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Category Archives: QUAZ

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Brian McRae

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Professional athletes have this weird thing, where they’re here, they’re big, they’re bold, they’re important—and then they sorta vanish.

Obviously, this doesn’t apply to everyone. Jordan, Gretzky, Ruth, Bird, Magic, Kareem, Jeter … folks of that ilk reign eternal. But when’s the last time you thought of Tom Browning? Or Kendall Gill? Or Stump Mitchell? Most pros end their careers and quickly disappear from the public realm. You might hear a name pop up every now and then, but—as the years pass—it’s increasingly rare.

Enter: Brian McRae.

Not all that long ago, McRae was one of the more interesting names in Major League Baseball. First, he was the son of Hal McRae, one of the Kansas City Royals’ all-time greats. Second, he was K.C.’s first-round pick in the June 1985 amateur draft. Third, he could flat-out play—McRae possessed a Gold Glove-worthy mitt in the outfield, and his four seasons with more than 160 hits tell the story of a high-caliber contributor. Put simply, Brian McRae was one helluva player.

It’s been 16 years, however, since his final appearance, and times fades memories. These days, McRae dabbles in sports media while also serving as a coach at Park University. You can follow him on Twitter here.

Brian McRae, dreams come true. You’re the 217th Quaz Q&A …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Brian, I just read a really fascinating 2005 ESPN.com piece about your decision not to use steroids while with the Mets—and how it wasn’t an easy one to make. Why, when you knew so many guys were juicing, did you ultimately not go that route? How close did you come to making a different decision? And do you believe it could have prolonged your career?

BRIAN MCRAE: After doing research and talking to a few doctors and strength coaches, I just felt that, long term, it was best for me not to use any PHD. I stayed healthy my whole career until knee surgery after the 1999 season, so it made the choice easier. I may have added two or three years on at the end, but I was happy with my decision.

J.P.: You were, I truly believe, an excellent analyst for ESPN. Then, one day, you sorta vanished, and I never saw you on TV again. I’ve been Googling around, trying to figure out what happened. So, um, what happened? Why did your TV career end?

B.M.: I enjoy radio better than TV because it allows your personality to come out and you can take two-to-three innings to tell a story without all the replays and break a TV games has. I also like taking calls on the post-game shows a lot better than being a studio host. I fell I am better without a script.

After ESPN I worked with mlb.com and the Royals from 2002 until 2008, doing the game broadcast, pre-and-post radio and TV. I still do about 25-to-30 pre-game shows and I worked the 2014 post-season with 120Sports out of Chicago. So I’m still involved.

J.P.: You played in the Kansas City outfield alongside Bo Jackson. I feel like there’s a whole generation of fans who don’t truly understand how unbelievable and weird and uncanny Bo Jackson was. Can you explain, with as much detail as possible?

B.M.: Bo Jackson going on the disabled list in 1990 was the reason I got called-up! Bo could do it all and he was really starting to figure things out at the plate when he injured his hip. He was a freak of nature. I don’t think fans really understand how much work it took for him to make his comeback. That may have been his greatest accomplishment.

With Bo it wasn’t one special thing. He just did things no one else could do—like throw a ball from the warning track to home plate in the air. He did something once a week that no one had ever seen before. It was crazy.

J.P.: Your father, Hal McRae, is a legendary Kansas City Royal who had 2,091 hits over 19 seasons. In 1985, you were the team’s first round draft pick. That seems like it could suck—the comparisons, the contrasting, the unrealistic expectations that you, too, become a three-time All-Star and Silver Slugger winner. What was it like? How hard/easy was it? And did expectations impact your career?

B.M.: In high school I liked football better and had more scholarship offers. I didn’t have everyone expecting me to be a good baseball player like my father was, so it was more enjoyable. When I was drafted by the Royals it was odd because they didn’t scout me as much as other teams and I wasn’t tabbed as a first-round pick.

The first two years in the Big Leagues, 1991 and 1992,  with my dad as my manger were not much fun, but I also learned a lot. The next two seasons I figured out how to block out most of the negative things that I let bother me. I just focused on my play instead of trying to do too much because I was Hal McRae’s son. But was it easy? No.

J.P.: In 1992 you hit .223. In 1993 you hit .286. That’s an enormous jump, but the sort of thing that happens quite often. This fascinates me—how do you explain guys hitting 60 points higher one season after struggling? Then, in 1997, you hit .242. Up, down, all around. Why are most ballplayers so inconsistent? Why can’t guys hit, roughly, the same every year?

B.M.: Young players struggle and then something clicks. From 1993 through 1998 I had five solid years and I had a chance to make a few All-Star teams and win some Gold Gloves. Baseball is a very mental game and I was in a good frame of mind, having fun playing ball. I think, perhaps, people forget how hard it is to hit a baseball because we make it look so easy at times.

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J.P.: In 1999 you hit .195 in 31 games with the Blue Jays—and your career was over. You were 31. What is that like, being a young man who’s done? Did you realize something was wrong? Did you think it was correctable? When did you ultimately say, “Nope, this is it. It’s over?”

B.M.: I had a serious knee injury early in the 1999 season and I probably should have had surgery during the season. Instead I tried to play on it because I thought I had a great chance at making the playoffs for the first time in my career with the Mets. I was traded late in the season and finished four games out with the Blue Jays while the Mets made it to the post-season. That wasn’t so wonderful.

I had surgery that off-season and went to spring training with the Cardinals but I got let go a few week before Opening Day.

It was a tough transition at first, but playing 15 years of pro ball —10 in the Big Leagues—when I was told I’d only be up for two weeks isn’t all bad. I signed at 17, got to the big leagues at 22 and retired at 32. A few more years as a bench player after I had been a starter for a decade wouldn’t have done it for me.

J.P.: You had eighth-straight seasons with at least 15 stolen bases. I’ve never asked anyone this—but with the arm strength of most MLB catchers and the arm strength of most MLB pitchers, how does one ever steal a base? Like, what were the keys? What sort of mentality does it take? And can you imagine a day—ever—when we have Rickey Hendersons and Tim Raineses and Lou Brocks swiping 100 bags?

B.M.: The game has changed and speed guys aren’t around as much as they used to be. Pitchers do a lot better job at holding runners and teams are worried about running into outs. You really have to study a pitcher to find the keys that give it all away when he is throwing toward the plate or trying to pick you off. That takes time. Some guys want to spend that extra time hitting. A base-stealer can’t be afraid to get thrown out or picked-off. Will we have 60-to-70 stolen bases in a year? Yes. But we won’t see 100 again.

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J.P.: You’re an assistant coach with the Park University baseball team. I’m always fascinated when former Major Leaguers work with smaller schools. Can you truly understand the plight of the .220 NAIA hitter? Can you put yourself in his shoes? And why coach? Why college?

B.M.: I started coaching high school kids in 2008 and I just finished my third year at Park University. I am also working toward my degree in psychology. I have two years of school left and would like to be a head coach at the college level in three-to-five years if the right situation comes up. I enjoy being close to home with no long toad trips and working with the young kids who enjoy the game but understand what level they’re at. NAIA baseball is a mixture of transfers from bigger schools and kids who just want the chance to compete for a few more years while going to school. I love that.

J.P.: You played against Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, Piazza, Palmiero. So what’s your take on the Hall and PED guys? And why?

B.M.: I believe all of those guys will—and should—get into the Hall of Fame. They may not live to see that day but they put up those numbers and dominated during that time period. I don’t feel cheated knowing what we know now. I held my own and played the game the right way.

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

B.M.: The greatest was my first day in the Big Leagues I started against Alex Fernandez, who I got my first hit and 100th home run off of.

The lowest would be playing my whole career without a post-season game while coming close four different times. I lost on last day of season twice with chance of advancing. My dad has two rings—one with the Royals, one with the Cardinals—and my brother got two as the Florida Marlins’ video coordinator. I have none.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH BRIAN MCRAE:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Whitesnake, Larry Gura, Shea Stadium, the smell of a new mitt, Mr. Potato Head, Williams Baptist College, Slick Rick, Rand Paul, Seattle Slew, tuna melt: Tuna Melt, new mitt, Slick Rick, Larry Gura, Whitesnake, Seattle Slew, Mr. Potato Head, Shea Stadium, Williams Baptist College, Rand Paul.

• The world needs to know what it was like playing with Rick Wilkins: Good dude who somehow hit .300 one year. Hitting .300 is hard to do for a catcher.

• One question you would ask Frank Perdue were he here right now?: Why chicken?

• What’s the most overrated statistic in baseball?: Wins and losses for a pitcher.

• Most embarrassing moment of your life?: Got stung by a bee on the lip in high school.

• Who wins in a race, right now, between you and Josh Hamilton? How close is it?: Josh. I pulled my groin and can’t move well.

• Two things you can tell us about your mother?: She’s a two-time cancer survivor, and she was a part of the first-ever class of black students at the University of Florida.

• What should we do about climate change?: Limit the pollution from big businesses.

• Five coolest baseball player names: Cool Papa Bell. Tom (Flash) Gordon. Tim (Rock) Raines. B.J. (Bossman Jr.) Upton. Sparky Anderson.

• Who wins in a round of chicken between you and your dad and the Griffeys?: The Griffeys outweigh us, so they’d win.

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Molly Knight

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I’m a fan of authors.

This is nothing new, and actually has little to do with my career as, eh, an author. Truth is, dating back to my childhood I’ve always been fascinated by books, and the process, and taking enormous loads of information and piecing it all together into 300-or-so pages. It struck me as really hard yet really rewarding; nightmarish but euphoric. I’ve often equated the process to receiving a really awesome back scratch from someone with sharp fingernails. It’s painful as hell, but the sensations leave you soaring.

Hence, today’s Quaz.

Molly Knight is a writer. A prolific and explosive one. Her work for ESPN on the whole Frank McCourt-Dodgers-divorce-weirdness thing routinely soared from the page/screen, and also led her to writing The Best Team Money Can Buy: The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Wild Struggle to Build a Baseball Powerhouse. Her debut book hit the market last week, and it’s a detailed, riveting inside look at baseball’s most fascinating franchise.

Molly lives in LA, and you can follow her on Twitter here and Instagram here. She loves her dog, but has little interest in Arthur Fonzarelli.

Molly Knight, welcome to the sports author’s club. You’re Quaz No. 216 …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Molly, I’m gonna be sorta lame and start with this: Why a book about the modern-day Dodgers? I guess what I mean is, they haven’t won anything, they’re somewhat disappointing, some of their best players don’t seem overly demonstrative (of course, others do). So … why? When did you come up with the idea? What was the thinking behind it?

MOLLY KNIGHT: I grew up a Dodger fan in Los Angeles and was living in New York when the McCourts (the Dodgers former owners) began their divorce. I had been working for ESPN for a few years and I told my editors that because the McCourts were insane, the situation had the chance to go nuclear and become front page news. My bosses knew I had grown up a Dodger fan and was always pitching Dodger stories about Matt Kemp, so at first they kind of waved their hand at me like, “Yeah, yeah, another Dodger pitch from Molly.” But as soon as word leaked that the McCourts had hired a Russian physicist to think blue, I convinced my bosses to let me write 800 words on it. And then as it kept spiraling out of control and it became clear how much they had looted the Dodgers piggy bank for their own personal use while they cut spending on player salary, it became like this War of The Roses story and took on this whole other life. and my word allotment for the ESPN The Magazine story got longer and longer. I think it finally ran at like 6,000 words or something—my longest story ever at that point. I was 26 or 27, and just thrilled to have a piece that long run in a national magazine. Then ESPN sent me out to LA to cover the trial for the website. Everyone thought the McCourts would settle their divorce and not actually go to trial, though.

I remember flying out and thinking that I would have to turn around and fly right back. But they hated each other at that point too much to be rational. So the trial started and I was off and running. It was totally exhilarating to file stories every day—sometimes two or three a day—because I was used to spending weeks or months on longer form magazine stories. I think I must have written 100 stories on those two people and done twice as many radio hits. Then when it became clear that McCourt was going to be forced to sell the team, I basically moved in with my sister in West Hollywood and continued reporting. I got tired of paying New York rent when I wasn’t there—and I needed a change of scenery for a variety of personal reasons. So in March, 2011 I basically sent for my stuff and continued covering all the craziness around McCourt. Then when he sold the team for $2 billion to this really interesting guy from Chicago, I became even more intrigued. But it wasn’t until the Dodgers signed Zack Greinke, honestly, that I thought about writing a book. And it was because a few Dodger players who knew me texted and said “Shit. We were bankrupt and now we have Greinke and Kershaw and we’re going to win a title. You should write a book.” That’s what happened.

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J.P.: The book opens with you in Clayton Kershaw’s home, and a very cool scene of him getting a huge contract. I kinda feel like access like that is rare nowadays; like very few reporters are being invited into the homes of stars. So how did that happen? How did you build that sort of trust with Clayton? And what’s he like as a guy to cover?

M.K.: Clayton is a wonderful person—the kind of man you would want your sister or your daughter to marry. Actually, a player joked with me the other day that he would let Clayton marry his wife. But he is also very guarded and closed off … especially to the media. It helped a little that I was around since when he got called up, so I was a familiar face. But honestly it took years to build his trust, and even then, I think he only really started to trust me after he saw guys he looked up to—guys like Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker and A.J. Ellis and Michael Young—were always chatting with me. Then I think he realized he could tell me things off the record that I would not report. He and I are very similar in a lot of ways—except for the whole best pitcher in the world thing—and I’m wondering if the reader picks up on that. We both had similar upbringings, and we both have dealt with anxiety and control issues. I know how he is wired because I am wired similarly, and sometimes it’s stressful for me to watch him pitch because I know how hard he is on himself.

When you’re writing a book about real people and thinking about them all day long it’s easy to develop emotional attachments to those you feel are kind and fundamentally enhance our planet. I almost threw up last year during Game 1 in the NLDS when he imploded. Partly because I wanted my book to have a championship ending, but also because I wanted so badly for him to put the previous year’s playoff debacle behind him. I felt awful for him; it was like watching someone else’s nightmare unfold in real time.

My being at his house when he signed his contract extension was one of the luckier things that has happened to me in this life, and a total fluke that I explain in the book. We just happened to have our interview set up for that day, and because he’s such a stand-up person he didn’t blow me off even though, literally, his agent called with the news roughly three minutes after I walked in the door. I guess I would call him a friend, in that I have grown to care about him as a person, but I don’t, like, go out for beers with him like I do with some of the other guys. He’s a new dad. I text him or e-mail him when I have a question about something I’m writing, and he is always gracious and tries to help. But it took a long time to build that relationship. He is a fantastic human and I’m honored to know him.

J.P.: Molly, I’m very big into career paths, but for the love of God I can’t really grasp yours. I see this (Molly Knight has written about baseball for ESPN The Magazine for the past eight seasons. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Glamour, and Variety. She lives in Los Angeles) everywhere, but I wanna know how this happened for you. Where are you from? When did you get the writing bug? Why baseball?

M.K.: I grew up in the suburbs of LA and went to college in the Bay area. I thought I wanted to be a doctor, so I earned a degree in biology, then changed my mind and moved to New York to write with no experience whatsoever, $300, and license from the National Bartenders School in Redwood City. To support myself while I sorted it out, I poured drinks and waited tables all over lower Manhattan for years while I wrote for free, sent clips everywhere, took any internship I could, before finally getting a shot to freelance at ESPN. I was very broke for a long time. I remember a month when I was 23 where I had no money in my checking account and my credit card was at its $2,000 limit and I could not really afford food so I just went to like, every PR-sponsored event there was just to eat. I’d get a press release for some violent video game that looked absolutely awful but I would go to the damn party because there would be food and beer. But I was 23 and having the time of my life so I didn’t care. I was fortunate enough to stop freelancing for places that never paid or paid five months after the fact, when ESPN started giving me more and more work. I supplemented that income with with bartending and waitressing, until they put me on contract in 2008. While I didn’t grow up dreaming of working for ESPN it turned out to be a dream job. I have always loved sports, and from the time I was 6 or 7 I would rattle off baseball players’ stats to anyone who would listen. I had a blast for the seven or so years I worked for them.

J.P.: You were with the Dodgers for the rise of Yasiel Puig. I was a Met fan when Dwight Gooden first came up, and it was just electric. And I always felt people outside of New York didn’t quite get the magnitude. Maybe it’s that way with Puig. So can you explain, as fully as possible, what it was like to behold his rise?

M.K.: It was, in a word, insane. He basically had the best rookie month of anyone since Joe DiMaggio, which was made even crazier by the fact that he had never heard of Joe DiMaggio. This is a guy who stood in front of a water cooler in spring training in total awe that Gatorade could be blue. He had only ever seen it in yellow. His month would have been bananas by any standard, but he was joining a team that was a) in last place and b) had just sold for $2 billion a year earlier and was supposed to be on the fast track to the World Series. The Dodgers not only had a bad record when he was called up, they were so wrecked by injuries that they were unwatchable. Five of the eight guys who started alongside Puig for his first game are no longer in the Majors. Don Mattingly was about to get fired. It was awful.

And then this kid comes up to the Big Leagues and not only does he hit the snot out of the ball but he plays the game like he’s got bumble bees in his pants. Baseball can be dull, but not with him. He made even routine plays seem exciting. And of course he came with a swagger that pissed everyone off because rookies are not supposed to have personalities. It took him a week to get hit in the face and incite a riot with the Diamondbacks.

