Jeff Pearlman

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Category Archives: QUAZ

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Cherie Johnson

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Twitter is a time suck. Twitter is oft-offensive. Twitter allows trolls to seize the day. Twitter gives racists and homophobes and assholes a voice.

And yet, Twitter comes with some pretty great perks.

First and foremost, it’s the world’s best people finder. And when I recently (and randomly) thought to myself, “I would love to have someone from ‘Punky Brewster,’ I went straight for the ol’ laptop and straight for the ol’ Twitter.

Where I found the kickass Cherie Johnson.

For those of you who recall the 1980s sitcom, Cherie played Punky’s best friend—named, well, “Cherie.” She was cute and precocious and sharp, and loved every moment of it. Unlike many of her peers, fortunately, Cherie emerged from the world of child acting to become an impressive (and sane) adult. She still acts, she’s an author, she runs a company that helps thespians with their careers. In short, she’s got her shit together.

Today, Cherie talks Punky, Gary Coleman, #metoo and the marginalization of African-American women in showbiz. You can follow her on Twitter here, on Instagram here and visit her website here.

Cherie Johnson, you’ve been Quazed …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Cherie, you’ve done a ton of acting over the years, but to me you’ll always, first and foremost, be Punky’s pal from “Punky Brewster.” And I guess I have two questions about that—A. How do you feel about being recognized/thought of from a 32-year-old show? B. Looking back, how do you feel about “Punky Brewster” What I mean is—do you love it? Do you see it as a life changer, or more like this little lark from childhood?

CHERIE JOHNSON: Punky to me at this point is surreal! An amazing gift life gave me that has extremely shaped my life journeys. I am appreciative that I did a good enough job at bringing a character to life that I’m still remembered. I am thankful.

J.P.: Obviously you’re well aware of the #metoo movement that’s swept up a lot of Hollywood. I was wondering if you ever experienced what you consider, in hindsight, to be inappropriate treatment from men in the business? And why do you think so much bad happened in Hollywood? Was it a matter of power dynamics?

C.J.: Yes, I have been sexual harrassed but I never played along or kept quiet. Those men knew exactly how I felt the moment it happened. Did it cause me not to get hired again? Sure. So much bad happens everywhere if people open their eyes. Once upon a time, many years ago, I worked in a real estate office while trying to study to take my real estate licences and the man whom was supposed to be my mentor crossed the line much worse than anyone in Hollywood had. It happens everywhere, but for whatever reason Hollywood is put on a pedestal. Power struggle with people’s reality vs. fiction of life. This world—every walk—is filled with sexual predators and those who enable them! That’s why rape statistics are so high. Sexual assault isn’t just a Hollywood issue. It’s a world issue.

Cherie and Punky back in the day.

Cherie and Punky back in the day.

J.P.: Totally random, but in 1985 you co-starred with Gary Coleman in the made-for-TV film, “Playing with Fire.” I was always fascinated by Coleman, in large part because he seemed to be the face of the bad that comes with young fame. Looking back, what do you remember about working with him? And how you explain his sad demise?

C.J.: Gary was one of the most amazing people I got to work with. He was sweet and overprotective; a wonderful big brother type. This whole bullying thing for some reason doesn’t apply to entertainers. Gary was a great person and was never treated fairly. Unfortunately, life circumstances took advantage.

J.P.: So I know your uncle, David Duclon, was the creator of “Silver Spoons” and a producer for a bunch of shows. But how, exactly, did showbiz get in your blood? Was there a moment when you thought, “Yes! I am made to do this?” Were you always passionate about acting?

C.J.: Watching Ricky Schroder at rehearsal of Silver Spoons, I looked at my Uncle and said, “I can do that you know”. LOL—I was 5-years old.

J.P.: So you’re the author of “Stupid Guys Diary,” a chronicling of your dates through the years. And it’s largely one disaster after another—oftentimes because some guy doesn’t know how to go about dating an actress. And I wonder—why is this? Like, why do you think men struggle dating a celebrity, as opposed to, say, a lawyer, a cop, a receptionist? What’s the problem?

C.J.: I think the issue is they never see the person. They see the characters they like. This world confuses reality and fiction and doesn’t know the difference. Common sense ain’t common.

J.P.: You run “The Real Hollywood,” a traveling workshop for aspiring actors, directors, producers. First, how did you come up with the idea? Why? And what, specifically, are you trying to show people? Teach people?

C.J.: When I started producing, I realized the mistakes actors make in auditions can be easily corrected. But casting directors and producers don’t tell or help actors. Also, people come to me often about being scammed out of thousands in the name of so-called acting/modeling schools. People forget acting is a business not just a craft so I teach the business.

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

C.J.: The greatest was producing my own film. The worst was when people only wanted to hire me to play the nice girl next door.

J.P.: You’re very outspoken on Twitter, Instagram, etc. when it comes to matters of social justice. And I wonder—do you at all worry about this? What I mean is, Trump voters watch films, too. Trump voters aspire to act. So is there any concern about alienating people you might need? Why or why not?

C.J.: Honestly, I could give a shit if Trump voters are turned off. They turn me off, too. I am a human first and not defined by my career. I have not been hired because of my social media truths and, truly, I dont give a shit. Those seem like jobs I didn’t ultimately need anyway. Here is the thing: I won’t even compromise Cherie to please anyone.

J.P.: You’ve been acting for several decades now, and it’s no secret Hollywood sees African-Americans—and, specifically, African-American women—in certain unflattering/limited/stigmatized lights. It just seems like women of color are marginalized and reduced to certain roles. Soooo … what do you tell young African-American actresses/aspiring actresses? Are there ways to rise above the stigma? To make yourself appealing when, traditionally, casting heads don’t a certain “type”? 

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C.J.: Just because an invitation is sent doesn’t mean you have to go to the party. Cherie Johnson does not audition for nannies, housekeepers, hoes or concubines. We stop accepting and they will stop offering the disrespect. I am not The Help! (The concept of the film pisses me off) and my acceptance doesn’t come from their award shows.
I started producing 17 years ago because I got tired of waiting for them to hire me. Create your own jobs.

J.P.: You spent a good number of years on “Family Matters,” and I wonder—how does a sitcom last that long? I mean, obviously it resonated with an audience—but how? And did you ever get tired of playing the same character for so long?

C.J.: I think sitcoms last when the cast enjoys and loves each other. Also, having relatable characters. I only was tired playing the same character after the show ended.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH CHERIE JOHNSON:

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: No

• Best piece of advice you ever received?: Never let anyone steal your joy!

• Who wins in a MMA match between you and Sarah Palin?: I’d beat Sarah’s ass …

• Five all-time favorite books?: Peaches and Cream and Stupid Guys Diary by Cherie Johnson, Once Upon a Christmas by David Duclon, Come Inside by Deborah Lindsay Tillman, Love Struggles by Romeo J. Ballayan!

• Celine Dion calls. She offers you $5 million to move to Las Vegas for a year and work as her personal acting coach. However, you have to work 365-straight says, live on a diet of Coke Zero and baked potatoes and change your last name to Genesimmons. You in?: I don’t drink Coke Zero. Celine can kiss my ass!

• Five best actresses of your lifetime?: Cicely Tyson, Loretta Devine, Sally Field, Sandra Bullock and Angela Bassett.

• The world needs to know—what was it like working with Finis Henderson III in “A Little Bit Strange”?: Amazing experience with an amazing cast! Michael Warren and Martin Lawrence were also on that set and Vanessa Bell Calloway. Dream come true for any young actor.

• Should the Washington Redskins change their name?: Yes

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Michael Sam, Jaimee Foxworth, George Gaynes, Mitch McConnell, Frenchy Fuqua, “Patti Cake$,” spiral notepads, chocolate-covered raisins, granola, Anaheim Ducks: George Gaynes, Jaimee Foxworth, spiral note pads, I’m allergic to chocolate and too lazy to google the other names … Pittsburgh Penguins!

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Diane Pizarro

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On the morning of January 13, Diane Pizarro was at her home in Kailua, speaking via phone with her brother, when this message flashed across her screen …
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What is one supposed to do?

How is one supposed to act?

You’re a mother. A daughter. A friend. A spouse. And you are suddenly informed that your life—and the lives of your loved ones—is about to end.

This is the subject of today’s Quaz.

Diane is my former former Tennessean colleague, as well as a product of The Review, the University of Delaware’s student newspaper. She lives in Kailua with her husband and children, and works as a real estate agent. You can visit her page here.

Serious Quaz, serious subject …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Diane, so you’re inside your home in Kailua when the missile alert is sent out. So: A. How did you learn of it? B. What was your initial response?

DIANE PIZARRO: I’m on the phone with my brother in LA. He’s talking but his voice suddenly goes dead and the alert starts blaring through my phone. I pull the phone away from my ear to look at the text, and see the emergency alert, BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER and the haunting words, THIS NOT A DRILL.

The message disappears, and my brother’s voice comes back on. He’s still talking. I interrupt him, my voice shaking and starting to crack. “Adam, oh my god I just got an alert on my phone about a nuclear attack.” I run down the hall to find my husband, Fernando. I’m shouting, “Fernando, what should we do?” But the alert hasn’t gone off on his phone yet, so he has no idea what I’m blathering about. I tell him about the alert, but it has disappeared from my screen already. Still nothing on his phone. He turns on the local TV station and it’s college basketball. Nothing. At this point I tell my brother I’m getting off the phone to figure out what’s going on. The TV finally flashes up the same alert message, giving us confirmation, but we still keep looking for more information. Meanwhile my brother is checking Twitter and sees many other people reporting the same. Then the siren near our house goes off. (We find out later very few, if any, other sirens went off, and most news reports stated there were no sirens, but the ones by our house did. I don’t recall if it was just the tsunami warning sound we are accustomed to hearing during monthly tests or the nuclear warning siren they just added in November, but any siren in my panicked state was further confirmation of our worst fears). Now we are running around closing windows. The alert finally comes across on Fernando’s phone.

Our 9-year-old daughter is repeatedly asking, “Mom, what? What is it?” I’m not sure if I should tell her, but she keeps asking, so I tell her we received an alert and we were taking precautions against a possible attack, but that we’re probably fine. She knows it’s not fine and she she starts crying. She knows exactly what it means because her class recently went through a drill at school. Meanwhile her 11-year-old sister is still asleep. I go in her room and wake her, tell her she needs to get up and we need to get away from the windows. I ask her to bring her pillow and come into the hall. I run to the fridge and grab a bottle of orange juice and plastic cups (not sure why I grab orange juice, it’s just the first thing I see in the fridge, but no one wants orange juice. I think I felt I had to DO something. We would later laugh about this). Then we just sit in the hall, and try to comfort the kids as best we can. I take to Facebook to post a message and also to see what others were posting. My husband is looking on Twitter for more information and confirmation. We sit and wait.

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J.P.: I hope this doesn’t sound obvious—but what was the fear like? How would you explain it? What are the emotions running through your mind? 

