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Category Archives: QUAZ

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David J. Leonard

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 10.49.38 AMI am not particularly intelligent.

I know … I know—big shocker. But, truly, I’m of marginal smarts. Mathematical equations get me every time. Crossword puzzles are my doom. I try and grasp concepts and angles, but usually fall terribly short. I am, sadly, pretty average in the thought department. Sigh.

That being said, I am a huge fan of thinkers; of people who tackle issues with precision and depth and emerge with theories based upon a merging of historic relevance and an ability to comprehend future indicators.

I am a big fan of David J. Leonard.

An associate professor in the Department of Critical Culture, Gender, and Race Studies at Washington State University, Leonard—white, Jewish, bearded, lover of funkadelic hats—has (in the words of WSU’s website) “dedicated his career to interdisciplinary scholarship, transformative teaching, and research that underscores the continued significance of race within popular culture, the structures of politics, and society at large.” He’s written books on some truly riveting subjects pertaining to race and society, and researched (among other things) Shawn’s Green’s religious/baseball identities.

One can visit Leonard’s website here, and follow him on Tumblr here and Twitter here.

David J. Leonard, welcome to Quazville …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So I just read an essay you did for Ebony about Joe Paterno, and you wrote, “The celebration of Paterno as patriarch, as the embodiment of a White working-class ethic, as a coach of a different era, sits at the core of the demoralization of Paterno.” I can hear tons of people saying, “What in the world did Joe Paterno—and Joe Paterno’s passing—have to do with race? Why even evoke that?” So, David, why?

DAVID J. LEONARD: Joe Paterno’s place in the national imagination was tied up in his whiteness. The reverence was very much tied to what he embodied: a throwback coach of a different era when college sports was about the “name on front” not the name on the back. This vision of college sports, and the narrative around Paterno, is very much tied to his white-male-working-class-identity.

Here is part of what I wrote:

The efforts to memorialize and the hyper celebration also reflect the power of white masculinity and nostalgia within the cultural landscape. Described as a “model of law-abiding sportsmanship,” “a disarming mix of a lofty diploma and Brooklyn-bred blue-collar grit,” and as someone committed to education and honor, Joe Paterno’s importance exists apart from National title, victories, or football within the national conversation. As noted by Rick Reilly, Paterno “was a humble, funny and giving man who was unlike any other coach I ever met in college football. He rolled up his pants to save on dry cleaning bills. He lived in the same simple ranch house for the last 45 years. Same glasses, same wife, same job, for most of his adult life.” The celebration of Paterno as patriarch, as the embodiment of a white working-class ethic, as a coach of a different era, sits at the core of the demoralization of Paterno. The national mourning in this regard reflects both a desire to redeem him in the face of the sex abuse scandal and to celebrate nostalgia for a different era of college sports and a heroized white working-class masculinity. As pointed out by Tim Keown, “The regurgitation of the Paterno-as-moral-messiah (-until-Sandusky) fable is what happens when people close their eyes and see the world the way they thought it was, or how they want it to be.” Or as Bomani Jones told me, “We are here because of the image we created of Joe Paterno,” because of the brand of Penn State and JoPa and its meaning in the cultural, racial, and national landscapes.

The aftermath and the response to Joe Paterno says much more about us than him. It reveals our continued difficulty, silence, and unwillingness to deal with the issue of sexual violence and abuse. It illustrates the ways in which we valorize and hero-worship football coaches and where football sits on the national landscape. It highlights the power of nostalgia and the celebration given to a particular inscription of white masculinity. Over the last year, several prominent African American figures passed away — Gil-Scott Herron, Etta James Manning Marable, Fred Shuttlesworth and Derrick Bell – whose contributions to humanity, to knowledge, to community, to justice and helping others reach [their goals] are without reproach. Why haven’t their deaths been breaking news?”

To answer your question: Why . . . because race matters; because whiteness requires critical examination; because we need to look at the ways that race operates within our every day language; we need to reflect on how these ideas are tied to dominant understandings and languages about whiteness. So often, when we talk about race we think about racial otherness, and must reflect on how whiteness is a racial construct.

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 10.54.41 AMJ.P.: You wrote a book in 2012 titled, After Artest: The NBA and the Assault on Blackness. I’m sure David Stern—who cringes at everything anti-NBA—hated that one. Why do you think the NBA “assaulted” blackness post-the Artest fight? And can the league make the argument, “We were just trying to clean up the league … it had nothing to do with race”?  

DJL: I don’t think David Stern read my book, although he, Adam Silver, and others “leading the NBA,” should read books that are critically looking at the league and its place within a larger cultural landscape.

I also don’t think the book is anti-NBA. It is critical of the league’s and Stern’s decisions in the “aftermath of the Palace Brawl.” It is critical of the ways that the league replicated and reinforced dominant stereotypes about blackness. The decisions made—dress code, age rule, the media’s language about players—don’t exist in a vacuum but both reflect what’s happening throughout society in terms of racial stereotypes, criminalization, and inequalities. It also normalizes and naturalizes these ideas. The book is asking to think about what it means that David Stern saw it necessary to rid the league of hoodies. Yes, I am thinking about Trayvon Martin. My concern here extends beyond the league but at the ways that the league embodies and perpetuates racial injustice.

The idea that the league “needed to be cleaned” up is debatable and in itself reveals what I am saying about the desire to control, discipline, and “clean up” the NBA.

Palace Brawl transformed the league and the media coverage surrounding the league; race was at the center of this process. It transformed the league because the brawl was seen as a symptom of a larger disease plaguing the league—that the disease destroying the league and making it unpalatable to white fans and corporate sponsors was both hip-hop and the contemporary black baller; the changes in the league sought to treat this disease with a dress code, age restriction, crackdown on trash-talking, physical play, and any form of individuality; most important the NBA’s treatment plan focused on disciplining and punishing any NBA player who didn’t “get with the program” who didn’t appeal to its fan base. So, the idea that the league was interested in “cleaning up the league” (or even the idea that it needed to be ‘cleaned up’) or that it needed to deal with (white) fan discomfort or anxiety or fear demonstrates how race was always at work.

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 10.54.26 AMJ.P.: I’m fascinated, fascinated, fascinated by your journey. I mean, you’re a white guy who went to UC-Santa Barbara for a B.A. in Black studies. So how did this happen—your fascination with race? With black culture? What is your life path, from birth to here?

DJL: This is a long a story (I will give you the cliff notes version) with a lot of moments, influences, and events that shaped not only my path but who I am as a person, how I try to live my life.

I grew up in West Los Angeles, in an integrated and diverse neighborhood.  Yet, my experiences were also defined a level of racial homogeneity—at some levels, it was very white, middle-class.

Education was a point of emphasis in the family, even though I was not a good student. Between a learning disability and a disinterest in school, my passions were not directed toward school and learning. My childhood was defined by a house full of books, parents who pushed us to think critically, and by an educational system that allowed me to eventually find my passions on own terms. My middle-class parents spent most of their income on our education because they believed in progressive education even if this ironically meant my going to overwhelmingly white and wealthy schools.

As a child, I went to a school founded by Hollywood Communists, including the likes Charlie Chaplin. The type of education I got there would become my norm; I have never attended a school where we called our teachers by their last name; I didn’t receive a report card until the ninth grade. Detention and the pledge of allegiance, much less security guards and metal detectors, were completely foreign concepts to me until high school. This educational environment established a foundation based on critical thinking, intellectual curiosity, and passion for justice; but this only tells part of the story.

I was also somewhat typical of many white kids growing up in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Blasting N.W.A, Public Enemy and EPMD, I embraced everything that hip-hop embodied, at least in my white teenage imagination. On a given day, odds are I would be wearing a Malcolm X hat, cross-colors shorts, and a Southern University sweatshirt. I sagged my pants, wore my UNLV starter jackets and walked with a swagger that conveyed a brash sense of masculinity. There was even a short period of time where my hair was braided- that is until I removed it following a basketball game that put my whiteness on full display. Every time I touched the ball, my opponents would serenade me with “Kris will make you jump.” Not surprisingly, I was never conscious of the process of appropriation, nor was I initially conscience of the inherent power/violence in “eating the other.”

I started my undergraduate career at university of Oregon. My experiences was defined by a perpetual feeling of isolation and alienation (I was the Jewish kid from Los Angeles), although I would develop several friendships with others who also felt like outsiders. It was ironically at University Oregon that I developed several cross-racial friendships. Daily conversations with African American friends, alongside of observations of racial profiling abound, pushed my thinking about race, about white privilege, and about racism.

I remember one of my friends challenged me about wearing an “X” hat, asking if I had read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I hadn’t and needed to. These lessons and challenges, along with my initial African American history class, sparked something inside of me. While I transferred to Santa Barbara City College and UC Santa Barbara, my passion and focus remained. I would read and read, only stopping to watch documentaries; this would be my undergraduate experience. Along the way, many people shaped the direction I was heading – mentors like Cedric Robinson, Kofi Hadjor, Douglas Daniels, and many others pushed guided and inspired me. The LA Uprising, my activism while at UC Berkeley, and my experiences in the classroom left a lasting imprint, making clear where and how I wanted to spend my life..

Racism and inequality remain America’s problem of the twenty-first century. My life’s work is playing whatever role I can play in participating in these conversations, trying to do work that is accountable and that may have an impact.

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 10.55.08 AMJ.P.: You wrote a truly fascinating blog post about Madonna using the n-word, saying, “With her Instagram photo, she has become yet another white person who either doesn’t understand the meaning and history or who simply doesn’t comprehend or care about the harm, pain, and violence that comes every time a white person utters the word.” Why do you think, suddenly, white people seem so comfortable using the n-word? Where the hell did that come from?

DJL: White people have always felt comfortable using the word—power and privilege will do that. Obviously the history of the word, and its relationship to slavery, Jim Crow, and the normalization of racial terror demonstrate a history of comfort using the word. Clearly the history of minstrelsy, of blackface, of white mocking of blackness that exists in the white imagination, shows that this is nothing new.

We have seen the impact of social media, and online technologies to “expose” its [the N-word] use by whites. Whereas 15 years, whites were using it behind closed doors, within homogenous white racial gatherings/settings (see Feagin and Picca’s book Two Faced Racism), the usage is now more exposed. Social media has pulled back the curtain on racial language, on the expression of stereotypes and racial slurs. Secondly, the language of “satire” or “it’s just a joke” or “I am just copying what my favorite rapper says” is now part of the language of justification and rationalization. The “satire card” or hip hop made me do it” is about justifying because whites have been using the word for as long as it has been existence.  It is about excuse making in the face of calls accountability.  Exposure resulting from social media demands accountability—this leads breeds excuse making/ justification/rationalization. But whites have comfortably bandied the term around amongst themselves throughout history. Usage has not grown, but has hit new levels of exposure resulting in more public dialogue

I also think its usage becomes part of a moment where whites can assert power and imagine a sense of victimhood—citing “double standards.” At present, we observe a constant narrative of (white) victimhood that erases the power and privileges of whiteness.

J.P.: There seemed to be an idea in this country by many that, with the election of an African-American president, racism had magically ended, and we were all good. Obviously, that’s not even remotely the case. So what has been Barack Obama’s impact on race relations—and racism—in the United States?

DJL: I guess it depends on how we define “race relations”—so often this is defined in terms of public opinion and in terms of the level of harmony across imagined racial communities. This is a very limiting because it reduces the discussion to individuals, to feelings, and plays upon the idea that race issues are about interpersonal dynamics.

If we look at white views about racism, we see two things: 1) If you compare public opinion polls from 1960s and 2000s, much of the white community thought, “all is good.” In this sense, there hasn’t been much change because whites have and continue to benefit from our current racial configuration. 2) In a post civil rights environment, the GOP (Southern Strategy) has used race, racial fear, and the belief that the system is working against whites, to maintain power, to galvanize support for their agenda. This has been going on for 50 years so it’s almost as if the election of President Obama has allowed people to yet again scapegoat blackness for racial problems when in reality the persistence of racism, the persistence of inequalities, the racial fear mongering, and so much more predates his election.

When we look at the ‘war on drugs’, when we look at disenfranchisement, when we look at housing discrimination, when we look at health disparities, or divestment of education and investments in prisons, we see how race remains a dividing line. We see how injustices and violence are an enduring reality for communities of color. His election didn’t change these institutional realities.

J.P.: You teach at Washington State—a wealthy school with a lovely campus and a lot of money. Why do you think college has become so insanely expensive (and unaffordable)? Is money being spent rightly? Have we reached the point where maybe, just maybe, people need to reexamine whether a lifetime of student loans is worth the benefit of a degree?

DJL: Wealthy? Really? As a public university, we have experienced the impact of the recession and public divestment from higher education. So, “wealthy” isn’t an adjective I would use to describe WSU. As someone who teaches in the college of arts and science, within the humanities, and in the fields of ethnic studies and women’s and gender studies, I have little knowledge of this “wealthy university” you speak of.  The reasons why budgets have been cut is the same reason why tuitions are dramatically on the rise: a lack of investment in higher education from both state legislatures and the federal government. Whereas, colleges and universities were supported in the past, today’s colleges and universities get little funding from the state. It’s kind of of astonishing when we look at the dramatic defunding of higher education. The response from higher education is to increase tuition because the money has to come from somewhere. In many ways, public universities are becoming quasi private, reliant on tuition, grants, and donations.

With increased tuition, and less-than-stellar job prospects, universities have increasingly begun to sell “the college experience” as opposed to the degree or the educational benefits. So, it’s no wonder that money is going to recreation centers and student activities; it’s no wonder that there is so much emphasis on hotel-style dorms, parties, and fall-fun and March madness.

Our current moment requires us to demand investment in higher education. Its time for us to reflect on why critical thinking, media literacy, knowledge, and communication skills are a societal benefit, and therefore should elicit financial investment. It is no coincidence that these changes, that the systemic divestment of higher education, has come during this so-called “post-racial” moment. That is, in a moment when more racial/ethnic minorities and women are entering into the spaces of higher education than ever before, we are seeing a reversal in terms of financial, political, and cultural investment in higher education.

J.P.: You’ve researched Shawn’s Green’s religious/baseball identities. I know Shawn quite well (he was actually a Quaz). So I’m riveted—what does this mean? And what did you find out?

DJL: I have always been fascinated by the “illegibility of the Jewish athlete.” We have all heard some variation of this joke: “What does the Encyclopedia of Jewish Sports Stars look like? Answer: A Pamphlet.” This work comes out of this fascination, my own experiences, and my being a “retired” Jewish athlete. Of course, being from LA also meant that Green was someone I was always intrigued by—as a fan and as a researcher. To me, I wanted to explore how his Jewish identity was talked about and what this tells us about Jewishness in the twenty-first century. In many ways, the piece looks at how people debated and discussed whether he would play on Yom Kipur, resuscitating debates about Hank Greenberg or Sandy Koufax. Just as the discussion of what a “Jewish athlete” meant for the Jewish community embodied the fears, anxieties and questions in a post-war context, the discussion that followed Green also told us a lot about Jewish identities in the twenty-first century. There were a lot of debates about “what it means to be Jewish” and the importance of his being a role model.

I think narratives about Jewish athletes are culturally power because athletic prowess or sports success offers a source of legitimacy for ideas about masculinity, assimilation, and “making it” within the American social fabric. In this sense, Green challenged the stereotypes and the anxieties over the stereotypes with respect to masculinity.