The Dodgers went from being unwatchable to the most talked about team in baseball because of Puig. And the new owners whi were so desperate for stars to light up their new television network had a superstar. So they set about building their marketing campaign around a volatile kid who grew up in a country isolated from the rest of the world who overnight became a multimillionaire A-list athlete in Los Angeles who was worshiped and had access to everything. In a way it felt like what happens to Hollywood child stars. Too much, too soon. He wasn’t given rules or boundaries because he saved everyone’s job. And now no one can get him to listen to anything they say because they were bad parents in the beginning.

Molly Knight as a first grader

Molly Knight as a first grader

J.P.: I saw in one bio where you’re identified as a “lifelong Dodgers fan.” Do you still consider yourself a Dodgers fan? And do you feel like it’s OK for sports journalists to having rooting interests? Or a conflict? Or neither/both/all of the above?

M.K.: I grew up a diehard fan, and I don’t think I could have written this book without that context. Like if I went to go write a Yankee book I could read about their history but I wouldn’t have lived it. That being said, it’s not a if I can’t be critical of the team. When Frank McCourt ran the Dodgers into the ground and took the team into bankruptcy it felt like he was spitting on the graves of my ancestors.  He had to go, and as it became clear just how recklessly he was looting the franchise it only motivated me to report harder. It actually felt like important work; a group of us journalists covering him published the truth about his business dealings and kept hammering away until he was forced to sell.

I go back and forth. I want them to win but I don’t cheer in the press box. Sometimes, when they’re acting like jerks, I take a break from watching. That being said I’m a fifth generation Angeleno. I would like for my grandmother and my great aunts to see the Dodgers win another title in my lifetime, absolutely. I want some of the players I grew to really care about to win rings. They’re just human.

J.P.: I started covering baseball in the mid-1990s, when women were finally welcomed into the clubhouse, but there were still some dinosaur players who behaved like pigs. I’m wondering what it’s like now, in 2015, for you. Any incidents? Awkwardness? Or are all good?

M.K.: When I started out in locker rooms eight years ago it was very different than it is now. Some players were 10 to 15 years older than me, and it just seemed like there were a lot more red-asses, and guys who would try to embarrass me or put me in my place. When I started out I was just doing some menial, front-of-the-book stuff stuff for ESPN The Magazine, like getting answers for holiday gift guides or asking, “What’s in your wallet?” Most guys were and are respectful, but I would get the guys who would list their favorite sex toys when I asked what was on their holiday shopping list. And I’d write down the names of products I’d never heard of and they would all laugh.

The first baseball player I ever interviewed in a locker room was actually the worst. He wouldn’t even answer any of my questions; he just wanted to know what hotel I was staying in that night. I was worried that they were all going to be like that, but I just happened to run into the worst one.

But now it’s pretty much awesome. My first year in the locker room was the first year of a huge crop of Dodger rookies—Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, James Loney, Russell Martin. And while I’m not friends with all of those guys—and we haven’t always gotten along—none of them have ever been disrespectful, or dismissed me for being a woman, ever. So that was huge.

I don’t date professional athletes. I’m typically attracted to nerdy intellectuals, artists, writers, etc. From my perspective, if you are a female sports reporter who is serious about her career and reputation then you better be damn sure you are going to marry or enter into longterm domestic partnership with an athlete you date, because if you sleep with a guy on a team, literally everyone in the league will know about it within a week. I have seen it happen. Doesn’t matter if it’s the 25th guy on the worst team in the league. Everyone—from players to coaches to clubbies—will know. Baseball players are so bored and they have nothing but time on their hands to gossip about anything and everyone they can.

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J.P.: I’ve written a bunch of books, but never one where I’ve embedded myself with a team. So, soup to nuts, what was your process? Like, how’d you handle notes? Interviews? Did you write as you went along or at the end? Did you find it awful, wonderful?

M.K.: Oh gosh. Well, it was awful and wonderful and terrifying and exciting and nerve-wracking all at once. I went to most games, so I took notes in my notebook every day. And then whenever I would freak out that my book was going to suck I would literally write down a list of all the things that I had learned so far that were funny/interesting/sad/ridiculous to reassure myself that even if my writing was awful that i had stuff that Dodger fans would find interesting. I taped a most of my interviews on an app on my iPhone, and there was a hellish moment during one of those iPhone updates where my phone restored itself to factory settings and I thought I had lost everything and I like, crawled to the Apple store and was sitting on the floor in there with no appointment waiting for someone to help me. I don’t really remember much about it except that I was very calm and sort of out-of-body and I explained to the boy genius helping me that if he couldn’t bring my phone back to life it was not his fault but my life would basically be over. The poor guy looked like he also wanted to throw up. But he fixed it and saved the day! After that I bought a back-up drive, and every single day I would save my work to my back-up drive and also e-mail whatever I had just written to myself to be safe.

I’d never written a book before, so I just started with 500 words a day. Then I bumped up to 1,000. The editing process was insane, because I only had eleven months to write and edit the thing. Originally the book was going to come out on Opening Day 2015 but then after the 2014 season ended the Dodgers fired their general manager and traded and ditched a bunch of my main characters. So I had to keep writing. Ultimately I decided to end the book on Opening Day with Matt Kemp facing Clayton Kershaw as a member of the Padres because it felt like everything had come full circle. Also, I was always so struck by how much Kemp and Kershaw had in common—as far as background—but they couldn’t be more different had no real relationship in all the years they were teammates. I had no idea how I would end this book but then when that happened it was like, that’s it. We sort of end on a new beginning. And it’s strange and sad and unknown but also hopeful, I think.

Um ... with Harry Styles

Um … with Harry Styles

J.P.: I’m fascinated by the little things with the book process. You named your book, “The Best Team Money Can Buy”—which is also the title of a 1978 bio of the New York Yankees. There also, “The Worst Team Money Can Buy,” about the mid-90s Mets. I’m not criticizing you. Hell, my Showtime Laker book is called, eh, “Showtime.” But how did you decide on the title? Do you have any say? Do you like it?

M.K.: That’s a great question. When I pitched this book, the working title was “The Best Team Money Could Buy,” with the idea that it was a placeholder until I would come up with something better. But the problem with coming up with the title of a baseball book is everything is so overdone and cliched. Try it. Anything dramatic with the word “Field” or “Game” or “Ball” is done in headlines every day. As time went on, I never did figure out anything better—and I actually started to like the title because it’s hopeful and also sort of smart-ass’y, which is maybe how I would describe myself. The real bitch was the subtitle, let me tell you. I think naming my children will be easier. I wanted a verb that described up-and-down seasons, but I did not want to use the word “rollercoaster” because it’s cliche. It had like eight different subtitles. For a while it was “the strange saga of the LA Dodgers” which I hated because it was vague and also sounded too negative—which I don’t think the book is, even though there are parts that are dramatic. My editor and I debated verbs for months, before deciding on “wild” at the last minute. I like that word and use it a lot in my everyday life, and it was important for the title to use language I use. “Struggle” balanced it out. I have a lot of friends in the Bay Area who thought that my title was literal, and were like “Well why are you calling the Dodgers the best team? Didn’t the Giants just win?” So “Wild Struggle to Build a Baseball Powerhouse” helps them realize it’s sort of tongue-in-cheek.

J.P.: What’s the greatest moment of your career? Lowest?

M.K.: Greatest: the day I got my finished book in the mail. Lowest: working for a men’s magazine and having to cull through the photos women would send in of themselves in various states of undress hoping to be selected for a “hot date” front of the book section. I was to call these women, many of them who were clearly damaged, and ask them to tell me things like, say, their wildest sex stories. I would literally go into a storage closet where there was a phone and act like I was calling them but put my hand on the dial tone lever. I was not good at that job and I did not last long. But being good at that job would have made me a person with no conscience so it evens out.

Authorship means perks like meeting Freddie Prinze, Jr.

Authorship means perks like meeting Freddie Prinze, Jr.

J.P.: We both wrote books involving Magic Johnson. Big difference—he never talked to me for mine. What’s your take on Magic Johnson, baseball team owner? Because I don’t 100 percent buy it. I think he’s smart, charismatic, popular. But do I believe he has much say in running the franchise? No. Am I off?

M.K.: He is smart and charismatic but he knows nothing about baseball. The good thing about Magic, though, is he seems smart enough to know there’s a lot he doesn’t know. He leaves the baseball stuff to the baseball people. He’s not one of those guys who will weigh in on everything regardless of his grasp on the subject, which I really respect. I didn’t get a sit-down interview with him for my book, but I also didn’t ask for one because he really isn’t that involved in the day-to-day running of the franchise. That being said he’s a freakishly competitive person who really wants to win everything he puts his name on. Some people don’t think he has much skin in the game here, but he put in, like $50 million of his own money into the team. By comparison, I think I read that Jay-Z only put $1 million into the Brooklyn Nets. So, yes, he wants the Dodgers to do well.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH MOLLY KNIGHT:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Roxette, Justin Wayne, Mark Ellis, Babyface, Einstein Bros Bagels, Josh Beckett, Los Angeles Times, Roger Angell, Marla Maples, Halle Berry, The Fonz, “Say Anything”: This is really hard–but here goes: Mark Ellis, Los Angeles Times, Roger Angell, Roxette, Halle Berry, Babyface, Einstein Bros Bagels, Josh Beckett, Say Anything— not my jam, The Fonz—Travolta was the hotter version of this in Grease, I don’t know who Marla Maples or Justin Wayne are.

• What’s the worst sentence you’ve ever written?: Oh, God. So many. Um. My editor would probably say the sentence I wrote where I compared Puig to a peacock and said that the dandruff from his feathers seemed to be rubbing off on the rest of the team. My editor is a very understated, even-keeled guy but I think he actually shrieked when he read it and he definitely crossed it out with exclamation points. It did not make the book. We never spoke of it again.

• We both live in California. I’m despondent about the drought. What the hell are we gonna do?: I don’t know. I see all these jerks in my neighborhood who run their sprinklers all day and I want to scream. The grass in front of our apartment building is dead and it looks so sad and depressing and I was going to bitch to my landlord about it because it’s the only dead grass on our block but given the drought we’re in I’m sort of going to treat it as a badge of honor. But more practically? The only way we are going to get people to start making better decisions to help save our planet is to hit them in their wallets. It would be great if those parking enforcement people who patrol the streets of West Hollywood every day also ticketed people who let their sprinklers run in to the gutter. We need to fine households that use the most water. We should also say that like, cities that start with the letters A-L can only water on Monday/Wednesday/Friday and M-Z can only water on Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday. No one can water Sunday (or whatever day makes sense). And then we ticket the hell out of everyone who breaks these rules.

• How’d you land the name Molly?: I think my parents just liked it. But they thought I was a boy until I was born and were going to name me Michael.

• Three memories from your senior prom?: 1. We had our senior prom at the Disneyland hotel and 50 of us stayed in this suite that was the entire top floor of the hotel. It had a sauna and a gazebo and was so fun and we had a blast. My date was fantastic and there was no drama whatsoever; 2. Being on prom court with a bunch of other dorks, and being really glad my friend Kristi won prom queen because doing one of those wedding spotlight dances would have caused me to have a panic attack. I was not exactly the most confident teenager; 3. Not getting in trouble. After my junior prom I did not come home until 11 am the next day and got grounded for, like, six months. But it was totally not my fault.

• Five reasons one should attend Stanford over Harvard: 1. Weather; 2. Weather; 3. Weather; 4. Football; 5. Weather

• Would you rather drink a cup of Don Mattingly’s nasal hairs every week for a year or spend the next decade working as Kate Gosselin’s personal assistant?: Mattingly’s nasal hair.

• Five greatest sports journalists of your lifetime?: Could never pick five.

• Five nicest athletes you’ve covered? One biggest jerk?: I’m gonna go non-Dodger here. Nicest: Andre Iguodala, Derek Fisher, Raul Ibanez, Michael Cuddyer, Mike Sweeney. Biggest Jerk: Marion Barber.

• Can I borrow $5.65?: Sure.

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Kim Carnes

Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 1.32.32 PMI have a soft spot in my heart from Kim Carnes.

Now just because she’s a lovely human, a beautiful singer, an outstanding Quaz.

Nope, my soft spot comes from a moment that took place on the second date I ever had with my wife, Catherine. We were walking through Manhattan, and the topic of “We Are The World” came up. I know that song as well as I know Dave Fleming’s Seattle Mariner statistics (very well), and I told her this. She insisted that she, too, had the song down. So I started going line by line, naming the accompanying singers. When I reached “When weeeeee, stand together as one …” I said, “OK, who is it?”

Nary a pause: Kim Carnes.

I knew I found my match.

Carnes, of course, is much more than a trivia answer. She’s a Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter whose biggest smash, “Bette Davis Eyes,” was the biggest song of 1981. Carnes has written three No. 1 country tunes, and famously wrote and sang “Don’t Fall in Love with a Dreamer” alongside the great Kenny Rogers. She still performs regularly across the globe, and can be found on the web here.

Kim Carnes, you are the 215th Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Kim, these interviews tend to veer toward quirky, so I’m gonna veer toward quirky. For some reason I’ve been in a “We Are The World” phase the past few days. Played it a bunch of times, showed it to my kids. And I believe—truly—that the highest moment of the song comes when you, Huey Lewis and Cindy Lauper sing together. I wound up finding this, which gave some behind-the-moment access. I’m wondering—what do you remember from the “We Are The World” experience? Was it fun? Awful? Did you mind only having two words (“When we …”) to yourself? Did you like the song?

KIM CARNES: We arrived at A&M studios to a sign that read, “Leave your ego at the door.” I think the song was perfect. From standing next to Michael Jackson to meeting Bob Dylan for the first time … it was all just too cool. I wasn’t counting solo lines. Heck, I was just glad to be a part of this magical event. The best part was everyone signing one another’s sheet music.

J.P.: You’ve had an amazing career. Absolutely amazing. Hit songs. Grammy Awards. I wonder, as you approach 70, what matters to you, and what doesn’t? Like, do you care more about a hit record, or a song that goes ignored but kicks ass? Do the awards matter? Can you play for a crowd of 20 and be satisfied? Do you need a huge audience? Do you care if people recognize you? Does signing an autograph give you a lift?

K.C.: I don’t do numbers. I just jumped after reading your question. In my head I am a 17-year-old surfer, now and forever!

I am most proud of my last album, “Chasin Wild Trains.” I produced it and wrote or co-wrote with my incredibly talented pals. There was no one to say “no” and  no compromises. Not thinking about radio was so freeing. It made the project a true labor of love.  As a result, that album charted in several countries on the Americana charts and I did an amazing European tour in support of the CD.

I have the awards. I just want my peers to get what I do and to be moved. I play festivals for 15,000 people, benefit house concerts for a smaller group, and “in-the-round” songwriter shows at the Bluebird Café here in Nashville for 150 people.  I love it all. I am blown away that I get to do what I do.

J.P.: You’ve been married to your husband, David Ellingson, since 1967. Let me write that again: Since 1967. I feel like 98 percent of celebrities get married and divorced within a span of three years. How has your marriage lasted? And, since we’re on the subject, how did you meet?

K.C.: Dave and I met on the road. Marriage ain’t easy, but we’re both in the music business, which is a good thing. He understands how crazy it all is. Dave runs our publishing companies, plays percussion and sings background vocals in our shows. All our best friends are in the entertainment business and so we consider them family. Plus, we are crazy about our kids. Our motto has always been “Laugh a lot.”

J.P.: How do you write a song? Soup to nuts—what’s the process? How long does it take? Do you ever think it’s amazing, then realize it’s bad. Do you even think it’s bad, and everyone loves it? Do you have a space for writing?

K.C.: Writing by myself I write on keyboards and write the music and lyrics at the same time.  I have a restored 1930 Boston made “Mason & Hamlin” Baby grand piano.  I have played the same piano for 35 years.  I still love the sonics of a real acoustic piano.  It can take an hour or in some cases a year to finish a song.  Co-writing is usually done in a shorter amount of time.  I have a small, handful of writers that I love to work with.  The best co-writes are the songs that feel like they were written by one person.

J.P.: You turned “Bette Davis Eyes” into the biggest hit of 1981. I mean, it was enormous huge gigantic … and it’s one of the few songs you didn’t actually write. Two questions—A. Some 33 years later, do you ever get sick of singing the song (I’m assuming it’s a requisite part of the set list)?; B. Did it take away any feeling of accomplishment having not written it? Or does that not even matter?

K.C.: As a songwriter, I know a great song when I hear it. The original demo was very different.  My band, along with the producer (Val Garay) and I rehearsed “Bette Davis Eyes” for three days. The demo was light and bouncy, and we changed it to a dark and minor key. That lyric—“nailed me”—was absolute brilliance from Donna and Jackie. Yes, I sing it in every show. That record opened up the rest of the world for me.

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J.P.: I write mainly about athletes, and the line goes, “An athlete dies two deaths—when he retires, then when he dies.” What about singers? Is there an adjustment one has to make, as she/he ages, when she/he needs to accept, “OK, pop radio is done with me as a singer?” or, “I spent X years in arenas, and now it’s gonna be concert halls”? Does one have to adjust ego expectations?

K.C.: I just keep writing songs and doing shows and I really think that I am better at it now.  I never look back, always look forward to the next song, next show. One of my favorite lines is, “there is no future in the past.”

J.P.: Your dad was an attorney, your mom a hospital administrator. Music wasn’t a big part of their world. But here you are. So … Kim. How did this happen? When did you absolutely know you wanted to sing for your life? And what was the key moment (or moments) that made it a reality?

