Movie, ducks quacking outside your window, “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” the Chargers in Los Angeles, cold brew with almond milk, Herschel Walker, Portland, the iPhone, Wanda Sykes, Lee Jeans: The iPhone, Wanda Sykes, cold brew with almond milk, “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”, ducks quacking outside your window, the Chargers in Los Angeles, Portland, Herschel Walker, Lee Jeans, cargo shorts, The Lego Movie. I put Tom Ramsey last as he is the third favorite of the quarterbacks my dad played with in the USFL. (behind Steve Young and Bobby Hebert.

• Three memories from your first-ever date: A movie, sweaty palms, making out.

• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between you and Mike Pence. What’s the outcome?: Hahaha … If I answer this, will the Secret Service show up at my door? I’m pretty confident I’d win if “Mother” doesn’t step in.

I’d be more concerned about boxing Trump, he has professional wrestling experience.  Someone I’m confident I’d get hit over the head with a chair by Jared or Ivanka. Trump would claim the greatest boxing victory ever.

• What happens after we die?: I’m going to be cremated and spread somewhere fun.

• Best advice you’ve ever received: Someone a long time ago advised me to be the Financial Planner who happens to be gay rather than the Gay Financial Planner. A small distinction, but it has served me well over the years.

• Six adjectives you would apply to your car: Dependable, Hybrid, Paid-Off, Comfortable, Maroon, Long

• What’s the best smell in the world? Worst?: I love the smell of fresh, hot garlic bread. Bad breath is the worst. I want to talk to you, but if your breath stinks, I’m out.

• In exactly 14 words, make a Hollywood Walk of Fame star argument for Zac Efron: Have you seen his abs in Baywatch? All eight of them deserve a star.

• My son told me the other day he’ll no longer be trick o’ treating with us. Can the wife and I trick o’ treat on our own? We’re both 46: Your book is a best seller, just go buy all the candy you want. If you want to dress up, go to the Festival in West Hollywood, with hundreds of thousands of other people around our age, and even a few kids mixed in.

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Adrianne Curry

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There have now been 377 Quazes.

With all due respect to the first 376 participants, this week’s edition may well be my favorite.

Adrianne Curry is an Avon salesperson who works out of her home in Montana. She happily drinks coffee and gazes at eagles and peddles makeup to help women feel better about themselves. She is content and at peace and in love and, more than anything, an escapee.

See, not all that long ago Adrianne was trapped in the quicksand-like vortex that is fame. It began in 2003, when she won the first season of America’s Next Top Model, thereby propelling her into a dizzying whirlwind of magazine spreads, Playboy covers (two!), red carpets, TV guest appearances, reality shows (she was on the fourth season of VH1’s Surreal Life, which resulted in her meeting, marrying and starring in another reality show with Christopher Knight, aka Peter Brady). She had her breasts enlarged, her ego battered, her confidence shredded.

And then, one day a bunch of years ago, she said, “Fuck this.”

I’m not entirely sure that’s the exact phrasing, but Curry looked around, took stock at her life, and wanted out. No more selfies, no more autographs, no more … of any of it.

And here we are.

I’ve never met Adrianne in person, but the honesty and realness in today’s Quaz immediately makes her one of my favorite people on earth. Her blog is friggin’ must-read material, and one can buy Avon products from her here.

Truly, it’s a thrill to introduce Adrianne Curry as this week’s Quaz Q&A …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Adrianne, I stumbled upon your website and was hooked. Why? Because I’m a huge fan of celebrities who come to the realization that fame is pretty much bullshit. So how did you come to realize fame is pretty much bullshit?

ADRIANNE CURRY: I always knew it was. I never belonged in that world. I’d be scolded because I refused to “play the game.” I wouldn’t date famous people to climb the ladder after my divorce. I think only narcissists and sociopaths can truly make it in entertainment. You have to be willing to do what it takes, and many times that is crushing your opposition. Just like a CEO of a company, a certain lack of empathy for your fellow man is needed. I didn’t have that and my lackluster career reflects it. I did start to get tainted with the fame disease, but I have been to a lot of therapy. I made sure I didn’t fall victim.