I have also been interested in which Jewish athletes get imagined as Jewish, as representative, as role models worthy of celebration and really as part of the Jewish community. This tells us a lot about Jewish identity formation and the relationship between Jewishness, religiosity, and race. This isn’t just about Green, Koufax and Greenberg, but we can think about how someone like Yuri Foreman, Ryan Braun or Omri Caspi gets imagined, consumed, and positioned as Jewish athlete, but someone like Jordan Farmar or Taylor Mayes are read quite differently.

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 10.55.34 AMJ.P.: Do you think it’s possible to be color-blind? What I mean is—you’re aware of someone’s race, but you 100% don’t give a shit, don’t have it impact your opinions, perceptions, anything at all?

DJL: Whether an individual can acknowledge racial difference, and see it as meaningless and as insignificant is difficult given what we know about implicit bias, about the entrenched nature of stereotypes. This is why I often challenge people who say, “that person is ignorant” because when in reality their acceptance of a stereotype, with a particular worldview, reflects their knowing these ideas, stereotypes, and visions of the world that are circulated daily; from the media to school, from family to religious institutions, from the world of sports to the worlds of popular culture, we are learning and teaching what “race” means so it is hard to imagine it not impacting someone. We can resist, we can challenge ourselves- and others, when these prejudices are articulated … but they are everywhere. We can be particularly vigilante in challenging the value judgments, and of course when those ideas translate into discriminatory actions, policies, and interactions.

I also wonder why we think that “not seeing” is a good thing given the ways that race operates within our society. In some ways, we are saying “your identity, your experiences, your community, your sense of self, don’t mean shit” and that of course is a problem on so many levels.

To address racism and inequality requires color consciousness. It requires recognizing implicit and explicit bias, it requires looking at both institutional racism and the ongoing legacies of American racism. The idea that ignoring will lead to change is naïve but worse destructive because it perpetuates inequalities and injustices. If we think about the criminal justice system, do we really think justice will come about if the prosecutor, judge, and jury take a colorblind approach given the racist nature of the war on drugs, given racial profiling, and given stop and frisk? We have to be aware of how racism operates at every level, and figure out ways to challenge its historic and present operations.

J.P.: I’m Jewish. And I know many Jews who believe we have a kinship with African-Americans. Minorities, struggles, stereotyping, etc. Yet I’m sort of of the belief that blacks, generally, don’t feel the same way. Am I being wacky?

DJL: There have been many books written about this but lets put it this way: while American Jews have experienced a history of discrimination, of hyper stereotypes, and of exclusion, many Jews (we have to remember that in the U.S. there an estimated 100,000 Black Jews (studies estimate between 50,000-500,000) so even the idea that Jews “kinship with African Americans” presumes that there are not black Jews) have benefited from their whiteness. So, while we can see shared histories, and we can most certainly see a history of coalitions, from the NAACP to Freedom summer, it is a history of many Jews benefiting from their perceived whiteness.

We also have to push conversation to think in complex ways. So, while clearly stereotypes about Jews remain widely known and are circulated, do those stereotypes have impact on the life chances and choices of the Jewish community? Do these stereotypes lead to racial profiling: NO! Do stereotypes of Jews as “greedy” lead to higher suspensions or expulsion rates? NO. Do “Jewish sounding names” lead to hiring discrimination? Again the answer is NO. We must be mindful of these very different experiences, the ways that privilege operates, the ways that many Jews benefit and have benefited from their whiteness, and how this impacts communal relations.

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 10.55.52 AMJ.P.: I hate “black” movies. What I mean is, films come out that are for “black” audiences—and they almost always cater to the lowest common denominator, with stereotypes and insults and someone in fat person drag. Why is this so common? And is there a cure?

DJL: It sounds like you hate stereotypical movies—movies that rely on classic stereotypes, clichéd humor, and childish banter. I wonder if we describe the movies of Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Judd Apatow …. “white films” or do we call zombie movies and Twilight “white youth films”?

I would say you are watching the wrong films and should go watch Pariah, Middle of Nowhere, Fruitvale Station, I Will Follow, Daughters of the Dust, Mississippi Dammed, An Oversimplification of Her Beauty, and Yelling to the Sky. There are so many amazing films that offer a range of representations that offer powerful stories, which speak to a myriad of issues.

We also need to ask, why certain films get major platforms, get distribution that puts them in every theater and every city, whereas the films I mentioned above are considered obscure and/or are (were) unevenly distributed by (within) the film industry.

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 10.48.04 AMQUAZ EXPRESS WITH DAVID LEONARD:

• Did Manning Marable’s Malcolm X biography—which showed much of the autobiography to be exaggerated or false—wound you in any ways?: I actually have a confession. I haven’t read Marable’s book. Every time I look at it on my shelf, I am overwhelmed by its length and know I need ample time to digest the book – and that reading it will lead me to read other books that have been critical of the biography. I have always found Malcolm to be a complex person; he had his flaws and contradictions . . . like everyone else, so I don’t think it would wound me.

• Rank in order (favorite to least favorite)—Coors Light, Dale Murphy, Bell Biv Devoe, Toledo, Natalie Wood, “Oh Sherrie,” pork chops, Tommy Herr, grape juice, Tyler Perry, Len Bias, Posh Spice, L.L. Bean catalogue: Is there a way to re-imagine this question as a couple of favorites followed me least favorite and then “no thank you” because “least favorite” doesn’t capture my feelings of some on the list? Bell Biv Devoe (although Ralph T was always a favorite); Len Bias (RIP), Toledo (home of Max Klinger and Tony Paco’s, the L.L. Bean catalogue (backpacks) ….. , “Oh Sherrie,” Natalie Wood, pork chops, grape juice, ……………….. Tommy Herr, Dale Murphy, Tyler Perry………………………………………………………………… Posh Spice …………………………………….. Coors Light.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: No, but have had moments where I was like “oh, fuck … that turbulence is a little much.”

• Five all-time favorite singers/groups?: Five?! Wow… Marvin Gaye, Ella Fitzgerald, Ice Cube, Nas, Don Henley (I feel like LeBron must have felt with Mt Swishmore b/c I know I forgot someone.)

This is one of my all-time favorite songs. What do you think?: If we are ever in the car together, I am in charge of the radio. #Not.a.fan

• The absolute best dunk you’ve ever seen was …: I am a Lakers fan so I am sure these are the best but for me best is about joy, pleasure, nostalgia, memories and all things Lakers—every Coop-a-Loop ever and Kobe’s lop to Kobe in Game Seven against the Trailblazers.

• Three memories from your fifth-grade class?: I have no idea . . . three great friends: Jenny, Quinn, and Erin—I am still in touch with two of them.

• Three skills you don’t have: Given my last answer . . . clearly I lack of the requisite skill to remember my childhood, ability to relax, and at this point I have neither a right nor a left hand on the basketball court.

• Best joke you know: I don’t know any jokes. Seriously but my 6-year old likes to tell jokes whenever he meets new people – while getting his hair cut, at stores, at parties, so here’s one: What do you get when you cross a turtle with a porcupine? A: A slow poke.

• Who wins in a 12-round fight—right now—between you and Ray Leonard with one hand tied behind his back?: Ray Leonard wins in a one-round fight; Benny Leonard also knocks me out in a hurry.

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Michelle Beadle

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 11.08.25 AMHere’s how you know when someone in the spotlight is cool …

When I initially e-mailed this week’s Quaz questions to today’s guest, I misspelled her last name as “Beedle.” Her response: “First of all, it’s BEADLE, bitch.”

Translation: I’m a big Michelle Beedle fan, and an even bigger Michelle Beadle fan. The SportsNation co-host doesn’t think herself a goddess of television; doesn’t revel in the attention and the fanfare; doesn’t equate being on the tube with, well, any real-world importance. She’s blunt, straightforward and extremely good at her job. She also happens to love Dikembe Mutombo, dislike Rick Perry and embrace all things WWE.

Michelle Beed … eh, Beadle. Welcome to the Quaz, bitch …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Michelle, so you seem cool enough and grounded enough that I can ask this without having a knife thrown in my eyeball. I’ve known many people who work in sports TV, and while they tend to try and play off recognition and fame as a major perk of the job, I sorta get the impression—for many of you—the ego boosts of fame and recognition are addictive and seductive. Airport recognition. Autograph requests. Etc. Am I right? Wrong?

MICHELLE BEADLE: Wait … people in this business have egos? I think most everyone enjoys a little recognition from time to time. It’s a bizarre thing to be in a restaurant with friends  and have it happen. But for the most part any glimpse into that type of an existence has been positive for me. You won’t catch me doing the whole publicist, TMZ route anytime soon, but a nice ‘howdoyado’ goes a long way.

J.P.: When I have a book come out, and I do media for that three-week span, I love it. I love the TV, the radio. By the end, however, I’m ready to return to my cave and stop talking. I’m tired of hearing my own voice, tired of the makeup, the banter, the, “Real quick before we take a commercial break …” thing. What is it about TV that you love? That keeps you going? Is there something I’m missing?

M.B.: For me TV was the last thing I should have been doing. I wasn’t an extrovert. Not a ham. To be honest, I’m not overly social at all. On TV, I get to talk about things that I enjoy, with people I find interesting, and when it’s live, it provides a nice buzz to an otherwise quiet life. TV came relatively easy once I learned to be comfortable. And the money doesn’t hurt.

J.P.: I’m always fascinated in life paths, and you see to have a pretty winding and remarkable one. Born in Italy, raised in Texas, focused upon practicing law. Michelle, how the heck did you get into TV? What was your path?

M.B.: I grew up wanting to go to Harvard Law School and save the world. I thought I could be a politician and truly make a difference. I spent my first several college years in Austin at UT, worked at the Capitol, all while pursuing this ‘law’ dream. Meanwhile, I slowly acquired an addiction to Jerry Springer (pre-fake-fighting) and afternoons at Barton Springs. This lifestyle was not conducive to attending my classes. So my grades start to plummet just as I’m realizing the political road was not for me.

With an abysmal GPA, I left Austin and took off. Spent time in various cities, “living the dream.” Or as my parents called it: wasting time. When I finally made my way back to Boerne (where my parents live), it became clear I needed a plan. Through my dad, I got a meeting with an executive of the team who put me in touch with the broadcasting maestro, and voila! Actually, not quite that easy. I called many times and was annoyingly persistent. One day I was allowed to shoot a segment on how to care for one’s pet for the team’s locally broadcast children’s show. I was beyond horrible, uncomfortable and awkward. I got one more shot. My cameraman that day, Eddie Ray Rodriguez, said “forget the camera’s there.’ Simple yet effective advice. And that was it. The bug bit. And I’ve been chasing the little red light ever since.

J.P.: I just read this on your Wikipedia page, and was immediately fascinated (Beadle was one of the last people out of 142 to audition for SportsNation. ESPN called her back and asked her to write about what she would do to make the show better.Thinking it was a joke, she wrote “a sarcastic list of 10 stupid things,” which helped her land the job.). A. Is it even true? B. Can you explain—in greater detail—what happened?

M.B.: The audition for SportsNation came at a time when I’d been on a few, and was very prepared to hear ‘no’ again. My chemistry with Colin Cowherd was immediate and easy but not the whole thing. I met with a number of suits, and one of them ‘assigned’ me the list of 10 things I’d do to improve the show. Now I’m thinking, ‘How do I improve a show that doesn’t exist?’ My list was ten strong but extremely sarcastic. I remember including my brilliant idea of ‘adding more purple to the set.’ Luckily the list was intercepted by Jamie Horowitz and Kevin Wildes before it reached its destination, and we, together, came up with real magic. Or at least enough magic to get me the gig.

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J.P.: In 2012 you left ESPN for NBC and immediately seemed to regret the decision and loathe NBC. You were very open about your unhappiness. What caused it? How long did it take you to realize, “Glub—bad move,” and did you seriously consider leaving the business?

M.B.: I’ve spoken a little bit about the last two years. They weren’t great. I enjoyed my time at Access Hollywood. Loved my work family in New York. And I got to do some interviews that will always be cool to look back on: Michelle Obama at the White House, the Anchorman crew,  the people who make the things that entertain me. But on the sports side, it was a simple case of just a really bad fit. I came in with the highest of hopes: the Olympics, Triple Crown, my own show. I left with a greater appreciation for people I’d worked with in my past and a lot of life lessons learned. But yeah, I was considering quitting the whole TV thing and going to a nonexistent plan.

J.P.: You’ve done a shitload of red carpet work for award shows. I say this with no disrespect—but it strikes me as sorta vapid work. What are you wearing? You look gorgeous. Blah, blah. Tell me why I’m wrong. Or right. Or neither.

M.B.: I hate red carpets. I. HATE. RED. CARPETS.  I did a few while at Access Hollywood. But I tried to have as much fun as possible. Covering the Country Music Awards in Nashville, I asked as many non-fashion questions as possible. I’m with you … people fake laughing at unfunny jokes while kissing celebrity booty is not entertaining.

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 11.09.03 AMJ.P.: A while ago I wrote a blog post that was pretty critical of Erin Andrews. My point wasn’t to bash Andrews, but sports TV—which seems to rarely place women in the booths, and always seems to hire perky, pretty, tall blondes and plant them along the sidelines while feeding them bullshit questions. In short, I think it demeans qualified, talented, sports knowledgeable women. You agree? Disagree?

M.B.: It’s not rocket science that TV likes to put attractive people in front of the camera. And obviously, women have been, far and away, a recipient of this process. And yes, it’s annoying when you see that put someone in a position that they should probably otherwise not have. But let’s be honest, across the board, in any industry, we’ve all witnessed folks who might not be perfectly qualified. We get a tougher time in this business because as females the spotlight is hot. We are expected to fail, to not do the work. I’m proud of the new crop of women who have made a helluva showing: Allie LaForce, Kristin Ledlow. They have massive knowledge and presence, and for the Neanderthals who can’t hear them speaking, they just happen to both be gorgeous.

J.P.: If one YouTubes and Googles Michelle Beadle, he/she finds a lot of shit about your breasts, your legs, your outfits. How do you deal with this stuff?

M.B.: No. 1: Never Google yourself. Ever. I’ve given my parent the same instructions. A few years ago I learned the hard way that any jerk can say what  they want and it can get you. The Aaron Rodgers crap that hit the internet was a flat-out blatant lie, yet I, to this day, find morons who tweet about it like it was fact. I’ve never Googled myself since. Nothing good comes of it. And if there’s a positive story out there, it will find you.

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 11.11.10 AMJ.P.: You’re a big fan of professional wrestling—which strikes me as both weird and weird. Where did this come from? How often do you attend events? And you do realize it’s predetermined, yes?

M.B.: PREDETERMINED?!?!?!?!?! I won’t even engage in that silliness. I got into wrestling in my 20’s. Was working in a restaurant in San Antonio and all my fellow servers were fans. It became standard practice to watch RAW on the reg. I never grew up watching or being around soap operas. I always equate wrestling to my soaps. I love the storylines, the athleticism. And for those of us who have had to speak into a microphone in front of a large group of people, some of those guys are amazing with the promo skills . Do I consider myself a nerd for loving it? Yup. I’ve been lucky enough to form a relationship with the WWE over the last several years, and as a result been to many events. Front Row. Sweating  and sometimes I bring my own signs.