K.C.: I’ve gotta say that I knew from the age of 4 that I was going to write songs and sing them for people—much to my parents’ disapproval. Every day I came home from school and went straight to the piano to write and sing. I guess a key moment was when I signed my first publishing deal and actually got paid to write songs.  Producer Jimmy Bowen had a small company. His other writers were Glen Frey, Don Henley and J.D. Souther (pre-Eagles). Hanging out and sharing demo time with them just blew me away because they were so incredibly great.

J.P.: I just watched a clip of you on American Bandstand, and I have a question I’ve always wanted to ask: Does lip-synching your own songs suck as much as I imagine it sucks? It looks really uncomfortable and sorta nerve-wracking? And, in the 1980s, when those types of shows reigned, do you feel like it was known by viewers? Did it even matter?

K.C.: It’s much better to sing live. I don’t think it mattered to viewers back then, and it was not nerve-wracking. I so loved Dick Clark.

Arm in arm with Paul Simon, Michael Jackson and Diana Ross while singing "We Are The World."

Arm in arm with Paul Simon, Michael Jackson and Diana Ross while singing “We Are The World.”

J.P.: I’ll have moments when people say, “Yeah, so, eh, I really didn’t like your last book.” Or, “So … that article wasn’t as good as I expect from you.” I think they think they’re doing me a favor, but it infuriates me. Do you have that as a musician? And how do you take criticism? Not from writers or singers, but dudes on the street?

K.C.: Ya’ gotta have a thick skin. Right? Writers and musicians know better.

J.P.: What do you think of the music scene: 2014? What I mean is—albums don’t really exist, downloads are becoming obsolete, nobody sells millions of copies of anything—but Miley Cyrus will get 100,000,000 views on YouTube. Where are we going here?

K.C.: I miss the album. As an artist I agonize over the sequence. It matters to somebody. You have to dig to hear the good shit—but it’s out there.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH KIM CARNES:

• I’ve often argued that Daryl Hall is the best male vocalist of the last 30 years. People say I’m ludicrous. Is it a battle I can even possibly win?: Music is so subjective. Daryl Hall is a great singer, but there is no battle here, because it is about personal taste.  Right now, I wanna be Pharrell Williams and Sam Smith’s baby. Can you imagine the voice?

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Only when the toilets backed up on an over-night flight to Amsterdam.

• Five keys for a singer to keep her voice sharp?: Drink Drambuie (it coats the throat and adds a great show buzz. Have five shots).

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Connecticut, tater tots, Smokey Robinson, vodka, Rodney Peete, Robert’s Western World, challah, Taylor Swift, meatballs, Arnold Palmer, plastic containers, your bathroom: 1. Smokey Robinson, 2. Rodney Peete, 3. Vodka, 4. My bathroom, 5.—I just can’t finish this one. Too hard.

• How did your husband propose?: Quote:  “This is not a proposal, but I do plan to marry you”      Hmmmmmmmmm . . . . . . . . .

• What’s your all-time favorite item of clothing?: A pair of super-faded old red Converse high-tops!  (chlorine and salt-water)

• I beg of you to do a cover of this song. How about it?: I love the chorus.

• In exactly 13 words, what do you think of fried chicken?: “It tastes just like chicken.”

• One question you would ask Dwight Gooden were he here right now?: What’s up, Doc?

• How much would I have to pay for Kim Carnes to record my answering machine message?: How much you got?

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David Maraniss

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Back when I was a young sports writer coming up through the ranks, my dream was to follow the paths of people like William Nack and Tom Verducci and Mike Freeman and Dave Anderson. I wanted to be a guy who scored plumb assignments; whose byline could be found in some of America’s greatest newspapers and magazines.

I’ve never been at the level of those men, but I did sorta reach the goal. I spent a half decade writing for Sports Illustrated. Dream accomplished, cool beans and confetti galore.

When, in the early 2000s, I transitioned toward biography, I didn’t have the same ambitions. I knew very little about the book world, so—truly—the idea was to survive and, hopefully, carve out a career. A decade later, I’ve done that. But am I elite? Am I one of the greats of the genre? Um, no.

But David Maraniss is.

A three-time Pulitzer finalist (and 1996 winner) for his work as a reporter at the Washington Post, David is the author of six New York Times best sellers, including biographies on Barack Obama, Roberto Clemente and Vince Lombardi (I consider When Pride Still Mattered one of the three or four greatest sports books of all time). His new offering, Once In a Great City: A Detroit Story, comes out this September. You can follow him on Twitter here.

There are many excellent biographers out there.

There’s only one good enough to be the 214th Quaz Q&A …

JEFF PEARLMAN: David, we both write books—only yours are extraordinarily good. When I write mine, and I’m really deep into the reporting, I find myself turning into an insane person. I crave little details, I lose sleep over the stuff, all I want is more, more, more, more … almost like a literary crack addict. Do you get this way, too? Because you seem much too dignified to be chasing hits in such a manner?

DAVID MARANISS: One of the first requirements for me when I’m choosing a subject for my next book is that it has to be something I’m obsessed with. Not long into the process the book insinuates itself into my life and in a sense takes over. I resolve structural problems in my sleep. When we’re driving somewhere, my wife will turn and ask me, “What chapter are you on in your head?” I love details. They serve as more than dressing, but as the foundation of my narrative, and I’m always looking for more, but they have to add up to something more. Not detail for detail’s sake, but in the service of illumination.

J.P.: When asked why you wrote a biography of Barack Obama, you cited your “dismay over the modern American political culture.” What exactly do you mean by this?

D.M.: If you study American history, or world history, you see that politics is and always has been a blood sport, but I can only speak to my reaction to what I’ve experienced in my 40 years writing about politics. First I should say that I am not a political junkie, despite the fact that I have been a political journalist. The daily trivia of politics does not interest me, in fact bores me. What I am interested in is human nature and social history—why people do what they do and the forces that shape them. I am also—always—interested in the pursuit of truth, wherever that takes me. And the truth is almost never black and white, it has shades and nuances and contradictions, as do all of our lives. Think about what goes on your own head every day. Each of us knows that the thoughts we don’t share with others are often uneven, uncertain, confused, constantly changing, that we know there are seeds of refutation in almost every thought we have. That is human nature, that struggle. Yet our modern political culture completely negates that humanity. It encourages people to posture and lie and pretend they know it all. It makes it easy for them to only reinforce their views. This is particularly true on the right wing, which has gone over the cliff—rejecting science, demonizing opponents, saying green is yellow and two and two equals five. To call Barack Obama a socialist is to completely ignore who he really is and what he has done. Then there is the damage that huge sums of money have done to our democracy, shrouded in the false cloth of free speech. Money talks more than ever. I could go on for hours about this subject, but you get my point, I hope.

J.P.: For my money, you wrote one of the two or three greatest sports biographies of all time—When Pride Still Mattered. This might be a little too inside baseball for readers here but, eh, fuck it. How did you go about the project? Like, you decide you’re going to write about Lombardi … then what? What is your process? Do you report, then write? Do both simultaneously? And when do you know enough is enough?

D.M.: This is how Lombardi happened: I was on C-Span’s Book Notes with Brian Lamb talking about my first book, First in His Class, the biography of Bill Clinton. Late in the interview, Lamb asked me what my next book would be. I hadn’t decided. Somewhere in the back of my brain a signal came to me and I blurted out Vince Lombardi. Had not thought of it before, it just came out. The next week a letter arrived from a woman in New Hampshire, an old woman who said that her brother was Red Reeder, a hero of D-Day, who had been an assistant athletic director at West Point when Lombardi was an assistant coach there, that their families lived next to each other at West Point, and that Red was a great storyteller with a ton of Lombardi stories and that he was 88-years old and living in a retirement home near Fort Belvoir, Virginia. That was enough to get me going. I had to talk to Red while he was still around—and went out to visit him the next day.

But why Lombardi? It wasn’t enough that I grew up in Wisconsin while his Packers were winning those five championships in Green Bay. That was certainly part of why I would think of him, but not enough reason to do a book. I would never write a book about any other coach, or about Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers or any other Packer. I look for a combination of two things when pursuing a book. One is the arc of a dramatic story and the other is a chance to explore through that person’s life larger sociological and cultural themes that interest me. Lombardi had the dramatic arc. He struggled in the football vineyards for two decades before getting his shot. He was about to give up and become a banker when Green Bay happened, and he turned the American myth on its end, not the small town boy making good in the big city but the big city New York kid going out to godforsaken Green Bay and becoming an American icon. Which is the second part of it, the larger meaning of Lombardi. He became symbol for competition and success in American life, what it takes and what it costs. The combination of all that is what drew me to him.

Once I start a book, my motto is “Go There”—wherever there is. That meant turning to my wife and uttering the immoral loving words, “How would you like to move to Green Bay for the winter?” She said, “Brrr,” but agreed, and we went. It happened to be great timing—the winter of 1996-97 when the Packers won the Super Bowl. I had to live there, not only to do interviews with a lot of old-timers who knew Lombardi and his era, but also to endure a Green Bay winter since I knew the football climax of the book would be the Ice Bowl. We also spent two summers in New York, since the vast majority of Lombardi’s life was spent in the New York metropolitan area, from Sheepshead Bay to Fordham to Englewood, N.J. to West Point to Fair Haven, N.J.

My books tend to take three years or three and a half years. That’s my rhythm, not sure why but it is. I usually spend the first year or year and a half just reporting, then start to write. I know it when I feel it, but can’t explain or predict when that will be, except to say it will be somewhere near the midpoint. But I will keep reporting in various ways while writing for that final year and a half. So much of what you need becomes clearer when you start writing. I don’t differentiate much between the two. I love the research and I love the writing and think of them as one interwoven process.

J.P.: I know you’re from Madison, Wisconsin, I know you’ve worked for the Washington Post for more than 30 years, I know your books. But, well, what’s the journey? How did you know you wanted to be a journalist? When did the bug first bite? And when did you realize you could make something big of yourself in the field?

D.M.: I am third generation. My grandfather was a printer in Coney Island, Brooklyn. My dad was a newspaperman. My mother and siblings are all scholars. I was the dumb kid in the family who followed my dad into newspapers. Very lucky at that—it is the only thing I can do. I can’t change a light bulb. Once the dream of playing shortstop for the Milwaukee Braves ended at about age 10 I had nothing to turn to except writing. It has always come easily to me, and has allowed me to think of life as a constant graduate school. If you do it right, you are always learning something new. I started writing in college, covering high school sports and student riots (at the UW) for the local paper. Then I spent two years at Radio Free Madison, WIBA, writing and presenting my own 15-minute newscasts, which was a great experience, helping me refine my writing so that it could be read aloud and understood. Then my wife and I realized we had to get out of Madison, it was too idyllic and we would be stuck there forever if we didn’t leave. I applied for jobs up and down the east coast and got hired by the Trenton Times. Stroke of luck. This was 1975 and it had just been bought by the Washington Post and for a brief period served as the Post’s farm club of sorts. A tough and great Post editor named Dick Harwood was sent up to Trenton. During my job search on the  east coast, I stopped off at my aunt’s house on Coney Island and left my clips at Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog stand. When I got to Trenton, I told Harwood that I left my clips at Nathan’s but that if he hired me I would be his best reporter in six months. He hired me. Two years later I was at the Washington Post.

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J.P.: I can’t tell if covering a presidential election is awful or amazing. I mean, it seems like—if you’re cynical—it can be, at times, mind-numbingly painful. But also riveting. I’ve never had the beat. So tell me, David, what’s it like? At its best? At its worst?

D.M.: At its best it allows you to see America in ways you would never see otherwise. Even for all the repetition and grind and shallowness of the daily experience, it is a great way to see the country. At its worst it is meaningless and has very little to do with anything remotely related to reality. I would travel on the campaigns mostly just for a week or so at a time, observing the candidate and trying to land an interview. There is a danger of Stockholm Syndrome along with all else, where the reporters start rooting for the candidate they are covering. That, or grow cynical and sarcastic. Either way, it can be a dangerous thing, and boring.

J.P.: Has Barack Obama been a great president, an average one, a disappointing one? Is he what you thought he’d be?

D.M.: Barack Obama has been the president I thought he would be. Cautious, rational, marching to his own tune at his own rhythm, sometimes seeming behind the curve, sometimes ahead of the curve, rarely right at the curve. He has been completely misunderstood by the conservatives who hate him and the left liberals who have felt disappointed by him. I certainly don’t agree with everything he has done, but I understand why he has acted the way he has. Again, that is a subject I could go on for for hours. He got defined by the Hope and Change theme, but that was contrived. He is just a smart, rational, cautious, sometimes frustrating, well intentioned, passive-aggressive, coolly reserved, self-contained politician.

J.P.: Your 2006 Roberto Clemente biography is considered the definitive work on the man. How did you, specifically, go about writing and reporting his death? Did you expect to uncover new things? Are there places to look that other writers perhaps ignored? And, even though it happened some 30 years ago, do you still feel the sadness in the midst of reporting?

D.M.: This was one book where I knew the climax before I started. I was a young radio reporter working New Year’s Eve in 1972 on the night Clemente died. I devoted an entire five-minute broadcast. But I did not know the real details beyond that he died in a plane crash delivering humanitarian goods to Nicaragua after the earthquake. In reporting the book I knew that most plane crashes resulted in some sort of lawsuit. True this time too. But where were the documents? They were missing from the federal court in San Juan where they might have been. The federal appeals court in Boston only had technical appeal records. I put together a list of lawyers in the case and interviewed those still alive. Finally after a three-hour interview with the lawyer who represented the FAA in the case he said, “Okay you’re the one.” And he got up from his desk and walked over to a closet and came out with three boxes labeled CLEMENTE. And there were all the documents … the whole sad story in airport records, depositions, charts, maps, memos … a gold mine that allowed me to tell the story as it had never been told before. As I put it all together my sadness merged with anger at the misfeasance and incompetence that led to the crash and death of the unwitting and determined Clemente.

J.P.: You probably get asked to write book jacket blurbs for tons of books—because I do, and I’m nowhere near your league. Do you do them all? Some? Do you read the entire manuscript? A chapter or two? And what do you do if the book sorta sucks?

D.M.: I have only one requirement. Did the author really do the work? As another author, you know exactly what I mean. Reviewers don’t get it, readers often don’t get it, but anyone who has plied the fields of non-fiction knows, almost immediately, whether someone is faking it or has really done the work. If they have, I know how hard it is to do, and feel an obligation to support my brothers and sisters to that end, for whatever it’s worth.

J.P.: Are you accepting of the inevitable death of print? Is it inevitable? And how have you adjusted to the digital age of journalism?

D.M.: I am one step past being an old fogey. I do Twitter and Facebook. I live newspapers and books but accept the reality that they will transform and transmute in ever changing ways. Formats change but two things remain eternal, or so I hope—the human need to understand ourselves through story and the essential need to search for truth and separate fact from misinformation.

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J.P.: You co-authored The Prince of Tennessee: Al Gore Meets His Fate. So I’ll ask two things: 1. Do you think Gore would have been a good president? 2. Gore has become the right’s favorite target, RE: climate change. Do you think he’s hurt the movement or helped the movement?

D.M.: He’s a competent, smart person with odd tic to his personality. Probably would have been a better president than presidential loser. Now very good at making tons of money.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH DAVID MARANISS:

Celine Dion offers you $12 million to ghost write her autobiography, Celine: I’ll Fuck You Up. Downside: You have to work 363 days over the next year, move to Las Vegas, mow her 17-acre lawn once per week and only eat canned corn and tuna fish for the duration. You in?: NEVER. NOT A CHANCE. NOT EVEN with or WITHOUT THE MONEY. I don’t ghost write or do other’s bidding, ever. Though I actually like tuna fish.

• Rank in order (favorite to least):  Dan Quayle, George Steinbrenner, John Smoltz, Faye Dunaway, Ricky Nattiel, The Princess Bride, Budd Dwyer, your left elbow, Howard Bryant, Chips Ahoy, Manute Bol, oyster crackers, Joan Jett: Manute Bol, John Smoltz, The Princess Bride, my left elbow, Howard Bryant, Joan Jett, oyster crackers, Chips Ahoy, Ricky Nattiel (not a Broncos guy, ever), Budd Dwyer, Faye Dunaway (in real life; like her in films), Dan Quayle, George Steinbrenner.

• Fill in the blank: In 25 years, there will be …: no print newspapers anywhere in the world.

• Three nicest political figures you’ve ever dealt with? Biggest jerk?: Nicest: Morris Udall, Ed Markey, John Lewis. Biggest jerk: David Duke

• The next president of the United States will be …: Pat Paulson

• What’s the most shocking non-death political moment of your lifetime?: Nothing shocks me.

• In 17 words, make an argument for/against Hannibal Hamlin?: How about this: I never saw the movie, never intend to. Have absolutely no interest in it.

• Five greatest biographers of your lifetime?: Robert Caro, Robert Caro, Robert Caro, Robert Caro, Robert Caro

• Biggest mistake you’ve ever made as a journalist?: Whenever I followed the crowd, I regretted it.

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John Martignoni

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Several months ago I was driving around California, listening to talk radio, when I stumbled upon a man who swore that prayer works.

I listened and listened and listened, scoffing with each word. I couldn’t understand how this Catholic dude was so certain in his faith, when so many things seem (in my opinion) to point toward his wrongheadedness. I mean, God? Really? When we live in a world of cancer and ISIS and heart attacks and Al Queda and suicide bombings and on and on? C’mon.