D.P.: I felt very helpless, not really knowing what to do. I mean really, we had no clue what to do, other than close windows. There’s no time, so they recommend sheltering in place.  I was thinking about our 15-year-old daughter who was already in the air on her way home from a school trip to San Francisco. What would she be coming home to, or could she even return home? Would they turn the plane around? And she didn’t even know what was going on. I know they recommend filling a bathtub with water, but we didn’t even think that. We were terribly unprepared. While the first few minutes after the alert were filled with fear and panic, an eerie calm came over as as we sat in the hall and waited. I remember thinking don’t look at the windows, don’t look at the light. Those few minutes as we sat there in the hall we really didn’t even know what to expect. Even after we got the alerts that it was a false alarm, it took us a while to peel ourselves up and shake it off. I think I was still shaking for a while after, and just felt discombobulated for most of the day.

J.P.: How did you find out it was a false alarm? And what did that feel like?

D.P.: Fernando saw a Tweet from Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. That was the first confirmation. We kept searching for more confirmation, and I saw posts from a couple of friends on Facebook and eventually it became clear we were not in imminent danger. It was frustrating because authorities didn’t issue an official notification for 38 minutes, which seemed like forever. Then it was trying to find out what on earth happened. Local television finally started reporting that it was a mistake and then we could finally start going about our business. Like watching the Titans get destroyed by the Patriots. Oh, and when I picked up our 15-year-old at the airport, she was teasing me a little, like, “Oh, you believed it was real?” She had no idea the fear and panic we went through, but maybe that’s for the best. Those 10 minutes or so changed us a little bit.

J.P.: I’m sure you’re aware that, as all this was happening, Donald Trump was playing golf, and Tweeted about #fakenews unrelated to Hawaii. So … does that bother you? Or does it not really matter?

D.P.: I’ve stopped paying attention to anything he does. It’s pointless, and I’m not at all surprised by what he was doing or his reaction. The thing I’m focused on now is how can we get rid of him, and also get back Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.

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With Fernando.

J.P.: You and I both attended the University of Delaware, both worked at The Tennessean. So, um, how the heck did you wind up in Hawaii?

D.P.: After having our first daughter in Nashville, we visited Fernando’s parents who had moved there out of the blue in 1996 from the U.S. mainland. We fell in love with it. How could you not? We were getting restless living in Middle Tennessee and Hawaii was completely different. Having his parents there was also a reason to move. Gannett, which owns The Tennessean where my husband and I worked, also owned the Honolulu Advertiser and we arranged to meet some of the editors in Honolulu. There were no positions available at that time, but when a city editor position opened up a few months later, Fernando applied for the position and we moved here three weeks after getting the job offer, in July 2004.

J.P.: My wife has often said, “I’d love to live in Hawaii.” But then I’ve heard two common negative replies: 1. You inevitably feel like you’re trapped; 2. People aren’t that warm toward non-natives. Any of that legit? And what is it like living there?

D.P.: Island fever! I’ve not felt that in the almost 14 years I’ve been here. I imagine some people can feel boxed in since you can’t drive anywhere but it’s not an issue for us. Everyone we’ve met has been extremely gracious, hospitable and friendly. It’s obvious my husband and I are not from here, but no one has ever made us feel unwanted or excluded. It’s all about how you engage with the people you meet and having an open mind and avoiding any preconceived notions. Aside from missile threats, I imagine living here is much like living on any coast of the United States: beautiful, expensive, full of wonderful ocean views and tropical settings.

J.P.: Like an increasing number of people, you’re an ex-journalist. Why? What happened? What caused you to leave the business?

D.P.: When we were talking with The Honolulu Advertiser, the only positions that were available for me would have involved working at night. With Fernando as city editor, we would have been on completely different schedules and we didn’t want that for our family. I decided to be a stay-at-home mom and I loved the time I spent with my children. When the children grew older and I started thinking about working again, so much had changed in journalism locally and nationally that I felt very removed and separate from my old career. I thought about what really interested me and real estate was where my interests were.

J.P.: What’s the journalism scene in Honolulu? Do you see good reporting being done? Are newspapers still important?

D.P.: Honolulu became a one-newspaper town in 2010 and that was definitely a loss. I think Honolulu Civil Beat, an online news site, does a good job of augmenting the one newspaper and the TV stations. There’s good journalism here but there’s room for more investigative work.

At the 2011 Pro Bowl

At the 2011 Pro Bowl

J.P.: You’re a realtor in Honolulu County. I’ve gotta think people are always itching to move there. So … what are the complications? Like, do people think they’re walking into something unrealistic? Paradise without problems? And what percentage of your business is locals v. people from off the mainland?

D.P.: It is very costly to live in Hawaii. With median single family home prices at $750,000, many people work multiple jobs to manage. Buyers coming in from the mainland can be unrealistic if they aren’t familiar with the market. Even $500,000 doesn’t go very far in most parts of the island. In Kailua for instance, the beach town where we live, $500,000 will only buy a 1-2 bedroom apartment with a $400-600 a month maintenance fee. Some of the newer subdivisions out west are more affordable, but with that comes traffic gridlock so people find themselves making tough choices regarding housing. In our little beach town, many single family homes have attached apartments added on that can be rented out to help with the mortgage. But be prepared to spend well over $1 million for something like that. Many of my clients are locals or transplants who have been here many years and are essentially considered locals, but I do also have a fair share of military and relocating civilian clients.

J.P.: One of your featured listings is a seven-bathroom, six-bedroom Honolulu home selling for $5.9 million. I wonder—are huge listings like that harder or easier than, say, your average $700,000 home? Do you have to approach them differently?

D.P.: The scale of Hawaii real estate is so much larger than on the Mainland. An “average home” here is a mansion almost anywhere else in the United States. I think about that with every transaction that I’m fortunate enough to have. Whether I’m working with a buyer or seller, the investment is very significant and I work very hard for all of my clients. Some properties have their own complexity because of specific issues with the lot or the infrastructure or legal issues. Some higher dollar transactions can go much more smoothly than those where the price point is lower, but it can also be just the opposite. The goal always is to have happy, satisfied clients. Much like the day in the life of a journalist, every day and every transaction is different. I love that and it gives me a great thrill to find the right house for a buyer, get offers on one of my listings, or learn about a home not yet on market, no matter the price point.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH DIANE PIZARRO:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Ted Spiker, Frank Sutherland, Kellogg’s Pops, New Jersey, Nerlens Noel, the elephant exhibit at a zoo, coconut pie, Punky Brewster, the number 34: New Jersey! (my first home in the U.S. after emigrating from London in 1981, and the setting for my high school years!!!); Frank Sutherland (hired me and also helped us get to Honolulu 11 years later); Ted Spiker (fun memories of late nights at the Review); the elephant exhibit at the zoo (where I first saw newly elected President Obama with his daughters before he took office, so whenever I see the elephant exhibit it reminds me of that day); Kellogg’s Pops (reminds me of college, eating them straight out of the box); coconut pie (haupia pie in Hawaii); the number 34 (prefer odd numbers); Punky Brewster (didn’t watch much TV at that time, was in college), Nerlens Noel (who?).

• Five reasons one should make Honolulu his/her next vacation destination?: Beautiful beaches; even more beautiful lush mountains; local cuisine, especially poke (raw fish, usually cubed and seasoned, and spicy ahi is da best); aloha spirit; the people. Once you let her in, Hawai’i stays in your soul.

• How did you meet your husband?: He came to The Tennessean for a conference we were hosting. He was working for the Clarksville (Tenn.) Leaf-Chronicle newspaper at the time. We sat in some sessions and I remember he sat across from me at dinner. He got a job at The Tennessean about a year after that and we hit it off right away.

• What’s the greatest smell in the world?: The ocean.

• Last time you saw snow in person?: June 2015 when we visited a friend in Washington State and we took a trip to Mount Baker. The kids threw snowballs, slid down the hill and made snow angels. It was priceless.

• Three memories from working at The Review?: 1. Late, late nights hanging out with Ted Spiker, Mark Nardone, Corey Ullman, Jeff James, Bob Bicknell and many others I’ve lost touch with, takeout grilled cheese and french fries at the student center; 2. The April Fools edition. Awesome. Do they still do that? I doubt it. So politically incorrect; 3. My first editors were Mike Freeman and Chuck Arnold. When I first started on the Review, I was new to journalism completely clueless. I was typing a story and lost it two or three times. Mike Freeman was the editor-in-chief and he took the time to help retrieve the story. He was a inspiring newsroom leader, and I have since enjoyed following his success. I read a Quaz you did with him a while back and was happy to see it. I lost track of Chuck Arnold but I always thought he would end up in the music industry.

• Celine Dion calls. She wants to buy a $10 million home in Honolulu, and wants to use your services. However, she insists you shave your hair and only eat peaches and Chex Mix for two weeks. You in?: Nope. I don’t like Celine Dion and it would also hurt my reputation.

• Do you think the Brooklyn Nets were wise to trade for Jahlil Okafor?: Who and who? I only know my Tennessee Titans.

• What are three things you always carry?: Phone, driver’s license, credit card.

• What happens when we die?: -30-

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Michal Kapral

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Photo by Christine Spingola/Canada Running Series

A few weeks ago I was feeling down about the Quaz.

I’ve been doing this thing for nearly seven years, and the week-after-week-after-week grind had taken its toll. I actually spoke with the wife about retiring the series, and took that idea to Twitter and Facebook. People were supportive (Maybe just some time off?), but I was torn. On the one hand, I really wanna hit 1,000. On the other hand, it can be a burden.

Then—Michal Kapral.

He was suggested by a friend, and after I asked, “Michal who?” he sent me material that had me both entertained and dazzled. I mean, here’s a guy who has devoted much of his life to running marathons … while juggling. That is so friggin’ Quaz, I couldn’t possibly let it pass.

Anyhow, here I am. Renewed and re-energized and back on the march toward 1,000. And here, by no mere coincidence, is Michal Kapral, aka “The Joggler.” His story is insane. His exploits are insane. And behind it all is a genuinely good dude who, as a boy, picked up a copy of the Guinness Book of World Records and said, “I want that.”

One can follow Michal on Twitter here, and read his fascinating blog here.

Michal Kapral, take a break. You’re the 342nd Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Michal, you’re “The Joggler”—meaning you run marathons while juggling. Which is quirky/funky/awesome/weird. So, basic first question, how did this happen?

MICHAL KAPRAL: You know how sometimes in life, a series of small decisions and events lead to strange and unexpected consequences? That’s how I became “The Joggler.” Growing up, I was mostly healthy and normal, but also felt different from my friends because I was allergic to almost every food. I also had severe eczema, and asthma that sent me to the hospital several times. I think this feeling of being different pushed me try offbeat feats. I already felt like a bit of an oddball, so why not embrace it?