J.P.: You have a natural, refreshing presence on TV. I’m not just saying that. You come off as someone it’d be cool to hang with. Is that at all practiced? Perfected? Did you have to ever loosen up, change your approach? In short, where did that come from?

M.B.: I believe this to be a major compliment. So first of all, thank you. I don’t think about it all. This may actually be a problem. But going all the way back to that cameraman who gave me the “be yourself” advice, I’ve never worried about cameras or me. I know that when I watch television, the people who I feel most satisfied watching are those that genuinely come across as humans. Not prompter-reading robots. I mean look, I’m discussing tattoos and tweets, this should be fun. It’s sports.

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 11.10.49 AMQUAZ EXPRESS WITH MICHELLE BEADLE:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): J.R. Richard, potato latkes, Rick Perry, Dave Briggs, Tommy Dreamer, Raymond Felton, Laura Branigan, The Best Damn Sports Show Period, earmuffs, The Rainbow Connection, Oreos, John Steinbeck: Earmuffs (I suffer poor circulation), Rainbow Connection (should have been first if not for that damn circulation and New York City winters), Laura Branigan (she got me), John Steinbeck (I can read), J. R Richard (amazing story), The Best Damn Sports Show (liked it early on), Tommy Dreamer, Raymond Felton (I like basketball), potato latkes (mmmmmmm—carbs),  Rick Perry (don’t even think I’m getting political on this), Oreos (I’m not a sweet tooth).

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I believe I’m going to die every time I get on a plane. 50-50 chance, right? My tears upon takeoff are real. And I’m a big proponent of Xanax to try and squash some of the anxiety. My friends do not enjoy flying with me. And I completely understand. Have I mentioned I hate flying?

• Nicest athlete you’ve ever dealt with?: Dikembe Mutumbo. Easy. Willing to do anything and laughs the whole way through.

• How many licks does it take to get to the bottom of a Tootsie Pop?: Four bites plus paper taste.

• Nicknames kids came up for you having to do with “Beadle”?: Beadlejuice, Beadlemania, Beadster, I call myself Beadsy, Sphincter McGillicutty

• Five best sportscasters of your lifetime: In no particular order— Dan and Keith as one; Scott Van Pelt; Jim Ross; Rob Lowe; Bob Ley; 6th man award: Doris Burke.

• Six guys walk into a bar …: and my pants stay on.

• Celine Dion calls. She wants you to spend a year MCing her new Las Vegas show, “Celine Eats Pork Then Vomits Everywhere While Singing George Michael’s Freedom.” Bright side: You’ll earn $54.7 million for the year. Negative side: You have to change your name to Ed Ott and, nightly, clean up the vomit. You in?: This is a ridiculous question. 54.7 million??? I’ve done far worse for much less. I’ll even analyze her diet for her nightly

• You’re from Texas. I sorta hate Texas. Give my five reasons I’m wrong: Fresh tortillas, Coach Bud Kilmer, The McConaissance, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Shiner Bock.

• My neighbor recently took one of my books without asking, then requested I autograph it. What’s the proper response?: Send a bill to his house or sleep with his wife. Seems fair. One or the other.

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Ross Newhan

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 10.38.59 AMOn occasion, I feel bad for the 20-something-year-old sports fan.

Oh, on the one hand it’s a great time. Games on at all hours. Stats upon stats upon stats, and images upon images upon images. You’re one click away from everything and anything.

And  yet … I can’t help but feel that a certain element of artistry has been lost. For every blog post and every Tweet, there’s a level of journalistic dexterity that no longer exists. Men like Dave Anderson and Murray Chass and Jim Murray and Peter Vecsey—profound voices; productive voices, informed voices—are pretty much ghosts, never to return.

I long for their bylines.

I long for Ross Newhan‘s byline.

For 40 years, Ross was one of America’s absolute great baseball writers. He began his career in 1961 with the Long Beach Press-Telegram, and six years later landed at the Los Angeles Times, where he covered the Angels and Dodgers for nearly two decades. He took over as the national baseball writer for the Times in 1985, and was at the paper when I started covering the game for Sports Illustrated. Whenever I’d travel out to Dodger Stadium, I’d run into Ross—one of the true gentlemen of the genre.

Perhaps best of all, in 1999 Ross’ son, David, made his Major League debut with the San Diego Padres—proving to the world (well, to the four people who cared about such issues) that sports writers have athletic genes, too.

Though he left the Times in 2004, Ross’ blog is beautifully done and a must-read. His piece on the late Jim Fregosi is one of the best things I’ve read this year.

Ross Newhan, welcome to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Ross, you started covering baseball for the Long Beach Press Telegram in 1961. That’s 53 years ago—a pretty damn long time. This is a broad question, but I wonder how you feel about sports journalism now vs. sports journalism then. Do you long for what was? The seemingly simpler age where a newspaper was a newspaper, and that’s what people read? Or are things better now, with multiple platforms, myriad ideas on what journalism is, etc?

ROSS NEWHAN: I wouldn’t put it in terms of “longing for” the way it was. I feel fortunate to remain productive after a half century in sports journalism and to have generally kept up with the technological changes. I regret the demise of so many newspapers and that generations of young people won’t know the joy of holding a newspaper in their hands and reading a story in depth. At the same time, we have seen the development of quality websites that enable a reader to weigh competitive opinions on varied subjects with a click of the mouse. In many ways I can now read more spots journalists touching on a wider range of game and cultural issues than I could ever do in the “old” days. Hell, when I started in the old days of ’61 they had Western Union operators in all the press boxes and you would hand your typewritten page to the operator and crossed your fingers that they would send it to the paper the way you had written it.

J.P.: What was your life path? What I mean is, how did you become a journalist? Why did you become a journalist? Was it luck? Hard work? An odd break? How did it happen for you?

R.N.: In my case it was luck, work and an odd break combined. I came up to my last two years in high school at Long Beach Wilson with no real direction and having never shown much interest in writing. However, I decided to take a journalism and creative writing class on a whim, and somehow, somewhere during that process, the instructor, a great bear of a man named John Gartner, found a way to light a spark. A lot of it, I think, came from the fact that he read Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea”, which had just been printed in entirety in Life magazine, to the class and, like many others I suppose, I was caught up in the simple, yet descriptive and complex, style that sent me to the library to read all of Hemingway I could. Gartner, in turn, asked me to be sports editor of the school newspaper and shortly later came to me and said the Long Beach Press-Telegram was looking for someone to call in the results of our high school games. I jumped at the opportunity—$5 a week represented a full tank of gas in 1952. Well, from calling in results, to working in the office and taking those results over the phone, to getting the chance to actually cover and write about a high school game, to bigger and better assignments while learning to write headlines, edit copy and lay out a page, it was all a pretty amazing development. I did enroll at what was then Long Beach State, but I was having too much fun and making too much progress at the paper to keep up my grades. Newspaper work, writing, is the only job I have ever had (besides a brief sojourn in the Army Signal Corps) and I am pretty sure that the route I took, that I fell into, happens any more in today’s journalism.

Newhan, far right, interviewing new Giants managing general partner Peter Magowan alongside Mark Gonzalez (left) and Murray Chass.

Newhan, far right, interviewing new Giants managing general partner Peter Magowan alongside Mark Gonzalez (left) and Murray Chass.

JP.: In 1967 you were hired by the Los Angeles Times to be a traveling beat writer for, at different times, the Angels and the Dodgers. What, to you, are the traits and characteristics of a great beat writer? How competitive does one need to be? Can you befriend the rival writers? Are there codes?

R.N.: Competitiveness, of course, is at the forefront. So is earning the trust of the organization—from owner to clubhouse personnel—of the club you cover. You have to protect sources. You can’t be violating that trust. When I was hired by The Times I had already been on the Angel beat for six years at the Long Beach paper, but I found at the Times that the other writers on the beat—and in the late ’60s and most of the ’70s there were still a half dozen other healthy papers in Southern California—took a delight in beating The Times, even if it meant sharing quotes and stories. It is hard not to be sociable, at least, with the group you travel with over the course of a season (for the most part the press corps is in its own cocoon), but that “ganging up” on The Times could be pretty distasteful at times and, over the course of several seasons, eroded my relationship with a couple of the writers with whom I was closest. Now, while there are fewer newspapers and fewer beat writers traveling on a regular bases, the competitive aspect might be even stronger. Any quote, injury angle or breaking story that a beat guy or gal gets on their own is immediately tweeted and/or put on Facebook and/or sent to the organization’s web site so that they can be first.

J.P.: You covered a lot of Tommy Lasorda. I’ve heard mixed things about him, and a lot of negative: Phony, fraud, deceptive, dishonest. What’s your take on Tommy Lasorda? How do you explain him—because the man has long fascinated me.

R.N.: Tommy, indeed, is a complex personality, and I have had, like others I know, quite a few periods when we were not speaking in his reaction to something I had written and even an occasion or two when he telephoned in a threatening context. Yet there were and have been other periods—particularly when he was managing and I was traveling with the Dodgers—when he invited me to lunch or dinner, greeted my wife warmly and was Uncle Tommy to my son and daughter when they were youngsters. He was, in many ways, a kick to cover. Fresh stories, old stories, screaming quotes, perceptive quotes. A man who has traveled the country giving speeches, doing good deeds (big and small), seldom (never?) paying for a meal. He has been an ambassador for baseball, a blue blood salesman for the Dodgers and a worthy Hall of Famer (whose election I supported in print). However, I also weigh the words you have employed in your question—phony, fraud, deceptive, dishonest—and at this point of his and my careers, let’s just leave it in this context: If you can’t say something nice about a person (which I think I have done) ….

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 12.29.24 AMJ.P.: You worked alongside two of the most notable and interesting sports writers we’ve seen—Jim Murray, the legendary columnist, and Mike Penner, the baseball beat writer who famously had a sex change and, ultimately, committed suicide. What was your relationship like with those two people? What made Murray so great? And did you ever feel like—toward the end—you understood what Mike was going through? And how did his passing impact you?

R.N.: What is there to say about Jim Murray that hasn’t been said? He was, indeed, a great writer who felt his responsibility—which we talked about more than once while sitting next to each other in cold and wind swept World Series press boxes—was to entertain, which he did through humor and hyperbole (“Gentlemen, start your coffins …” he began a column on the Indy 500). Pete Rose? Willie Shoemaker? Jack Nicklaus? The stars came to him, but he also knew the man of the street. He was insightful, blessed with quick recall, among the fastest writers I knew or have known and very encouraging and complimentary to me, which was like praise from heaven. The great circulation boom of The Times through the late 60s and 70s? No one was more responsible than Murray.

Mike Penner was also a terrific writer and friend with whom I traveled at different periods of our careers. He, too, brought a touch of humor to his game and feature writing, and I always felt he was headed to bigger things—book writing and more. He was that good. In addition, he and his wife had dined with my wife and I more than once, I had been with him on the road and I was stunned by his gender transition, having never an inkling. I am not a psychologist/psychiatrist, but Mike was clearly caught up in a difficult world, and I was deeply saddened by his suicide, shaken by what he must have been going through. I think of him often.

J.P.: On June 4, 1999, your son David made his Major League debut with the San Diego Padres—then stuck around to play another seven seasons in the Bigs. How the heck did a short Jewish sportswriter produce a jock son? And what was it like for you, as a sportswriter, to have him make it?

R.N.: What do you mean by a “short Jewish sportswriter?” Just because one of David’s favorite responses to inquiring reporters was “look at the genes I’ve had to overcome” doesn’t mean his mom and I didn’t have athletic ability. Consider all the years I had to tote a typewriter or computer up ballpark steps, all the books his mom had to tote as a school district librarian (lol). Yes, David had to overcome the genes of his parents, and he did it with all the traits parents like to preach: dedication, hard work, heart. All of a sudden, with David’s success, I was being quoted instead of seeking quotes, and after decades of observing the rule in regard to no cheering in the press box, I had to get used to the idea that it was quite natural to do sitting amid family and fans. I mean, how could we not act mashugana at times? Like when he had three hits off Oakland’s Tim Hudson in his first big league start or an inside the park home run off Pedro Martinez or a grand slam off Bronson Arroyo or the five four hit games in the second half of the 2004 season alone. Those genes couldn’t have been too bad.

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 12.33.12 AM J.P.: Is there hope for newspapers? And, if so, what?

R.N.: I have to believe there will always be newspapers, in big cities and small regions, doing the important, investigative work that has always made them vital. Pollyanna? Perhaps. But I have been in the business too long to feel otherwise, although I recognize the difficulties, the momentum, that has closed so many and continues to work against their success.

J.P.: We always write about fading athletes; about the inevitable loss of ability. I’m wondering if this happens in writing, too? Did you ever feel like you lost any skill or sharpness? Does ability diminish over time? And are there ways to stay particularly sharp?

R.N.: I don’t know for sure about a loss of skill or sharpness. I guess when I think of staying sharp now it’s in terms of my golf game, such as it is. I do think that writing on deadlines, as I did for four plus decades, helps you retain your skills and sharpness, keeps you at an edge, and that you can get a little soft, you can lean towards procrastination, when deadlines are no longer an issue. I still do a baseball blog and I continue to do freelance work for various publications, but there definitely isn’t the rush associated with grinding it out daily or having 10 minutes to produce 750 words.

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 12.35.00 AMJ.P.: Greatest moment of your journalistic career? Lowest?

R.N.: I don’t think there’s any question about the high point. Being voted the J.G. Taylor Spink Award by your peers and having the opportunity to give an acceptance speech touching on your career and the contributions of your family as part of the Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cooperstown pretty much stands alone.

The lowest? Not sure. There were days when I’d pick up the paper or re-read my story of the previous night on the computer and immediately saw how I could have done it better. There were days when another paper might have had an angle or a story that I knew I should have gotten to first. However, over a long period I feel I was generally ahead of the game on both of those counts. I have a plaque on my office wall here that I received from The Times as part of their annual awards banquet. The category: “Sustained Excellence.” I can live with that.

J.P.: We recently saw Michael Sam, the University of Missouri defensive end, come out of the closet. I’m wondering—how do you think this sort of thing will go over when it happens in baseball? And, through the years, have you ever covered players you knew to be gay (I’m not asking names, obviously)? Do you think the Major League clubhouse can handle it?

R.N.: I have to think, and hope, that as a society and as journalists we will reach a point where a Michael Sam isn’t a story, isn’t news. I covered the Dodgers when the late Glenn Burke, who later acknowledged being gay, played for the team and I didn’t know it at the time, although some of his teammates have since said they did. He was popular, a bright, cheerful clubhouse favorite. I otherwise can’t think of any time in any year when I suspected that a player might be gay or I knew a player to be gay. The 162 game season is a long trek. No team is immune from an occasional disruption. It doesn’t and wouldn’t take a gay player for that to happen,  and I don’t think you can generalize in regard to how any one team would respond to a teammate coming out.

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 12.28.43 AMQUAZ EXPRESS WITH ROSS NEWHAN:

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Multi-million mile flyer but never thought I was going to die in a crash.