But John Martignoni kept talking, kept pushing, kept insisting. And, at that moment, I thought to myself, “This guy would make an awesome Quaz.” So here we are …

John is the founder of the Bible Christian Society, an apostolate “dedicated to explaining and defending the Scriptural foundations of the Catholic faith.” He also hosts EWTN’s Open Line program every Monday at 3 pm Eastern/12 pm Pacific, and is big enough that there’s a website out there dedicated to well, thrashing everything he says. Now that’s oomph.

One can follow John on Twitter here, and visit the Bible Christian Society here.

John Martignoni, you’ve been blessed with the 213th Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So John, I really appreciate you doing this. And I want to start with this: A couple of nights ago I was driving home, listening to your radio program, and a caller was talking about how everything was falling apart in his life, and he prayed and prayed and prayed, but nothing had improved. And he asked you, “Is there more I can be doing?” And your answer, more or less, was “God answers prayers by either saying no, yes or you won’t know what the answer is—but He’ll answer.” Which really had me scratching my head. Because, if that’s the case, aren’t you saying, “Prayer is a waste of time—because you’ll likely get the same results by flipping a coin?”

JOHN MARTIGNONI: Jeff, I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to be Quazed. I am truly humbled.

Now, regarding your question, your analogy of prayer to flipping a coin is a bit flawed, and I think it is because you don’t view God as a person, but rather as some sort of impersonal “force” that’s out there somewhere—if He exists at all. A Christian, however, views God as a person and He relates to us in a personal manner.

A better analogy would be a child asking his parents for a particular birthday gift. Do you believe he has the exact same odds of getting that birthday gift as he would if he didn’t ask his parents but simply flipped a coin instead? Was he wasting his time by asking his parents for what he wanted? I think, and correct me if I’m wrong, that you would say the child has a better chance of receiving what he wants if he asks his parents for it than if he didn’t ask his parents and simply flipped a coin, right? Just so the Christian in prayer.

To continue along those lines, what if the child asks for something that is potentially harmful to him? What if a 6-year old asked for a .357 magnum for his birthday? Would the parents go ahead and give him that potentially harmful gift for his birthday? No, of course they wouldn’t. What if that 6-year old asks for a .357 magnum every year for the next 10 years or so, and still doesn’t get it? But, come his 22nd birthday, his parents get him a .357 magnum. His request was finally answered, but way way after he wanted it to be answered. Or, maybe instead of a .357 magnum, his parents bought him a deer rifle because he was really into hunting. Prayer answered—he got a gun—but just not in the exact way in which it was asked for. Or, maybe he never got his .357 magnum, or anything at all like it, ever.

Just so God in answering prayer. Sometimes the person will get what he/she asked for immediately. Sometimes he/she will get it, but much later. Sometimes he/she will get it, but in a different form than how it has been asked for. And, sometimes he/she will never get it.

God knows better than we do what is good for us. Quite often we unknowingly ask for that which will actually harm us. A lot of people pray to win the lottery. But a lot of people who win the lottery have their lives ruined and end up wishing they had never won it. The fact is, Christians look at things from a different perspective than atheists/agnostics. For a Christian, the proper perspective is an eternal one, not a temporal one (Matthew 6:19-21). If you are praying for something, and God knows that if you get this particular thing it will end up ruining your soul and putting you on the path to Hell, should He give it to you? Yes or no?

Now, I know the folks who don’t believe in Hell and Heaven and Satan and God will scoff at this particular point, but for the sake of argument, let’s say that Heaven and Hell—eternal bliss and eternal pain—do indeed exist. Should a parent give his or her child a birthday gift that will give the child short-term pleasure but that could result in serious injury or death? Should God give someone something they ask for if it will give that person temporal pleasure but result in the damnation of their soul?

No, prayer is not the same as flipping a coin. Just as a child asking his parents for a particular birthday gift is not the same as flipping a coin. Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes the answer is no, sometimes the answer is not now, and sometimes the answer is yes, but not quite in the way you wanted. But it does require faith—the faith of a child in a parent to protect them and look after them and do what is best for them.

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J.P.: I’m gonna say something you clearly disagree with, and I’d love to hear why I’m wrong. Namely, I feel like churches use faith as the ultimate weapon. If something great happens—See! Faith pays off! If something awful happens—You just need to have faith! If someone dies, even though you prayed and prayed—Hey, God works in mysterious ways! If you win the lottery—God is rewarding you! To me, there’s another word for it. Well, two words: Shit happens. But the church seems to sell people on the power of faith for all circumstances. I just don’t buy it. Again—why am I wrong?

J.M.: Actually, I agree with you, in part. You appear to be making an assumption, though, that Catholic Christians are like many of the Christians you probably see on TV or hear on the radio. Not necessarily so. There are a lot of ministers on the airwaves who preach what is known as a “Health and Wealth” gospel. The focus is on God wanting you to be healthy and wealthy in this life. If you are, it’s because you have faith and, if you’re not, well, it’s your fault because you don’t have enough faith. Send me $25 and I’ll pray for you to get that faith. So, yes, I would not buy what those folks are selling.

For the Catholic Christian, however, faith is not a weapon that necessarily yields material benefits or temporal cures. Faith does have power for all circumstances, but again, it is more about the eternal perspective than the temporal perspective. Faith is indeed a powerful weapon, especially when wielded with hope and the ultimate weapon—love. But it is a weapon that yields victories in the spiritual realm for those who wield it, not the material realm. Jesus promised His followers that they could count on suffering in this world (see Matthew 5:11-12; 10:21-23; 24:9; Luke 9:23-25; John 15:18-19; amongst others). Being healthy and wealthy in this life are not bad things, but they are not the goal. Living a long time in this life is not a bad thing, but it is not the goal. The goal is to get to Heaven, and to take as many people with you as possible. Quite often, as we see in the case of the wealthy young man (Matthew 19:16-22), material things can keep you from Jesus. The material can become your god and lead you away from the spiritual; lead you away from the one true God.

So faith does indeed have power in all circumstances, but if someone is trying to tell you that if you just have faith then everything will be all peaches and cream, then they are selling you a bill of goods.

One other thing: I find it interesting in your question that you recognize that there is bad (“shit”) and there is good (that which happens when the shit isn’t). You also seem to have a sense of right and wrong that you use to judge things. Well, why do you recognize some things as being good and some as being bad? Right or wrong? Aren’t those value judgments? Aren’t those type of judgments entirely subjective sans God? I mean, who are you to say that a minister using “faith as the ultimate weapon” is not a good thing? What if that minister feels it’s okay to do that? What if that is a legitimate bearing on his particular moral compass? By what right do you pass judgment on him? In other words, if morality is entirely subjective, which it is without God, then why does something like what you described bother you? Isn’t it okay for those ministers to use faith that way if they think it’s okay to do it? Just something to think about …

J.P.: Here’s what I know. You’re on the radio, you love Jesus, you’re the founder and president of the Bible Christian Society. But how did this happen. Womb to now? Where are you from? When did you first start thinking about God and religion? When did you realize this was what you’d do for your career?

J.M.: Well, I’ll give a short summary here, but if someone wants to have some of the details filled in, they can click on My Conversion Story.

Anyway, I was born in Huntsville, Alabama—home of the space program. I was raised Catholic, but learned little about my faith growing up. I basically left the faith when I went off to the University of Alabama and was pretty much a hellion for about 13 years or so—breaking many Commandments many times over. I received a Bachelor’s degree in corporate finance and then an MBA. My goal was to be a millionaire by 30. Went to work in the defense industry as a cost analyst. Got tired of that. After several years, went back to school (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) to work on a PhD in finance. Didn’t like it and left the program after one year, but during that year I had come back to the faith through a series of “coincidences.” Went to work for a year as a finance instructor at the University of North Alabama. Then volunteered for Covenant House (they work with runaway and throwaway teens living on the street) in Anchorage for about eight months until the cold got to me in mid-December. Left Alaska for Guatemala with the intent of spending three months learning Spanish at an intensive language school and then working for Covenant House in Guatemala City. After two months, I got some unfriendlies in my system, lost 15 pounds in three weeks and had to come home to the United States for medical treatment.

Landed in Birmingham, Alabama, and got a job working in the investments division of a bank. Stayed in banking for a few years, but gave that up to go to work for a Salesian ministry (the Salesians are an order of priests and brothers in the Catholic Church—like the Jesuits, Franciscans, and such) in a poor area of Birmingham as their business manager. I oversaw the workings of two youth oratories, a free food pantry, free medical/legal clinic, free furniture warehouse, a job training program and other such programs aimed at helping the poor, and particularly, the children of the poor. One day I heard a particularly vile anti-Catholic program airing on the radio that was being broadcast by an evangelical station in Birmingham. I called to complain and that they should allow a Catholic to come on and respond. They ignored me. I don’t like being ignored. I wrote them a letter threatening to picket the station, boycott their sponsors, and other such things until they allowed a Catholic on to respond to that program. I didn’t mean me, but that’s the way it eventually worked out. I went on their station’s afternoon live show for an hour and a half one day and caused quite a stir. The response to that hour and a half led, several months later, to me having a one-hour-per-week live program, talking about the Catholic faith, on that very same station—the largest Evangelical station in Alabama.

The response to my weekly radio program led to two things happening:

1) My being invited to speak at local parishes about the Catholic faith and the Bible. Some of my talks were recorded and wound up being aired on several Catholic stations around the country through EWTN Global Catholic Radio. People started calling, wanting copies of the talks. Then they started calling asking if I could travel to their state to speak to their parish. An apologetics apostolate (ministry) was born—the Bible Christian Society. It just kept snowballing until I was traveling all over the country and sending out tens of thousands of tapes/CDs all over the world each year.

2) A full-blown Catholic radio station came to Birmingham about a year later and I wound up as the general manager of the station. I did that for about four years, but the Bible Christian Society was taking up so much of my time,that I went full-time with that in January of 2003.

I was on my own with the Bible Christian Society for about six years when the bishop of the Diocese of Birmingham asked me to become his Director of Evangelization (2009). So, I do that, but I still also run the Bible Christian Society—traveling to give talks and distributing CDs and mp3s and writing an email newsletter that has more than 30,000 subscribers in over 70 countries—and I run the Catholic radio station in town, and on Monday afternoons, 2-3 pm (Central), I host a radio program on the EWTN Global Catholic Radio Network, which is now on about 250 stations around the country. One of which you heard me on.

And, between all of that, I managed to fit in a wife and four beautiful kids.

Now, when it comes to knowing I would be doing this for my career, I tell people that I never planned to do it—I still don’t—but that I got dragged into it kicking and screaming. But, since I find myself with the responsibility of having people who want to hear what I have to say and who want to read what I write, I am taking the responsibility seriously and doing the best I can with the little I’ve been given, for as long as God gives me the opportunity.

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J.P.: You devote yourself to teaching Catholicism, and trying to get others to follow. But how do you know you’re right? Hell, there are hundreds of other clergy from hundreds of other branches of Christianity and different religions who are equally certain they’re right. So … what if you’re wrong? I mean, surely you must admit to the possibility, no?

J.M.: Well, I know I am right because everything I teach is in conformity with the faith of the Catholic Church. They are also in conformity with reason. I know the Catholic Church is right based on logic, common sense and the evidence of history and science. When it comes to Christianity, you are indeed right—there are actually tens of thousands of Protestant denominations, each of whom are certain they are right. I have dealt with a couple thousand or so Protestants firsthand over the last several years, all of whom believe they are right and I (i.e., my Catholic beliefs) am wrong. They cannot answer my arguments, though. I even have a YouTube series entitled: Questions Protestants Can’t Answer.

I always ask questions of anyone who believes the Catholic Church is wrong—questions that are based on the aforementioned common sense, logic and history (as well as biblical questions), that Protestants cannot answer in a consistent manner. Just a quick example, a series of questions I would ask Protestants goes like this: How long ago did Jesus live? Two thousand years ago. Did Jesus found a church? Yes. How many churches did Jesus found? One. Can the one church Jesus founded 2,000 years ago in Israel be the Presbyterian Church of America? Um … hello? No, it can’t be. The Lutheran Church? The Anglican Church? The Methodist Church? And so on. The answer to all of those questions, based on history, common sense, and logic, is no. In other words, none of those Protestant churches can be the church Jesus founded in Israel 2,000 years ago. So we can eliminate a lot of this nonsense of tens of thousands of churches by just using some good ol’ fashioned common sense. I have a number of such questions that I ask, that have never been answered in a consistent manner. I follow the same strategy with atheists/agnostics as well.

So, no, after going through the arguments—using logic, common sense, history, Scripture, and science—I do not admit to the possibility that I could be wrong, as long as my beliefs are in accord with the teachings of the Church. I didn’t mention this above in my “bio,” but when I first came back into the Church after being out for so long, I asked a lot of questions and I did a lot of doubting. I rejected a number of Church teachings. But, upon thoughtful examination of what the Church teaches and why, I discovered that all of the evidence points to one and only one rational conclusion—the Catholic Church is right in what it teaches, and it teaches that Jesus is God and that He loves us so much that He was willing to die for us on the cross in order to save us. I believe that if someone is truly open to hearing the truth, and they thoughtfully, rationally, and carefully examine the evidence the Church presents on her own behalf, that they will come to the same conclusion that I have arrived at after years of searching. The Catholic Church is not afraid of being questioned. What I so often find, though, is that people ask questions not wanting to hear the answers and they do not respond logically and rationally to the answers that are given. Rather, they quite often attack those who provide the answers.

However, one thing I tell each and every person who challenges me is that I will carefully listen to and evaluate their arguments, if they will do the same with mine. And I tell them that if they can prove to me that the Catholic Church is wrong on any single one of its doctrines … just one … then I will renounce my faith, because it wouldn’t make sense to belong to a church that could teach error. After all, could a church founded by God, teach error? And I am absolutely serious when I tell them that. Truth does not fear error, it is the other way around.

Now, I have a question for you: You say you are an agnostic, but doesn’t that means that you basically give lip service to the idea that God “might” exist, but you essentially live and behave as an atheist? Agnostic in theory, atheist in practice? That has been the case with every one of a number of agnostics I’ve come across. So, my question for you is: If you are truly open to the possibility that God exists, then isn’t the answer to the question of whether or not there is a God, the most important thing you could be searching for, since the ramifications could be quite eternal? Are you then, earnestly seeking that answer? [Jeff’s answer: I call myself an agnostic to be nice and because it’s possible aliens harvested eggs or something. But when it comes to the idea that this one all-knowing being loves us, but sends us to hell if we don’t believe and accept. Well, I’m an atheist]

With Janel, his wife.

With Janel, his wife.

J.P.: I know many people who believe, strongly, that we need to teach God and the Ten Commandments in our public schools. This strikes me as an awful idea—as an agnostic Jew, I don’t need my kids learning this stuff from a public school teacher. What’s your take?

J.M.: Let’s see, you’re opposed to having public school kids learn that lying is wrong, that murder is wrong, that stealing is wrong, that adultery is wrong and that honoring your mother and father is right? Those are all things you would oppose being taught to public school kids? I do indeed think the public schools should be teaching the Ten Commandments. Of course, the teachers need to be properly instructed on how to teach them, but I do indeed they need to be taught. Furthermore, I think the intellectual/philosophical proofs of God’s existence should be taught. I think the public school kids ought to have all of the information available to them about the arguments for God, and against God, in order to make a decision as to what they are going to believe and why they believe it. Do you not believe it is a good thing to have as much information as possible when making a decision, and particularly a decision as important as this one? [Jeff’s answer: I don’t think it’s the place for public school—period]

Again, as an agnostic—which means, as I understand it, that you are open to the possibility of there being a God—why is your default position an atheistic one rather than a theistic one? If the Judeo/Christian God does indeed exist, then shouldn’t His Commandments be talked about in public school?

J.P.: So the Bible is the word of God. But it was, by all accounts, written down by man. Meaning, God didn’t send the book—he sent the messages, which were inscribed. If this is the case, John, and if man is fallible, isn’t it possible the Bible contains mistakes, and perhaps we shouldn’t take it quite so literally?

J.M.: The Bible was indeed written down by man. Man is indeed fallible. However, God inspired the authors to write what they wrote. God is the primary author, and man is the secondary author. If there is a God and He is who He says He is, then no, the Bible cannot contain mistakes, as God does not make any mistakes. There are passages of the Bible that we may have trouble understanding and that might be confusing to us, and that we may have trouble reconciling—the Church Fathers have recognized this for 2,000 years—but that does not mean there are mistakes in the Bible. It just means that there are holes in our understanding of the Bible. It just means that sometimes we have to dig a little deeper to uncover the meaning in any given passage.

The evidence to back up what I just said about God inspiring man to write an inerrant Bible is way too involved to get into in a venue such as this, but suffice it to say, once again, that my belief in this matter is based on logic, common sense, history and science. It is not, as some would believe, simply blind faith. Blind faith is not the faith of Catholicism. For the honest inquirer, I would be happy to spend time to give the reasoning behind my statements here.

J.P.: Why don’t churches deal more with climate change? It strikes me as a natural fit—God’s creation being destroyed by man. No?

J.M.: Well, first of all, climate change is always occurring. Sometimes the world is in a cycle of warming, sometimes it is in a cycle of cooling. Not much the church, or anyone else, can do about that, is there? But, I suspect you are referring to so-called man-made climate change, which, until just a few years ago, was commonly known as “global warming.” Ever ask yourself why the purveyors of this crap changed the verbiage? Maybe because the evidence of global warming was melting away, and also that there was little to no proof that the supposed global warming was being caused by man?