My sister Moira and I used to flip through the Guinness Book of World Records to find records we could break. When I was about 12, I had just taught myself how to juggle three tennis balls, and found a record for the “joggling” marathon. Running while juggling for 26.2 miles—I was captivated! I couldn’t believe that someone did this, and went to the park the next day to try out this hilarious-sounding sport. To my amazement, the juggling actually fit perfectly with the running stride. Flash forward 20 years, and I was then a semi-competitive marathon runner. I had won the Toronto Marathon in a PR of 2:30:40 and had dreams of representing Canada in the Olympics. But my marathon times remained stuck in that 2:30 range and my life got too busy to train like an elite marathoner. I was working two jobs and shuttling our first daughter Annika to and from daycare in a Baby Jogger. At some point when I was doing a long run pushing Annika in the running stroller, I thought about running my next marathon pushing her, and wondered if there was a Guinness World Record for running a marathon pushing a stroller. Turned out there was. It was 3:05. So in 2004, I set my first Guinness World Record with Annika: fastest marathon pushing a stroller, in 2:49.

I was raising money for SickKids, the hospital that took care of me when I had those asthma attacks as a kid, and when the people from the charity asked me what I would do the next year, I blurted out: “I’m going to run the marathon while juggling!” I hadn’t tried joggling in 20 years, and had just committed to running an entire marathon. But my childhood dream was alight and I was excited to chase it. I ordered a set of juggling balls and started training every morning at sunrise so no one would see me struggling. I dropped the balls left, right and center. I swore into the morning air. But I kept at it, and got a little better every day. After a few months, I could go a mile without a drop. My arms got strong. In 2005 at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon, I set the record for fastest marathon joggling three objects, in 3:07. I saw kids point and cheer along the course who were the same age as me when I first read about this record, and felt there was something more to this than silliness. The juggling pattern mesmerized me. My arms, legs and brain were all working in perfect harmony. Making it across that finish line after more than three hours of running while juggling every step was one the hardest things I’ve ever done. Everything hurt, even my brain. But I had become “The Joggler.”

J.P.: You are in the Guinness Book of World Records for running a 2:50 marathon while juggling three objects. My PR is a 3:11—sans any objects. So what I wonder, as a running geek, is how you run so fast while not using your arms in a collaborative effort? Is arm usage somehow overrated in running?

M.K.: The cool thing about joggling is that the arm motion of running actually syncs up perfectly with the tosses in the three-ball cascade juggling pattern. After many years of practice, I can run while juggling at almost the same speed as I would just running. My marathon PR is 20 minutes faster than my joggling record, but I was probably in 2:35 or 2:40 marathon shape when I joggled the 2:50 record. The secret to efficient joggling is maintaining the same arm swing as when you’re running. This means you need to catch the ball, carry it in your hand as your arm swings back and then toss it as your arm swings forward. When it’s smooth, joggling is poetry in motion.

J.P.: Back in October you ran the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon and tried to set a new world record for fastest marathon while juggling five objects. You came up short, but still blogged about the experience as a victorious one. Why?

M.K.: I had been thinking about trying a five-ball joggling marathon for 10 years. It’s such a daunting prospect because the difficulty level is off the charts. Also, most people don’t even realize how hard it is. When I was joggling the five-ball marathon, a woman saw me and said: “You should just juggle three balls. No one will know the difference.” She had a good point. A lot of people can’t distinguish the three-ball pattern from four or five. I raised money for SickKids again, but the five-ball marathon attempt was much more of a personal challenge than the three-ball records. It turned out to be even more challenging than I expected, and I had to bail on the juggling after a little over 10 miles. But I considered it a success because it was such an amazing experience. I got to reconnect with my joggling rival and friend Zach Warren, who acted as my spotter during the race, people donated nearly $2,000 to SickKids, I made it to 17km while juggling five balls, which is the furthest five-ball joggling distance officially documented, and Zach convinced me to finish the rest of the marathon without the juggling, which we did with a negative split (running the second half faster than the first) of nearly two hours. I also got to experience what it’s like to be in dead last place in a marathon. Humbling! The five-ball joggling pattern is a beautiful thing, but trying to do it in a busy marathon was a lofty goal. I don’t think I’ll try it again (although I’ve said that before about other records!).

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Photo by Canada Running Series

J.P.: I’m pretty sure people are born fast and others are born less fast, and while the less fast can become fast, they might never run a 2:20 marathon. My question is—are people born jugglers? Like, could a non-juggler like myself devote years to the craft and become a star? Or does it take a special something?

M.K.: I never really thought about that. I think there is some natural talent involved in becoming an advanced juggler. Since I took up joggling, I’ve watched videos of a bunch of the world’s best jugglers and the things they can do will blow your mind. Much like running, a huge amount of juggling skill can be acquired through hours and hours of practice, but like elite runners, I bet the top-level jugglers have some natural ability baked in there. But I do think that with patience and practice, anyone can become a really good juggler. I practiced for many hours for about six months to learn the five-ball pattern. It certainly didn’t come naturally. Once you get comfortable with the three-ball cascade, practice becomes a lot more fun because you can learn tricks, and then move up to four balls, five balls, and other props like rings and clubs. The possibilities for tricks and routines are virtually infinite, which is really cool. It’s not just clowning around. Juggling is a sport, an art, a science, a skill and brain-builder. It’s definitely worth the effort that you put into it. It’s really a shame that juggling is associated with being geeky and clownish in our current society, because it has so many benefits.

J.P.: Off-putting question, but how much of this is about attention? We all have egos. We all like to be noticed. So does that need feed you at all? Do you thrive off the news appearances, cheering fans, etc?

M.K.: I think of my joggling as similar to being a professional athlete (but without most of the money). I don’t do it for the attention, but it’s fun to put your best out there for the world to see, and to entertain people in the process. I used to do 99 percent of my joggling training alone through Toronto’s park system, and I do it for the same reasons runners run. I enjoy it. Nowadays, my joggling commute from work in downtown Toronto to our home in east end is sort of performance art in its own right, since I run past so many people. How many other sports are there where you get random people cheering you on while you train? So I get a real kick out my training now, seeing kids point me out to their moms and dads, and hearing all kinds of hilarious comments from people on the street. When I’m racing, it’s a huge thrill to hear the cheers and see the look of shock on some people’s faces, and the media interviews are fun and exciting, but it’s also a ton of hard work for no money.

I’m just trying to be best at my sport, which happens to be quirky enough to garner a lot of attention. If a running brand sponsored me, they would get millions and millions of dollars’ worth of PR value every year. My least favorite comment is when people yell “Show-off!” near the end of a joggling marathon, when every fiber of my being is screaming in agony from the effort. That’s when I get envious of Olympic athletes or of NBA players or tennis stars. No one yells “Show-off!” at LeBron James when he sinks a three-pointer. The greatest thing is just doing your absolute best, whatever it is you do. I’m very lucky joggling is a fun challenge for me and also entertaining for other people. I was in the 2009 documentary, “Breaking and Entering,” that follows the lives of several world-record breakers. The movie has the great tagline: “Fame. Fortune. Usually neither.” The record-breakers in the film had all kinds of different motivations for doing what they do. Fame and fortune were not typically high on the list, which is good because if they were the driving factors, there would be a lot of very disappointed record-breakers out there.

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Photo by Dianne Kapral

J.P.: Here’s the one that gets me—in 2012 you juggled the entire Trapline Marathon in Labrador—and won it with a 2:59. That’s beyond weird, because I imagine, for the other competitors, it must have been somewhat discouraging. What do you remember from the experience?

M.K.: Thinking of the Trapline Marathon in Happy Valley-Goose Bay in Labrador brings back so many great memories. It’s a beautiful point-to-point course along one rolling road in the wilderness of the Canadian north. It’s such a small race that the other runners didn’t care that a guy won it while juggling. I ran next to one guy for a few miles and then took off on my own for the rest. It was quite a surreal experience (one of many surreal joggling experiences) to be joggling all alone in such a remote area and winning a marathon. Serial marathoner Michael Wardian was supposed to run it that year but was injured. He cheered me on from a bike for part of the race. There was a moose on the course, and they served moose stew at race finish. I remember wondering if it was the same moose.

J.P.: In 2015 you were banned from running the New York City Marathon when your beanbags were prohibited for security reasons. What, exactly, happened? And how furious were you?

M.K.: I always ask for permission from the race director before joggling. It’s never been a problem before. I had signed up for the New York City Marathon assuming joggling would be allowed since it had a long tradition of permitting jogglers. Race founder Fred Lebow was a fan of joggling back in the 1980s. Unfortunately, the race instituted new security rules after the Boston Marathon bombings, which prohibited the use of “props” or “sporting equipment.” I sent the race a detailed email with my joggling resume and the specs on my 100-gram, millet-filled juggling beanbags, and they said sorry, the beanbags are not allowed because of security concerns. I tried to plead my case, but to no avail. I wasn’t angry, just super disappointed. With so many spectators, NYC is the perfect venue for joggling. Such a shame.

At least one other person joggled the race anyway, so they don’t even enforce it. The funny thing was the story ended up on the front page of the New York Times sports section on the day of the marathon with the awesome headline: “With Juggling Ban, Only Things Being Aired Are Grievances.” The article included some hilarious passages, like, “Reactions from the tightknit joggling community were swift and furious, with members expressing concern from as far as Afghanistan and the Central African Republic.” Incredibly, when I ran the race as a normal non-juggling runner, a ton of people still recognized me from the NYT piece, and because I was in a TV commercial for Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott. I’ve never had so much attention for not joggling.

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Photo by Christine Spingola/Canada Running Series

J.P.: I’m gonna throw a random one at you, based solely on your running experience. My son is 11, and his middle school has a running club that trains sixth, seventh and eighth graders for a marathon. A full marathon. I find this unwise and crazy, and we’re only letting Emmett train for a half. What says you?

M.K.: I’ve heard of kids that age running marathons and I don’t think it’s a good idea. That’s a lot of stress on growing bones. I’d stick to the half or 10K. My younger daughter Lauryn, who is 13, loves to run and goes five or six miles with me sometimes. I definitely wouldn’t want her to run a marathon at that age. What I think your son’s school really needs is a joggling club.

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

M.K.: The greatest moment in my sports career was reclaiming the world record for the three-ball joggling marathon in 2007, finishing in 2:50:12 at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon, and seeing my family at the finish line. I was so happy I literally jumped for joy at the finish line.

The lowest was probably the part of the five-ball joggling marathon attempt where the race video crew showed up after I had fallen apart and was trying to joggle with a torn muscle in my hand. At one point I was so done I lay down on my back – all captured on the live stream worldwide!

J.P.: It seems like there’s a fight for people to take joggling seriously. Like, you and your rivals clearly do. It’s not a joke, it’s a talent. And yet, from what I read there’s also a lot of snickering. Soooo … do you care? Do you get pissed when folks giggle, laugh, etc? Do you think folks misunderstand what you do?

M.K.: I don’t mind when people laugh or snicker. It’s a funny sport. As long as it makes people smile and laugh, that’s a good thing. But sure, lots of people don’t understand just how hard it is, and that we’re not just screwing around. It would be great if people recognized that it’s both difficult and funny. It’s a lot like stand-up comedy. It’ll never be serious, but it takes a lot of work to do it well.