The main thing that tipped the scales were the backstabbing friends I had who would gossip about me behind my back. Women who would stand next to you at Comic Con to grow their own brand, and then whisper about you the moment you left the room. It broke me. There was no loyalty and certainly hardly any real love. I no longer wanted to be around so many bad people. Upon meeting my guy, we quickly realized LA would destroy us and we both bounced. After a few years out of the game, all the star fuckers and fake friends fell off. They couldn’t vampire off my “star” anymore. I was no longer a vehicle to get them more recognition.

J.P.: Because this is my Q&A, and I’m the president and CEO of jeffpearlman.com, I’m allowed to ask what I want. So I must ask this: Adrianne, on your blog you wrote a post about your new vacuum, the Shark Apex Duo clean AX950. And you love it and it’s world-changing, and that’s great. But, eh, Adrianne, you posted that entry on Oct. 7—and the image shows the vacuum alongside a Christmas tree. Adrianne, maybe I’m just a naïve Jew … but what the hell if your tree doing up in early October?

A.C.: It’s my AUTUMN tree. I have a lot of decorations that go up for Christmas and I do not get help from my spouse outside of him observing. This tree is 10-feet tall and I have two more 7 1/2-foot trees that need to go up. I thought it would be fun to make a harvest tree so I could have the big boy already up and running for decorating. It takes over two days to set it up properly, so it will save me time. Usually, I put it up right before thanksgiving undecorated to save me time. My entire house is decked out in fall. I am a decoration queen.

Speaking of Jewish, I just taught a fellow top model contestant what a Tchotchke is today when she inquired what kind of wedding gift I would like. Random.

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J.P.: So I have a 15-year-old daughter. She’s tall and blonde and quite pretty. And for years we’ve been approached by modeling agencies, by modeling reps, by friends saying, “You really should have her modeling.” And the wife and I have turned it all down—A. Because we don’t want her objectified; and B. We wanted her to have a normal childhood. You are a model. Much of your existence has been modeling. Were we wrong? Right? Both? Neither?

A.C.: One hundred percent right. She would have learned her only value is her looks. I have been to so much therapy to deal with the damage my agents did to me. I struggle with all the imperfections they pointed out “get a nose job, you’ll really make it!” I feel fat, I crumbled and got a boob job I regret. There is nothing beneficial for anyone to have a job based on the fact that they are pretty. It creates sociopaths, narcissists and very insecure people. You get older, then you struggle with feeling you are losing your value, even if you know you aren’t. If modeling came without the fucked-up agents and sick old men preying on 15-year olds, I’d say go for it. I am really glad I made it later on in life. It still messed me up. Major body issues. I am super lucky everyone made sure they told me I was fucking ugly growing up. it wasn’t until after I won Top Model that people would say I was pretty. It created a pretty conflicted image of myself. If I had a daughter, I think someone would meet the other end of my shotgun if they suggested she be a model.

J.P.: One of the best essays I’ve ever read on fame is from your site, headlined CELEBRITIES DESERVE IT! TALES FROM THE OTHER SIDE. In particular, you write this: “Worst, are the ones about my past relationship. I wish that person the best life they can possibly have. Our time together was highly toxic and unhealthy. I don’t want to be reminded of it. It sucked.  I could go my entire life with never ever hearing about that person again and miss absolutely nothing. If not for other people, I’d rarely if ever think about it again in my life. I did my time in therapy to heal. Good luck and God speed!” And I think the argument some would make is, “Hey, you went on TV and made this public. Hey, you did a reality show titled (literally), ‘My Fair Brady.’” I’m not saying I agree (I don’t), but it’s how people think. And I wonder how you’d respond to that genre of thinking; the idea that once you put it out there, hey, tough shit, kid.

A.C.: I say, FUCK YOU. I won Top Model three months sober from opioids. I had a bad past and I was so mentally stunted, I might as well have been 15 when I got married on TV. Empathy and compassion is something humanity has lost due to access to social media. We are all becoming monsters.