By the way, are you aware that the models that are used by these purveyors of climatic doom—the ones that predict what the temperature is going to be 50 years from now and so on—are models that are written down by man? And, if man is fallible, isn’t it possible the models contain mistakes and perhaps we shouldn’t take them quite so literally? I mean, if the models that are used by the weathermen today cannot always predict within even a few degrees what the temperature is going to be one week from now, how is it that basically those same models are said to be capable of absolutely predicting within a half a degree what the temperature is going to be 50 years from now? Let’s talk blind faith, shall we?

But, let’s say the earth is warming and that this warming is proven to be indisputably caused by man. So what? Why is that necessarily a bad thing? What if that turns out to be actually preventing another ice age? That would be a good thing, wouldn’t it? Another thing, did you know that the oceans were actually about 100 feet or so higher than they are now something like 100 million years ago? Doesn’t that mean that the earth was a lot hotter then than it is now? Somehow, though, life survived and the earth survived. So, why is global warming a bad thing?

So sorry, but I’m not drinking the global warming/climate change Kool-Aid. I thought it was pretty funny last summer when the ship that went down to the Antarctic to prove to the world that global warming was occurring got stuck in an ice flow that was much wider and thicker than anything recorded down there in a long time. Global warming crusader ship stranded in record ice flow. I think the word is ironic.

However, just because I don’t buy the global warming garbage doesn’t mean I don’t believe man should be a good steward of the earth. He should be, and indeed, the church teaches as much. Pope Francis has made several statements in this regard, as did Popes Benedict and John Paul II. In fact, Pope Francis is coming out with an encyclical letter in the near future on the stewardship of the earth. Why, he might even buy into the whole global warming thing, I don’t know. But whatever his point of view on it, this encyclical will be about taking care of our planet. So, yes, the church cares about the environment as well as the people that live in it. That’s why we want an environment that can sustain life for our future generations, and why we want our future generations to have life. So we fight against the rape of the earth and the murder of our future generations in the womb. To be morally-consistent, we believe one must do both.

J.P.: John, have you at all changed your thoughts since the Pope came out with his position on climate change?

J.M.: When the Pope speaks authoritatively on matters of faith and morals, we are, as Catholics, obliged to give it the assent of faith. The same, however, does not hold true when the Pope speaks on matters outside of faith and morals—science, math, politics, economics, etc. When it comes to man-made global warming, that is not a matter of faith and morals.  The Pope has his opinion on that specific issue, and I respect his opinion, however, it is just that—an opinion. I will hear it and respectfully consider it. However, since this is an issue of science, not faith and morals, we are free to disagree with him on this matter. As for my thoughts on the matter, I will consider changing my mind when the meteorological models can accurately predict the high and low temperatures of every day for the next month here in Birmingham, within one degree.  When they are able to do that, then I will believe they might, one day, be able to accurately—within a degree or two—predict what the average world-wide temperature will be in 50 years. Until then, though, I’m not buying it.

Family shot back in 2006

Family shot back in 2006

J.P.: I’m the great-grandson of Holocaust victims. My great-grandma was killed in the gas chambers at Auschwitz for one reason: She was Jewish. Hence, I just can’t believe you’d want to convert Jews (millions of whom have similar stories) to Christianity. After all they’ve been through, after the struggles for survival. It just seems, well, messed up. Tell me why I’m wrong?

J.M.: Well, to consider converting to Catholicism as if it would somehow be adding to the suffering of the Holocaust is a bit “messed up,” don’t you think? Are you aware that all of the first Christians, for a number of years after Jesus’ death, were Jews? Christianity is not a departure from Judaism, it is a fulfillment of. That’s why someone who is Jewish and familiar with the synagogue service is actually more at home in a Catholic Mass than most non-Catholic Christians are. Also, you might want to read the story of St. Edith Stein. She was a Jewish philosopher in Germany in the 1920s and 30s. She was a student/colleague of Husserl and Heidegger. Brilliant mind. She wound up converting to Catholicism and becoming a nun. She didn’t think it too terribly burdensome and painful to do so. She died at Auschwitz.

If the Catholic Faith is true, than convincing someone of that truth no more adds to the suffering of the Holocaust than convincing someone of some mathematical or scientific truth does. Think about this. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the Catholic Church is right about God and about Jesus and about salvation and the Bible and all the other things it teaches that Jews would disagree with from a theological point of view. Would it be an act of charity to share that truth with the Jewish people, or would it be “messed up”? Which is the greater act: to share truth with others, or to keep it to yourself and refuse to share it with others? Now, you may not agree that it is the truth, but that is not the point. The point is, we believe it is the truth. Given that belief, how should a moral person act?

The concern of the Catholic who is attempting to convert a Jew, or a Muslim, or an atheist, or an agnostic, or a Mormon, or a Baptist, or anyone else is the salvation of one’s soul. The Catholic believes that a person, any person, has the best chance of salvation in and through the Catholic Church. Given that belief, it is out of love that we reach out to anyone and everyone to share the wonders of our faith with them. You might disagree with our arguments, or find them un-persuasive, but you cannot disagree with the reason behind our making them and presenting them to one and all. It is done out of love.

J.P.: I don’t see any good reason why homosexuality is sinful. Like, none. I mean, is it an anal sex thing? Because the gays I know are kind, compassionate loving, good parents, great role models. And it seems like the Catholic church has taken the sinful role of damning quality people to hell for no real good reason.

J.M.: Well, if there is no God, then there is nothing that is sinful, right? However, even if there is no God, it can still be argued that same-sex acts are contra nature. From a Darwinian perspective, what is the number one law of nature? Survival of the species, right? Well, for the survival of the species, nature has designed men and women in a complementary fashion for the purpose of procreation—for the purpose of the continued existence of the species. I mean, pretty much anyone with a modicum of intelligence can look at a man’s body and a woman’s body and come to the conclusion that nature designed them to join together. Do you come to the same conclusion, however, about two men’s bodies and two women’s bodies? No, you don’t. In other words, the joining of two men’s bodies is contra nature. It is a priori unnatural. It runs counter to the design of nature and, by extension, to nature’s No. 1 law—the survival of the species. And, sorry to be a bit graphic here, but can you name me a doctor who believes it is a healthy thing for someone to rub human feces (“shit”) on their sexual organs? Or, to get it all over your fingers and hands? Is that healthy? Would you consider fisting, especially between two men, a healthy act of love? Is it an act of love to ignore the health risks of such a lifestyle? Do you know the incidence of AIDS, rectal cancer, tuberculosis, and many other diseases among males who are same-sex attracted?

And, when it comes to two women, that, too, is a priori unnatural. For starters, two women cannot join together—they are missing something that is rather important in the joining process.

Suffice it to say, that same-sex activity is contra nature. And, if there is a God of nature, then it is contrary to the God of nature.

So, if doing something that is contrary to the design of nature and contrary to the design of nature’s God—and it’s also something that can be very harmful to a person’s health—isn’t “sinful,” then I don’t know what is.

But, I wish to correct you on something—the Catholic Church doesn’t condemn anyone to Hell. We choose our own paths in this life. The Church simply warns folks of where certain choices might land them. This is not done out of spite or malice or hatred, it is done out of love. Believing what we believe, it would be the most heinous act of hate and/or indifference toward our fellow man to say nothing, would it not. Whether someone is “kind, compassionate, loving, good parents, great role models,” or not is not the point. There are many people who commit many and varied types of sins—great and small—who could be described in the same manner. Going to Heaven or going to Hell is about accepting God or rejecting God. And it’s about repenting and asking for forgiveness for the sins we do commit. And with God, it’s sort of an all-or-nothing thing. You can’t say, “Well, yeah, I’ll accept God on this, but I reject Him on that.” It’s all in.

Finally, I find it quite curious that you would describe anything anyone does as being “sinful.” If there is no God, then nothing the Catholic Church does is sinful, as there is no such thing as sin. So by what moral authority do you call the Catholic Church “sinful” in its teachings on homosexuality? [Jeff’s note: Why does a God-like creature need to determine right v. wrong? Why is it impossible for humanity to devise such a system?]

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH JOHN MARTIGNONI:

• Five reasons one should make Birmingham, Alabama his/her next vacation spot?: 1) It’s only 90 minutes from Huntsville, Alabama, which is God’s country; 2) It’s on the Robert Trent Jones golf trail—some of the best golf courses anywhere; 3) Some of the best micro breweries around; 4) Home of EWTN Television and Radio—largest religious broadcasting network in the world; 5) The incredibly beautiful Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament is close by in Hanceville, Alabama, just 45 minutes north.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Don Drysdale, Ted Cruz, Benjamin Netanyahu, The A-Team, Snoop Dogg, chopped carrots, Carson City, Black Friday, Guy Laroche: 1) Benjamin Netanyahu (anybody who can run a country surrounded on all sides by folks who want to kill you has got somethin’ going on); 2) Don Drysdale (if you had Fergie Jenkins on the list instead of Drysdale, I might have had to make him No. 1 and Netanyahu No. 2); 3) The A-Team (I love it when a plan comes together); 4) chopped carrots (can’t go wrong with carrots); 5) Carson City (always loved the Ponderosa); 6) Ted Cruz (better than your average politician, but still a politician); 7) Snoop Dogg (don’t much care for his music, but got nothing against him on a personal level); 8) Guy Laroche (don’t know who he is, but he’s got to be better than #9); 9) Black Friday.

• I hate doing my laundry. Any advice?: Join a nudist colony.

• Best joke you know?: An infinite number of mathematicians walk into a bar. The first one orders one beer. The second one orders half a beer. The third one orders a quarter of a beer. The fourth one orders an eighth of a beer and so on. After the 8th or 9th order, the bartender pours two beers and says, “You guys ought to know your limits.”

• What’s the most confusing Bible verse you’ve come across?: Well, I don’t know if “confusing” is the right word as much as “difficult” is. There are a number of Bible verses that can be difficult to understand, but I guess one that I have wondered about and that no one really has a good handle on exactly what is being talked about, is 1 Corinthians 15:29—baptizing on behalf of the dead. People have their theories as to what is being mentioned here, but no one knows for sure.

• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between you and Dr. Oz? What’s the outcome?: Well, I don’t know who Dr. Oz is, but if he could go 12 rounds, then he would win, because I would probably need an oxygen tent after three.

• One question you would ask Roger Ebert were he here right now?: How did you come back from the dead?

• Why is dropping the occasional curse such a bad thing? I love cursing: I used to love cursing as well, especially on the golf course. Even had one guy who saved a particular “off color” message I left on his answering machine for a couple of years and he would play it every so often for friends because it was so creative in its use of cuss words that it would leave ‘em laughing. Anyway, why is cursing a bad thing? Well, first of all, if there is no God, which means there is no objective standard of good or bad, then cursing is neither a bad thing or a good thing, right? However, if there is a God, and you believe in Him, then you might want to pay attention to what He says, “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, this ought not to be so.” (James 3:10) If you wish to imitate Christ with your life, then cursing is not really the way to do it, is it? After all, from what well within a person does cursing generally spring? Somewhere that is positive and joyful and content? Or somewhere that is a bit dark, a bit negative, maybe a bit angry? So, the question is, is one imitating Christ through cursing? If no, then don’t do it. If yes, then have at it.

• What’s the greatest gift you’ve ever received? (and I don’t mean “the gift of Christ.” I’m talking a physical possession): A really awesome chess set for Christmas when I was 12-years old. I was a big Bobby Fischer fan.

• In exactly 23 words, can you make a sensible argument why butter tastes better than Nutella?: No, I can’t.

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Norma Shapiro

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If, 13 years ago, you told me Norma Shapiro would become one of my all-time favorite people, well, yeah. I wouldn’t have bought it.

My wife’s grandmother was unlike any elderly person I’d ever met. Hard-nosed, confident, decisive, opinionated. My grandmas were soft and cuddly and smelled of toast and chocolate. But here was Norma Shapiro the first time I laid eyes upon her, charging across a New York City street carrying two large bags. Shortly before I proposed to Catherine, Norma sat across from me in a restaurant and asked, bluntly, “What are your intentions?” One time we randomly ran into her at a furniture store—where she was seeking out ideas for our dresser. About two years into my marriage, Norma and I engaged in a heated phone conversation that I truly believed killed our relationship.

But here we are, in 2015, and I consider Norma to be both an ideal fill-in for my late grandparents (all of whom I miss dearly) and a true friend. She’s an amazing conversationalist, a terrific dinner companion and an unrivaled great-grandmother to my son and daughter (they call her “Grammie”). There are few people I love more—age be damned.

Anyhow, with her appearance today Norma Shapiro becomes the oldest (age: 95) and coolest figure to grace the series. She explains the keys to a long life (pure luck and good genes), the secrets to surviving a resort fire and the impact of losing a child. You can’t follow Norma on Twitter or Facebook, because she’d rather sit down and chat over a cup o’ tea. But if you’re ever in town, give her a ring.

Norma Shapiro, you’re the new Queen of Quaz  …

JEFF PEARLMAN: I read an essay recently by a writer named Roger Angell, who wrote of being 90 and how he didn’t like people knowing his age because when they knew how old he was they sort of dismissed his opinion. Do you feel that too, or is it the opposite and people take you more seriously because of your experiences?

NORMA SHAPIRO: Well, I think the fact that I’m of a certain age, that people respect my opinion. However, I didn’t tell my age most of the time—almost all of the time—because I didn’t look my age. And I felt people respected what I said because of the person I am. They respect what I say because of me, and it had nothing to do with my age. The reason I didn’t tell my age is because I felt people wouldn’t want to be so socially friendly.

J.P.: Why?

N.S.: It mostly happened when I was very much older. People generally don’t want to socialize with a 90-year old. And I didn’t look my age, so people didn’t know how old I was. So I thought it better not to say anything.

J.P.: When you were 75, did you not wanna associate with someone 90?

N.S.: I didn’t think of it. But when I was younger there were not many 90s around. When I was younger and someone died they were 80, 85 and you’d think, “Well, they lived a nice long life.” But people live longer now.

J.P.: It seems like getting older comes with interesting complications. On the one hand everyone is dazzled by your age and health, and yet you see people dying around you nonstop. You’re basically outliving your generation. So is that more positive, or more negative? More, “This is great!” or more, “I can’t believe this person had a stroke?”

N.S.: I think it’s remarkable I’ve lived this long in good health. But it’s difficult to watch others age, and it makes me think I’m more unusual to be at this age. And I don’t really feel this age.

J.P.: If you were to put a number on how old you feel …

N.S.: Sixty. Or even younger.

J.P.: Does 95 sound weird?

N.S.: Very weird. I almost don’t believe it.

Norma with Laura and Dick in the 1950s.

Norma with Laura and Dick in the 1950s.

J.P.: It seems people don’t understand aging. People think if someone who’s 95 is telling a childhood story, it must feel like a black-and-white image for a million years ago. But it’s not, right? The stories seem fresh?

N.S.: Right. They do seem fresh. My mind is very sharp and my memory is unusually sharp. I rarely forget anything I want to remember. If I want to remember it, I remember it. Even things that aren’t so important, I remember.

J.P.: Is that luck of the draw?

N.S.: I think so. I can’t think of anything I’ve really done to live to this age and keep this health and have my mind keen. Just luck of the draw.

J.P.: What can you tell me about your parents?

N.S.: Their names were Leah and Harry. We lived in Brooklyn, at 4334 Avenue I. I remember the house. I lived there until I got married. My father was in the steel business, and my mother was a stay-at-home mother, but she was really not much of a stay-at-home type. She was always there for the children, but she was very active in charity. And she was one of the only women in her time who drove her own car and went to her charities. I remember my mother driving home at the same time as my father. She was always busy with her charities. We had very good help when my sister Myra was born and I was about 7. I actually almost mothered my sister. I took care of her a lot.

J.P.: Did you know what you were doing?

N.S.: I dressed her pretty and did the ribbons in her hair.

J.P.: You were pretty young when you got married …

N.S.: It was a month before I was 18.

J.P.: You’re a kid, in high school, good student—how does someone get married at 17?

N.S.: My parents didn’t think I was that attractive. They thought I was bright but they didn’t think I was that attractive. I got that impression. My brother Noel was very handsome and my sister Myra was very adorable. She was younger and very cute and she had dimples. But they never said anything about me. It hurt later on in life.

They knew this family of professional people. They were all dentists well thought of in the community. And my aunt knew them and they sent me in to have my teeth cleaned. And the man who would be my husband thought my legs were very beautiful. When I walked out of the office he said to himself, “Those legs will belong to me someday.” I was in college already at Adelphi. Because I graduated high school when I was 16 ½. So I was a college freshman when I met him. Then I became engaged in a few months. Those days you didn’t go together for so long because you didn’t live together.

J.P.: Wait. You’re 17. At 17, I hadn’t even kissed a girl …

N.S.: I hadn’t gone on a date, either.

J.P.: Right. So are you aware the family is trying to set you up?

N.S.: I think so. They sent me there to get my teeth cleaned and they were very impressed with my mouth because I have something very rare to be born with—something called balanced occlusion. Which means no matter how you move your jaw, all 32 teeth touch at the same time. That was very rare, and my father in law was very impressed by it. He had a machine he invented, and he had some very prominent dentists look. They said, “That’s not a normal mouth.” But the truth of the matter is, I have all my original teeth at this age.