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Photo by Trapline Marathon

QUAZ EXPRESS WITH MICHAL KAPRAL

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Spice Girls, Amy Grant, Vancouver, “Trading Places,” chocolate covered almonds, Nebraska, Howie Long, New Year’s Eve parties, rifles, little puppies, Tim Horton’s: “Trading Places,” Vancouver, chocolate covered almonds, New Year’s Eve parties, little puppies, Howie Long, Tim Horton’s, Nebraska, Spice Girls, rifles, Amy Grant

• You’re Canadian. From afar, what do you think of Donald Trump thus far?: What do you say? Trump’s election is greatest threat to democracy I’ve seen in my lifetime. I’m sad and scared for my American neighbors, but still hopeful justice will be served to everyone who’s complicit in this mess. I happened to read Bill Browder’s “Red Notice” just before the U.S. election – a terrifying account of how deep the corruption runs in Putin’s regime. Every American should read it to get a sense of what you’re dealing with.

• Three things we need to know about your wife: 1. Apart from being smart, beautiful and great mom, Dianne is always up for adventure. We went backpacking in Ecuador for our honeymoon; 2. Dianne is a great runner, and ran her marathon PR of 3:24:17 in Chicago in 2014 at age 41; 3. Dianne hates, HATES being called “The Joggler’s wife,” even though she’s really the one who’s responsible for making me known as “The Joggler” by writing all the press releases and pitching my record attempts to media when I first started.

• I just read that Janet Jackson is back together with Jermaine Dupri. How you taking the news?: Tito, get me some tissue.

• Four all-time favorite jazz musicians?: Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, but I prefer heavy metal.

• What are the three keys to successful juggling?: Get used to failure, stay calm, think of the whole pattern not the individual toss, learn in increments

 Best memory from your senior prom?: I went to an American school in Rome for my senior year, so senior prom at a Roman villa was all one big amazing memory.

• Ever thought you were about to die? If so, what do you recall?: Several times from anaphylaxis after accidentally eating peanuts or other food allergens. Every time, my first thought was just “Not now!” I almost died from a rare virus a few years ago, but that time I was totally unaware of my near-death. I passed out, crumpling to the bathroom floor, smashing my head and tearing open my arm on the way down. I woke up what felt like one second later to find my wife and two daughters screaming and crying in front of me. It turned out I was unconscious for more than a minute, with my eyes open. Turned out to be a virus that used to have a 75% fatality rate before anti-viral medications came along. Thanks to some great doctors and Canadian health care, I was back marathon training a couple of weeks later.

• In exactly 16 words, make an argument for cornbread: Cornbread has the perfect texture and flavor to complement butter and chili. I want some now!

• What do your feet smell like after a race?: Surprisingly not too bad. I don’t sweat much and wear very thin, breathable socks. My wife might have another opinion about this.

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Alan Schwarz

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Back when I was a young writer at Sports Illustrated, there was a certain pack mentality to up-and-coming national scribes.

It’s hard to explain, but the men and women from magazines and big newspapers often chatted in press boxes, dined on the road, exchanged war stories about this hotel, that PR director. It was the club I always wanted to join, and being included meant a great deal to an insecure 26-year-old Jeff Pearlman.

During those days, I would see Baseball America‘s Alan Schwarz fairly often, but I’m not sure I ever considered him “one of us.” I address this below, and chalk it up 100 percent to my insecurity. But Alan just seemed … different. Smarter—definitely. Better dressed—always. More knowledgable about the inner-workings of the game—almost certainly. Whatever the case, I don’t think I ever fully understood the man, or even tried to. I probably felt threatened. That’s the beast of juvenile insecurity.

Anyhow, it was misguided. And as I sit here at 45, I look at Alan’s work and marvel. His investigative digging on concussions for the New York Times is the stuff of groundbreaking legend, and his ADHD reporting (and book) is the sort of material we all strive for.

In short: A. He’s done this business well; B. I was an ass.

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

Alan Schwarz, you are the 341st Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Alan, I’m gonna start with a weird one. So the first sentence of your Wikipedia bio identifies you as a “Pulitzer Prize-nominated” New York Times reporter. And, having never sniffed a sniff of a sniff of a sniff of a Pulitzer, I wonder what the process/experience is like. I truly have no idea—do you find out you’re nominated, then try and figure out your odds of winning? Do people say, “Oh, it’s in the bag”? Do you think about it a lot? Is there speech planning involved? And, when you find out you didn’t win, is it crushing? Disappointing? No biggie?

ALAN SCHWARZ: Just to clarify, I don’t write or edit my Wikipedia page, which has some mistakes—not the least of which (at least as of now) is still saying I’m with the Times, more than a year after I left. The “Pulitzer Prize-nominated” description is correct but, yes, a little confusing.

From what I was told, “nominated” for a Pulitzer does not mean “submitted for consideration”—turns out anyone can send in their stuff for the committee to eyeball. It actually means you were one of the three official finalists from which the winner is then chosen. My concussion series was a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer for Public Service (considered the most prestigious), so I was indeed nominated, something we found out through the grapevine a few weeks before the winners were decided. I spent several months being told I should—would—win, by people who really knew how it worked, and was pretty much an emotional wreck in the days leading up to the announcement. If you win, you’re immortal; this would have been the highest honor a sports reporter had ever received in the history of the field. Then, three days ahead of the official announcement, executive editor Bill Keller told me he knew that I had not won—the committee had chosen a Los Angeles Times series on political corruption in the small city of Bell, Calif. People had a hard time seeing how something that regionally specific qualified for writ-large Public Service, compared to our concussion work’s effects on national, even worldwide, children’s health. Keller said afterward, publicly, “I make it a practice not to second-guess the Pulitzer board—but on this one, I can’t help making an exception.”

That meant a lot to me, still does. I’ve always said, and meant it, that I would have rather finished second with the Times than won somewhere else. But I’ll admit that not a day goes by—literally—when I don’t wonder what could have been.

Alan (back row, red shirt) rocking it groovy in 1974.

Alan (back row, third from right) rocking the groovy glasses in 1974.

J.P.: You’re now known as one of the big guns when it comes to understanding the relationship between football and concussions. And it’s strange—because I knew you as the Baseball America guy for years … then one day, ‘Whoa, it’s Schwarz! And he’s the concussion guru.” So how did that first come about? When were you initially interested in the subject?

A.S.: Yes, I had been a baseball writer exclusively, for all 16 years of my career, when the concussion story pretty much fell in my lap. My first book, “The Numbers Game,” came out in 2004 and did very well. A year later, in the summer of 2005, my old editor at Inside Sports magazine, Ken Leiker, had become the communications guy (I think) for the World Wrestling Federation—and one of the wrestlers there, Chris Nowinski, who also happened to have played football at Harvard, had written a book on football concussions. Could I take a look at it and maybe give him some advice about publishing a first book? Sure, Ken, send it over. It blew me away. Not the text—that was fine—it was the footnotes, of all things. Everything was documented. All the assertions that the NFL had a concussion problem and was covering it up—sourced. All the studies about kids’ brain injuries—cited fastidiously. I knew nothing about concussions, but I sure knew what good, solid work was.

So I told Chris to come down from Boston to New York and I would introduce him to my agent and a few publisher friends, just as a professional courtesy. People had helped me when I was unknown, so pay it forward. Chris did come down, that summer of 2005, but no one thought his book was worth publishing (read: commercially viable). I said that was nuts—this was clearly in important matter that should be put in print if only as a public service. No one gave it the time of day. And that was it. Chris went back to his life, I went back to mine. I didn’t give it a second thought, honestly. But then, over a year later, in December 2006, Chris called me out of the blue. He said, “Alan, I might have some big news on my hands, and you’re the only one who ever took me seriously.” Andre Waters, the former Philadelphia Eagles safety, had killed himself a few weeks before and Chris was having the brain tissue examined for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, the disease to that point seen almost exclusively in boxers. Chris asked me that, if Waters did have the pathology, what media outlet might be interested? Well, I thought of only two places. ESPN, and Bob Ley of “Outside the Lines” specifically, because Bob darned well knows news when he sees it and wouldn’t be bullied by the NFL. The other place was The New York Times. I didn’t work at the Times, but I was writing a ton of sports stories for them as a freelancer—columns on statistical analysis as well as features, two of which had been on the front page. The sports editor, Tom Jolly, was a fantastic guy whom I trusted. Waters sounded like a New York Times story. So again, I told Chris to come down and I’d set up a meeting with Tom. And again, he did. But this time, Tom recognized just how important this could be. Four of us were in the meeting at the old Times building: Chris, Tom, me and Jason Stallman, a young editor (now Sports Editor) who also keenly sensed what this story might become. Waters hadn’t been diagnosed with CTE yet; if the tests did come out positive, though, the Times would report the story. Great. Now, I honestly didn’t think the Times would have me handle the story. I was exclusively a baseball writer, and certainly not a hard-news guy. I thought that, if only for legal reasons for a story like that, they’d have a staff person like Lee Jenkins do it. As we walked out of Tom’s office I took him aside and told him, “Hey, I understand if you want a Times employee to do this. I get it.” But Tom, much to my surprise, said, “No, it’s your story, you do it.”

About a week later, the results came in on Waters—positive for CTE. He had the same brain disease as boxers. How many NFL players could also be affected? Furthermore, millions of children play tackle football every week—what about them? Could they be at risk, too? From the start, this was considered by the Times, and me, to be as much of a public-health story as an NFL one. I spent about a week reporting out the Waters/CTE story, speaking to all the principals, Dr. Bennet Omalu (the doctor who made the Waters diagnosis, and whose story was dramatized in the movie “Concussion”), the NFL doctors who said the findings were meaningless, etc. The Times put it on the front page, needless to say. It was a huge deal. Then, a few days later, Ted Johnson, the former Patriots linebacker and Super Bowl champion, called me to say he was having terrible post-concussion syndrome at 36, traced directly to Bill Belichick coercing him to play through a concussion. I wrote the Johnson story, it came out two days before the Super Bowl, and basically all hell broke loose. The Times hired me virtually overnight to dig into brain trauma in football wherever it led. It led to more than 130 stories, Congressional hearings, movies, threats, new laws protecting young athletes, a $1 billion settlement for retired players, and the NFL being exposed for not just having asbestos in its walls, but for shamelessly covering it up.

J.P.: All around me here in Southern California I see young kids signing up for tackle football. And I keep thinking—what the fuck? So I ask you—What the fuck? Is it crazy, in your eyes? Is it akin to handing Junior a pack of Camels? Or is there far more nuance to this debate?

A.S.: People don’t believe me—and most of your readers won’t, either—but I have never formed any opinion on whether kids “should” or “should not” play football. My job was to unearth information that people weren’t getting, and get it to them in a manner that they could absorb and understand. What they did with that information was their business. Neither publicly nor even privately have I ever written, said or even hinted that football should not be played at any level. I never even quoted anyone saying or even hinting that football should be banned. Not once. I’m still asked the question several times a week—whether it’s an interviewer, a stranger or even a friend. I just don’t do it. Not once in these 10 years. The N.F.L. could never, and never will, be able to say that Schwarz was politicking for any reform. This isn’t rhetorical gymnastics; it’s really how I think, my machete through the sagebrush.