Seriously. Did you shit your pants in school? Piss yourself? Only a bully piece of shit would remind you of it for the rest of your life. People who do this are insecure and miserable in their own lives. It makes them feel good to trash on other people. I would understand if I was still out there selling my soul for money. If I entered celeb boxing matches, took every reality TV show offer, played out the dynamics of my current marriage for all to digest. I learned. I matured. I am not jumping around trying to get the attention of TMZ. The train wreck is over, though, I don’t think I was as bad as some. I turn down every show offer that comes my way. Don’t expect me to be kind to you if you think you’re going to shit on me. I am not 20-years old anymore. I am a 36-year old woman who gained love and self respect for myself, even if you don’t have any for me. Eat shit. I flip on the TV and feel pity and compassion for the poor souls trying to fill the empty void in their hearts with validation and attention from the mob. They turn on you. They always do.

Back in the modeling days.

Back in the modeling days.

J.P.: You sell Avon products. Which sounds oddly peaceful and lovely. How did that happen?

A.C.: It was 2015 when I snapped and was done with Hollywood. In 2016 I decided to move to Arizona with my guy. In early 2017, I started pissing my pants in my sleep. Yay! Great! I couldn’t watch a movie without leaving the theater 14 times to pee. I was bleeding a lot and something felt very wrong. I was pretty scared, but my husband convinced me to stop living in denial and go to the doctor. I had a huge fibroid grow out the top of my uterus and smash into my bladder. We didn’t know if it was cancer or not, but it had to be removed either way. I had a myomectomy. It is really painful. I did get some cool pictures of my uterus outside my body! During my downtime waiting to hear back from the lab on the results on the tumor, I watched Edward Scissorhands. High as a kite, I apparently signed up to be an Avon Lady with hopes of cosplaying Peg, the Avon Lady. My kit arrived a week later. Thank god. It gave me something to focus on during a very rough time in my life. I put my all into it and really loved it.

Old colleagues in the industry thought I had gone mad. People started making fun of me for “how far she has fallen” … like fame is the only thing that ever defined me or made my life good in any way. Fuck ’em. Some people want a normal job where they don’t have to worry if their coworker is trying to fuck their husband, use them to achieve something for themselves or steal their gig. Avon is that for me. I got better from my surgery and found myself completely immersed in something that gave me joy and purpose. It was better than any TV show or magazine cover I ever landed. I got to help women and chitchat with them via email. It made them feel good, I picked out product for em. It’s a much better existence for me. It is safe. I finally feel … safe. Safe and sound with a home office full of product and former fans who are now friends/customers.

J.P.: You live in Montana, you’re married, you’re out of the spotlight. What’s your general day to day life look like?

A.C.: I wake up. It’s freezing! We don’t want to use our propane outside for cooking because when the snows get deep, the truck wont be able to make it on our property to refill our propane tanks. We feed our cat and dog, start a fire in the wood stove and sit down in our offices to drink coffee. I work a bit before going outside to give the horses a few carrots. I clean my home daily because I am obsessed with it. I cook breakfast and dinner from scratch. I watch my husband chop cords of wood out my window to hold us off in the winter and help him stack it in our garage and front porch. Soon, my car will be garaged because it isn’t four-wheel drive and I wont be able to make it down the mountain. I have a home gym in our walkout basement that I hit up more than the one all the way in town. Plus, it will come in handy when we get snowed in.

I get to see deer, elk and black bear wander around. if we are lucky, some bald eagles will go fishing in the lake down the street that we can see from our home. I stream three times a week, doing makeup on our horrid internet. I have no cell service. Any phone call I make is via wireless internet and it is bad internet. I hiked a bit more in the summer and spent a lot of time in Glacier National Park. We also played a lot on the ATV. I am really excited for our first winter here. At night, I look at the Milky Way and feel my nose sting with the chill in the air, before turning into sleep. I try to make sure I work a minimum of five hours a day, so I am in my office a lot. I put a ton of bird feeders out the window but now that winter is almost here they all left. We had great horned owls, America’s largest woodpecker, magpies, hummingbirds, etc. Sometimes, I step outside just to hear the thudding silence. especially now that it is cold.