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J.P.: Leo was how much older than you?

N.S.: He was 30 and I was 17 when I met him. It’s a very huge age gap. I had never been out on dates. I think I was out on one date. I’d never kissed a boy.

J.P.: Did you even want to get married?

N.S.: My parents didn’t make me do it. But they did everything they could to encourage it. As an engagement gift my father bought Leo a Chevrolet. It about $700—in those days that was a fortune. He didn’t have his own car, so my father bought him a car as an engagement gift. And his parents gave me a beautiful diamond pin. And my parents made this huge wedding for 300 people.

J.P.: How much time had passed from the first time you met him?

N.S.: Maybe six months.

J.P.: Am I missing something generational, or is there a part of you going, “What the hell is happening here? Six months ago I was a 17-year-old college freshman going about my life and now I’m married to a dentist I barely know …”

N.S.: I didn’t think about it. It didn’t enter my thoughts. In those days you got married young anyway. Not that young, but people married young. If you were waiting until 29 or 30, you’re old. No, you got married young. Nineteen, 20. Most people did. It was more or less expected. And I took marriage as a serious responsibility. My husband had to build a practice. Now you practice with a lot of people. Back then you had to socialize to build the practice, and I worked really hard doing it. I joined organizations where I was the youngest person they ever had in the organization. I was a kid, and they were all established. I joined charitable organizations, the temple. I learned how to cook and entertain, and I really built the practice by doing that.

J.P.: Are you not the kind of person who was ever like, “How did my life get here?” Does your brain not work that way? Were you never shocked or confused?

N.S.: I never thought about it.

J.P.: Were you happy?

N.S.: [Long pause]. I was happy. By nature, I’m happy. And I know it’s the strongest instinct within me—being a mother. So I was very happy being a mother. I was 21 when my son Richard was born.

J.P.: Do you remember the birth?

N.S.: I think I was in Brooklyn Jewish Hospital. And I had a very, very, very bad time. Oh, it was like 42 hours of labor. And the truth of the matter is they should have done a Caesarean, and by the time they realized that it was too late. He was an 8 ½-poind baby. He was a very beautiful child and it was fine, and I loved being a mother. Just loved it. The maternal instinct was strong.

J.P.: Did you care—boy or girl?

N.S.: The first time I didn’t. The second, I was desperate—just desperate—to have a girl. If it had been a boy, I would have kept trying. I had to have a daughter. I was very close to my mother, and I just needed a daughter. So when she came out, I didn’t believe it. They said, “Mrs. Stoll, you have a little girl.” I said, “Are you sure? Are you sure?” I really didn’t believe it. In those days you never knew in advance.

J.P.: Do you remember the drive home from the hospital?

N.S.: No. But I didn’t even drive when we were married. Remember, I wasn’t 18. And then when I was desperate to drive my husband was teaching me and every time I wanted him to teach me he was busy. So one day I was really angry and I took the car and drove off. He saw it and he ran out with his dental coat on after me. I said, “If you don’t teach me I’m gonna do it again.” He taught me and I got my license. It was very important to me. My mother drove a car, which was unusual in those days. I was a little kid when my mom drove her own car. No women drove their own cars.

With Phil Shapiro, her late husband.

With Phil Shapiro, her late husband.

J.P.: What was your role in the family dental business?

N.S.: Oh, I did everything. Not merely billing. Almost everything I did was to make it easy for my husband. I shoveled the snow because I was afraid he’d have a heart attack. I was afraid if he got a heart attack he couldn’t practice, so I shoveled the snow. I did a lot of things. Everything I did was behind the scenes so that no one would know. Because I had to protect his image of success.

J.P.: Was it, “Here’s this confident, successful man!”?

N.S.: He was not a very overly ambitious type of person. He was a very skilled dentist. I would say he was an excellent dentist. But a good businessman? No. He would just as soon do it for nothing. He was not financially at all attuned to the world.

J.P.: So you were pushed to get married. Did you love him at the time? Did you learn to love him? Does that even matter?

N.S.: Of course it matters. I mean, I thought I loved him. And I guess I did. But I was a child when I got married and as I developed as a person he was not the person I would have married. That doesn’t mean I didn’t respect him or didn’t like him. It doesn’t mean that at all. But he was not the person I would have married. I would have married someone who had more ambition; who was interested more in finance and doing well and making more money. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a very fine man, or that I disliked him as a person. It doesn’t mean that at all.

J.P.: Was the Great Depression a big factor in your life?

N.S.: It was a very big factor. I was supposed to go to a sleep-away college. But first my father thought I was too young, so I traveled four hours per day to go to college. Two hours to get there, two hours home. First I got up and took the bus. At 7 in the morning in the cold waiting for the bus. That bus took me to the subway. Then there was a 20-minute subway ride. Then there was the Long Island Railroad. And then I took the Long Island Railroad, and then I walked from the Long Island Railroad to the college. It was hard. But whatever my parents said, I did. I didn’t question.

J.P.: Was your dad a nice guy?

N.S.: He was a very nice guy in that he … he was a good provider, a good father and a nice guy. In his later years he had dementia and was difficult. He adored my mother, and the sun always set on her. She was very beautiful and very bright and very talented. Everyone adored her and thought well of her. And when she got sick he couldn’t handle her. Even before she died, when she was not well, she couldn’t do the things he needed to do. She was more educated than he was. He was smarter. She was really, really smart. She was behind him all the time. You know, a successful man has a woman pushing him.

Leo Stoll: Norma's first husband and favorite dentist.

Leo Stoll: Norma’s first husband and favorite dentist.

J.P.: You said you never felt beautiful as a child, and now you take pride in how you look. Is that a direct connection?

N.S.: I have to tell you—I was trained through life that I wasn’t beautiful. In the twilight of my life, almost on a daily basis, and I’m not exaggerating, almost daily somebody will say to me, “You’re very beautiful” or “You’re so pretty.” Daily. Either at a bridge club, on the bus. It doesn’t matter where I go. I hear it every day.

J.P.: And what does it mean to you?

N.S.: Every time I hear it I think about what I went through. I remember during the war when my husband was overseas and I had to live with my parents, my mother bought me a dress. She was looking at it on me, and she said, “You know, Myra is taller and the dress is too long-waisted on you.” I started to cry, and I said, “That’s the last time you’re going to tell me something looks better on Myra.” She said, “But you’re the smartest of my children.” I said, “I don’t want to be smart, I just want to be pretty.” I remember the words distinctly. And my mother felt so bad that when I was president of a charitable organization she was the installing organization and she said, “When Norma was born the sun rose and set” because she was so proud. But she felt so bad about what she said. She didn’t say those things to be mean. But even other people that came, “Oh, Myra, you’re so beautiful. Where did you get those dimples?” She was adorable, my brother was very handsome. Nobody said anything about me. But before I go to sleep for good, everybody tells me.

J.P.: It’s like Norma’s revenge.

N.S.: Ha. It’s amazing. When I say amazing, I’m not kidding.

J.P.: Did you graduate college?

N.S.: No. My job in those days was to build my husband’s practice. And I worked really, really hard to do it. I had constant dinner parties, I joined every organization. The truth is, that’s what his practice was built on.

J.P.: Would he acknowledge your efforts?

N.S.: I don’t know if he was fully aware of all I did. But that was my job. As soon as I got married, I knew that was my job. If I had to live my life over again, I wouldn’t do that. I would want to develop myself as a person and explore life. I would want to explore more of life. We didn’t travel very much. We were comfortable, but not wealthy. I think I went to Europe once when I was married to him. Summer vacations, we went to the beach. The kids went to camp. We had a cabana at the beach. But we didn’t go away.

J.P.: Do you at all feel like times were better then than now? You know, people look back like, “Ah, the good ol’ days …”

N.S.: I think it was easier living. Look, there are always hard times. I lived through the war with rationing—gas rationing, food rationing. But now young people are living through terrorism. I think these are hard times. I don’t know how young people feel about it, but I feel it’s tough now. And scary. I think the fact we have people in Iraq, the weapons with Iran. And I like Obama, but I don’t like what he’s doing with Iran. It scares me. You’re dealing with horrible people and I think we’re in bad times. I remember the war and rationing and all that, but you knew we would win the war. We were a powerful country and you looked forward to winning. I don’t see that now.

Toasting at her 95th birthday celebration.

Toasting at her 95th birthday celebration.

J.P.: Here’s a random one—you hear rap music, what do you think?

N.S.: I don’t relate to it.

J.P.: How do you feel about laptops, iPhones …

N.S.: I think they’re wonderful things. I don’t use them. I think some of the stuff is terrific. I do think there are things, because we have all these wonderful things, I think some of the art of niceties of living is lost.

J.P.: Like what?

N.S.: I think the art of conversation is lost. I think people are very much attuned to their iPhones and so forth and texting. Because there’s so much texting people hardly call and talk on the phone. And I think the art of conversation, the art of being in contact with someone on a real-life basis instead of all these instruments, I think that’s definitely lost. I think the art of handwriting, penmanship is lost completely. I think the art of letter writing is a terrible loss because those things really can be precious in our lifetime. I kept letters that were written 50, 60 years ago. I still have them, and they were really very precious. I kept letters that my daughter wrote on her honeymoon. Even letters my that my son in law wrote. And he’s not a very verbal person. But he did write me a very special letter while he was on his honeymoon. You won’t have that in years to come. I saved the letter my brother wrote to my parents about 60, 70 years ago, and I gave it to him and he was shocked I had it. And I remarked on how beautiful his penmanship was. You see men now, you can’t even read their handwriting. Men and women and children. Children are not even taught penmanship. Which I think is terrible.

J.P.: Does it drive you crazy when you’re out to dinner with people and they’re checking their phone?

N.S.: I think it’s terribly, terribly rude. I really do. Terribly rude. And I think some families, within the same house, they’re texting back and forth. How sad that is. It’s a big loss. I think some of these things are wonderful, but a lot is lost.

J.P.: So I showed you the different Q&As I did, and one involved a woman dying of cancer. And you lost your son Dick to cancer. How, as a mother, do you overcome that? Do you ever?

N.S.: No. It’s out of the sequence of life. You don’t live to bury a child. It can be the birth parent has to go, a spouse has to go. A spouse can be replaced—a spouse can pass away and you meet someone else and live a happy life. I did. But a child is irreplaceable. A part of you is gone and it is never coming back. [She starts crying].

J.P.: It wasn’t my goal to make you cry. I’m sorry I …

N.S.: It never comes back. Irreplaceable. Out of the sequence of life.

J.P.: So how as a parent are you able to move forward? You’ve gone on to have a fruitful life …

N.S.: In the early part, you have to try and be strong for the other people who are suffering. And so you try and be strong for them and then you gradually have to keep yourself very busy and try to live a life because people who are living really have to live. In my case I had just married my husband Phil, and he really wanted to live. It was hard to punish him with my sadness. I had to do things to keep him happy because it wasn’t his loss and it wasn’t fair to make him suffer like that. He wanted to live and enjoy life. I always thought God gave me this man and this marriage to help me through it. I don’t think I could have made it.

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J.P.: You come from an era where people didn’t put their emotions on a platter. Was it OK to grieve publicly and let people know how you were feeling?

N.S.: Not publicly. I never grieved publicly. Because you know what—people do not want to listen to your sorrow. Most people want to be amongst people who are chipper, happy, and most do not want to be around someone who is sad or unhappy. People are that way. And in a way, they can’t feel your pain. So you have to keep it more or less to yourself really.

J.P.: What was Dick like?

N.S.: He was a very special person. He was tall, handsome, very ambitious. And became quite successful with his own self. No one helped him and he really got there. He was going to be president of the company all on his own. He didn’t have help from anyone. And he was really close to me. He adored me like I adored him. And when he first got out of college and he lived at home I told him he had to pay rent. He couldn’t get over that. My theory was that someday he would be married and he’d have to pay rent and he’d have to pay expenses. And he may as well not live for free. So I charged him rent. He had a very minimal salary and I charged him a minimal rent. And every week he came home with his check and he’d come to me and say, “Sigh—here’s your rent money.” He would do it teasingly. And he would say, “What are you doing with the rent money? Going to Loehmann’s to buy yourself a new dress?” And every time he got a raise in salary I raised the rent. After a while he said to me, “You know what? You keep raising the rent, I think I’ll move to New York.” I said—“Fine.”

J.P.: Do you remember how much you charged him?

N.S.: In the beginning he was making $100 a week. I charged him $10. Every time he got a raise I raised the rent. The end of the story–when he was getting married, the night before the wedding we had the prenuptial dinner I gave him the check with all the rent money he’d paid me. I saved it. He said he thought I was doing that all along. I gave him the check for the rent money. It was quite a bit of money.

We had an extremely close relationship. Very unusual for a mother and son. He called me every single day of his life. Even after his marriage. He was an exceptionally devoted son and a very devoted brother to Laura.

I drove him hard with love. His father was very, very easygoing on the kids. Never disciplined them at all. I was the disciplinarian for both of them, but they knew I did it with love. His father did not. Because of that, they both had greater respect for me. I drove a hard bargain, but they knew. So I remember distinctly once when he got a very big raise and a promotion, and he was taking the Long Island Railroad and he was excited, and he called from the station. His father answered and he said, “Let me speak to mother.” He was that close to me. He knew I drove him hard. He was not easy to bring up because I always felt he should study more and work harder. One time I locked up the television. Television was very new at the time. He spent the whole night while I was gone picking the lock. But everything I did was for his good, and he knew it. So they didn’t resent me. They acted like they resented me, but they did not.

J.P.: Dick had two children and great-grandchildren. Is there joy in them carrying him on, or pain in …

N.S.: A pain that he didn’t see them. That he didn’t see his children grow up and he didn’t see his grandchildren and he missed a lot. Really, he missed all of this because of smoking. He died of lung cancer. He had a cough when he was in his 20s, 30s. And his uncles were all doctors and they told him his lungs were like a man of 60. Everyone begged him to give up smoking. At one time when he was in college he wanted a car. My father offered him a car if he quit smoking, and he did, he got the car and not long after he smoked again. His smoking just killed him. It doesn’t kill everybody at that age, but it killed him. Everyone has a weakness. That was his weakness. And it killed him.

J.P.: Do you think of him every day? Or over time …

N.S.: I don’t think of him every day. But a lot of things set me off. If I see a mother playing golf with her son, I think how excited he would be if he knew I played golf. I know when he sees me playing up there … I didn’t play at the time he was alive. But he would be so excited. I played bridge with him. He always teased me about my age, because he knew I never wanted him to tell. So he would always joke about it.

J.P.: You recently had a 95th birthday party, and it was almost like you were gay and coming out of the closet.

N.S.: I was gay and I came out! No one ever knew my age, and I didn’t want a party, didn’t want a party, didn’t want a party. And Laura said, “It won’t be a birthday party, just a celebration. There will be no singing “Happy Birthday,” there will be no birthday cake. She talked me into it. And the invitations came out and all they said was, “Celebrating Norma.” But soon a few people found out, and then 150 people found out.

J.P.: How did that make you feel?

N.S.: At first I was upset, but now it’s almost an excitement. Because I was a celebrity at my club before, I’m more of a celebrity. They treat me like an oddity of nature; something that’s a freak of nature. People look at me every day with awe. In a way now, I’m OK with it. Even though they know my age now, I’m OK with it. Because I’m a phenomenon right now.

Back in the day with her grandchildren (from left) Robin, Deborah, Catherine and Leah

Back in the day with grandchildren (from left) Robin, Deborah, Catherine and Leah

J.P.: So in this interview I can put that you’re 70?

N.S.: Yes you can. Actually, if you had asked me previous to this I would have said no. But I got used to the number 95. I don’t feel 95. I feel as young as you do. I don’t feel any different than you do. That this will last—I don’t know. But I hope it will last a while.

J.P.: When you reach an age like 95, do you worry about your own mortality? Or is it more about getting sick and struggling?

N.S.: I don’t want to be sick. I hope I don’t have any serious ailments, and I just go to sleep and don’t wake up. Just because they say old generals never die, they just fade away. Maybe that will happen to me. I’ll just fade away. What I do worry about is the world and my grandchildren and great grandchildren. I do think a lot about what they have. I worry that it’s a tough world, and I worry about the world in general they’re living in. With the Middle East and the bombs and … I worry about the life they have to lead. I think about that. For me, it’s over. But what they have to look forward to—I hope it’s good times. But I don’t know.

Back in the 1990s, alongside her siblings, Noel and Myra.

Back in the 1990s, alongside her siblings, Noel and Myra.

J.P.: Do you believe in an afterlife? Or don’t care?

N.S.: I can’t think about that. I don’t know. Look, I’ll be looking down at you and seeing that you behave. [LAUGHS] I don’t know. Right now I’m just happy I get up every day. I think how lucky I am that I can get up, drive myself where I want, go where I want, do what I want. The main thing I think of is I want to be able to take care of myself. I’m very independent, and it’s important to me to take care of myself.

J.P.: It seems the day you go into an assisted living facility is the day you say, “I’m not down with this.”

N.S.: I wouldn’t be happy. I’m not sure I could live in an assisted living facility. I might just have to stay home with help. That could be very lonely. Because a lot of people my vintage are going. A lot have gone already. I now have friends who are much younger than me. I don’t have any friends my age. No, I don’t. I have some who are maybe 90, but not 95.

J.P.: And it’s true the key to your longevity is that you never drank, never smoked and only had sex twice?