• Greatest baseball game you ever covered? Why?: Can’t narrow to one. Dramatic pitching duel between John Smoltz/Jack Morris in Game 7 of 1991 World Series; Reggie Jackson’s remarkable three home runs off the first pitch from three different Dodger pitchers in Game 6 of 1977 World Series; Boston’s Game 5 victory over California Angels in 1986 ALCS after Angels had been one out from going to World Series.

• Rank in order (Favorite to least): Bruno Mars, Orange County Register, Diane Keaton, Swingers (the movie), eggplant parm, Dave Krieg, fishing, Tony Armas, Nutella, St. Louis’ arch: Diane Keaton, fishing, eggplant parm, St. Louis arch, Swingers, Orange County Register, Tony Armas, Bruno Mars, Dave Krieg, Nutella.

• Five greatest baseball stadiums you’ve ever visited: Fenway Park, Camden Yards, Dodger Stadium, Wrigley Field, old Tiger Stadium.

• How much do you worry about climate change? Is there a solution to be had?: I do worry about it in the context of how climate change will alter the lives of my grandchildren and their children. I don’t see an immediate solution considering the polarization in Washington and the continuing doubters.

• Most awkward moment involving a player?: Probably the time Angel outfielder Brian Downing stuck a bat under my nose just because I had written that all his weight lifting must have left him muscle bound between his ears.

•  Five greatest sports writers of your lifetime?: Jim Murray, Jimmy Cannon, Red Smith, Mark Kram, Bill Nack.

• Do you consider Barry Bonds to be a Hall of Famer? Why?: Bonds deserved to be in Hall of Fame before steroids degraded his career and upgraded his cap size.

• The absolute best restaurant in Los Angeles is …: Cut at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Say Hello to Wolfgang Puck.

• The world needs to know: What was it like covering Daryl Sconiers in his prime?: Anyone have a good book?

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Tova Mirvis

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As a self-identified agnostic atheistic Jew who probably doesn’t believe in God, I’ve long been fascinated by Orthodox Jews. The commitment. The devotion. The, well, craziness.

I don’t mean to be rude, but it’s a pretty bonkers existence. You follow the Torah to the word. You seclude yourself from the outside world. You raise your children to live the same way and if, ultimately, they reject it, you tear a swath of fabric and act as if they are dead to you (not always, but often).

Crazy. Stuff.

Hence, I am riveted by today’s Quaz. Author Tova Mirvis was, for the first 40 years of her life, an Orthodox Jew. She walked the walk, talked the talk, followed the laws and expectations. Then, as I learned in her fantastic New York Times Magazine essay of several weeks ago, she bolted. She simply wanted a different life, and had the guts to leave—divorced, mother of three. Largely alone.

The one thing Tova took with her, however, was her talent. She is the author of three books, including The Ladies Auxiliary, a national bestseller. Her newest work, which came out last week, is Visible City, which chronicles three couples whose paths cross in their New York City neighborhood.

One can visit Tova’s website here, and follow hereon Twitter here.

Tova Mirvis, woman of words and strength, welcome to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Tova, I learned of you from your magnificent New York Times essay about your past life as a member of the Orthodox Jewish world—and I was absolutely riveted. I know a few Orthodox Jews quite well, and while I like them as individuals, I feel like they’re actually members of a cult that, for some reason, isn’t labeled a “cult.” Am I way off on this?

TOVA MIRVIS: I don’t think it’s a cult, but I do think that it’s a very tightly ordered community with an immense number of rules and a overwhelmingly strong sense of norms and expectations for its members. As you go further rightward into the Orthodox world, those rules intensify, connections to the outside world decrease, and the ability to leave the Orthodox world shrinks too. In that further-extreme right wing world, I think you see characteristics that are cult-like, in order to keep people inside and to ensure uniformity of behavior and belief.

J.P.: I’ve always felt bad for the daughters of Orthodox Jews, because it seems like they have, literally, no say in their futures. This is what you’ll do, this will be your role, this is who you’ll marry. And, mostly, they go along. I was wondering—beneath their breaths, are the young girls/women ever saying, “To hell with this bullshit—I’m out.” Is there resistance? Backlash? Or are they reduced to mere lemmings, coerced into thinking this is the only way?

T.M.: There’s a range of practice in the Orthodox world, of course, but I think being a girl in the Orthodox world is very challenging. So much expectation, such a sense that you are supposed to be a “good girl.” Some people are happy with this, I know, but for those of us who are not, it can feel like you are bursting out of the walls of your world, erupting inside your own body. Some of these girls act on this and leave the world, and some stay and try to make changes from within, and some live in a state of conflict, as I did, where your outsides don’t match your insides. There are lots of ways to rebel, including the quiet spaces inside where people rise up, resist, yet continue to remain inside. I love writing about those moments when characters are perched on the line, both inside and outside at the same time. Those can be hard places to live, but they are great to write about.

J.P.: I’m not sure how observant you are these days, so, well, how observant are you these days? And if there’s no God, is all this religion stuff just a big waste of time?

T.M.: I’m not sure how observant I am these days either. I’ve spent the first 40 years of my life strictly observing Jewish law, and even as I struggled and doubted over the years, it was important to me to remain inside. I am finding my way now when all of a sudden there are no givens, no precedents for me. I still value tradition very much—this is not an uncomplicated leave taking.

One of the things I think about a lot is the way people derive benefits from religion regardless of its truth value. I think people believe in community as much as, maybe more than, they believe in God. But is that enough? Is community a good enough answer for the problem of belief and doubt?

J.P.: Your debut novel, The Ladies Auxiliary, debuted in 1999 and became a best seller. This might sound sort of silly, but how did you actually know how to write a book? I mean–you’re a writer, and you surely love the written word. But your book is 336 pages. How did you figure it out?

T.M.: I figured out how to write the book as I went along—I started out with one small piece of the book and went from there. I think writing is something you can only learn how to do by actually doing it—by making mistakes and learning how to fix them. It can be a nerve-wracking way to write, with no clear plan, but it’s the only way I know how. Now, a few books later, I still write that way, but have a little more trust that eventually this unclear path will take me somewhere.

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J.P.: What’s your writing process? Where do you write? When? How do you develop ideas? And how do you not lose your mind (like I do) is a sea of loneliness and despair that every word you jot down absolutely sucks?

T.M.: I swim in the writerly sea of loneliness and despair just about every day. My writing process is basically think, mope, worry, have an idea, get excited, furiously pound a few sentences onto my laptop, rest, think, repeat.

J.P.: I know you’re from Memphis, I know you’re Jewish, I know you write, I know you’re divorced and live in Boston with your three kids. But what has been your life path? Like, when did you first realize, “Writing! I’m good at this!” How did you come to that realization?

T.M.: I always liked to read and write—I was one of those kids whose head was always in a book, and liked to make up stories. In high school I was that anomalous teenager who enjoyed writing her college essays. And then in college, I started writing fiction and fell in love with it. I started writing what I thought would be a novel about the Memphis Jewish community where I grew up. I also wrote for the Columbia newspaper and toyed with a career in journalism but decided to apply to the Columbia MFA program in fiction writing. I started writing an early version of what became my first novel while in grad school—a different novel about the Memphis Jewish community. I also interned for a literary agent and when I was done with that novel, I gave it to her to read and she liked it and sold it.

J.P.: You and I both recently released new projects. I’ve just spent the past 2 ½ weeks whoring my book like no other book whore. I probably did 130 TV and radio interviews, I had myriad sports websites run excerpts, etc. Literally, I can’t think of anything more to do. But how does a fiction author promote? It seems like the outlets—especially compared to sports—are very limited, no?

T.M.: Promoting a novel is harder—people often want the real-life angle in order to give it media attention. But after spending almost ten years writing this book in a sort of hibernation, I’ve come out of my dark cave and discovered the very active and vibrant online book world. I’ve been doing a lot of guest blogging and have discovered that I can write a piece without spending five years on it. There are so many wonderful book bloggers who are interested in writing about novels. I’m late to Twitter and there too have discovered a wonderful book-loving community. These days, I suppose there an endless number of ways to be a book whore.

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J.P.: How difficult was it, leaving the cocoon of the Orthodox world? I mean, I’m sure it was hard. But was it h-a-r-d? Did you ever feel like a traitor? Do you ever have pangs of guilt? Regret? Doubt?

T.M.: The past few years have been immensely hard. Divorce—from a spouse or a religion—is not for the faint of heart. Regret, guilt, doubt, fear—these have paved the last few years, but also, exhilaration, adventure, growth. I think the religious leave-taking was as hard, if not harder, than the divorce itself.  The word unmoored is one that comes to mind a lot. I have felt like an exile, aware of the sense of rootedness I’ve lost, aware of the many friends from the Orthodox world who disappeared from my life when I got divorced. I think there is no way around this tradeoff: loneliness for freedom.

J.P.: How do you come up with the end? The final chapter? The final line? Do you have it planned far in advance? Does it happen as it happens? Do you change it frequently?

T.M.: I don’t have it planned at all. I don’t have the final line, the final idea, none of it until very late in the game. I don’t know where a novel is going until I get to know the characters very well and I can’t get to know the characters until I write my way into the book. With Visible City, I revised constantly, most of all the ending. I am a chronic reviser and tinkerer. Even now, when it’s already published, I could probably go back and revise a little more.

J.P.: I often feel like we writers think ourselves to be important, when really we’re sorta disposable and useless. Agree? Disagree?

T.M.: To be a fiction writer is to hope that complete strangers will want to live inside a fictional universe that I created in my head. That’s a pretty bold expectation, and maybe you have to believe that what you say will be important to people in order to spend so many years at it. Individually we might be disposable, but I’d argue that fiction itself is indispensable. It’s a way of illuminating the world of human interaction. It’s the best place to understand what it means to be a human being.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH TOVA MIRVIS:

• Would you rather return to your past Orthodox life or convert to Catholicism and attend mass, oh, six times per year?: I’ve spent too many years with black and white either/or propositions to have to make that choice. I’m going to rebel against the question and go for Buddhism.

• Rank in order (favorite to least)—Dunkin’ Donuts, Candyland, the Shema, Jackie Bradley, Jr., Oklahoma City, Frozen, Leonard Nimoy, Dan Quayle, tweed, Tina Turner, Holiday Inn Express, Anthony Bourdain: Frozen, Candyland, the Shema, Leonard Nimoy, the number 24, Tina Turner, Jackie Bradley, Jr., Anthony Bourdain, Oklahoma City, Dunkin’ Donuts, tweed, Holiday Inn Express, Dan Quayle.

• Celine Dion calls—she offers you $30 million to spend the next year writing her memoir. However, you have to move to Las Vegas, live in her guest house, change her dog’s dog diaper once per day and live on a simultaneous-and-limited diet of bacon burgers, chicken sausages and chocolate shakes. You in?: I can do Las Vegas for a year, I have 3 kids so there’s no diaper that daunts me, but I’m a diehard vegetarian, so that’s a deal breaker for me.

• Five reasons to make Newton, Mass. one’s next vacation destination: Crystal Lake, the walking trail at Cold Spring Park, Bullough’s Pond, the Newton Library, and Crystal Lake.

• Give me your worst book event/signing story: At a reading in Florida right after my first book came out, the bookstore owner said to me, “we have a “non-attendance issue”—meaning no one was there.

• Five greatest novelists of your lifetime?: Philip Roth, Marilynne Robinson, Jeffrey Eugenides, Zadie Smith, Toni Morrison.

• You’re from Memphis, but you were raised Orthodox. Number of times you took the Graceland guided tour?: Believe it or not, just once, and that was when I was 18, to take a friend from out of town.

• The word you use waaaaay too often in your writing is …: Seem

• How concerned are you with the potential eternal nothingness of death?: It’s on the list of things to worry about at four in the morning, but luckily (or unluckily) there are always more pressing concerns.

• I’m thinking of writing a book about a reform Jew from New York who sits in coffee shops all day checking his Twitter account while he’s supposed to be writing about the Showtime-era Lakers. Think you can help me land a deal?: Pure fiction, right?

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Conroe Brooks

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I love people who bust their asses chasing a dream.

We always throw around terms like, “Busting my ass” … but how many actually do so? How many chase a dream, even when the dream keeps taunting, teasing, proving elusive? How many are willing to sustain, even when said dream pulls back, darts off, dashes away?

Conroe Brooks is a dream chaser. He’s an actor, a singer, a dancer. Maybe you’ve heard of him. Maybe you haven’t. You’ve certainly seen him—leading famed flash mobs, starring as Sam Cooke. He’s an amazing talent who aspires to great things, while eternally experimenting in his pursuits. In short, he’s a performer. An excellent one.

This is one of my favorite Quazes, because guys like Conroe Brooks—and their efforts—speak to me. You can follow him on Twitter here and on Facebook here.

Conroe Brooks, welcome to the land of Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Conroe, before I get into your history and some nitty gritty—you’re the man behind many of the flash mobs that went viral. Which leads me to ask: What the hell? Some phenomenons I get, some I don’t. This one—the idea of a ton of people just starting to dance, without anyone else knowing—caught me totally (but pleasantly) off guard. How do you explain the evolution of popularity of the flash mob? How did you get involved? And does it have any remaining steam, or is it sorta 2010ish?

CONROE BROOKS: I got started doing flash mobs when Michael Jackson died. After he passed I felt like I needed to do something to celebrate him. I came across the Sweden “Beat It” flash mob and knew that’s what I wanted to do. I sent a message out to all my friends—including Staci Lawrence, who is now my business partner with Flash Mob America. She really jumped on board to help out, make this thing happen and invite people. It ended up being a major success, getting tons of news coverage. After that I really thought I was done with. I expected it to be one and done. But people kept begging for another one. So we did another MJ flash mob on his birthday. And then I honestly thought that was it. Next thing we knew Janet Jackson’s record label found us on Facebook and hired us to do one for her. Janet showed up to watch, which ended up giving us international press. It was insane. We began to get news coverage on MTV, CBS, etc. And they were naming us as the leading flash mob company. And really we were the only flash mob company. Lol!

So the popularity really sprung up after Michael Jackson died. People ended up doing MJ flash mobs all over the world. Next, major PR agencies began hiring us. We haven’t had a day off since. I’d say that now, almost five years later, the big major company flash mobs have decreased a lot. We are still very busy though. Now people are doing them mostly for marriage proposals, weddings, sales conferences and trade shows. There’s still plenty of steam as far as I can see.

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J.P.: You’re best known as an actor now, but when you were 18 you joined the R&B group Special Generation—which was discovered by MC Hammer. What exactly does that mean? Did Hammer literally find you in a club? How does one get discovered? And what did Hammer do for you and your career?

C.B.: Hammer actually literally discovered Special Generation. I think it happen at a show. They sang for him and he told them to pack their bags, you’re coming with me tomorrow. I say ‘they’ because I joined the group later in the game. They sang background on his “U Can’t Touch This” album and then recorded their own. After a couple years things got rough and a couple members left the group. In came me. An 18-year-old bright-eyed kid. I was over the moon because I had their album and knew all their songs already. At this point though, MC Hammer wasn’t really involved. We were basically starting from scratch again. The name definitely helped us get in a few doors. We released a single and toured for a summer, but that was it. So after a few years I decided to leave the group and get back into acting.