Things are different out here. You depend on your neighbors. A huge pine tree fell across our drive and we had to chainsaw it up to get home one day. One of our neighbors had to wait for my husband to pull it off the road to get by. The issues that plague bigger cities don’t seem to exist here. I tune out politics and social issues because I am just sick and tired of the anger. We have one life on this earth. Sadly, most of us ignore the actual earth. Just last week I was vacuuming my basement. I looked up into the eyes of a huge buck in my window with two females next to him. i shut it off and we stared at each other for a bit. It was pretty rad.

J.P.: You won the first season of America’s Next Top Model, which was supposed to (I believe) come with a Revlon print advertising campaign. Did Revlon dick you over? Or was that much to do about nothing?

A.C.: No, Top Model did. Revlon told me they never planned on giving the winner a prize. Tyra told us every week we were fighting for a prize. When it aired, suddenly the voice-over was different from what she said. Shit got ugly. I got 0 money for my win … and that is what drove me the most. It was ugly and I cried many tears over the years. They refused to even show me in other seasons as a winner. I was erased from Top Model history for telling the truth. I am glad my standing up for myself ensured they didn’t fuck anyone else over. I am still proud that I won.

J.P.: OK, time out. You got married earlier this year to Matthew Rhode, and the wedding was held at Glacier National Park. It was Game of Thrones-themed, and the only guest was your wedding photographer. Um … that sounds awesome. Explain. Please.

A.C.: We didn’t want the stress or the cost of a wedding. The moment we said we were engaged was the moment things started being projected onto us. Reasons of why we should have a wedding, who we should invite, etc. Matthew and I have felt very much that it is me and him against the world. Some pompous shitfest of us plastering on fake smiles and shelling out our savings for future property on booze and dinners sounded absurd. We are simple. We wanted simple. I think many people forget that a wedding is really only about the bride and groom … not their friends, families … just them. Our wedding was more intimate and meaningful than any wedding I have ever attended. Had people been there, it wouldn’t have been as meaningful. It also would have been in some shitty location we didn’t want to accommodate guests. We drove almost five hours in a car with our photographer. I don’t think people would have been OK with that. The stress of worrying about others would have ruined the peace and joy we had that day. We did have a bear attend, so that was rad.

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J.P.: Why do you think people so gravitate toward the famous? It always seems so weird. Famous people fart, poop, vomit, spit, have runny noses. They play firefighters in films—but don’t fight fires. They play superheroes—but have no super powers. So why are we so drawn to it?

A.C.: Same reason people believe anything they see on that there TV. People like to lose themselves in fantasy. Most famous people abuse drugs, are psycho assholes, etc. Look at Mel Gibson. Everyone was so shocked at those recordings. I wasn’t at all. I’ve seen worse. If people understood how lonely fame was … how empty … how fame does not give you money to pay bills … how mobs of people are there waiting to turn on you at any moment … they wouldn’t wish it on anyone. They just look at the smoke and mirrors everyone projects and make believe that it is real. It isn’t. After all of this, I still admire musicians. Not because they are famous, but because they create beauty. An actor gets a script and plays a game of make believe. A musician tells a story … and lulls you into their reality with their words and the strum of their guitar. I’m more likely to pay to see Roger Waters than to see Hugh Jackman.

J.P.: You posted a photo of your wedding dress on Instagram and wrote, “What is sexy? I picked my wedding gown because of its simplicity and flowyness. I didnt want tits flopping everywhere or it be so form hugging I couldn’t walk. Im over that shit. I was comfortable as fuck and looked FIRE.” I love this. In general society, who do you think decides what’s “sexy”? And why do we allow it?

A.C.: Instagram decides what is sexy now. Doing squats with your vagina ending up three inches from a camera is what is sexy. There is no mystery anymore. The old me looks like a tame kitten nowadays. Thankfully, I grew up and realized I bought into objectifying myself to get ahead. Now, all these kids (and adults) are posting booty twerking, under boobs, butt cheeks. Photos of a beautiful girl or guy in clothes don’t get likes. Everyone feels this emptiness inside. They feel “likes and comments” are the way to fill that painful void. People look up to the The Kardashians—whose own mother peddled the wares of all the women in the family to make a buck.