N.S.: The first two are true. But I don’t think that contributed to my longevity. I just think it’s the luck of the draw. The genes were right and my sister Myra died at a young age, around 80, but she was a very heavy smoker. My brother Noel is 94. He was 13 months younger than me. My mother did not want him. She actually had lost a child before me during the war. She was very ill. The child hadn’t been born. They had to take the child from her.

J.P.: Was it polio?

N.S.: No. I lived with polio with a fire and my children. That was very bad. That year polio was very prevalent and they said people who could get out of the city should. So I took a place in the summer in the Catskill Mountains at a country club. With my kids. And my husband Leo was working but he’d come up every weekend. We were there and one night my parents came up on a Thursday for the weekend with my husband and with Myra’s husband. And we put the kids to bed, it was very hot, you didn’t have air conditioning. The kids were in the room sleeping and we were having tea and cake. We went to bed. And then all of a sudden, Dick had a habit of sleepwalking. I get to the room and he’s not in the room. And I was hysterical. I thought maybe he was sleepwalking down to the lake and he drowned. So happens they found him in another person’s room. So I barely got to sleep when two in the morning I heard, “Fire! Fire!” And so we had to run. My sister, she was able to go down the stairs with her husband and the baby. By the time I got to the stairs there was too much smoke. So we had to go the fire escape. Leo is carrying Laura, who is a little kid. And I’m going down the stairs with Dick. I didn’t know what to grab. We had no clothes and it was a hot night. There was something I grabbed, and it was the sheets Myra’s baby had thrown up in. That’s what I was carrying down the fire escape. And when we got down my parents were hysterical because we weren’t down as fast as Myra. And the fire went down with everything I possessed. I was there for the summer. Anyway, we got back to New York with no clothes, a hot summer. I had a lot of trouble finding clothes in the stores for the kids. We went to another country place, and Dick had terrible nightmares about the fire. He would scream a lot. That was the worst.

J.P.: Were you paranoid about your kids getting polio?

N.S.: Everybody was. Everybody. It was really bad. My doctor’s wife got it. I knew several people who got it. It was a bad time. A really bad time. When people say these times are bad, we had bad times, too.

With her 451 great-grandchildren.

With her 451 great-grandchildren.

J.P.: How did 9.11 affect you?

N.S.: I was having breakfast with someone when it happened. That was terrible, because where I lived in Manhattan you could see what was going on. The Queensboro Bridge, I could see. And the people walking and walking. That’s why these times frighten me. You didn’t have this sort of thing. You didn’t have terrorism. Now it’s everywhere. And ISIS is a cancer. There’s no way to get rid of it.

Back when I was younger I felt my country was the best. It could win a war, it could do everything. I’m not so sure we’re top of the world now. I was sure my whole lifetime the United States of America was the best, and we could beat anyone.

J.P.: Which president gave you the most confidence?

N.S.: I thought Franklin Roosevelt was wonderful. My parents thought he was a God. I thought he was a remarkable man. All the things he had to overcome. He did a lot for this country.

J.P.: I have a good one for you–you were married to Leo for more than 30 years. Usually when people divorce it’s after, oh, five, six years. How did you decide you wanted something different?

N.S.: It’s not an easy decision. Leo was very much older than me. Age like that doesn’t matter so much when you’re very young. When you get older it matters a lot. He was very old and I was in my prime. It matters a lot. But I was very conscious I wanted the kids to get married and I wanted them to have a stable life. That was my primary thought about everything. As he got older we were not on the same wavelength about anything. First of all, he was an extremely heavy smoker. At least three packs per day. And he actually went into a tailspin when he tried to give up. They have to give him shots because he had tremors and couldn’t work for several months. And because he was a very oral person, he drank a lot. When he gave up smoking he drank a lot. He drank a lot before, but he had tolerance. As you get older you don’t tolerate it the same way. His body did not tolerate it. He would have a couple of drinks and he would fall asleep. He just wasn’t right. I couldn’t see myself the end of my life living this way. I was still young—50-something. Maybe 52. And the kids were both married, and I felt I had done my share. Both my kids were married, both had children, both were on their feet. And I did something for myself.

J.P.: Was it hard to say, “I want a divorce” to your husband of 30-plus years?

N.S.: It was very hard. More hard for me. I had nothing and no training of any kind. Never worked a day in my life, and I had to do something. I took a course, became a travel agent, got a job working for nothing so I could get experience. Then I decided I would sell real estate. I took the courses, started to sell real estate. And I did well. One of my first clients was Ben Gazzara, the actor. And I did well. Then I met Phil and I stopped doing that. I learned to do things and I had no experience doing anything.

J.P.: The game of bridge seems particularly important to you …

N.S.: Hugely so. I play bridge because it’s wonderful for my mind, I love it. I play at least four times a week. I love to play. It keeps my mind sharp—I have to remember cards, I have to remember a lot. And it fills three hours of time in the afternoon. I also go to the gym three-to-four times per week. I have a trainer, and he says I’m the only one who goes in between sessions. By the time I come home I’ve been out with people, working my mind, my day has been taken up. I come home, finish with the bills, letter writing. I read a book, I read the newspaper. Then I go to bed.

J.P.: What time?

N.S.: Twelve. One.

J.P.: Whoa. Why so late?

N.S.: Because I have so much to do.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH NORMA SHAPIRO:

Do you know who LeBron James is?: Who?

• Who’s your favorite actor of all time?: I loved Cary Grant. When I think of the actors of my day, they were so memorable. I don’t feel that way about the people today. I hardly remember the names of the ones I see now.

• How do you feel about gay marriage?: I feel fine with it. If that’s what they want to do, I have no objection. I have quite a few gay friends. I’m very comfortable with gay people, I have them over for dinner, we socialize. If they want to be married, I completely support it.

• What’s your favorite place in the world?: I love Venice. It’s a very romantic spot. I loved Egypt. I thougt the antiquities were very memorable. I loved Israel. Wherever I went, I enjoyed.

• What’s the most annoying characteristic a person can have?: One of the things I always like to be is a good listener. And I will say that almost any time I’m out with anyone, I always learn something. I don’t always use it right away, but it’s in my head and at some time it becomes useful. And it almost happens every time I’m with someone. Including when I’m with you.

Another annoying trait is someone who doesn’t have an open mind. Who isn’t receptive to anything new.

• Who’s our next president?: At first I thought Hillary, but I’m not sure. I think I would vote for her, but I did read a very unflattering article about her in Time. It was quite unflattering.

• What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in life?: There were some mistakes, but … I can’t even say my marriage was a mistake, because I was not unhappy for a lot of years and it produced two children I love. The one mistake is I married a very young age. That’s a mistake. But my marriage in general? No. The mistake was being too young.

• You’ve lived a comfortable life, but you’ll still cross town with a 30-cent coupon for the roast turkey. You could get the turkey down the street for only a bit more money—but you don’t. How do you explain that?: I think I explain it from early in my life. For one thing, I didn’t have a lot when I got married. If I tell you I kept a budget on my honeymoon—I never told anyone that, but I’m telling you. We just drove down to one of the mountains down on the east coast. Nothing really exciting. And I kept a budget—how much the gas cost and everything. Because when we married we had nothing. When I say nothing I mean nothing. But my parents always saw to it we had enough. For instance, my father would look at my bank account and if we were short he would put some money into it. But I always had to be thrifty. I was trained that way. And while my father was a very comfortable man, during the crash he paid off his mortgage. He was always very thrifty. But if you asked my father for $20,000 he’d give it to you. But if you talked too long on the telephone, which in those days was expensive, he couldn’t stand it. I picked up those traits.

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Linda Cohn

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If you’re a fan of televised sports, and you’re a fan of professionalism, you have to be a fan of Linda Cohn.

Unlike too many in TV these days, Linda’s no joke; no passing fancy; no tool with a quick smile and a couple of catchphrases. The former goaltender for the women’s ice hockey team at SUNY Oswego originally landed at ESPN in 1992, and over the ensuing two decades she’s been (along with, in my opinion, Bob Ley) the network’s staple of class and intelligence. Anchors come, anchors go. But SportsCenter isn’t SportsCenter without Linda Cohn.

Anyhow, today Linda explains why it’s OK for her to be a journalist while simultaneously living and dying with the New York Rangers; why hockey remains her true love and why she ranks Tim Teufel and Madison Square Garden over A.J. McCarron. One can follow Linda on Twitter and Instagram, and visit her personal website here.

Linda Cohn, you’re the magical 211th Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Linda, I’ve long been an admirer of your career and your style to sportscasting. And I want to start with this: You’ve long identified yourself as a loyal New York Rangers, New York Giants, New York Mets and New York Knicks fan. Hell, it’s high up on your Wikipedia page (so it must be true!). My question is, why is this OK? I don’t mean to imply it’s not OK, but in print I was sorta taught that, if I’m gonna cover/write about a sport, I have to surrender allegiances. Do you think that’s nonsense? Or perhaps just not important for non-beat writers and such?

LINDA COHN: I’ve always been proud of the fact that I’m a fan first. You have to remember most of my viewers on SportsCenter are sports fans to their respective beloved teams. Just like me. I felt it was another way I could connect with them. To make it known I know what’s it’s like to suffer a heartbreaking loss or an exhilarating win. Many in our business lose the reason why they got into sports in the first place. I didn’t want to be one of those people. I didn’t want to become jaded. It hasn’t affected the way I cover each of my favorite teams. In fact, I’ve been guilty of criticizing one of my teams at times, so much so they think I had something against them. I never fall in line with everyone else. If I did I wouldn’t be in this business this long and I wouldn’t have paved a way for others to follow.

I was and still am just being myself, which means not making it a secret how important it is for me to this day and beyond to be a fan of my teams—especially the Rangers and Giants. I’ve also been transparent at times when it comes to being a fan of certain players or coaches—who might not be on a team I root for.

J.P.: You turn 56 this year, which means you’ve been doing this longer than most and you came up during a period when people saw women and sports media and thought, “Um, why is that woman in sports media?” How difficult was it initially to be taken seriously? Did it lead to awkward exchanges, ridicule? And do you feel like women in sports media still have to prove themselves more than men?

L.C.: Really? 56? I feel like I’m turning 36. As you know, I wrote a book about my climb titled Cohn-Head back in 2007. It was an honest, and at times comical, look at the journey. I always felt I had to prove that I know what I’m talking about when it comes to sports and that I have opinions, etc. Being a former athlete I’m very competitive and I always felt each and every day I had to prove I belonged.

To this day I’m still doing that. Does it change the way people think about you? For many, yes. But there will always be men who don’t want women involved in knowing and let alone talking sports to them. They like it the other way around.

I agree with them when it comes to women who are in sports broadcasting for the wrong reasons. Some use it as a stepping stone for other goals in TV. I. It’s unfortunate because those women can set all the good ones back. And there are a lot of good ones …

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J.P.: I’m gonna pull an odd one here. You and I are both Jewish—as are hundreds of our media peers. And, eh, as are precious few of the athletes we cover. Why do you think Jews are so drawn to working in sports media, and why do you think Jews—as a whole—underwhelm in sports?

L.C.: I have no idea. I actually was an athlete who happened to be Jewish so it’s hard for me to speak for the entire religion. Haha

I’ll never forgot my mom never letting me forget the speeding ticket she got taking me to hockey practice on Yom Kippur. So obviously I was more focused on sports than being Jewish. I figure if you’re Jewish and not athletically inclined to play sports but it’s something that fascinates you (like the excitement of it, the stats, the players profiles, the analytics) and you just want to be as close as you can to it, sports writing and sports broadcasting are ways to do just that.

J.P.: Do you think an overweight, relatively unattractive woman can excel in televised sports media? Would she even get the chance? Because that description (overweight, unattractive) describes sooooo many men on TV. But I can’t think of a single woman. Is this the double standard of the medium?

L.C.: This isn’t breaking news, but of course there is a double standard. Look at every news and sports organization out there.

J.P.: You’re a huge hockey person—played at Oswego, devoted to the sport. So why do you think it’s never fully taken off in the United States? Is it something fans are missing? Is the game just wrong for this nation? Has the NHL screwed up?

L.C.: This is a frustrating subject for me. The NHL has a great product. The most passionate fans. The players have tremendous personality and go out of their way to accommodate and most of them are  the best athletes in the world. The league made a huge mistake when it didn’t look big picture and chose to walk away from ESPN. While I was not in any negotiation room I just thought the NHL felt it could grow on its own without serious exposure and promotion by a giant like ESPN. I would be saying this even if I didn’t work there. Once the NHL left, ESPN wasn’t going to put much effort into the league because it wasn’t theirs to promote.

Fans who were just getting into the game didn’t know where to watch it. They couldn’t find it. They stopped watching and caring. Hockey is a sports best appreciated in person. It’s so fast, hard hitting and unpredictable. There also has to be an emotional connection to a team or player for the fan to become fully absorbed.

Considering how much it has had to overcome, it’s truly amazing the NHL is as big as it is and still has the best postseason of any sport. My next job will be to take over for Gary Bettman.

J.P.: After the  Seahawks beat the Packers to reach the Super Bowl, Twitter was absolutely filled with hate for Brandon Bostick, the Green Bay tight end who dropped the onside kick. I’m wondering, have you noticed a change in the tone of fans through the years? Or the way anger is spewed? Or am I just imagining things?

L.C.: There is definitely a change. We have social media to thank—specifically Twitter. It gives fans a voice they never had. No need to hold up a sign at a game anymore. You can make your opinions known, as vile as they are, right to the person you are criticizing. There is no accountability so these fans can Tweet hateful things without repercussions. This is why you are not imagining this.

Oh, and if you or I take a stand for or against something whether it’s sports, politics, movies whatever—beware!  The good and bad responses have to all be treated the same way … it’s just people speaking their minds.

J.P.: How did you know you wanted to do this? Like when was your ah-ha! moment for sports media? And when did you know you could be really good at it?

L.C.: I don’t know if there was one specific moment. Since I couldn’t be a goalie in the NHL I knew I wanted to be a part of sports in some way. Broadcasting, TV or radio, PR … whatever I could do to keep connected to sports. Sports helped me fill a void growing up. It gave me something to look forward to. It helped with my low self esteem. I needed it in my life as an occupation.

I knew there was hope when more of the feedback I was getting was positive than negative and that says a lot for a woman trying to break into sports media in the early 1980′s fresh out of college. I knew if I keep pushing, volunteering, gaining experience, going to games, meeting people in the business, networking—something would open up for me. I always believed you have to make it happen.

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

L.C.: Too many great moments to share but usually the best are when I’m not working. Where there was no camera rolling when I was just talking sports with Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky at the same time at a Super Bowl party. Or being at Madison Square Garden to see the Rangers win the Stanley Cup. Than calling my dad to share the experience with him. If it weren’t for my dad I never would be the passionate sports fan I still am today and I never would have been in the business.

Worst moment: Only a few but they always took place in a locker room or it had to do something with the locker room.

Selfies with Rajon Rondo.

Selfies with Rajon Rondo.

J.P.: You used to do play by play for the WNBA. I love the WNBA. Truly do. But I also sorta feel like something about the league has never quite worked. Marketing, maybe? Product? Can’t put a finger on it. Can you?

L.C.: I was surprised the WNBA didn’t do well considering it had the NBA machine behind it.

The players were fantastic to work with. Fans really embraced them. I just think a pro women’s basketball was more regional than national. Not all of those regions were excited about pro women’s hoops even though they enjoy college basketball. The league assumed fans would follow their favorite college player to the pros, and that just didn’t happen.

J.P.: This is such a random question, but I wonder, truly, how you feel when you see this. And what emotions go through you.

L.C.: I felt bad for Sue. I grew up in New York watching her. As on-air personalities we always have to assume the microphone is on. Unfortunately for Ms. Simmons that wasn’t the case.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH LINDA COHN:

• Five favorite sports anchors of your lifetime: Usually it’s the guys who made me laugh. Marv Albert, Jerry Girard, Len Berman, Keith Olbermann, Ed ingles (WCBS radio. He gave me my first break).

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Michel Bergeron, Tim Teufel, Hubert Davis, Charles Krauthammer, Embassy Suites, Madison Square Garden, Gary Miller, Serena Williams, Captain Kangaroo, Sly and the Family Stone, A.J. McCarron, the number 14: Very strange list—Madison Square Garden, Gary Miller, Charles Krauthammer, Serena Williams, Hubert Davis, Michel Bergeron, Tim Teufel, A.J. McCarron, Embassy Suites, Sly and the Family Stone, number 14, Captain Kangaroo.

• Five favorite movies of your lifetime: Sound of Music, E.T., Miracle on 34th Street (the original), Arthur (the original), Casablanca.

• In exactly 17 words, what does it feel like to screw up on air: Sickening. You don’t want viewer to know that so you make fun of yourself, leave them laughing.

• One question you would ask Emmett Kelly were he here right now: Are you as funny without the clown makeup?

• Three things you can tell me about your mom: She loved her children. She wasn’t perfect. She died of cancer and I miss her every day.

• How did your senior prom go?: Since I wasn’t asked by the rock star or athlete, I didn’t go. I had high expectations. I watched a Knicks game with my dad that night.

• Last year you had a pretty awkward interview with Ken Griffey, Jr. When stuff like that happens, what’s running through your head?: I honestly couldn’t believe it was happening. I just tried to have faith he would come around. He was having a bad day. He felt really bad for how he acted and called me afterward to apologize.