You see, football, or “football” (in quotes), doesn’t exist. Or it doesn’t exist in the way that a tree or a building exists. It is a game that emerges from dozens of rules and factors and choices, all of which adults oversee. A parent whose kid wants to play football must consider many questions first. How old is he? What position does he want to play? Is the coach insane? Are the other teams’ coaches insane? Do they teach proper tackling techniques? Do the league’s referees enforce the rules or foster mayhem? What medical services (EMT, certified athletic trainer, MD, etc.) are at games in case something goes wrong? Is your kid the biggest on the field, or the smallest? Can he be trusted to tell an adult if he’s injured, concussion or otherwise? Is the league using some of the recent rule changes, such as no kickoffs/punts and a smaller field? Are the helmets relatively new and formally inspected/reconditioned every year? These are the questions to ask. Not the sport’s name.

J.P.: I didn’t realize that your career began—for a whopping five months—at The National, Frank Deford’s short-lived daily awesomeness. How did you get there? What was your experience? Could it have worked? And why didn’t it?

A.S.: I was their youngest full-time editorial employee—they hired me straight out of Penn in May 1990 as an Editorial Assistant, which is to say I answered phones and, when the 300-baud modems didn’t work on deadline, typed 100-words-per-minute dictation from seething writers. (Tom Keegan was delightful; Mike Lupica less so.) There’s no question that a family connection helped: My father’s cousin, Tim Lasker, was pretty senior on the business/tech side, and he made sure my resume and clips got considered by the right person. Frank was great—he encouraged me to write some short bits for the paper, and I eventually did several features, including a two-page take-out on September call-ups. (I still have Frank’s handwritten note of congratulations.)

As for its demise, from its conception the company set its sights incredibly high, having a ritzy Fifth Avenue address, hiring the most famous sportswriters for triple-their-salary contracts, buying the newest electronic typesetting terminals, renting cutting-edge telecommunications satellites, and what-not, sparing no expense. Those expenses and others wound up eating through their $100 million (I seem to recall) seed money in less than two years, sending the enterprise gasping to its June 1991 death. In retrospect they were probably doomed anyway; under everyone’s nose the World Wide Web and Netscape would break through in a few years, delivering national sports scores and news to homes for free. Unless the National had quickly 90-degreed its strategy (and so many such companies never did) it couldn’t have lasted as a print vehicle.

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J.P.: I’m gonna write something that you probably won’t like: Back when you were at Baseball America, I wasn’t the biggest Alan Schwarz fan. I’m just being honest here. It had nothing to do with your writing (which was great) or your talent (which was obvious). I just thought, sort of from afar, that you were this typical smug Ivy Leaguer who thought his shit didn’t stink (And, to be clear, I was a cocky Delaware grad who thought his shit didn’t stink). Soooo … I love when we all look back at ourselves and I wonder, who were you then? Were you smug? Was that a stupid misread by idiot me? Were you confident? Happy? Content?

A.S.: You’re right—I don’t like it. “How did I dislike thee, let you count the ways.” Even if it were just your (admitted above) Delaware-vs.-Penn inferiority complex, seems to me that was your problem, not mine—and a strange one, given how you had shot up to the apex of Sports Illustrated at 24 while I was working at 20,000-circ Baseball America. Imposter Syndrome, presumably? Now, it’s fair to say that I’m a pretty intellectual guy, and drew upon that in my features and columns. I quoted John Stuart Mill in a Marge Schott lede, and wrote about and conducted statistical analysis (very pre-Moneyball) as the mathematics major I was not ashamed to be. Perhaps that irked you while transcribing John Rocker or calling David Wells fat. I don’t know why it would. I’m certainly glad you didn’t share this back then. I liked you. I would have cared.

J.P.: In 2011 you jumped from sports to national at the Times, and you dove hard and heavy into Adderall abuse and ADHD (which led to your book, “ADHD Nation”). Your work has received a lot of praise and a lot of criticism, primarily from parents of kids with ADHD. I know what it is to be bashed for saying, oh, the Reds will come in fifth or Emmitt Smith was overrated. But how did you handle the backlash? It strikes me as pretty awful to endure.

A.S.: At the risk of inviting more, yes, the criticism really hurts—to me, the mean stuff feels more bad than the praise feels good, which is a precarious (and frankly unsustainable) mindset for a journalist doing controversial work. (I’m not ashamed to say it contributed to my walking away from the Times and hardcore journalism in the summer of 2016.) Intelligent dissent is fine. But you rarely get that. E-mail and Facebook and Twitter have become bile-delivery systems for people who don’t care what the truth is, a forum for them to baste themselves in their own gravy.

The reaction to my ADHD book has been as disheartening as it was predictable, from both sides of the argument. Those who decry child psychiatry or medications like Adderall in and of themselves say: “See! I told you ADHD was a pharma-constructed conspiracy to mind-control children!”—which neither the book nor I remotely suggest. People on the other side, who want to ignore the rampant misdiagnosis of ADHD nationally, say: “Schwarz is just a muckraking alarmist trying to sell books. He’s no doctor! What could he possibly know?” The ADHD factions have grown so polarized and unable to consider simple (if unpleasant) facts that they can’t learn anything, and it’s children who get hurt. Period. People use the book as a sword, not a mirror. This kill-the-messenger mentality didn’t come just from child psychiatry—and, looking back, not just the NFL and its “scientist” cronies, who spread lies about me and tried to get me fired. After Dave Duerson killed himself in 2011 by shooting himself in the chest, Sports Illustrated (!) sent me an e-mail saying they were about to publish an essay on how the New York Times (read, Schwarz) was exaggerating the issue of player brain damage and scaring players into suicide—and do I have any comment?

Not long before that, I got a phone call from someone with some power who accused me of taking bribes from the NFL because I wasn’t nailing them on what-did-they-know-and-when-did-they-know-it, and threatening to expose me. I was once asked by an NFL source, “Do you have a family?” It all just sucked. You can’t fight illogic with logic. You have to just hope the crazies don’t really try to hurt anything beyond your feelings. My good friend Randall Lane, now the head guy at Forbes, long ago shared with me a maxim: if you piss everyone off, you’ve done your job. I do get that. But, frankly, I don’t want to spend the rest of my days pissing people off. Some people take pleasure in it. Are empowered by it. Not me. I have a fantasy, one which would dispatch with all of this crap once and for all. Before I die, I’d love to have either the NFL or ADHD henchmen come to a room, under the lights, and debate me—on live television. Two hours. All the issues, all the studies, all the sorry-but-they’re-just-facts. Your four top people against me alone. I’ll bury them. But they don’t have the guts.

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J.P.: You’re a math lover. Your degree is actually in mathematics. My son, a sixth grader, loathes the subject. He finds it boring, repetitive, annoying. Is there a way to snap him out of this? Do some people just not like math—period? Do you think, perhaps, there are ways to teach math that would be more engrossing than standard methods?

A.S.: I honestly don’t know. My love for numbers and algebra and trigonometry and probability is something that is almost endocrine—there’s some spleen-like organ in my core secreting what has flowed through me since I could barely crawl. Explaining it is like asking some painter, “Why do you like blue?” Now that I think of it, maybe it’s because I’m actually somewhat color-blind—my colors have lain across a different spectrum, and I experience them as others might tint and hue. I see math in the weirdest places. Take rock lyrics and movie lines. When Renée Zellweger says “You had me at hello” to Tom Cruise in “Jerry Maguire,” I think of how choosing a mate the moment you meet is actually a strategy straight out of decision science, with roots stretching back to 18th century discussions of compound interest (which, to Renée’s delight, Tom had). Neil Sedaka singing “Breaking Up is Hard to Do” conjures up complicated division algorithms used by divorcing couples to split up assets. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” places me onto a Mobius strip, a piece of paper with only one side (huh?) and a key figure in topology. I’m writing a book now about how mathematics can be seen, and perhaps taught, through these well-known, accessible bits of popular culture. Math evangelists often try to sell the subject as more than numbers and rote computation, that it is beautiful. They mean well but I don’t think that’s going to work for people who just don’t buy it. But they probably like music and movies. Maybe we can have some fun with that.

J.P.: When did you know you wanted to write? Like, did you have the lightbulb ah-ha! moment? Did you write as a kid? School paper? Etc.?

A.S.: I never “wanted to write”—at least not in the way that many people, and presumably you, have felt and can tap into for either inspiration or self-loathing. My goal until I was 22 was to be a high school math teacher—and that’s what I had expected well into the spring of my senior year at Penn, when I was informed that public-school certification required grad school, which I dreaded. So I had to do something. Sports writing was a good option; I had written a great deal for the Penn student newspaper, and after getting my break from the National and Baseball America I became, quite accidentally, a so-called “journalist” (whatever that means). From the start, writing, at least in the way that I do it, became my form of teaching, just at a different blackboard. They are far more similar than people realize: in both, you have an audience looking at you to explain something cogently and compellingly, and your goal is to leave them a little more knowledgeable about it than when they showed up. You have to keep their attention—earn it, reward it, with every sentence.

More granularly, a nonfiction article greatly resembles a mathematical proof: You start out with some facts/givens, say A and B, and combine them into conclusion C; you take C and add fact D, creating conclusion E, take conclusions C and E and facts F and G to create conclusion H, and so on. Until you get to the point you’re trying to establish/prove. And you can’t skip a step—one mistake and the whole thing falls apart. The last Christmas-tree bulb doesn’t turn on. But if you do it right, the result works, beyond (intelligent) dispute, and can be downright beautiful. Seeing other similarities between writing and mathematics/physics—use of ratio, speed and angle—became how I executed articles. I’ll leave it with this. People say that writers are “creative.” But I don’t think writers, at least nonfiction writers, create a thing. Our job, as I view it, resembles that of a sculptor. A sculptor doesn’t create anything—he chips away and removes all the stuff that shouldn’t be there, to release what had been hidden inside that big block of marble. It was always there. But he or she saw it and made it viewable. As a journalist, your job is to see what matters, what works and what fits together, and take away everything else. What remains was there before you ever showed up.

J.P.: Kinda random, but you turn 50 next year. I turn 46 next year. We were once the next line of sports journalists—young, up-and-coming, etc. Then you blink and here we are, more than two decades removed. So A. How do you feel about aging as a journalist? And B. How do you feel about aging—period?