It makes me sad. Sad for society. Sad for all the women and men I see adding to it. I feel the internet has turned into the tale of Narcissus. Rather than interact with each other in real life, we are all doomed to stare into our flip screens at our own image..posting a never ending flow of images we admire of ourselves for people to like till we fucking die. I myself am in selfie recovery. If Matthew takes my pic to market Avon or just in day to day life, fine. However, I am not going to hold up my own phone anymore to admire myself. It’s a bit of a sickness.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH ADRIANNE CURRY:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): mashed potatoes, Anew Hydra Fusion, “A Star is Born,” Wyoming, Isaiah Crowell, Da Brat, oatmeal with brown sugar, Diana Ross: Wyoming, Anew Hydra Fusion, mashed potatoes, oatmeal with brown sugar, Diana Ross, Da Brat, Isaiah Crowell.

• One question you would ask Twiggy were she here right now: What do you think your caloric intake was in a day? Also, when you said Twiggy, I immediately thought of Marilyn Manson’s bandmate first.

• Five reasons one should make Kalispell his/her next vacation destination: Glacier National Park, Northern Lights, Moose, Bear, Elk.

• Why Game of Thrones?: Because it was inspired by The Lord Of The Rings … and because Ned Stark is my spirit animal … being a good and honorable person only costs you your head.

• In 18 words, can you make an argument for a restaurant that only serves Honey Nut Cheerios?: No. I fucking hate them

• How did you meet your husband?: I was streaming Hearthstone on Twitch … we were both Guildmasters on World Of Warcraft and I Googled him … and saw he was the most handsome man in all the world.

• Five words you overuse: Fuck, dammit, shit, obviously, apparently

• Did being praised as “hot” ever matter to you? What I mean is, you’re on a multitude of “hot” lists. Did you care?: Nope. Being “hot” got me nothing but a few assholes that felt so empowered by it that they cheated on me with everyone. I much preferred “cool chick you could burp with and have a beer”… even though I don’t drink. Or—”baddest ass music tastes.”

• The 46thpresident of the United States will be …: Trump. Just because it will make people implode.

• Is The Surreal Life a show that should still exist? Or never have existed? (Confession: I loved it): It cant anymore. Everyone is a super famous reality TV star on their twitch, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, etc. Reality TV is dead because everyone is trying to be a super famous celebrity as far as the eye can see.

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Connor McGrath

Connor Read Street

Connor McGrath is funny.

I don’t mean funny in the, “Oh, chuckle chuckle” sense of the word. Nope, the Deering Center, Maine native is absolutely hilarious, and if you don’t believe me, well, watch this. And this. And this. His stuff is electric, and unsparing. And, best of all, original. Watching Connor at work actually reminds me of the early Chris Rock days, when it’d be, “Holy shit, where did that come from?”

That’s how I feel with Connor McGrath.

But there’s more. Connor is both funny and a guy with Asperger’s—which hits close to home for very personal reasons. And what I like about his work is the way it takes ownership of a syndrome many people fail to understand. Connor doesn’t tiptoe around Asperger’s, or address it mildly. Nope—it’s a part of who he is as a person and a comedian. And, I’d argue, it makes him great.

Connor is the two-time Maine Comedian of the Year (as selected by readers of the Portland Phoenix), as well as (I truly believe) a future star of the medium. You can follow him on Twitter here and Facebook here.

Connor McGrath, this isn’t the Pu$$y Bank.

It’s just the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, so Connor. You’re a stand-up comic, and you’re a stand-up comic with Asperger’s. Which has sort of become, early in your career, what you’re best known for. Yes, being funny. But being funny with this condition. And I wonder, through your eyes, if that’s a good thing? A great thing? A non-thing? How does it make you feel?