J.P.: Being Denzel or Redford seems awesome. Being Conroe Brooks, actor, seems hard. In 2000 you played Sam Cookie in the TV movie, “Little Richard,” and since then much of what you’ve done has been small parts—“Kevin” in an episode of Will and Grace, a police officer in Heroes, a process server in The Young and the Restless. Why is it so hard to strike it big in Hollywood? And how rewarding/frustrating has your career been?

C.B.: It is definitely hard at times. But I love being an actor. It’s been a long roller coaster for me. When I first got to Los Angeles in 2000, things moved pretty quickly. I landed the role of Sam Cooke on my very first audition. There have been some great parts here and there since then, but of course I’m not famous yet. There are hundreds of thousands of actors out here. So that’s one thing that makes it tough. Also, you’ve got to be absolutely ready to handle a lot of pressure. There is an extremely small percentage of people that could actually handle carrying a movie or a TV show. That takes either being born with that it factor or somehow finding it along the way. No one can teach you that. Or else, of course, more people would be famous. It has been quite frustrating for me because I don’t get a lot of auditions. Although I book a good percentage of the auditions I go out on. But six-to-eight auditions a year won’t cut it. So that’s the most frustrating part. Getting casting directors to know you exist and bring you in. I have the chops, but only a handful of casting directors know that. The good thing that’s happen for us up-and-coming actors is that now it’s easier that ever to make your own movies, webseries, etc. And that’s really all I want to do. I’m not looking to be famous. I just wanna tell great stories and be able to make a living doing it.

J.P.: You were born and raised in San Jose, and you got your start singing in musicals. But what, exactly, was your path from birth to here? How did you decide upon entertainment as a career? What pushed you throughout your early days?

C.B.: I can tell you the exact moment when a light bulb clicked in my head that entertainment is what I wanted to do. It started when I was in sixth grade. It was recess and I walked by an open classroom door and heard a teacher call my name. I went in and he said, “I want you to audition for the school play. Here, look at this monologue for a little while and then come back in and read it for me.” I was kind of a shy kid so I’m not sure why I agreed. But the role I was reading for was a shy kid, so that worked in my favor. I came back in and read the monologue and as soon as I was finished he said, “You got the part!” That actually wasn’t the moment I knew I wanted to be an actor. I was so nervous, but also a bit excited. It was after the play that sealed the deal. It was the reaction of everyone telling me how good and funny I was. That’s when the light bulb turned on. I loved making people happy. I loved making people laugh. I was hooked.

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J.P.: What is it like seeing yourself on TV? Is it still a rush or a thrill or anything? Does it get old? Are you ever horrified, or elated?

C.B.: Seeing myself on TV now doesn’t have the same thrill as it did in the beginning. Now I watch with more a critic’s eye. I’m not too hard on myself, but I watch carefully to see if I pulled it off and was believable.

J.P.: According to your IMDB bio, you were cast by Garry Marshall to help develop Happy Days the musical. I was a Happy Days fanatic as a kid—looooooved and lived for that show, but I remember nothing of a musical. What happened, Conroe? What’s the story behind the story?

C.B.: Garry Marshall did, I think, about three or four workshops trying to get a musical off the ground. I did a few of them and then my manager advised that I stop because it didn’t seem to be going anywhere. I think he only ended up running it for a short time at his little theater in Toluca Lake. So it just never got going.

J.P.: Several years ago I wrote a piece for TV Guide about a short-lived show called “Love Monkey.” Jason Priestly was a cast member, and after watching a scene filmed for the 20th time I said to him, “This seems pretty boring.” He replied, “You have no idea.” Conroe, is film/TV acting actually fun? And, if so, how/why? Because it seems like there’s a helluva lot of standing around.

C.B.: There is a lot of standing around for sure. But you get used to that. It’s still a thrill once those cameras start rolling and you have to do your best to portray real life. It’s the ultimate challenge. And when you get to do fun action stuff like shooting guns or high-speed chases, well, then the wait is worth it.

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J.P.: Greatest moment of your career? 

C.B.: I just released a music video for my cover of Say Something. This is my first music I’ve done and first song as a solo artist on iTunes. The video is starting to pick up some steam and getting amazing feedback! I’m very proud of the song and I think the video is going to be something different and risky that people haven’t seen before. I think it’s going to doing something pretty big.

J.P.: Sam Cooke was friggin’ amazing and awesome and the smoothest singer I’ve ever heard. That was your first-ever TV role. What do you recall of the experience? How does one prepare himself to play a legend? And do you recall how you received word that you landed the part? What your reaction was?

C.B.: Well, Sam Cooke is my favorite singer so I was very familiar with him already. I watched anything and everything I could get my hands on to learn about him and see him in interviews and performances. My voice is already similar to his so that wasn’t a problem. My manager called me to tell me the news. I was at work waiting tables when I got the call. She actually left me a message to call her as soon as I got it. So I snuck off at a time when nobody needed anything at my tables. When she said “You got the part,” I was overjoyed. I jumped around and screamed like a crazy person. I immediately called my parents to tell them the news. Sam Cooke is also my dad’s favorite singer so I knew he would be excited.

J.P.: In the aftermath of Newtown, liberals blamed guns, and the NRA turned around and blamed—in part—violence in TV and film. I’m wondering what you think about this. Are some movies and shows too violent? Have we, as a society, crossed a line?

C.B.: I don’t think they are too violent. I watched all kind of scary movies, violent movies as a kid and I had no desire to shoot people. It’s ridiculous to blame TV and movies. They aren’t turning kids into killers. These kids are already disturbed for whatever reason and people/family aren’t taking the time to really talk to these kids about their problems. They obviously aren’t feeling loved or a part of society. There’s a disconnect with their parents somewhere.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH CONROE BROOKS:

• Not a ton of Conroes in the world. How’d you get your name?: It’s a family name. My dad is Conroe and my grandfather was Conroe as well.

• Five reasons one should make San Jose his/her next vacation destination?: Hmmm. Ummm. It’s close to San Francisco?

• Three memories from your experience playing “LAPD Officer No. 2” on 24: Meeting Kiefer Sutherland. Feeling nervous about acting like an authority figure. The feeling of wearing a cop uniform and walking around downtown LA.

• Five greatest actors of your lifetime: Denzel Washington, Tom Hanks, Morgan Freeman, Al Pacino and Daniel Day-Lewis.

• Rank in order (favorite to least)Jim Rome, The DH, Whole Foods, “Clueless,” The Rock, Lindsay Hartley, New York City, Milk Duds, “Jerry Maguire,” Jose Reyes, Pete Wilson, Buddy Biancalana, Canada Dry products: New York City, Lindsay Hartley, “Jerry Maguire,”, “Clueless,” Whole Foods, The Rock, Milk Duds, Canada Dry products, Buddy Biancalana, the DH, Jim Rome, Pete Wilson, Jose Reyes, Cher.

• The most underrated film of all time is …: The Shawshank Redemption

• One question you would ask Jimmy Carter were he here right now?: What was up with that UFO incident?

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall …: Yes. But I’m a bit nervy about flying. It was really just turbulence that last longer than I could handle. I sort of let out an “Oh god!” at one point.

• Can you make an argument, in 18 words or less, for Celine Dion?: Not really. I don’t pay much attention to her. I mean I know she’s amazing. I just don’t get excited about her.

• Best joke you know: Knock knock. Who’s there? Control Freak – OKAY NOW YOU SAY CONTROL FREAK WHO!

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Jeff Pearlman

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Confession: I Google myself.

I do. Not all the time, but—especially when a new book comes out—often enough. I guess it’s ego gone crazy, but I want to know that people are reading. I want to know that books are moving. I want to know that there’s a buzz. I want to know …

… that I play the organ.

Um, what?

I don’t play the organ. Or the keyboard. Or any sort of instrument. I once took guitar lessons, and wrote a song for my infant daughter called “Breast Feed, Bird Seed.” But, alas, it sucked, and my guitar now sits in the basement, gathering dust. Fortunately, just because this Jeff Pearlman doesn’t have a sliver of musical talent doesn’t mean The Jeff Pearlman also lacks skill. In fact, The Jeff Pearlman (who I discovered via Google) is a wizard; a man who has played in 1,001 bands, who loves the Dead, who is bringing the Hammond Organ toward the forefront of cool (well, sorta) and who wisely married the great singer/songwriter, Katie Pearlman.

Here, Jeff Pearlman talks life as Jeff Pearlman—minus the eternal threat of a racist relief pitcher knocking on his door with a butcher knife. He explains his love for organs and ponytails, and why Tupac’s greatest song leaves him somewhat unimpressed. One can keep track of Jeff here, and follow his latest musical projects here, here and here.

Jeff Pearlman, my brother in mediocre, uninspired naming, welcome to The Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Well, this is quirky. So Jeff, I’m gonna begin with an odd one. I started really thinking about names when my wife was about to give birth to our daughter. I kept pondering the way names shape people. If you name a kid Sidney, is her life much different—90 years later—than had you named her Olive? I think yes, but I’m not sure why. Or how. So, Jeff Pearlman, what do you think about your/our name? How did you get it? In 2014, are you cool with it?

JEFF PEARLMAN: I was named after my dad’s grandfather. When I was young, I was small and young for my grade, so I was bullied and made fun of a lot, and one of the things I remember happening was having my name made fun of. As a result, I couldn’t stand the sound of my name “Jeffrey”. It probably wasn’t until after high school that those wounds began to heal, I accepted myself more, and I ceased having issues with my name. Now in my life I am very happy with who I am and where I’m at, so I feel that my name as part of who I am in this life serves me just fine. The idea you postulate, that our names perhaps shape us, is an interesting one, that I think may, at least on the margin, be so. My wife, Katie, named our first daughter Emma Lynn because it sounds like the name of a Country singer, which she wouldn’t exactly mind if it came to be.

J.P.: You’re a singer and keyboardist in a bunch of different projects, bands, etc. Where did your love of music come from? When did you realize, “Hmm, this is more than just a hobby for me?” In short, what has been your path—womb to keyboard?

J.P.: This is a pretty cool story. I have always loved music. The first album I remember listening to was Meet the Beatles, which, as I recall, was purchased by my parents for my brother by mistake, as it was supposed to be a Monkees album. This led to a childhood fanaticism with The Beatles. I started singing (outside of the house) in middle school, mostly in the context of musical theater, where I acquired a taste for music of the early 20th Century. For a while I had a real good Al Jolson imitation going, and even won a contest held at the Ziegfeld Theater, which got me a performance gig, a morning television show appearance and a picture on the front cover of the second section of the Saturday edition of the NY Times. Not bad for 13! In high school, I got into singing choral music and had some good experiences in state competitions and sang in All-County Chorus (Nassau County) several times. I never played piano, though, other than some banging on our home spinet. My taste in music evolved through my school years from The Beatles, into folk music, and then into progressive rock (Genesis, Yes, ELP, etc.) in which keyboards played an integral part. It was then that I started appreciating the diversity of the keyboard, and the roles they played in that kind of music. In 1981, a friend took me to my first (of very many) Grateful Dead concerts where I found a passion for that music of the likes I had never known. Among other things, I really fell in love with the Hammond Organ and I found its sound captivating.

Many years later, at the age of 29, I was handed a copy of a local magazine called the “The Music Paper”, because it had a picture of Jerry Garcia and Mickey Hart on the front cover. When I was perusing the classified ads in the back (for no actual reason), I saw a want ad for a “beginning keyboard player interested in The Dead and Bob Dylan”. I had previously acquired a basic synthesizer, because I liked to make cool sounds, so I packed it up with my minimal knowledge of the instrument and proceeded to go out and change my life. The folks I went to play with gave me great feedback, and one of the guys I met suggested that I come out and play with another group he jammed with, which was a group of pro-level players. It was an incredible and somewhat overwhelming experience, but I knew this was something that I must keep doing. This is now 23 years later, and I haven’t stopped playing for a second. It’s not, however, how I make a living (for the most part). By day, I’m a high school Earth Science/Astronomy teacher at Hewlett High School on Long Island (NY). In spite of the fact that I don’t make most of my living from it, music is certainly not a hobby. I gig as much as I can (I’ve done up to 100 shows a year in recent years), and have played far and wide around the East Coast and even as far as Arizona and Utah. I have also recorded on about 20 or so albums. I feel my late start in music has given me a unique perspective on it. I knew my life before music and since. I really feel that music essentially dropped out of the sky into my lap, and feel very blessed for it. I feel gratitude each and every time I go out to play, and it has provided me a creative and expressive outlet I could not have imagined. The feedback I’ve gotten from audiences and fellow musicians has let me know that I’m doing something right here. I’ve met most of my good friends and even my wife through playing, so it has truly transformed my life.

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J.P.: I don’t want this to sound self-serving, because I know I’m not famous or even known outside of sports books. But have you ever been confused with a writer named Jeff Pearlman? (“Why the fuck did you do that to John Rocker!”) Or, perhaps, Ronald Perelman, the Revlon chairman? Or Lou Pearlman, the Backstreet Boys founder? And were you, in fact, an original Backstreet Boy?

J.P.: Ha! Don’t start any rumors. Actually, come to think of it, when the Rocker book came out, a friend did make a crack about that to me! The only “Pearlman” I have been repeatedly asked about being related to, though, is Itzhak (actually spelt “Perlman”).

J.P.: According to your bio, you were hugely influenced by the music of the Grateful Dead. Which I love—because I’ve only heard, oh, 2,000 times that being a Dead fan, “isn’t really about the music.” What’s your take on the Dead? On their influence and sound?

J.P.: What I see the Grateful Dead being all about is exploration and reflection (and plenty about the music, I must insist). From the musicians’ standpoint, a good deal of their live performance was improvisational. They would travel together as a unit through a tonal landscape that was new every time, and would do it with skill, passion, energy, imagination, and risk taking. Their lyrics were frequently metaphoric for varying aspects of our existence, and reflective story telling. From the listeners’ standpoint, we got to ride the wave that they were creating, and we used our imagination to see ourselves and the human condition through their music, while celebrating the entirety by channeling the energy through dance. It seemed that the music drove the audience which then in turn drove the band, and both the fans and the band agree that the connection between the audience and the band was an essential part of every show and they would drive each other to energy heights unattainable without that connection. Their influence on music is evident in that since the almost 20 years since Jerry Garcia’s death, the music is going strong with many groups still re-interpreting it (I spend much of my playing time in such a pursuit), and many newer bands, especially (but certainly not limited to) those that fall into the genre of “jam bands” don’t hide their Grateful Dead influence. Also, not too many groups have their own dedicated satellite radio channel, attesting to the number of die-hard fans they still have. In fact, I think the number of fans of the Dead continue to increase as new generations are exposed to their music. There is a kindred connection with many of us longtime Deadheads. It’s kind of like we all went to school together. I can meet a Deadhead I don’t know from another part of the country and have an in-depth conversation like we’re old friends that haven’t spoken in some time, on great variety of topics. Also, I essentially learned how to play by going to school on the music of the Dead. Stylistically, The Grateful Dead draw on all of the American genres such as bluegrass, country, folk, jazz, blues, and rock. This has given me a pretty solid foundation for playing a variety of music in a variety of styles.

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J.P.: You’re big into the Hammond Organ. What the hell is a Hammond Organ?