A.S.: Last part first—I’m totally in midlife crisis. Not as a husband or father, but as a guy with aggressively graying hair (though not on top, wink-wink) and some sneakily creaky joints. You hear about guys dropping dead of heart attacks at 56 or 62, and (my probability background notwithstanding) I know I could be one of them. It’s not like I’m going out and buying a Porsche. No. But I’m buying a Lego Porsche, and having a blast with it. Now, you also ask me about “aging as a journalist,” but I don’t consider myself a journalist anymore. (In some ways I never did.) This interview is more writing I’ve done in the last 17 months combined. And it reminded me of why I stopped. I’m seeking refuge in mathematics because journalism, at its core, deals primarily with the irreconcilable—politics, poverty, and, for me, football safety and child psychiatry. The arguments never end. There are no right answers; at best, there are only those less wrong. But math? There’s one right answer. You either get it or you don’t. No specious agendas. No disingenuous claptrap. That incontrovertibility is very seductive.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH ALAN SCHWARZ:

• Five reasons one should make Scarsdale, N.Y. his/her next vacation destination: 1) The Bronx and Hutchinson river parkways connect you quickly and easily to places far more interesting; 2) The local wine store, Zachy’s, is world-renowned, so you can get hammered with class; 3) People who play platform tennis—both of them—can hit on courts where the game was invented; 4) Beatles fans can visit Scarsdale’s eerie John-and-Paul connection. Yoko Ono lived with her family in Scarsdale in the early 1950s while attending nearby Sarah Lawrence College; Linda McCartney (nee Eastman) graduated from Scarsdale High in the early 1960s. Few people know that bizarre coincidence; 5) See Nos. 1-4.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Walt Jocketty, Will Smith, Ford Fiesta, Scott Pruitt, Ralph Wiley, Agent Clarice Starling, “The Wedding Singer,” Fabolous, Mark St. John, glue guns: Will SmithGlue GunsWalt JockettyFord Fiesta, Ralph Wiley, The others I’ve never heard of, “The Wedding Singer.”

• How did you meet your wife?: Blind date—a quick drink in Manhattan on Sunday, September 9, 2001. We liked each other and made plans for dinner two days later, after she got back from working at, you guessed it, the World Financial Center. She was coming out of the subway when the second plane hit, ran for her life with everyone else, and didn’t get back to her apartment until about 8 p.m. I had left her a voicemail like, “Hey, it’s Alan. I’m sure you’ve got a lot of people to call, but if you get this, I’m hoping I can be somewhere on the list.” It’s kind of weird to call up someone you barely know to ask if they’re dead. She wasn’t. We rescheduled dinner for that Saturday, hit it off, and have been married now for 14 years.

• Three least favorite things about Donald Trump’s wardrobeThe cuff exposes his little tootsie-fingers; We’re probably paying for it; His tie isn’t nearly, nearly, nearly tight enough.

• The world needs to know: What was it like watching Tony Womack play the game of baseball?: I not only watched Womack play baseball, I watched him play in the minors with the Carolina Mudcats. He was a nice little player with well-rounded, average but perfectly entertaining second-base skills. He was the opposite of what we see today, where it’s anathema to actually put the ball in play and run.

• Three athletes who you thought would be superstars—and it didn’t quite work out: My days at Baseball America introduced me to so many phenoms who crashed and burned. I had the privilege of writing the first national profile of Brien Taylor, who would become the Yankees’ No. 1 pick bonus-baby in 1991 but got hurt and never made the majors. I distinctly recall, a few years later, officially rating Ruben Rivera the Yankees’ Top Prospect over a skinny shortstop named Derek Jeter. Most of all, there was a kid at my summer camp in the early 1980s named Darryl Tombacher who was the most ridiculous basketball player any of us could imagine. As if Pete Maravich’s twin brother had materialized in Orford, New Hampshire. If anyone out there knows what happened to Darryl Tombacher, I’d love to know.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Never. Mine is seeing a plane crash near me and running. More Ritchie Valens than Buddy Holly.

This is my all-time least-favorite song. Your thoughts?: I like only the Traffic and Blind Faith-era Steve Winwood, the John Barleycorn era. Still, you’re a year off on the worst song ever: “We Built This City” by Starship, which came out in 1985. Most horrifying about that song is that it was written by Bernie Taupin. Oy.

• In exactly 17 words, makes Bip Roberts’ Hall of Fame argument: Speedy second baseman for Padres and Reds hit a career .294, Major League Baseball’s first official BABIP.

• Best advice you ever received: From Sam Vaughan, a family friend and editing legend at Doubleday and Random House. “The people who write books,” he said, “are the people who write books.”

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Alexa Datt

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Alexa Datt has a great name.

I know that sounds dumb and somewhat obvious, but it’s true. As a guy who was called “Pearl-girl” throughout his youth, I’d pay good money for the simple pleasure of an “Alexa Datt”-esque identity.

The other thing Alexa Datt owns is charisma. Tons and tons of charisma. The host of “12:25 Live with Alexa,” which streams daily on MLB.com, Facebook Live and Sports on Earth, is that rare combination of likable and informed. You watch her and see a person who knows her Major League shit, but doesn’t come off as unnecessarily serious or bubbly. She just has that … something that works.

Alexa also happens to be fascinating for myriad different reasons. She worked on America’s Most Wanted. She was the Mets’ in-stadium MC. She’s married to Peter Rosenberg. She prefers Cookie Monster to My Little Pony.

And now she’s the 340th Quaz Q&A.

One can follow Alexa on Twitter here and Instagram here.

Alexa Datt, you are the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Alexa, I Google you to do a little background research and one of the first links I find is an axs.com article headlined, MEET ALEXA DATT ROSENBERG, THE NEW GORGEOUS NEW YORK METS INSIDER HOST. And I can honestly say I’ve never heard a male in this business ever described as “gorgeous” or “hot” or “sexy.” And I wonder whether this sorta thing pissed you off, if you’re resigned to it, if it doesn’t bother you at all…

ALEXA DATT: Haha. I was actually flattered and my family was pretty entertained. I’ve said hi to Eric Holden, the author of that article, a few times at Mets games and we’ve Tweeted back and forth. I would have taken issue with the article if the whole thing was about my looks because that’s not what I want to be known for. But Eric did his research and even gave my humble beginnings as a high school basketball sideline reporter a shout out in the article. I don’t like to take myself—or a lot of what’s on the Internet—too seriously, and if I felt like it was offensive I would have told the author.

By the way, I can tell you a bunch of male broadcasters who are “gorgeous” or “sexy.” Ask Chris Carlin—he knows what I’m talking about.

 J.P.: So you’re the host of “12:25 Live with Alexa,” which streams strictly online via Facebook Live. And it’s weird, in that not all that long ago this would have led to shrugs, quizzical glances, etc. So I wonder: A. How did you land the gig? B. Were you at all, I dunno, put off by the idea of an online show? C. Is it any different than hosting a TV program?


A.D.: Put off by an online show? This isn’t me and a webcam in my bedroom! Ha. Maybe 10 years ago people would be put off by online shows, but this is 2017. Online content is the new norm.

Our show, “12:25 Live with Alexa,” streams daily on MLB.com, Facebook Live and Sports on Earth. MLB.com is one of the biggest sports sites with a huge audience so I was excited about the opportunity. A lot of what I’ve done in my career has been online and it’s a great platform because the audience has a direct interaction with you. It lets you know your content is resonating with people, whether positive or negative, and that instant feedback is a really cool part of the job. You have more freedom with online content, too. Viewers are OK with guests joining the show via video chat and that opens up the guest list possibilities and the endless directions you can go. We’re similar to a TV show in our look and setup, just quicker paced with more content and a heavier focus on social media.

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J.P.: I’m really embarrassed to admit I didn’t know this, but admit I will: You’re married to Peter Rosenberg of Hot 97/ESPN fame. Um, that’s awesome. How’d it happen? Meet? First date? All that stuff.

A.D.: Haha. No, that’s a good thing! I’ve gotten to where I am in this business not because of who I’m married to or who my parents are (though they’re amazing people!) and I take a lot of pride in that. Of course I also take a lot of pride in his success, I’m #proudwife all the way. But I’m happy to know not everyone thinks of us as attached at the hip all the time because sometimes it seems that way.

Peter and I met at University of Maryland (go Terps!) after he graduated and was DJing at a local venue (Lupos) and I was a sophomore. I requested Nelly’s “Ride with Me” (don’t @ me, it’s a great party song) and we hit it off from there. After seven long and awesome years of ons and offs, and ups and downs, we realized we couldn’t live without each other and got married on the beach in Bayville in September, 2012. It’s funny being Mrs. Rosenberg because we’re both in the industry so people will see me and call out “Rosenberg’s Wife!” which is sweet and awkward at the same time. I love that people recognize his accomplishments, but at the same time I want to yell back “The name’s Alexa!” I usually smile and keep it moving. Sometimes my friends or co-workers will yell it for me, with a smile.

J.P.: From 2014-2017 you worked for the Mets as the in-stadium host/reporter. We live in California and attend a fair number of Dodgers games, and I always sorta feel pangs of sympathy for those in your old shoes. I mean, the Dodgers could be 17 games out, it’s September, the score is 200-3, Cubs, and the in-stadium host has to be peppy, up, enthusiastic. So, well, what was the gig like?

A.D.: It was the most fun I’ve ever had at a job. I got to be on the field during the World Series, and in the stands interviewing diehard Mets fans who waited their whole lives for those games. I remember my favorite fan, Gloria, a 90-year-old Mets season ticket holder, who sat in an aisle seat in the good section and I would go visit her every game. She never missed her Mets and baseball was her passion. It’s mine, too. I loved talking baseball with Gloria. Those relationships are what made the job special. Getting paid to watch baseball at the ballpark on a nightly basis is pretty special, too. How could you not be happy? If the team is struggling it’s definitely harder, searching for fans to talk to, waiting out extra innings on a chilly September night, but it’s still baseball, and you’re lucky enough to witness it all. I had the best crew of people I worked with, too, from the control room and my fellow hosts to the party patrol and the ballpark ushers, everyone was one big family. The entire experience was really special.

J.P.: You spent two years as a production assistant at America’s Most Wanted. That. Is. So. Random. What was the job like? What stands out? Fun or awful? Or both?


A.D.: Peter’s good friend Tom Morris hooked me up with this and it was my first real gig in broadcasting. It was an interesting and eye-opening experience. I got to meet John Walsh, the host of the show whose mission was to put every child predator behind bars. He was just as you would expect him to be—friendly, intense and very dedicated to his goals. I helped out on-set at the reenactments, where they acted out an unsolved crime, just like a movie shoot, in hopes of catching the criminal once the show aired. There was a bell in the newsroom that they rung every time a criminal was caught. It was a bizarre feeling because I admired the writers, hosts, and editors for using their journalism degree for something good, but the intensity wasn’t for me. I always knew I wanted to work in sports.


J.P.: How do you keep your interest during a 162-game season? I mean, I get 16 NFL games. I even get 82 NBA games. But one hundred and sixty two. Jesus. Are you still interested in, oh, Reds-Brewers? Do you really find Mike Trout and Bryce Harper interesting? Can you maintain the upbeat spirit from February thru October?


A.D.: I love baseball because there is action on a nightly basis. You don’t have to talk about one game for a week before you get to see the teams play again. Starting pitching changes every night and we still don’t know how the human arm works. Hitting a ball with a bat is the hardest thing to do in sports. Players’ hitting streaks, grand slams, no-hitters, dazzling catches and bat flips … two outs, bottom of the ninth, bases loaded. Who’s up at the plate? Oh THAT guy? He’s got no chance, until he drives in the game-winner. The emotional swings are the most fun. Nothing is better than that.