CONNOR MCGRATH: It’s something that I have gradually learned to accept as a good thing. There was a fairly lengthy period of time in my career where I didn’t mention being on the spectrum at all during my sets cause I was afraid I would be pigeon holed as the “Asperger’s Comedian”. However as I continued down the comedy path, I realized that it’s best to acknowledge the condition. I’m not the type of comedian who can craft killer absurdist one liners or has rueful observations about the state of the world. I talk about my life and it’s very hard to talk about myself without talking about being on the spectrum.

In its own very weird way, I think my stand up is educational and inspirational  Some of the proudest memories I have of doing stand up are when people on the spectrum or parents of children on the spectrum come up to me after shows to tell me how much seeing someone like me onstage meant to them. Almost anyone can get a laugh but to create a moment is something special.

J.P.: My brother has Asperger’s. Only when we were growing up it wasn’t a diagnosis. So he spent years not knowing what was wrong/different. Then, when he finally figured it out, it was a huge relief. What about you? Did you know from a young age? Was there a moment of clarity?

C.M.: I was diagnosed when I was in 5th grade. So I have lived all of my adult and almost of my adolescent life knowing that I had it. I don’t think there was a huge specific moment of clarity, for me personally but it was relieving to get the diagnosis cause it cleared up a number of questions I had.

I spent a lot of my earlier elementary school years, bouncing between regular education and special education classes. I never felt like I fit in entirely with either group. My 12 year old reaction to being diagnosed was mostly “Oh so that’s why that is.” Then I’ve spent the last 18 years trying to figure out what it all means.

Connor SF

J.P.: This might sound odd, but does having Asperger’s make you funnier? Like, is it a part of you that adds humor? Or are you a naturally funny guy who has Asperger’s?

C.M.: It’s hard for me to answer this question since I’ve never been a comedian without Asperger’s so I can’t really compare and contrast. I think a lot of the behavior patterns of people on the spectrum are conducive to writing comedy. The best stand up comedians are socially awkward people with unique takes on life that go against society’s norms. Repetition of phrases is a great way to drive home a joke. Repetition is a symptom of Asperger’s.  To me, being on the spectrum and performing comedy have always lined up. It’d be more absurd if I was on the spectrum and a theoretical physicist.

Adversity breeds humor so  I think, in a lot of ways, it does make me funnier. Now there are other aspect of being on the spectrum that make comedy more difficult than it would be if I was a neurotypical. Mostly just the difficulty I have in translating the words I have in my head into the words that I have coming out of my mouth.

J.P.: How did this happen for you? I mean, you’re this guy from Deering Center, Maine, living your life. Then–standup. How? Why? Were you the funny kid? Cracking jokes? Etc?

C.M.: I was definitely a class clown in elementary and middle school. I always wanted to make people laugh and feel good about themselves, even at my own expense. If I had a dollar, for every time my mom told me “Make sure that people are laughing with you! Not at you!”, I might have enough to move out of her house. Those words still reverberate a bit.

Anyway, I’d always loved performing in school plays and being onstage. There hasn’t been a time that I can really remember well in my life where I haven’t been performing onstage, in some capacity.

As for stand up specifically, I just slowly came to the realization one day when I was in my early 20s, that my favorite parts of being onstage were was when I was all alone, just being myself. Very slowly, I came to realization that I really enjoyed performing stand up. It started with me watching and reading a lot about stand up (my senior thesis at Marlboro College was on stand up comedy) then eventually, transitioned into performing a lot! It took me a while but I made it from the shallow part of the pond to the deep end, baby.

J.P.: You have a segment I just watched on YouTube called, “Pu$$y Bank.” It’s hilarious and original and awesome. And I would love to know how, soup to nuts, you brought it to life.

C.M.: I’ve always wanted a New York Times best seller to ask me about the writing process behind my Pussy Bank bit.

That was inspired by one of life’s dumb, little moments. I was hanging out at a BBQ, waiting for the food to be served, and one of my friends smelled something good and declared it to be the 2nd best smell in the world. When we asked him what he considered to be the best smell in the entire world, he answered resolutely “PUSSY!”