• Five nicest athletes you’ve ever dealt with? Three nastiest?: Would rather pass on this. Most athletes are nice. The few nasty ones know who they are.

• Is it wrong to curse in front of my daughter if she’s 11 and finds it funny?: Haha. Pick your spots.

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Steve Davis

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Although I’m only 43, I’m thinking I’ll never live on another planet.

I’m also thinking you’ll never live on another planet.

Or your children. Or, probably, their children.

But after that … well, who knows? With the way we’re destroying earth, it seems inevitable that, at some point, human life will only survive if it finds another place to live. Not Kansas or Kentucky or even (ew) Texas. I’m talking another planet. Maybe even another galaxy.

Enter: Steve Davis.

As the director of advanced projects at Space Exploration Technologies, one of Steve’s primary tasks is to enable people to live on other planets. Which might seem crazy to you and me, but not to a man who sees endless possibilities; who gazes toward the stars and views beyond brights lights and shooting comets.

Oh, and he also owned a donut shop.

Steve Davis, you’re the magical 210th Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Steve, I have a son named Emmett. He’s 8. Last night he asked me, “Dad, what comes at the end of space?” Steve, what comes at the end of space?

STEVE DAVIS: Wow, make sure Emmett knows that he asked a great question! My answer is, “I have no idea.” But I do know that, in order to travel to the end of space, we will need amazingly efficient rockets. Hopefully Emmett will help us build them …

J.P.: You’re a PhD and the director of advanced projects at Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX)—a company whose mission is to “revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets.” This sounds really cool and really special … but, eh, is it a realistic possibility? If so, how? When? Where?

S.D.: I hope so because that is why almost all of us work there! The vision and direction of the company is driven by Elon (SpaceX’s founder and CEO), who wants to make humanity into a multi-planetary species. In order to do that, one must first bring down the cost of access to space by a large percentage and a key breakthrough to allow this to happen is to engineer a launch vehicle which is fully and rapidly reusable. He makes the great point that, if we threw away the 747 airplane every time we flew from New York to Paris, then nobody could afford to fly.  Air travel is affordable because we re-use airplanes thousands of times. Yet when rockets fly, they are primarily one-time-use vehicles. This is why plane tickets cost a few hundred dollars, while “rocket tickets” cost tens of millions of dollars. Thus, to solve this problem, rockets must be more like planes in the way that planes are fully reusable (i.e. you don’t replace the wings after every flight) and rapidly reusable (i.e. you can fly it again in minutes).

J.P.: How did this happen for you? Like, what was your life path from womb emergence to trying to cultivate other planets? Were you always “the smart kid?” Were you the jock? Always fascinated by space?

S.D.: I actually enrolled in an undergraduate business school and initially never considered engineering.  During my sophomore year, I was watching Armageddon and decided that, if that scenario ever happened in real life, I would like to be able to help. The next day, I enrolled in the engineering school. Then engineering grad school. Then a phone call from SpaceX, which, at the time, had around 15 employees. Ten years later, I am lucky to still work for one of the most vision-driven companies in the world, which has now grown to more than 3,500 employees and approximately 50 launches on manifest.  In conclusion, my entire life path was redirected by a Bruce Willis movie.

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J.P.: I’m completely riveted by the Dragon Spacecraft Program—an amazing, dazzling, crazy thing that, oh, 99.9 percent of Americans seem to know nothing about. In 2012 it became the first commercial spacecraft to deliver cargo to the International Space Station. Where did the idea for Dragon come from? And what’s the ultimate goal?

S.D.: Dragon is the first commercial spacecraft to deliver cargo to the International Space Station and currently the only cargo spacecraft flying capable of returning significant amounts of cargo to Earth. Elon named it after Puff the Magic Dragon (Peter, Paul and Mary song) because many critics considered SpaceX’s goals impossible when it was founded in 2002.

Even cooler, Dragon has been designed from Day 1 to be able to carry crew (why else would a cargo vehicle have windows?!). Thus, SpaceX is working, in partnership with NASA, toward flying astronauts to space in Dragon, which we expect to happen in the next two-to-three years.

J.P.: I’m assuming you believe in life on other planets-somewhere. I’d love to hear your take on this. I mean, are we talking Alf or Predator? Will they visit? Will we find them?

S.D.: Sorry to be a Debbi Downer, but I have no idea. Just as importantly, nobody has any idea and any “educated guesses” are pretty arbitrary. However, it is fun to “take a side”—so, if it was up to me, I would love for there to be extraterrestrial life, as the day we made initial contact would be quite a day!

J.P.: You’re almost certainly America’s only yogurt store-owning Director of Advanced Projects at Space Exploration Technologies. Uh … Steve. A yogurt store? What the heck? (and didn’t you once own a donut shop, too?)

S.D.: Thanks for the plug! Yes, I own Mr. Yogato, a goofy yogurt store in East Dupont Circle. Also just opened a fun restaurant/bar called Thomas Foolery in West Dupont. The goal of all of these places is to be pure fun and to encourage silly interactions between and amongst employees/customers. At Mr. Yogato, customers get forehead stamps for discounts and we name our flavors after “30-day Champions,”—customers who come to the store 30 days in a row (one awesome customer became a 200-day champion). At Thomas Foolery, you “Plinko” the price of your Smirnoff Ice and get a discount if you perform the Cup Song as performed by Anna Kendrick (my celebrity crush) in Pitch Perfect (my third favorite movie).

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

S.D.: The best moments of my career have been the initial successes of each SpaceX vehicle—Falcon 1 rocket launch in 2008, Falcon 9 rocket launch in 2010, and Dragon capsule reentry in 2010. Lowest moment of my career is when I lost a Rock-Paper-Scissors battle at Mr. Yogato, which resulted in me having to eat a yogurt smothered in Sriracha Hot Sauce.

J.P.: You work in this world of great, amazing, wonderful largeness. Space exploration. The universe. What’s out there? The answers to enormous questions. As a consequence, do you ever struggle to take human nonsense seriously? Ted Cruz and Yankees-Red Sox and the Breaking Bad finale? Are you ever like, “Ugh, is this the best we can do?”

S.D.: Not really. I plead ignorance on the other stuff and, like everyone in the company, am focused on our work and on our goal of increasing reliability/decreasing cost of access to space. It has resulted in some of the coolest flights/videos I have seen, my personal favorite being our Grasshopper Lateral Divert test. Grasshopper is a testbed for us to learn how to land a rocket efficiently and accurately, which is an important step toward a reusable vehicle. Check out the video.

In this test, the engineers are testing the vehicle’s maneuverability—it is rare to see a structure taller than a ten story building “flying sideways.”

J.P.: Is there an answer to the meaning of life? Is there a meaning of life? And does death—and eternal nothingness—weigh on you?

S.D.: Similar question to the one above about whether there is life on other planets; my answer again is “I have no idea!” And I definitely don’t think about eternal nothingness at all. That doesn’t seem like a very fun topic to focus on.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH STEVE DAVIS:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Ronald McNair, Lee Trevino, 16 Handles, Yuri Gagarin, The Cars, Sleepless in Seattle, Alabama, Joe Biden, Sammy Davis, Jr., Ms. America pageant, Nashville Predators, TJ Maxx, Dana Plato, Bryce Harper: Ronald McNair is an American hero. And I like Sammy Davis, Jr. because we have the same initials and last name. I don’t know much about the rest of the choices.

• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between E.T. and Celine Dion? What’s the outcome?: Do you really think it would go 12 rounds?

• What do you think Voyager 1 is up to these days?: Not sure, but what an amazing job the NASA engineers did in designing/launching that spacecraft. Voyager is still communicating with Earth at a distance of greater than 10 billion miles and has been operating for more than 35 years. This is an incredible feat … can you think of any vehicle/appliance on Earth that has worked for 35-straight years without the need for parts replacement or servicing?

• Five greatest space-related movies of your lifetime: Per my answer above, Armageddon is the greatest space movie of all time. Especially the animal cracker scene. It is also the fifth overall best movie of all time behind Braveheart, The Sting, Pitch Perfect, and National Treasure. On the opposite side, 2001: A Space Odyssey is the worst space movie of all time and the second overall worst movie of all time behind Pi.

• Greatest present you’ve ever received?: Size-13 Heely’s (those little-kid shoes with the wheel built in). I always thought my feet were too big and clunky for Heely’s, but somebody finally hunted down a pair for me!

• How do you explain the seemingly 8,654,322 pieces of Kryptonite discovered on earth over the course of Superman’s time here? I mean, wasn’t that planet a gazillion light years away?: Have never seen Superman. But I assume everything in those movies is scientifically sound.

• What sort of results can a guy expect in using the “Did I mention I’m the Director of Advanced Projects at Space Exploration Technologies?” pickup line on a hottie in a bar?: No clue. If there is a “hottie” in a bar, my standard action would be to nervously look at my feet.

• Three memories from your first-ever date?: Will let you know when it happens!

• Given the chance, one question you’d ask Ethel Merman?: Not sure who that is, so I guess my question would be, “How is your day going so far?”

• Do farts in space smell?: Ha. Can you please retract this question?

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Becca Brown

 

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Two seconds ago, when I identified Quaz No. 209 to the wife, she looked at me and said, “Don’t you ever get tired of that sort of thing?”

By “that sort of thing,” she wasn’t referring to actresses or comedians or Chicago residents or people who play bass. Nope, she was referring to my penchant for tracking down actors and actresses from films I enjoyed, then turning them into Q&As.

And, to answer her question: No, I don’t.

Hence, I bring you the lovely, talented, cool Becca Brown, actress, musician and “Katie,” the bass-playing child rocker in the fantastic 2003 flick, “School of Rock.” I actually thought of Becca as a Quaz possibility a few months ago, when I introduced my kids to the movie—which they loved. I starting Googling cast members, and there sat Becca, chillin’ on Twitter. Ah, the magic of social media.

Anyhow, Becca Brown can be found on Twitter and YouTube, sending out some really fun, really raw material. She has an impressive improv and theatre resume, but still lists the School of Rock experience as her best ever.

Until now. Becca Brown, you’re the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Becca, so about 20 minutes ago my kids watched School of Rock for the first time—and loved it. I’m sort of curious what it’s like to have been in a movie that everyone loved, but that came out 12 years ago. What I mean is, are your thoughts all fond? With time, do you get tired of being reminded of it? Of people (like me) seeking you out? Does it ever seem like it never happened? Like it’s a blur from childhood?

BECCA BROWN: Honestly, it’s the most fun I’ve had in my entire life and the first thing I ever did, so when people ask me questions about it I don’t get annoyed. I definitely don’t bring it up in conversation before someone else does, though. And sometimes, if I get recognized during a busy brunch shift at Revolution BrewPub (where I work), I get kind of annoyed and also self conscious, like “These people are gonna think I’m such a loser for being a lowly hostess at a bar 12 years later.” I have a very vivid memory of some parts of the filming process, some on set, most off. But a lot of it is one big happy blur.

J.P.: I know you’re a singer and actress, I know you had a pretty major role in School of Rock. But what’s your life path? Like, birth to now, how did it happen? How did you first get into music and acting? And what is it about performing that does it for you?

B.B.: When I was 2-years old, my parents put me in a music class that was mostly percussion and dancing and clapping, and when I was 4 I was old enough to start taking lessons. I had to pick between piano, violin, cello, flute and guitar. I chose guitar and took private weekly lessons in classical guitar. When I was 9 I was on this radio show called From the Top, which is where the casting directors of SoR found both me and Robert Tsai.

I had never acted before (which may have to do with why I had so few lines in the movie) but after filming was over I immediately got an agent and started auditioning for commercials and other movies and pilots and whatnot. I was really close to being Hannah Montana, but you know, nepotism. After several rejections from film auditions, I started doing more theatre and really loving singing I was a huuuuge choir/musical theatre nerd in high school. I majored in straight theatre at University of Illinois at Chicago, got bit by the improv/comedy bug, graduated from UIC, Second City,and iO all within 2014, and now I’m doing comedy shows all over the city—including sketch, improv, improvised musicals and a fellowship at Second City. Also, I just got cast in a musical that will be locally produced in Chicago this fall. When I’m steadily performing and busy with rehearsals and shows and classes, I’m never bored and I don’t have time to complain or feel shitty about life. That’s what keeps me performing.

J.P.: I’ve covered different TV shows and movies being filmed, and it can be euphoric and dull. So what was the School of Rock experience like for you? Like, what stands out? What was Jack Black like? Did it change your life, or was it just a cool experience? And do you keep in touch with any of the people?

B.B.: Filming was kind of a blur, like I mentioned before. JB is the coolest. He and Mike White and Richard Linklater would always prefer to hang with us kids rather than the bigwig producer people, which was really awesome. Everyone on set really loved us and took care of us. We all felt like rock stars. I think, considering the fact that in grade school I was bullied immensely for being a dork, that this was the first time I’d ever felt cool and that I was getting the good kind of attention for my skills/talents/barfbarfbarf. It totally changed my life because I learned the confidence, rock-star attitude, and a lot of the qualities I carry with me on stage today, in improv, in stand up sets, in auditions, in concerts, on dates. Kevin Clark lives in Chicago so I see him on occasion, not enough though. I still talk to Angelo a lot, because he was my on-set crush and still to this day my real-life crush. And really, that’s about it. The reunion in 2013 was insane. Probably the happiest day of my life, actually. We all met up in Austin for a screening of the film and a photo shoot with Entertainment Weekly and then got hammered with Jack, Rick and Mike at the St. Cecilia Hotel and went swimming at 4 am. It was ridiculous. Everyone got so cute over the last 12 years—not that we weren’t adorable already or anything.

J.P.: So this might be a weird question, but you’re 20 years younger than I am. You’ve been brought up with a cell phone, with Facebook, with Instagram. And it seems like—especially your generation—everyone wants to be seen; to be famous; to be known; to matter. Or maybe I’m reading this wrong. Thoughts?

B.B.: I was probably one of the last kids in my class to get a cell phone. In eighth grade, pretty much all the kids in my class had those Sidekicks and texting and I had to call people from my house phone. I got a shitty Nokia going into high school and didn’t have texting or Facebook until maybe my junior year of high school, and my parents heavily monitored both of those things because I constantly fucked up. Now that I have a pretty good following, on Twitter, on Instagram, etc. I feel pretty indifferent to being known, being famous, to mattering. I Tweet shit I think is funny, usually when I’m drunk or sleep deprived, and I take a ridiculous amount of selfies, and I don’t really care who sees it or likes the posts or retweets it. I post that shit for my own enjoyment.

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J.P.: Your IMDB page lists you as an actress in two things—School of Rock and a short called “Cool Nerds.” Um, what the hell is “Cool Nerds”? And how did you land it?

B.B.: Cool Nerds! Ahhh. Cool Nerds was an online sketch video I did with some friends from iO. This is the link.

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

B.B.: The School of Rock reunion concert was badass. Definitely in my top three, but my sketch group, The Cupid Players, did a little show in Austin this past August and packed the house with people we didn’t know at all, and s-l-a-y-e-d. Probably my lowest point was when I tripped onstage at the Toronto Film Festival in front of the Olsen twins.

J.P.: What’s the different between a great bass player and a so-so one? I mean, I feel like I can’t tell. Van Halen replaced Michael Anthony—arguably one of the most accomplished rock bass players of all time—with Eddie Van Halen’s teenage son, and nobody seemed to notice. Is it just me?

B.B.: I’d consider myself to be so-so. I’m a guitarist who happens to know how to play bass. I don’t even know how to read bass clef. Flea is great. Entwistle (duh) is great. Mike Dirnt is great. Paul McCartney and I might be on the same-ish level. Very basic. Nothing ridiculous, no bass solos. I’m keeping the rhythm.

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 10.07.20 PMJ.P.: What’s it feel like, on stage, when everything is going right? Like, what’s the emotion? What flows through you?

B.B.: Pure bliss. I’ve found that a great show feels way better than a great burger or a great nap or a great orgasm.

J.P.: Jack Black calls, he wants to get the gang back for School of Rock II: Rocking Even Harder. What do they need to offer you to be in?

B.B.: A bass solo, and a Costco sized box of Cheez-its.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH BECCA BROWN:

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I only fly drunk, so I don’t recall.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Nacho Libre, Sammy Hagar, Nickelback, wood tables, Spongebob, John Cusack, Shane Mosley, 10 feet of snow, scissors, Sammy Sosa: Spongebob, scissors, wood tables, Nacho Libre, John Cusack, Shane Mosley, Sammy Hagar, Sammy Sosa, 10 feet of snow, Nickelback.

• Tell us one thing about School of Rock very few people know.: I don’t actually know how to play cello. I’m just a great fucking actor.

• Five greatest bass players of your lifetime: Kim Gordon. D’Arcy Wretzky. Melissa Auf der Maur. Aimee Mann. Paz Lenchantin.

• The next president will be …: My girl Hillary.

• Five reasons one should make Chicago his/her next vacation destination: Food, comedy, bars, Lollapalooza, I live here.

• Who do you consider to be the sexiest celebrity alive?: Tough one, but definitely Melissa McCarthy.

• In 26 words, make the case for Lady Gaga: Okay, sure her Oscars performance was good. But have you heard her unreleased shit? Do yourself a favor, please listen to Sexy Ugly. Also, meat dress.

• Without looking it up, list every Hall & Oates song you know: Kiss on My List, Rich Girl, You Make My Dreams Come True, Maneater. All the basic ones—I hate myself.

• What are the odds there’s intelligent life on other planets?: Totes could be a thing.