J.P.: The Hammond Organ was invented in the 1930’s by Laurens Hammond. It was intended to be an alternative to a church pipe organ. It works in a similar fashion in that the sound is based on 9 bars that can be pulled out to different degrees, each bar representing a different length pipe, so the sound of any one note is really up to nine individual tones layered on top of each other. The bars can be manipulated while playing, so the sound is very dynamic and can alter the feeling of different passages of a song. The organ isn’t played through a regular amplifier, rather, it is played through rotating speakers (called a “Leslie” Speaker Cabinet – invented by Don Leslie in the 1940’s) which gives the organ a very big, pulsating sound. It has been a fixture in so many kinds of music, including gospel, jazz, blues and rock. Many of the organists that have been my greatest influence have been gospel players. Look for it in pop music, even on music television programs when a person looks like their playing a huge piece of furniture.

J.P.: Give me the story of the absolute worst musical venue you’ve ever played, and the worst experience as a musician. I love those tales …

J.P.: Oh, where to begin? So many to choose from. OK, in about 2002, I was in an original rock band that was booked to play a festival in Virginia. The festival grounds were described as being rolling hills with orchards and that there would be drum circles and many amenities. We got there after an eight hour drive, and found out that the grounds weren’t at all what were advertised. It was more like someone’s yard (albeit a large one in rural Virginia). There were no rolling hills, no orchards, no drum circles, very few people, and very little money. I don’t remember what we were promised, but we were offered a small sum if we would NOT play, and would pay us nothing if we insisted on playing. Well, we decided that it was more important for us to have our music heard by the few people there then to just turn around and drive eight hours back to NY. So we set up and played our set, the sound man fell asleep at the soundboard (and we weren’t a soft band), broke down, and I got back in the car and drove straight back to NY. Over the years, there have been many gigs cancelled or double booked that we were not informed about until we arrived at the venue. There have been times stiffed, as well. At times, playing rock music can make one feel like Rodney Dangerfield.

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J.P.: Why do you think soooo many musicians drink and smoke? Being serious—they’re bad for you, they certainly don’t enhance skills. So … why?

J.P.: I think that rock and roll is still associated with a “bad boy” image. Many rock and roll musicians that serve as role models can still be seen as portraying a rebellious image that includes all sorts of reckless behavior. Actually, over the years, I see many fewer musicians that smoke cigarettes. Much of that may have to do with the fact that the venues are smoke free now. I was never a smoker, yet I used to come home from gigs with my clothes and hair reeking of smoke, and felt that I had smoked a pack myself! I can’t tell you how happy I am that smoking is no longer allowed in most places. As for the drinking, most bands play in drinking establishments and most gig compensation agreements include the covering of a bar tab, to some extent. I also know that many musicians have some sort of performance anxiety, and a drink or two may help them to relax. I also don’t see as much serious alcohol consumption as I used to. Most musicians I know take their craft very seriously, and don’t want to compromise their performance, or their health. I think, though, that especially with young players, it’s the archetypal image of the rock and roller that drives the unhealthy behavior.

J.P.: What are the complications of trying to “make it” in music? It seems like a field that can eat people alive—but also offers tremendous reward and gratification.

J.P.: You’re right on both fronts, Jeff! Since my music career began after my teaching career, I never had to worry about making ends meet, but my wife, Katie, is a full time musician, and she’s encountered the challenges of which you speak. In this day of the sharing of music among people digitally, there’s very little money in record sales. The only way to make a living, unless you’re really huge, is live performances and selling CDs and merchandise at shows. In order to do that well, and on a regional/national level, you really need managerial and promotional assistance. Everyone gets paid before the artist, and there are never any guarantees. The artist is not just competing with other musicians for the consumer’s bandwidth, but with every other entertainment medium vying for the ever decreasing amount of discretionary dollars available to most folks. That said, there is very little that I’ve encountered that compares with playing a show to an enthusiastic, packed house, or hearing rave reviews of an album of original music that you contributed to. It’s definitely a business with incredibly high peaks and very challenging valleys.

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J.P.: You have a pretty long ponytail—something I’d never, ever, ever be able to pull off. What’s the story of the ol’ tail?

J.P.: Long hair has come and gone (and come again) over the years starting when I was in college. I’ve had it long for about 15 years now. I don’t know, I think, maybe, that it’s an outward representation of the freedom I feel I have in this life, and now I think most of that freedom comes directly or indirectly from music. Besides, my wife likes it (my mom hates it) and my students dig it, although I feel compelled to jacket and tie it to work every day to sort of balance out the look and make it more professionally presentable.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH JEFF PEARLMAN:

•You list your favorite book as “A Gradual Awakening” by Stephen Levine. Um, where’s the love, bro?: That book has had great impact on my life. I’ve always considered myself a spiritual being (not a religious one, however), and that book helped to crystallize one of the pillars of my beliefs. I’ll try to explain. I think that humans, consciously or not kind of identify themselves (to themselves and perhaps to others as well) by the thoughts that continuously stream through their consciousness. I know that I am not my thoughts. I feel that who I am is a point of awareness, a space that thoughts show up in. They arise, they dwell, and then fade away. Through awareness fostered by meditation, one can get more in touch with the spaces between thoughts and dwell there, seeing the thoughts for just what they are. I think that this gives them less power in my life and as a result, I’m generally calmer, more at peace, happier and more empowered (but, boy, I have much to learn). That is what this book is about. Interestingly, it relates to music in a very fundamental way. The notes that one plays are really meaningless unless they are each surrounded by space or silence. The space is at least as important as the note, for without the space, there is no music.

•Rank in order (favorite to least): Patrick Stewart, Darryl Dawkins, Catherine Bach, Little River Band, watermelon, red hair, Pharrell Williams, Mr. Potato Head, Detroit Red Wings, Paradise By the Dashboard Light: OK, First, Patrick Stewart. He is my favorite actor. I’ll tell you that I’m quite the Trekkie and sci-fi geek in general. Second is Paradise. As a kid of the seventies, how could it not rank high? I think all the rest are tied for last. Now if you included the New York Mets … (Bad Guys not withstanding)

•Three memories from your Bar Mitzvah: Whisky sours! Singing “My Way” with the band! And the cool plaid tuxedo jacket I wore!

•You’re married to Katie Pearlman, a singer/songwriter/probably not my cousin. How’d you meet? How’d you propose?: Katie and I met in a band. We joined the same band at about the same time, she as a percussionist/vocalist and me as a keyboardist. It’s real cool, because the band was based out of East Rutherford, NJ, and with me being from Long Island, I almost never went to audition, and even then, almost didn’t take the gig. I proposed to Katie at a gig we were playing (a different band than we had met in) just before the end of our first set in front of a packed house! She had no clue, and neither did her mom or brother, who were in attendance. After a song, I asked her mom to the stage to ask her permission, then did the whole down on one knee thing, mic in hand, and asked her to marry me. It would have been really embarrassing if she told me no!

•Celine Dion calls. She’s looking for a kick-ass Hammond Organ player. She’ll pay $10 million next year to play the Hammond Organ in her Las Vegas show,“Celine Does Men Without Hats’ One Big Song Repeatedly For Three Hours.” You have to play “Safety Dance” repeatedly for three hours every night—wearing a diaper, with deer antlers glued to your skull. You in?: I can think of a lot worse things that someone could ask me to do for 10 mill! One year, then no strings? I’m down. That’s a small price to pay for relieving the financial burden of our entire family for possibly a couple of generations. Did you say something about musicians and drinking?

•Five greatest keyboardists of our lifetime?: Jimmy Smith (Jazz Hammond organist), McCoy Tyner (John Coltrane’s pianist), Jerry Lee Lewis, Liberace, and Rick Wakeman.

• In 25 words or less, make an argument why Katie Pearlman is better than Katie Perry …: I will preface by stating my lack of familiarity, but I did some research (now you can start my word count): Katie Pearlman plays guitar, drums AND sings great. Katie Pearlman’s songs resonate more with me and connect more on a human level. Katie Pearlman is hotter!

• Five favorite Dead songs: Terrapin Station, Weather Report Suite, Box of Rain, Ripple, and Uncle John’s Band.

This is one of my absolute all-time favorite songs. Being serious—what do you think?: Well, I’ve never been a fan of rap, but here are my thoughts on the song (I checked out the video and looked up the lyrics). I liked the piano on the track (shocking, right?). When I first saw the video, the irony of it was striking given 2pac’s fate. When I read the lyrics, I didn’t see the connection between them and the video. I’ve heard of 2pac’s prowess as a poet, but, as I’ve encountered before in the genre, I can’t really relate to the content. I’m wondering how that becomes your favorite song? (is it my turn to interview you yet?)

• What happens after we die? And how much worry does that bring you?: It doesn’t matter what happens when we die. We won’t know at least until it happens, and the ego will try a million ways to convince itself that somehow it will survive and continue. I ain’t buying it! We’re energy and physics says that energy can’t be lost or destroyed, but that’s not all we are. No worries, just live like this is my only shot at it, because it probably is.

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Peter Vecsey

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I don’t think there’s ever been a more influential basketball writer than Peter Vecsey.

I don’t think there’s ever been a more read basketball writer than Peter Vecsey.

I don’t think there’s ever been a more disliked basketball writer than Peter Vecsey.

He was, for a long time, the eyes and ears overlooking the NBA; a longtime New York Post columnist who spared no one and took delight (it seemed) in ridiculing players who didn’t meet his expectations or who, according to league sources underperformed and/or refused to work. In Pulp Fiction speak, Peter Vecsey was both a bad-ass motherfucker, and an absolute must-read for anyone with an interest in professional hoops. He even took his career (and edge) to TV. Somehow, it worked.

Truth be told, I always had mixed opinions on Peter. Loved his creativity, questioned (on occasion) his viciousness. Couldn’t wait to see his stuff. Cringed seeing his stuff.

Now retired from the game, Peter Vecsey comes to the Quaz and speaks awful about his brutal Hall of Fame speech, his approach to covering the sport and why he has nothing to ask Spencer Dunkley. Peter Vecsey, welcome to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Peter—since you’re as blunt a writer as they come, I’m going to be blunt. I attended the Basketball Hall of Fame Induction ceremonies when you were honored in 2011. I sat for your speech the night before—and I hated it. I just hated it. I thought it was mean, arrogant, condescending … etc. It wasn’t as bad as Michael Jordan’s brag-a-thon, but it was (in my meaningless opinion) petty.

That said, I thought about it later, and wondered whether, perhaps, you were uncomfortable, nervous, whatever. You’d spent much of your career covering those in attendance, and maybe the moment didn’t work for that reason.

Tell me, Peter. Am I off? Am I being too harsh? Or, in hindsight, were you like, “Um, that sucked?”

PETER VECSEY.: It sucked, no debate. A rambling wreck. Shame on me for being so ill prepared and for careening out of control and jumping the divider on tangents into traffic. Still, not a single lie was told. I probably should have listened to instincts and rejected induction, on principle. As stated, in all immodesty and objectivity, induction was ten years or more overdue. Vindictiveness reigned behind the annual selections by a decision maker(s) with an ax to grind and wield. Many (some anyway) enshrined before (and after) greatly devalue the ‘honor’. I was pissed and made no attempt to hide it.

Why then accept ‘induction’? Because I felt it might propel me into position to give numerous deserving players and coaches, who were consistently unable to accrue enough votes or whose (ABA) accomplishments were purposely ignored, a stronger, more passionately persistent shrill voice during the selection process. Good move. Everyone I pinpointed as being worthy—Dennis Johnson, Jamaal Wilkes, Chet Walker, Artis Gilmore, Mel Daniels, Roger Brown—is now in the Hall of Fame. My voice was accorded an audience and it influenced panels of voters, and continues to do so. For that I am exceedingly thankful. At the same time, let it be known, Curt Gowdy Award winners are not true Hall of Fame members. We’re treated as outsiders. Not once did those running the show place me (or Doug Collins) alongside Michael Jordan, Jerry Sloan, David Robinson, John Stockton or Karl Malone for so much as a photo. Nor were our names included on shirts. And when Mel Daniels wanted me to be one of his induction presenters a couple classes ago, he was told only those in the Hall of Fame qualified. Which is one of the reasons my trophy (not a ring like real Hall of Famers) remains on the bottom shelf of my garage.

J.P.: You started covering the Nets in 1967, and wrote your final column on July 1, 2012. That’s a ton of basketball. A ton. How do you explain your love for the sport? How didn’t it ever get old? Or stale? Or did it?

P.V.: In actuality, I started covering the Nets on a regular basis beginning in ’69-70. Before that, I wrote about every sport for two or three years. I loved baseball (and was a better player than at basketball) more than anything. But everyone wanted that beat and I had little experience and less education (115 credits shy of a college degree) to think I was ever going to get such a plum assignment. Nobody cared about the ABA or the Nets. That’s how the opportunity presented itself. For quite a while, I covered on my own time, for half the pay as a regular reporter. By the ’80s, I had lost all interest in baseball. I had always loved basketball, but soon after inhaling the beat, I became addicted. I wrote about the game, became much better playing it and even coached pros summers in the Rucker Tournament. It never gets old because rarely does a game go by without seeing something I never saw before.

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J.P.: Athletes struggle terribly in retirement. T-e-r-r-i-b-l-y. You left the Post in 2012. How have you adjusted to no longer having the column? No longer being on TV? Are you bored? Fidgety. How do you fill the time?

P.V.: Retirement is a mind trip. I do not miss deadline pressure and the everyday grind, or the travel. I do miss the process of compiling info and breaking stories. I miss most being able to salute the old timers while they’re alive and when they die. I tried to do that as much as possible and was really proud of the finished product. I left a cavity in that area that will never be filled. I also miss the paychecks, a lot. I don’t miss TV a bit. I don’t know how doing it for 20 years, while writing a column three times a week, didn’t kill me. Or I didn’t kill an editor or eight. My wife and I keep rather busy caring for rescue animals, horses, dogs and cats. Total currently is down to 21.

J.P.: I know you were born in 1943, I know you attended Archbishop Molloy in Queens, I know you attended Hofstra; that your older brother George is a New York Times legend. But how, Peter, did this happen for you? What I mean is, when did you realize you wanted to be a writer? Was there a moment? An inkling? Something?

P.V.: My older brother wasn’t our family’s first writer/journalist. Both parents, May and George Sr, were editors—society and sports—for the Long Island Press. My father later worked for the Daily News, where he got me a full time job as a sports statistician during the baseball season (3-11 shift) of my junior and senior years at Molloy. I started writing, letters, while working my way around the world on a merchant marine ship after high school. People seemed to like them. The seed was planted. I wrote for Hofstra’s paper the brief semester I attended. I’m unsure if anyone read articles. Upon being discharged from the Army in ’67, and resuming work at the News,  I started writing features on topics that interested me, and turned them in … hoping they’d interest editors. A career was launched.

J.P.: Your writing has always been blunt. Sometimes painfully blunt. Your nicknames were often cringe-worthy— Sir Cumference (Charles Barkley), Barely Cares and Joe Barry Aparthy (Joe Barry Carroll), Spawn Kemp (Shawn Kemp), etc. How were you not killed by some angry 7-foot, 300-pound center? And did you ever feel physically threatened over the course of your career?