A few weeks later, I was on a tour of the Midwest with my comedy brothers Aharon Willows and Will Green, I recounted this dumb anecdote to them and they cracked up. From there, I explained my belief that in order to be the best smell in the entire world, it has to be a great smell in any situation. I yelled “I don’t want to smell pussy…at the bank!” Aharon and Will roared and the “Ah! This might be a bit!” light flashed above my head.

With that setup and jumping off point, three of us were able to workshop it from being a dumb, brief anecdote to a dumb semi lengthy comedy bit.

That joke is testament to how you’re never really done crafting bits as I’m still tinkering with it here and there. I’ve gotten some complaints recently about it being misogynistic. So I’ve made a point to emphasize (in a comedic and not preachy) fashion that I’m not anti vaginal odors, I’m just against the idea of vaginal odors being considered the best smell in the entire world.

J.P.: So you’re the back-to-back winner of Maine’s Best Comedian, as voted upon by readers of the Portland Phoenix. And I was wondering—are there, factually, great comedians and awful ones? Like, is it merely a matter of taste and opinion? Or do you feel like some folks are just, factually, funny?

C.M.: Hooo boy. This is a really good question, Jeff! I lean more towards it just being a matter of taste and opinion. Some comics are able to translate their world views to wider swaths of people but at the end of the day, I don’t think anything is guaranteed. There are crappy comics with their own TV series and there’s geniuses who are slugging away at crummy one nighters. Persistence, luck, and a certain je ne said quoi are as much determining factors for a comic’s success as actually being funny.

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J.P.: What does it feel like to completely bomb? And what’s the story of your worst experience?

C.M.: It does feel like the wind has been knocked out of you when you bomb really, really badly. Patton Oswalt describes it well as being like a swaggering gunfighter who just got his shins shot off. It can be almost like an out of body experience. Bombing is a permanent lingering threat in the back of every comics mind. When I’m on a streak of hot sets, I have a nagging fear that the next time I go on stage, I’ll eat my genitals.

On the other hand, bombing is something you have to begrudgingly accept if you want pursue comedy with any sort of seriousness. There was a great discussion on my Facebook feed the other week about bombing actually. My friend Ray Harrington, who is a terrifically underrated comedian out of Rhode Island. said “I’d rather bomb than have a 5/10 set.” A year or two ago, I would think he was insane but now I totally accept if not outright agree with it.

There are so many other  factors as to why a set bombs (venue, what’s happening in my personal life, other comedians on the show) beyond the jokes I’ve told themselves. If I bomb horribly, I can usually pinpoint what went wrong. It is actually more difficult to make sense of  one of those mediocre, 5/10 sets.

If you bomb all the time, you’re out of comedy. If you just have a bunch of 5/10 sets, then you’re stuck in comedy purgatory, doing feature sets in Kalamazoo, Michigan and Huntsville, Alabama.

Worst I’ve bombed was my one and only time performing at the late Comedy Connection in Portland, Maine. Invited my whole family out and just blew ass for 8  minutes. Briefly considered walking next door and throwing myself off of the Maine State Pier after my set.

Most uniquely terrible set though—performing stand up at intermission of a burlesque show at a community arts center that used to be my daycare center.  Just one of those nights where my mind ended up resembling a melted bowl of rocky road ice cream. I got Stalter & Waldorf’d by some grumpy gus in the balcony and it totally railroaded my set. I thought I could win the audience back by taking my shirt off and throwing it in the crowd but then I couldn’t get my shirt back. Backstage after, one of the burlesque dancers told me that you don’t throw your clothes in the crowd if you want them back.

PORTLAND, MAINE -- 05/04/17 -- Portland comedian Connor McGrath stands on the leafy street in Deering he's called home for most of his life. McGrath's Asperger's syndrome doesn't hinder his comedy, he said, "It's just like being left handed." Troy R. Bennett | BDN

J.P.: How do you know if something is funny for an audience? What I mean is, aren’t there differences between “funny inside your head” and “funny to 200 people in a room”?