I like Bryce Harper and Mike Trout for their pure baseball skills and also because they came into the league a year apart so they will forever be compared to each other and that’s always fun. One’s more serious, one is more bizzare. One is a better hitter, one a better fielder. But who makes their team better overall? Where do they end up in five years? Which one will be in the Hall of Fame? These are the questions I love debating and that makes the season fly by.

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J.P.: I just had a pretty good podcast chat with Jemele Hill about women in sports media not really being helpful to women in sports media. She says it’s unfortunately common; that the limited spots for women to rise and thrive leads to an unhealthy level of competitiveness. Do you see it that way? Have you had more women in the business be helpful or dismissive? Or neither?

A.D.: I look up to Jemele a lot and when I met her she was genuine and supportive. I haven’t worked in the same atmosphere as her, though (i.e. hosting a successful national TV show), so even though I know it exists and know women who have dealt with it, I’ve been very fortunate to experience the opposite. I’ve been embraced and welcomed from the second I stepped foot in New York as a production assistant looking for an on-air gig. Michelle Yu at SNY helped me connect with my first on-air job, Katie Nolan is super cool, so is Michelle Beadle. I used to print scripts for Meredith Marakovits and now I run into her at games where she always treats me like an equal. Lauren Shehadi is available if I ever need to reach out, Sam Ryan walked me though an audition, and Tina Cervasio has always been supportive and warm. Brittany Ghiroli and Alyson Footer are two of my favorite people: helpful, smart, inclusive. I sound like I’m name dropping because I am. I think it’s important to shout out women who have been there for me. You come across haters in this business but the helpful and supportive women far outweigh the ones who aren’t. Younger women coming up should know there is a huge supportive community if they ever need it and to reach out to women they admire for advice anytime, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results.

J.P.: Alex Rodriguez is a broadcaster. Mark McGwire is a hitting coach. Barry Bonds was a hitting coach. How do you feel about guys who used PED holding jobs in baseball? And what do you think about PED guys entering the Hall?

A.D.: I grew up watching baseball in the 1990s and 2000s. And I grew up watching Barry Bonds and Mark McGuire and Alex Rodriguez. I want to be able to take my (future) kids to Cooperstown one day and tell them about the season I watched Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs and how exciting that was for me. That was a huge part of my childhood and to exclude it is to leave out a part of baseball history that made me fall in love with the game. It’s the Hall of Fame. Barry Bonds is one of the most famous players we know. He should be in the Hall. But I understand the argument for keeping them out. These guys were forgiven for their mistakes and are still allowed to be a part of the game in some capacity, which is great. Sometimes you can’t have it all.

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J.P.: You did work for 120 Sports, so this might offend. But when it first came out I thought 120 Sports was onto something potentially big. And, just being honest, I think I was wrong. I never see it, never hear much about it. Not sure why, but it’s simply not on my radar. So … am I off? Is there genius of idea I’m missing?

A.D.: I co-hosted the 120 Sports morning show called “Morning Run” for a little less than a year in New York with a true professional and amazing human being, Michael Kim. The show dissolved and 120 Sports became Stadium and moved its New York operations back to its home base of Chicago. I think their concept of 24-hour sports editorial coverage is fresh and a great idea but it might be a little ahead of its time. I could see this being a bigger concept in the future. It’s worth checking out, they do good work and their coverage, which includes social media and sports opinions, is a great way to connect with their audience.

J.P.: I’ve never asked this before, but I think it’s a good one to address. You’re a young, attractive woman working in a tough field for young, attractive women. I’m sure you’ve had athletes say inappropriate things, or stare inappropriately, or whatever. And I ask, for other (and future) women in your shoes: What’s the best way to handle the situations?

A.D.: I’ve had players ask me out, pass me notes, slide into my DMs. I think most of them are either bored or are trying to get their latest mixtape to my husband :) I’ve only felt uncomfortable once and the best things to do in those cases is to tell someone you trust. If you feel uncomfortable, that’s all that matters. Not what was said or who said it, just that it happened and it crossed a line. Find someone in the business you trust, an authority figure like your boss or your mentor, and talk it through with them. I did and it helped a lot. A lot of times it can open a dialogue and everyone learns from the situation. But 99.9 percent of the athletes I know are protective like older brothers to me and would never put me in an uncomfortable situation. There is a trust built that I value and is an integral part of my job. Most of the inappropriate things said to me come from trolls online and I’m still figuring out how to deal with them. I’m ignoring them mostly but when I’m having a bad day and someone calls me “stupid” or “another dumb blonde host” or says “why does she look like that if she wants to be taken seriously” with children in their Twitter bios I want to start furiously typing a response. I don’t. I leave it alone and I end up just feeling bad for their kids.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH ALEXA DATT:

• “Datt” seems to lend itself to 1,001 childhood nicknames. What were some of yours: Datt girl, the Datt cave (what the kids called our basement), The Dattmobile (family car), What’s up with Datt (the SNL skit), Who Datt? (My brother’s bball team nickname), Datt’s What She Said (the name of my podcast)

• Rank in order (favorite to least):  Counting Crows, Kris Kobach, your father in law, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., B-52s, Cookie Monster, Mike Easler, red potatoes, date nut bars, My Little Pony,Obinna Ekezie, Junebugs: father in law (this is for real), Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (he’s a diehard Skins fan), Obinna Ekezie (Terp & Wiz Kid!), B-52s, Counting Crows, Cookie Monster, Mike Easler, red potatoes, date nut bars, My Little Pony, Junebugs, Kris Kobach

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: No thankfully! But Geoff Schwartz told me on my podcast that he once stunk up an airplane bathroom so bad that everyone glared at him the whole flight and people mention it about once every six months on Twitter. That’s as close as I’ve been. You’re welcome, Geoff.

• Three nicest New York Met players from your time with the team?: Curtis Granderson, Curtis Granderson, Curtis Granderson. David Wright, Jacob Degrom and Wilmer Flores were super nice too.

• The world needs to know: What was it like being in the presence of Erik Goeddel?: Haha—he’s a nice guy from the little interaction I’ve had with him but never got the chance to know him really well. Heard all good things and his nickname is Goopy so he has to be a good guy.

• How did Peter propose to you?: On the Brooklyn Bridge at 11 am after tricking me into walking across it for a party at Grimaldi’s that didn’t exist. We had a party of two at Grimaldi’s after I said yes.

• Where would you have attended college had it not been Maryland?: Maybe Syracuse. I wanted to go to the best journalism school in the country but I was too scared I wouldn’t get into Newhouse so I never applied. (How’s that for a confession? Sorry, Dad)


• Why is ballpark-attending humanity so enamored by the free T-shirt-shot-thru-a-cannon?: Because people love free things shot directly at their face at 65 mph. It’s a time-honored tradition and only those who have been lucky enough to nab a t-shirt will ever truly understand it. I hope to be a part of it someday.

• Three things you always carry with you?: Cell phone, sugarfree gum, my dog Bear (he’s not in my purse, he’s 30 pounds, but we basically go everywhere together)

• What the hell ever happened to Chuck Cuningham? Guy was living with his folks, brother and sister—then vanished: I had to look this up because I had no idea what you were talking about. I want to take it literally and believe he took his basketball upstairs to his room to play the most epic game of slam ball ever and never came back down.

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Madam Violet

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If you’ve followed the Quaz through the years, you know my favorite subjects tend to be sports, politics, journalism and online sex workers.

Why sports? Because I’m a longtime fan-turned-observer.

Why politics? Because I’m a junkie.

Why journalism? It’s what I do?

And why online sex workers? Honestly—because of all the people I’ve had here, they’re routinely the most fascinating. Unlike jocks, they haven’t devoted their lives to singular (and oft-monotonous) endeavors. Unlike politicians, they have convictions. Unlike journalists, well, I’m a journalist. So I feel like I’ve heard a bunch of the ol’ stories.

I actually first reached out to Madam Violet, today’s magical 339th Quaz, a good while ago when I was searching for new subjects. It took a long while to get this done, but it was well worth the wait. As you can see the self-titled “femme fatale” is a producer of hypnotic videos and mp3s who lives in England, has an understanding boyfriend, loathes idiots and once had a complete stranger buy her a £1200 YSL clutch bag. And while I don’t actually know what that is—it sounds impressive.

One can follow Madam Violet on Twitter here and visit her website here.

Welcome to the 339th Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So you identify yourself as a “Femme Fatale” and “clinically qualified in hypnosis.” But what, exactly, do you do? Like, what is your job?

MADAM VIOLET: My job is … hard to label. Primarily I make erotic hypnosis videos and mp3s. I come up with ideas, write the scripts, I do my makeup, I arrange the set, I film, I edit, I upload. On top of that I manage my social media, advertising, promotion. This is not hard work as such, but a lot of work. The hard work, I would say are the relationships I have with my subs/slave/addicts. I am an introvert and people for me are often draining; submissive men, ironically more so than any other ‘type’ of person I have met. But then this part can be the most rewarding, professionally, emotionally and financially.

I guess you could say I am a ‘dominant woman exploring her sexuality and female power through visual arts, and the minds and bodies of willing men’. Or Hypnodomme, if you’re in the scene.

My job is constant. This is the only ‘job’ I’ve had that comes home with me. It is me, there is no escape. It has been adjustment and I am still finding the balance. Ultimately most men are here to get off. That makes them selfish and at times abhorrent, and not all subs are actually
submissive. For every genuine submissive that contacts me, I’ll get 10, 20, 30 time wasters/ misogynists in disguise/entitled mummy’s boys/loser fantasists.

My ‘job’ (vocation is a better word) is awesome though. I love what I do and I love even more how much scope there is for more.

J.P.: I was scanning through your Twitter feed, and you’re not completely averse to making political/ social statements. Here in America Michael Jordan, the basketball star, once explained his non-political mojo by saying, “Republicans buy shoes, too.” Do you at all worry about turning off potential customers by making your leanings public?

M.V.: Actually I don’t post very much politically at all. I think the first time was Brexit. In that instance I don’t care if someone is put off by my views. I have conviction and faith that I am not a moron, which is more than I can say for strangers on the Internet. So if my views offend you, I have to assume you are the moron. Being a ‘Domme’ means I get to be more of the real me than I ever could in a clinical or corporate setting. Unless you’re offering me something of value in my life I couldn’t give a shit what you think about me, or what you think in general. It is none of my business.

I do not care what a man ‘believes’ if he is simply buying my files. It is none of my business. But I would not want a man to serve me if he could not at least respect my opinion, I wouldn’t want his money either. Money is not the be all and end all. Being able to sleep at night because I’m not beholden to idiots is higher on my list.

In the UK (maybe it’s a bit different now with how shit things are) politics just isn’t a big deal, not like it is in America. It is not as extreme—I mean you guys debate thing like guns and abortion, the death penalty! All of our political parties are pretty much the same; really terrible and terribly boring/ moronic/cowardly.