P.V.: My nicknames for people, not just players–coaches, GMs, sportswriters, teams, too—are meant to tell all you need to know about the subject; they’re appropriately form fitting. Many were courtesy of regular column contributors, some from readers, some collaborations. Good material elicited better material. I always surrounded myself with caustic wits who understood the column’s attitude. What good are you if you’ve got nothing worth plagiarizing. I’ve often been physically threatened. For the most part, the intimidation had little do with nicknames, instead resulting after a steady stream of negative press. I’ll save the names and incidents and how they turned out for the book I’ll probably never write.

J.P.: In 1998, you applied to be the general manager of the Denver Nuggets—while working for the Post. This has always struck me as a conflict of interest. Tell me why I’m wrong. And do you think you would have/could have had a fruitful career as a GM.

P.V.: I was always told, you’ve got to have at least two conflicts of interest to be successful. Pro sports has plenty of former sportswriters-turned executives. The Knicks were started by Ned Irish. The latest example was John Hollinger leaving ESPN to become VP of basketball operations of Memphis.  Why shouldn’t we be allowed to pursue front office or coaching, as long as it’s during the off-season? I tried to put together group to buy the Nuggets in the early ’80s … tried to get Rick Pitino to hire me as GM when he was running the Celtics … approached Larry Brown about helping him in Washington when he was close to coaching the Wizards … had an interview on tap as Hawks’ GM just before Stan Kasten left … and had a very brief interview with James Dolan to be Isiah Thomas’ GM. I am positive I would’ve been an asset to one and all.

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J.P.: I vividly remember the 1998 SI piece about you and George, and feeling genuinely sad about the lack of communication between the two of you. Is that still the case? Have you grown closer with age? And why has the relationship been so … complex?

P.V.: Next question.

J.P.: What’s your take on the coverage of the NBA in 2014? Better than ever? Awful beyond awful? Somewhere in between?

P.V.: I assume you mean TV’s coverage. TNT’s and half of ESPN’s studio panels (Bill Simmons’ overwhelming success is life’s darkest mystery) will never have to worry about being charged with substance abuse. TNT’s David Levy repeatedly declares, “Content is king,” yet features a peanut gallery (exempting Ernie Johnson) of foolishness. But it sells, so who am I to quibble? Jeff Van Gundy is worth paying attention to, because he’s thoroughly uncensored and offers fresh insights. Hubie is Hubie. Cannot stand the non-stop, counterfeit chatter of Kerr, Miller, Webber and everyone else whose names thankfully escape me at the moment

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

P.V.: Never really thought about it. Off the top, running the fast break alongside Pistol Pete, fondling an around-the-back pass from him, and making the lefty layup. After the Stokes’ game at Kutsher’s, the last organized one he played, dying six months later, Maravich cackled. “Don’t say I never give you nothin’, Pistol,” which is what he always called me. Another was running a 3-2 break alongside Julius Erving at Rucker. This time I had the ball in the middle, looked off the defender on my left and intravenously fed the good doctor, who swooped to the hoop for a claw-like dunk. I’m sure I came.

J.P.: You had a pretty well-known dislike (if that’s the right word) for Dick Young back in the mid-1970s. Young sounds like one of the absolute meanest guys in journalism history. What was he like? And what caused your battles with him?

P.V.: I idolized Dick Young growing up. Never missed a column, which he wrote five times a week until cancer sidelined him at 69. He was a great writer, a great reporter and didn’t back up or down to anyone. His post-game trips to the locker room for quotes revolutionized sportswriting. I remember every gem he taught me about writing. For instance, “Don’t try to outdo yourself. If you have a good line, leave it at that. Don’t try to top yourself with the next sentence.”

My perspective of Young remained unchanged until he was promoted to sports editor/columnist/control freak. Instead of telling me how to write, it became what to write, regardless if I agreed with the dictated theme. Twice we butted heads big time. The first had to do with a series the paper was doing pertaining to drugs in each of the four major sports. In my mind, Young made it a black and white issue. His stance: basketball players were drug-infested, and hockey players were clean. Meanwhile, I knew drugs were rampant in both sports. The Nets and Islanders hung in the same bars on Hempstead Turnpike. I witnessed stuff, if you know what I mean. The second head-on collision occurred when I took over John Sterling’s radio program for a day, four hours, I believe. At one point, I accused Young of a conflict of interest concerning his harsh take on Tom Seaver’s attempted contract renegotiation. A large part of Young’s opinion, I felt, was a result of his son-in-law being embedded in management. What’s more, I underlined,  Seaver’s renegotiation attempt was no different than Young’s recent renegotiation of his News contract. Shortly after, I was covering high school sports in the News’ Queens office. A year later, I joined the Post and became NBA columnist, first in the country to write exclusively about one sport. Wouldn’t you know it, a few years later, Young jumped to the Post and we became colleagues, in theory.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH PETER VECSEY:

• Five least-talented NBA players you’ve ever seen: My mother taught me never to make note of the afflicted.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Todd Lichti, Skittles, Einstein Bros Bagles, Toledo, Melba toast, Adobe InDesign, Al Davis, Bill Musselman, Hugh Grant, Styx, typewriters: Hugh Grant, Bill Musselman, the rest tie for last.

• Celine Dion calls: She’ll pay you $50 million next year to be the editor in chief of Celine Digest, her in-home newspaper read only by her. You have to file 20 stories per day, subsist on a diet of cabbage, brownies and strawberry milk and officially change your name to Sedric Toney. You in?: No. I’m retired.

• Scouting report of Peter Vecsey, high school basketball player: Good enough to start for Molloy, had I been able to remain academically eligible. Failed off the team for a marking period and it cost me my spot and playing at the Garden.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: There have been numerous near disasters. One, in particular, I sidestepped was the Eastern Airline plane that went down at JFK. Wendall Ladner, the off-the-wall Nets’ poster forward perished. I was supposed to be sitting next to him. Sport Magazine wanted me to accompany him to and from Necaise Crossing, Mississippi—pop. 1,308. His hometown was holding a day in his honor and Dick Schaap hired me because Ladner and I were tight, not because of my writing skill. At the last minute, my 6-year-old son begged me to take him on a vacation. I was in the midst of a divorce. I felt obliged to spend some quality time with Michael so I asked out. We were in Disney World when the plane crashed due to wind sheer.

• One question you’d ask Spencer Dunkley were he here right now?: I have no clue who that is.

• How do we save the dunk contest?: Raise the rim or lower the floor. And use a red, white and blue basketball.

• Best nickname you ever gave a player?: Larry Legend.

• Why do so many athletes get tattoos?: So they’ll never be without reading material.

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Wanda Juzang Cooper

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In the course of writing and researching my books, I always develop a couple of close relationships.

Truth be told, most people come and go—just as in life. Yet sometimes—every now and then—you form a bond, where certain folks emerge as not merely sources, but friends.


Enter: Wanda Juzang Cooper.

Wanda is both the ex-wife of former Laker star Michael Cooper, as well as one of the coolest people I’ve met in a long time. She’s honest, open and blunt, and when I asked Michael to name people I should speak with for the book, he said—without flinching—”You need to talk to Wanda.” It was a great call.

These days, decades removed from the run ‘n gun ‘n ocean ‘n fun, Wanda is the owner of Juzang Thang, an El Paso, Texas-based catering company that specializes in fusion food (FYI: she’s also on the lookout for a good personal chef situation, and is willing to relocate). She shows up quite frequently in Showtime, and speaks openly here about why women are drawn to athletes, why athletes tend to cheat and why the 1980s Lakers live forever in her heart.

Wanda, welcome to Quazland …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Wanda, we became acquainted during my research for Showtime, the new book. As a former athlete wife, you fascinate me—because athlete wives, as a whole, fascinate me. Lemme ask first: Why do women marry professional athletes? Is there a general reason? Is it the attraction to money? To fame?

WANDA JUZANG COOPER: In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell touches on the concept of 10,000 hours to mastery. There is an allure to those who couple an innate talent with fierce ambition, and while professional athletes represent that, the same can be said of successful doctors, writers, musicians. .. there’s no denying the fact that they exude a warranted confidence that’s downright sexy. Fame, money and celebrity status are obvious attractions, but I also think women want to marry men who are at the top of their game; the desire to be a part of that is intoxicating.

J.P.: I’ve covered professional sports for years, and I’d say—conservatively—80 percent of pro athletes engage in some level of infidelity. Do you think most wives of athletes know this is a part of the turf? Did you? And why is it that athletes seem to have such trouble staying loyal—especially after they, literally, took vows to stay loyal?

W.J.C.: I believe there are a multitude of factors at play: they’re young, at the peak of their physical prowess, they’ve reached the point where they have the pick of the litter, so to speak, and they want to take this newly rich, celebrity dick out for a spin. While I knew that opportunity and temptation were part of the turf, I fooled myself into thinking that because Mike and I married in college, weathered the draft, and his rookie season long injury (among other things), well, I was naïve in thinking that we had an impenetrable bond.

At one of his shows Chris Rock said that men are as faithful as their options …

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J.P.: What was the Showtime era like for you? I know it’s a big, broad question—but it just seems like such a magical, all-engrossing, head-spinning period. What are the memories that stand out? The highs? The excitement?

W.J.C.: One word: indescribable. It was fun, intense, exhilarating, painful, hard work and constant sacrifices, but throughout I felt very fortunate, very blessed to be a part of it. As a family we were either gearing up for a storied rival or gritty series, celebrating the victory or mourning what could have been (as we all know, there was more celebrating than mourning—but I digress). Some notable memories: the strong Laker Wives bond; it was a sisterhood and we celebrated, commiserated and supported each other. I love the memories of our shared times, how it hurt to have someone leave the fold via trades, cuts, retirements, injuries, etc; the rejoicing around births, victories, and the feeling of accomplishment from the successes of the Laker Wives club fundraising and other endeavors. One specific standout memory was going into labor with my daughter Simone during the fourth quarter of the last game in the championship series the year that the 76ers swept the Lakers (1983). Michael was signing autographs on the way to the car and we even stopped at Fatburgers en route to Cedar Sinai! There were the championship parades, Mike pointing at me in the stands following the Coop-a-Loops, my oldest son Michael Cooper II getting to serve as a ball boy and playing basketball on the court during halftime.

J.P.: You were married to Michael Cooper for 33 years. How did you guys meet? How did he propose? And what was it that drew you to him?

W.J.C.: We were both attending the University of New Mexico and Michael is a notorious speed demon on the road; we met when he asked if I could “help” him with a ticket (I worked at the municipal court at the time). About a year later I was marrying the shy guy who pronounced beautiful, “boo-tea-full.” Save for morning breath, there wasn’t anything dynamite about the proposal: he rolled over in bed and said, “Let’s get married!?” Thirty-three years later we divorced, but we spent this past Thanksgiving together with our kids … and he still says “boo-tea-full.”

I liked Mike’s work ethic, for instance he’ll work from beginning to end in the trenches at his camps, which surprises everyone because the norm are players showing up to speak a few words and collect a check. He’s very giving (during the 1985-86 NBA season he received the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award for community service). He also has tenacious ambition; he told me in no uncertain terms that someday he’d play in the NBA and I, along with anybody who watched the sport, found that ridiculous—he weighed about 165 pounds soaking wet with shoes on. I liked the bravado, the confidence.

J.P.: You’ve been around fame. You’ve understood and grasped fame. Is fame beautiful, or bullshit? A builder, or a destroyer of souls? Wonderful in doses, or ultimately damning?

W.J.C.: Fame is a tricky bitch; she’s seductive and dangerous, but I think easier to manage if you’re from a stable background and have genuine self-worth and healthy self-esteem. I think that if a famous person is doing well, living the good life with decency, people will look harder for negativity. I have my celebrity favorites and they are always the ones who use their fame for the good and seem to ignore the peanut gallery’s haterade. I’ve been close enough to the fame flame to never seek it or want it to be part my world again.

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J.P.: What’s your story? I know you’re from New Mexico, know you married Michael. But what was your path? Good childhood? Tough childhood? Upbringing? Etc?

W.J.C.: As a military brat I spent eight of my formative years in Europe, but consider New Mexico my home. I’m from a family of nine children and grew up resenting the stares, but my siblings have always been my best friends and that seems to intensify with age. My parents were no-nonsense disciplinarians and even though I don’t recall a lot of demonstrative affection, I knew I was loved. I had a great childhood, we had a lot more freedoms back then to roam and discover … and I had my best friends (siblings) with me. My parents made our vacations through Europe learning experiences and since being such a large family made it cost prohibitive to stay in hotels, we camped out. What adventures we had! They continued the same vacation theme in the States—we went from coast to coast visiting the tourist attractions and my mom, who was an educator, always took the opportunity to teach. We learned what each state was famous and not so famous for, what was their indigenous crop, things of historical significance, whimsical side notes, even highlighting terrain changes. We packed lunches and had roadside picnics—they even made the segregation policies of the south an opportunity to learn and made us aware by testing it in our travels from New Mexico to their respective birthplaces in Alabama.

I don’t recall ever visiting a theme park, but we did experience the wonders of the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe, the Vatican, Sistine Chapel, Colosseum and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. We took tours down the Rhine River and of Hitler’s Eagel’s Nest. At a campsite in Lucerne Switzerland we had to shower from the water of melted snow … you never forget these things. Stateside we fished in the Klamath Falls River in Oregon and went scrimping down in the Mobile Bay We took in the Hoover Damn, the Grand Canyon and the Alamo. We stood outside the White House, visited the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. I could go on forever, but to say that we had an awesome childhood is an understatement and I appreciate it even more in retrospect. Michael and I bought a RV and traveled extensively with our children to provide them with those types of memories.

J.P.: In the book I write a good amount about Chris Riley, Pat Riley’s wife. I used the word “Stepford” to describe some of the wives’ existences—meaning it seems you, as a collective, were expected to raise the kids, make the meals, cheer—but don’t step out of line. It also seems Chris was an overseer, making sure everyone complied. Am I off on this? On? And did you ever feel trapped by the expectations of being Mrs. Michael Cooper? 

W.J.C.: Looking back I personally wish I’d done things differently, taken a lot more time to further my own interests. At the time though I felt fulfilled being the single parent a significant amount of the time. Mike’s schedule was so random, in and out traveling with the team, and even when he was home, a lot of the time he was in his head prepping for a game. Our children knew to keep it down if he was napping before a game or grumpy following a loss. However, I think it’s a little much to label Chris Riley as heavy-handed overseer and in my case she would have been preaching to the choir … I loved my life and felt comfortable as a nurturer and in a supporting role. I would never categorize the Showtime Laker wives as having a Stepford mentality (even though I get why one could get that impression). There were just too many dynamic women on board to fit that label. I think that most of us realized we were a part of something awesome and we were a necessary and much appreciated facet. The Laker organization had a keen ability to draft players that had the best combination of talent and character, and they would put up with no nonsense from any member of the Laker family, including the Laker wives.

J.P.: You work now as a chef/caterer. How did this happen? Were you trained in the field? And what’s your absolute specialty?

W.J.C.: Throughout our marriage I took cooking classes everywhere … in Los Angeles, Santa Fe, Rome. Cooking is my passion, my bliss. I held team parties throughout Michael’s tenure, and they were well received. When we separated I fell back on this love to start a career. I would describe my food as very eclectic; I grew up with Southern soul food from my mother’s family and Cajun creole cuisine from my father’s side. I embraced New Mexican cuisine when we settled in New Mexico and then added some Italian flavor after living in Rome. My food combines all of these influences. I would say that my absolute specialty is gumbo, but I make some mean enchiladas and I love my roasted rosemary chicken over green chili cheese grits.