C.M.: One of big determining factors is how relatable is the idea/premise. Is this an idea that can be considered humorous by a machinist in Auburn, Maine and a barista in Cambridge, MA? If someone asked me to describe what stand up comedy is in one sentence, I would say “Everyday problems addressed with unique points of view”

There’s really no way to see how a borderline funny idea plays out except onstage. And I’ve written jokes that went over like gangbusters on Facebook and Twitter  that let out a wet fart when I told them onstage.

J.P.: In an article you said school was always tough, in the way of social awkwardness. So how did you compensate? Or did you?

C.M.: I think my awkwardness in middle school, high school, and college came from trying and failing to be somebody that I wasn’t. I kind of tried to mask my autism to an extent and I don’t think I was really comfortable with being myself.

I was able to compensate by engaging in extracuricular activities (drama club in high school/college and stand up comedy in the grown up world) that allowed me to show my creative side. Over the years, I’ve been able to corral a group of lovable, rag tag misfits who accept me for I am. Them loving me allowed me to love myself.

J.P.: What’s the goal? Twenty years from now you are doing …

C.M.: In twenty years, I would love to be making a living, writing and/or performing comedy as a career. Will also just be merely happy with surviving whatever cataclysmic weather events happen in the next two decades.

Labor Priest Connor

QUAZ EXPRESS WITH CONNOR MCGRATH:

• Five all-time favorite comedians?: Richard Pryor, Mitch Hedburg, Chris Rock, Maria Bamford, and George Carlin.

• Are 9.11 jokes OK yet?: If it’s well told, well thought out, and not from a place of hatred or indifference, sure.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Cindy Blodgett, Lil Wayne, toenails, farting in private, little bags of pretzels, Tony Parker, Florida Georgia Line, Eddie Murphy: Eddie Murphy (wrote part of my senior thesis on his career. If you asked me to list top ten favorite comedians, he’d be on there), Cindy Blodgett (brought UMaine Women’s Basketball to heights unseen), Tony Parker (just terribly odd seeing him in a Charlotte Hornets uniform), little bags of  pretzels (essential part of any Concord Coachlines bus trip from Portland to Boston), farting in private, Florida Georgia Line, toenails

• One question you would ask Harrison Ford were he here right now: What enticed you to do Morning Glory? 

• In exactly 16 words, make an argue for Pink’s induction into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame: “Don’t Let Me Get Me” is one of my favorite inspirational pop anthems of the ’00s.

• Five reasons one should make Deering Center, Maine his/her next vacation destination?: 1. Home of Evergreen Cemetery, the final resting place of the “Father of Prohibition” Neal Dow; 2. Stevens Avenue is one if not the only block in America, where you can meet all of your educational needs. You can attend pre school, elementary school, middle school, high school, and college on the same street!; 3. During warm weather seasons, you can take your beloved to the Treehouse Cafe. It’s a lovely fine dining restaurant where the outdoor patio is like a bougey ass treehouse; 4. The Quality Shop, America’s finest corner store. It is truly a quality shop; 5. Short five-minute drive to Hadlock Field, home of the 2006 Eastern League Champion Portland Sea Dogs (Double A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox). In addition to some quality minor league baseball, the Portland Sea Dogs employ the finest mascot in sports, Slugger The Sea Dog. A truly exceptional performer. Even if he is a coward and won’t accept my challenge to a foot race.

• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between you and a one-armed Aaron Judge? How long does it go?: Aaron Judge punches my lights out in 3 or 4 rounds even in that state. My best hope, as a member of Red Sox Nation, is that MLB suspends him indefinitely after the fight for brutally assaulting an autistic boy.

• Tell us a joke: Uou were asking about 9/11 jokes earlier so I’ll tell you what’s a sick joke…

Performers working for free!

You can find me every Monday at Blue and every Thursday night at Lincoln’s in Portland, ME! And you can see if I’m coming to a town near you by liking Connor McGrath Comedy on Facebook.

• How do you feel about John Tavares leaving the Islanders after all those years?: Went to a Islanders game at Barclays Center a few years back with my brother. Hideously bad sightlines for hockey. Maybe he was tired of hearing about that. I don’t begrudge him for leaving and wish him well in Toronto.

• Can the DMV ever be funny?: Absolutely not.