J.P.: I have young kids. And I see the parents of many of their friends pushing their kids into sports, with the ultimate dream of landing in the NBA or NFL or Major Leagues. I often wonder whether this is wise; whether it’s a dream that, well, lives up to the dream. What says you?

W.J.C.: Athletics at any age provide healthy life lessons and experiences: team work, how to handle winning and losing graciously, exposure to all walks of life, to name only a few. These are life-enriching experiences. But to push your children into sports for the sole purpose of becoming a “pro” may just be setting them up for disappointment (if only statistically speaking).

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J.P.: My last book was about Walter Payton—and, during research, I started to wonder whether his football career was worth the aftermath. What I mean is—a decade of glory, then a lifetime afterward of having tasted the most delicious wine, but never getting another sip. How rough was it for Michael after the spotlight faded? Hell, how rough was it for you? And why is that adjustment so difficult for so many?

W.J.C.: It was during this period that our marriage faltered and we separated. His retirement presented a huge void that most athletes do not prepare for. All of a sudden there’s no prepping for games, roaring applause, never-ending accolades, intense rivalries … I remember looking up and thinking, “Don’t you have a road trip to take?!”

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH WANDA JUZANG COOPER: 

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Herschel Walker, Bamm-Bamm Rubble, Real Housewives of Miami, Mike Smrek, Marlboro unfiltered, rainbow trout, Dyan Cannon, Staples Center, Amelia Earhart, San Diego Zoo, Meg Ryan: Rainbow trout, Mike Smrek, San Diego, Dyan Cannon, Staples Center, Amelia Earhart, Herschel Walker, Meg Ryan, Bamm-Bamm Rubble, Marlboro unfiltered … Real Housewives of Miami.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Yes, I clinched my butt-cheeks and sent out a cosmic “I love you” to my children and family.

• Five nicest Laker players from the Showtime era?: I liked them all, true story.

• Who wins in a fight between you and the lead singer of the Cranberries? How many rounds?: I eat Cranberries for Thanksgiving … two (helpings).

• Would you rather swallow 17 living maggots or legally change your name to Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor?: Call me Ella.

• Best joke you know: Fox News.

• One question you would ask Sammy Hagar were he here right now?: On the rocks or frozen?

• You’re in Starbucks. You need to use the bathroom. There’s someone in the women’s room, but the men’s room is free. Do you use it, or wait?: Trick question: unisex bathrooms.

• Celine Dion calls. She wants you to become her official caterer. She’ll pay $5 million annually, but you have to work 17 hours per day, have three toes amputated and include vanilla, cabbage and one dollop of her saliva in every meal. You in?: Damn. Fame is a tricky bitch!

• Why do you think more people don’t live in fear of inevitable death?: What’s the point?!

Rick McDaniel

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I’m a sucker for religious debate.
It’s a passion for multiple reasons. A. I find 95 percent of religious dogma to be nonsense. B. I find 95 percent of religious dogma to be riveting. C. I’m fascinated how millions and millions of people place their faith in something that so often seems to disappoint. We pray for peace—no peace. We pray for health—people get sick. On and on and on.

And yet, folks keep coming back. Again and again and again.

That’s why Pastor Rick McDaniel of the Richmond Community Church is here, and that’s why I so respect the man. He agreed to do the Quaz knowing I have my viewpoints on his belief system, but he didn’t mind. Or flinch. He took the questions head on, and answered them quite well. One can visit Rick’s site here, and follow him on Twitter here.

I’m no Christian, but I recognize a good dude.

Pastor McDaniel, welcome to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Rick, you initially contacted me in response to a blog post I wrote around Christmas, when I questioned why people continue to pray for world peace—when world peace never, ever, ever happens. I wrote that the whole exercise strikes me as a waste of time. You said you’d like to offer your take. Hence, question No. 1—what’s your take? Tell me what I’m missing here …

RICK McDANIEL: There are really two issues at work here; peace and prayer. In Christianity there are different kinds of peace. There is peace with God that comes through repentance, forgiveness and salvation. There is also inner peace despite outward circumstances. And there is peace between people. In the Bible we are promised we can receive the first two kinds of peace but not the third. We pray for peace between people because it is possible but world peace is not. So you are partially correct to say it is a waste in that world peace will not come on this earth but it is still possible to see people or even peoples have peace with one another so that is worth praying for.

The larger issue is the whole purpose and efficacy of prayer. Some of your followers commented that prayers are not ever answered so prayer is a waste. All prayers are answered, every single one. The answers are yes, no and wait. My personal experience is that about 80 percent of the time it is wait, 10 percent yes and 10 percent no. Consistent prayer works in many ways most significantly in making us able to receive what God has for us.

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J.P.: Here’s what I know, Rick: You have three degrees, you helped build the Richmond Community Church, you’ve written a bunch of books and you speak all over the place. But what was your path—from womb to here. When did you know religion would be your calling? In short, how did you get here?

R.M.: I grew up outside of Hartford, Connecticut. I was a successful athlete and student with no plan on ministry as my life’s work. I wanted financial success and an exciting life. My mother is a DeBartolo so I was exposed to successful business people including my cousin Eddie who had gone from business to NFL ownership. But I received a “call” in a church service and that changed the direction of my life. The only time I had peace about my future is when I considered the ministry. So I went to Boston College and Duke University and graduated with theology degrees. Ultimately God took my entrepreneurial gifting, innovative thinking and motivational talents and used them to start a new kind of high impact church in Richmond, Virginia. I’m not a typical pastor type but I’m perfectly suited for the contemporary church. I have been pastoring Richmond Community Church for 20 years and along the way I have been married for 30 years and raised two sons who both played college football. I also have written four books, have a broadcast ministry and travel speaking. Lately I have been writing articles on current topics in culture. I see myself as an evangelical voice to the larger culture about faith matters.

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J.P.: Rick, I’m gonna ask a few questions that might seem offensive to your beliefs, and I apologize. Not my intent to offend. That said … there’s a factor of Christianity that irks me to no end—the emphasis on the afterlife. Growing up in my little reformed synagogue, the afterlife was mentioned, oh, never. Literally, never. You strove to be a good person because it’s righteous. You help the old lady cross the street because she’s an old lady crossing the street. I don’t need the fear of hell to make me be honest, and I don’t need to promise of heaven to make me donate money. It strikes me as this overly simplistic method of behavioral control—follow our commands, enjoy bliss; ignore us, burn eternally. Rick, tell me why I’m wrong. Because I don’t see it.

R.M.: The afterlife is mentioned so much in Christianity because Jesus talked about it a lot. Beyond that the teaching of the resurrection is Jesus was raised from death so we will too. The Bible teaches there will be a judgment for every person but that is not the motivation for good behavior. Followers of Christ are to love God and love others. Our motivation is not fear but love, we want to do right not have to do right.

J.P.: Why do churches continue to ignore climate change? Everyone talks about loving God, loving God’s planet, the amazing nature of his ultimate creation—but nobody seems to give two craps about the earth melting apart. Couldn’t so much good be done for the environment if churches spoke up?

R.M.: Churches and leaders are speaking up more and more about the environment. Five years ago I did a message—“God Is Green”—and we implemented several strategies in our own church to be environmentally conscious. There is an entire organization, the Evangelical Environmental Network, that is focused on issues of caring for God’s creation.

J.P.: A couple of months ago you wrote a piece for the Fox News website on football and faith. You wrote, “One of the essential message of the scriptures is that Jesus wants us to be servant oriented. This is exactly what football teaches players.” I mean no beef (the writing itself was excellent) but, well, what are you talking about? I’ve covered much football through my life. It’s a sport that—with rare exception—encourages following orders with minimal thought; that has resulted in physical and mental injuries to hundreds … thousands of men; that has allowed team owners (and the NFL) to make millions while most players leave the game and, ultimately, lose their money, their marriages and their lifestyles. I get loving football—but, Rick, how can you support this endeavor as one that’s Christ-like? Seems like an enormous stretch.

R.M.: If football was only the NFL then maybe your point would be made but it is not. In fact the smallest percentage of football players are in the NFL. The vast majority of football players are at the recreational, high school and college levels. Many of your issues go away when we focus on these levels. I have experienced first hand the positive impact of teamwork, discipline and handling success/failure from football. Many qualities that mark you as a follower of Christ can be developed playing football at the non-professional level.

I worked with Sam Rutigliano when he coached college football at Liberty University after he had coached in the NFL. He knew football at every level and I saw him develop young men who could become excellent followers of Christ after having played football.

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J.P.: I blame Christianity for making millions of gays through the years feel as if they’re lesser, unworthy, disgusting, wrong, sinful. Such sentiments have been uttered so many times, by so many leaders … and I don’t understand why. Even if you can argue that the Bible somehow condemns homosexuality, well, it condemns t-o-n-s of other things, too; things we largely pay no mind to. Rick, wouldn’t Christianity (as a whole) be better served moving off of this one?

R.M.: In evangelical Christianity there are all kinds of sermons, articles, books and conferences touching on sin issues of every type. We are not picking on one group or oddly fixated on one sin. We pay mind to many issues the Bible teaches are sinful and hurtful to our lives. You might be shocked at the sheer breadth of material on Christian living.

The reason why the gay issue has such prominence is because of gay rights groups not evangelical ones. The activism of these groups has been incredible. They have pushed the issue to the forefront of culture and have been extremely aggressive in pursuing their agenda. Of course they have every right to do so but Christians then have every right to state their position as well. What has taken it to another level is gay marriage. Christians define marriage very clearly and when you start redefining it there is going to be a response. It is tempting to just give in and be quiet but Christians are to resist temptation. This does not mean there are not people or groups who have been hateful to gays or that this issue is simple to resolve. But the reason it continues to be talked about is because the media keeps bringing it up. Not Christians.

J.P.: Rick, for the first time I recently watched Joel Osteen—a man you cited in a column I read. I have no reason to think he’s not a nice guy and a sincere guy. However, how do pastors/preachers/etc justify following Jesus’ words while wearing $5,000 suits, $3,000 watches, $1,000 shoes and living in million-dollar homes? Your church appears to be a large, beautiful facility. Shouldn’t you guys meet in a plain clubhouse, and that money—in the spirit of Jesus—be spent feeding the poor and supplying clothing and goods to the needy?

R.M.: You do have to be careful about assumptions. I have an Armani sport coat that I bought at the Westbury Outlet for 75 percent off. I have a well-known pastor friend who wears an expensive watch but it was a gift he did not buy it himself. Pastors with large influence many times write books that provide income far beyond their church salaries.

But there will always be disagreements about how to use money. Even Jesus’ disciples argued when expensive perfume was poured over Jesus when it could have been sold and the money given to the poor. In the case of my church’s building it is nice but also functional. The architecture is important in communicating the contemporary style of the church. As a church the local homeless shelter has honored us as volunteer of the year and I have been honored as hometown hero for leading my church in helping the poor. There are enough resources to do both.

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J.P.: Serious question: Allow for a second (if you will) that you’re wrong. That there is no God; that this is all just the product of a big explosion. If that’s the case (again, just hypothetical), was this all a waste of time?

R.M.: Pascal’s Wager comes to mind. If I am wrong and God does not exist I spent my life helping people. I lived morally, was happily married to one woman, raised two great sons and made lots of great friends. If I am right I will rejoice over all the people I helped get to heaven and I will enjoy a great eternity with God.

J.P.: I’ve never understood the certainty that comes with religion. I mean, you seem certain. My orthox Jewish friend seems certain. Mitt Romney seems certain. My atheist pals are certain. You can’t all be right. So how do you know your answer is correct?

R.M.: I have a strong intellect and a great education. I am a thinker by nature and a researcher by training. I am enough of a pragmatist to look at the results. My experience has been so positive that God exists, that Jesus’ teachings work and that the spiritual is real it just adds up. I know most of the arguments and the ones for Christianity are the strongest.

J.P.: I don’t understand how science and Christianity can coexist. Scientists agree the earth is 4.54 billion years old, and man is probably 400,000 years old (in one form or another). This clearly doesn’t jive with the whole New Testament Genesis thing. What to do?

R.M.: I have spoken a number of times on why science and faith are not in conflict. I could say a lot about this subject but here are a few thoughts. The scientific revolution was ushered in during the reformation of faith. Many of the great scientists of history were men of faith (Bacon, Boyle, Dalton, Fleming.) Both science and Christianity deal with evidence. Science cannot be proved, a hypothesis can be made with evidence to support it, so too with Christianity. Science is about reason and faith is reasonable. Science describes the what—God describes the why. The laws of nature are descriptive not prescriptive. They do not determine what must happen they describe what normally does happen. Science deals with the natural, Christianity with the supernatural. Dr Collins (genome project) Dr. Sandage (leading cosmologist) and many other scientists are strong followers of Christ and there is no coexistence problem for them.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH RICK MCDANIEL:

• Tim Tebow loves Jesus. Tim Tebow throws a spiral like William Howard Taft. Does he have an NFL future?: Tebow may not have an NFL future but he has such great leadership, charisma and character he will be a success in whatever he does.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Rodney Dangerfield, Renee Zellweger, TMZ, Todd Helton, chocolate milkshakes, Toledo, Joe Flacco, Death Cab for Cutie, Pope Francis, bacon, Milk Duds, Jose Guillen: Pope Francis, chocolate milkshakes, Dangerfield, Helton, Milk Duds, Flacco, bacon, Zellweger, Toledo, Death Cab for Cutie, Guillen and TMZ.

• Three memories from your first date?: Friendly’s, the smell of her hair, the kiss.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Never thought I was going to die in a plane crash. I like flying.

• One question you would ask John Keeble, were he here right now?: Did you ever get sick of playing the same music over and over?

• I’m an agnostic Jew who will never accept Jesus. How certain are you that I’m damned to hell?: My life is dedicated to keeping people out of hell. Hell is the absence of love because God is love and He is not there. In heaven we will have a whole new existence without all the problems of this life. Heaven is not going to be boring it is going to be fantastic.

You use “never” and that is a big word. I would like to think you are more open than to say you could never accept Jesus. God is perfect, we are not, which is why we need Jesus to be accepted by God. God is patient with us; some take longer than others to come to Him. His forgiveness is available to us always. Hopefully the next time I am in New York City we can have lunch and continue our conversation.

• Five greatest religion-themed movies?: Passion Of The Christ, The Apostle, Doubt, 10 Commandments, Chariots Of Fire.

• God visits you tonight. You’re 100% certain it’s him. No doubt about it. He tells you you need to move to Las Vegas and open a shrine for Celine Dion in the MGM Grand parking lot. What do you do?: There is a story I think you may know of Abraham and Isaac. God told Abraham to do something crazy and sacrifice his son. Abraham obeyed and passed the test so his son was not killed. God guided me to Richmond, where I moved with my young family having never lived there a day in my life. It turned out pretty well for me. If God told me to do it I am sure there would be a greater plan.

• Can you do me a favor and pray hard for Taylor Swift to stop making music?: According to www.dosomething.org Taylor Swift is the “most charitable star.” So she is using some of her music money for good works.

• What’s the greatest non-Jesus word in the English language?: Excellence—because it honors God and inspires people.