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J.P.: How did this happen for you? And I don’t mean the ol’ “I’ve always had a sway over men blah blah blah.” I mean, business-wise, what made you think, “Here’s a way I can make money?”

M.V.: Doing what I do is the culmination of lots of seemingly unconnected beliefs, daydreams, expectations and timing. When I was a kid I realized that if I could get 1 million people to give me a pound, I would be a millionaire. It always struck me how easy that sounded. I thought about it a lot. (this maybe came from watching the collection during Mass every Sunday, people just giving their money away for some ‘idea’.) That mentality has always stuck with me. I know that sounds like a bullshit cliche, but it its true, and I know this ‘free and easy’ mentality I have always had about money has driven my success.

Another cliche—I have known for a long time that men will do anything. If you give them the slightest hint (breasts) they may be in with a chance. In my experience men are easy to persuade, so why not persuade a rich man to give me one million in one go? So when my marriage ended the two beliefs kind of merged. I suddenly had this heartbreak, and then ‘fuck it’ mentality. I didn’t know how, but I knew I was going to use my wily, sexy ways to get me some bank, and have a shitload of fun doing it. Having been monogamous forever it seemed, I wanted sex, and I wanted money, and travel, and frivolity. I wasted a lot of time in a shit marriage so now it would be about me.

I typed ‘sugar daddy’ into the internet and found men seeking arrangements. That was the beginning. After a few online-only interactions I realised the obvious—I was not sugar baby material. I am not a baby for a start, and I will never call you ‘Daddy’ (gross). I will never pander to your whims or needs. I will point out, politely, every time you are wrong, I will never laugh at your shit jokes or stroke your ego and if you come anywhere near me with that tiny penis (barely visible over your hairy pillowy belly) I will punch you in the throat. But if you could just leave your money over there, far away from me, that would be marvellous!

This inherent attitude led me to financial domination. I was dabbling and still working on my vanilla therapy practice, making OK money on the side from financial submissives. Then I was told by a sub—I still remember his name—about femdom hypnosis, and the women who use hypnosis and mental conditioning to control men. That was when the light went on in my head, here was a way to combine my brain and my body, my intellect and my sexuality doing two things I truly love; hypnosis and messing around with male egos …

I believe things work out exactly as they are supposed to. The end of my marriage combining perfectly with the fact I don’t have issues with sex, or my sexuality, it is a huge part of life. I don’t have issues with money. Like it or not our society is based around it. I don’t have any issues with taking advantage of a man’s sexuality, it is what men have been doing to women for thousands of years. Men didn’t just take our property, we were the property (up until really recently, too. How quickly they forget…).

J.P.: How much of this business is based upon perception? What I mean is—you go to the bathroom, you have gas, you probably fidget and curse and stumble. You’re human. But is there a need to present a fantasy? Is that sort of the game?

M.V.: Of course there is the aspect of ‘fantasy,’ but how many people fart or pick their noses in front of their (newish) partners? I’ve been with my boyfriend for five years and there is still no evidence he shits. Either he has fairies that take his poo away in the night or he is ‘hiding’ this part of himself from me because it is not conducive to our relationship. Is it really deception to keep some things hidden, or is it not simply sensible?

I could probably make good money for farting on cam, or blowing my snotty nose. But no, that just feels wrong. ‘Madam Violet’ would never burp the alphabet. I might, though. I am human, a contradiction; I can be sophisticated and clumsy, I can be eloquent and sweary. It depends where I am, who I am with. I can control myself, show only one side of myself. We all do this in ‘real life’ every day.

Madam Violet —is ‘me’, just a ‘polished’ version of me. A part of me. A more calculated version of me. Still real, but more focussed, more exaggerated. I don’t go around IRL being all mysterious and sexy and staring into the eyes of men as I squeeze my tits together to get what I want (unless I am drunk). And we share the same morals and standards. For example I am not into the typical ‘homewrecking’ fetish, so don’t ever slag your wife off to me, you are lucky to have one.

I am a dominant, powerful, sexual woman who has a way with men and words is all real every day shit. Just toned down … a touch.

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J.P.: What’s your background in hypnosis? How does it work here? How much of it is fantasy v. reality?

M.V.: Firstly, hypnosis completely ‘works.’ It blows my mind how many people think it’s a load of rubbish. It shows how uneducated so many still are with regards to their own mind, their own power and that makes me sad!

I have a diploma in Advanced Clinical Hypnotherapy and Neural Linguistic Programming, I am also and EFT practitioner and Reiki Master, and I have a diploma in Reflexology and Pathology. I did a lot of fertility work, hypnotic gastric bands, self esteem and phobia/anxiety, pain management. I offered a holistic practice in which I genuinely wanted people to become the best of who they are; to just be happy, healthy, empowered.

I had a lot of very serious and complex cases. I know my clinical training and experience means I am very effective in the femdom arena. I combine ‘real’ hypnosis with femdom themes typically an induction, a deepener and then the femdom programming.

Through my clips and mp3s my subs and slaves achieve vey profound states of deep trance. Many feel and recognize actual change occurring personality wise, and more temporary effects—memory loss, time distortion and wonderful gooey, blissed out full body feeling of deep relaxation … they enjoy the loss of control, the feelings of being overpowered, used and manipulated. It is intimate and sensual and erotic, and powerful. To give up control, to have it taken, to wield it … it is an incredible experience for the sub and myself.

With hypnosis you can go anywhere— you can simply de-stress, you can find inner peace, feel pain or deep pleasure, you can even grow breast tissue using hypnosis. The limits are your imagination and your wiliness to go there.

J.P.: Why are men so much more into [fill in the blank with phone sex, strippers, hookers, etc] than women? I’ve gotta think you’ve pondered this one. Is it a gender flaw? A gender perk?

M.V.: I have pondered it and written about it many times. My conclusion is that men’s stupidity when it comes to their penis is an evolutionary device. An average man can kill a woman with his bare hands. You are bigger and stronger than us, unfairly so. But you have one little thing that dramatically levels the playing field, and it conveniently dangles between your legs. It means that ultimately (for the civilized) women rule men. Behind every powerful man … is a woman screaming at him to put the goddamn seat down when he’s finished. And you put up with it because you want sex. And so continues the human the race. Women are also far more sexually self-sufficient.

J.P.: Every profession comes with a crazy money story; that story you’ll be telling to friends for years. So … what’s yours? The craziest/weirdest, funkiest story from your career?

M.V.: My career is relatively new, but I guess it depends on who your audience is. My boyfriend is on a ‘normal’ salary so what I earn month to month still blows his mind. With some friends I have learned not to talk about it all. There is a kind of guilt there, they work ‘hard’ jobs and I’m perceived to do nothing much. In reality I work really hard, too—the difference is I love what I do so maybe it doesn’t appear like work to the outside.

I remember my first-ever gift card. It was for 30 pounds. At that point I had perspective so it was a massive rush. It felt like a lot of money. From a complete stranger. For no tangible reason. I could get that million way quicker than I thought. Yeah, you never forget your first. Ha.

I always forget that I took over £4,000 in about a month from my first finsub, and this was only a few weeks into my new ‘career’ and I still wasn’t showing my face. To a ‘vanilla’ person having a complete stranger send you a £50 Amazon gift card would be crazy, £4,000? People can’t handle that. It really polarises them.

One man I didn’t know contacted me for permission to cum, so I told him to buy a £1200 YSL clutch bag assuming he would slink off into the land of fake finsubs, but he bought it. Straight away. I told him he could cum, and I never heard from him again. Sweet! Sexy, simple, easy and it’s a story friends love because it’s so stupid. Imagine a woman paying a man she’s never met over a grand just for permission to cum. It’s hilarious! Men bring it all on themselves.

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J.P.: How has Twitter impacted your profession? And has social media made chatrooms obsolete?

M.V.: Oh, Twitter. Twitter takes up far too much of my time. I don’t get paid for Twitter, and yet I spend a disproportionate amount of time on there. It is something I am working on changing. I have never been a fan of social media. I have never had a Facebook account or Instagram, personally or for work until now. Twitter and I have a tolerate/hate kind of relationship.

I have a good interaction with my subs, though. My ‘likes’ to followers ratio is a good one. I like to talk to people when I know they are listening. If that makes me entitled or spoiled, so be it.

Twitter is a rabbit hole of noise and stress, I often have to mute conversations and people just because my tolerance for drama is really low. I have teeth marks in my phone and both sets off knuckles from all the times I have wanted to reply or comment on something I have seen on Twitter or Tumblr or YouTube. IRL I am always the one to say ‘woah, hang on a minute …’ yet online I keep my mouth shut.

Online is not an accurate reflection of real life; online is meaner and dumber. And bottom line—you just cannot argue with stupid. Unless you want to go insane. So I keep out of it all as much as I can, not because it is bad for business but because I value my sanity. Twitter has done wonders for my self control

I think real connections are rarer these days. Being connected globally and instantly is so good, but it is so bad, too. In my ideal world twitter does not exist.

J.P.: You have a boyfriend. You have, I’m guessing, parents, siblings, etc. How do they feel about your profession? Is it openly discussed? Do you share stories?

M.V.: My boyfriend thinks what I do is awesome. He is the type of man who loves the fact his girlfriend gets attention. He is not threatened by it, or by the money I make. He is proud of me. We see a lot of his parents and siblings—some know, some don’t. I honestly don’t know what they think as I do know that people rarely tell you what they really think. My job involves sex and money—two of the most divisive and controversial subjects. You link the two together and you’ve got a really touchy subject. We don’t really talk about it ever. They would never ask ‘How’s work going?’ like you would someone with a ‘normal’ job.

Stereotypically, English people are so uptight and secretive about their own sex life and their money, they just do not want to talk about those things. Sex is naughty, getting your tits out is downright rude, possibly slutty, and we may masturbate but we do not talk about it! For that reason his mum and dad do not know what I do. They think I am still a clinical hypnotherapist—which technically I am as I still have a handful of vanilla therapy clients ….

Then I have friends who knew me before Madam Violet. They think it’s mental but brilliant. They think it’s the perfect job for me. They’re proud of what I have a achieved, they love hearing my stories and it’s fun shocking them.

Generally I keep it to myself because people cannot help but judge, mostly negatively, and I do not want the drama, or the awkward silences and passive aggressive comments. I told my plumber once, and he said he thought it was brilliant. He didn’t have a problem with it all. In fact he said he used to ‘date a lass who got her tits out for work and I was totally cool with it. I only dated her a year though as obviously I couldn’t marry her …’

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH MADAM VIOLET:

Why Madam Violet?: Why not.

Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Yes repeatedly, only ever briefly, mere seconds. I always think of the book Survivor by James Herbert. Would I rather die, or be the only survivor yet be haunted by the demented disfigured remains of the other victims…? It is only ever a brief flash of thought though – just so happens to be every time there’s even mild turbulence.

Rank in order (favorite to least): Iced coffee, raccoons, McDonald’s, Joe Biden, “Love Actually,” Posh Spice, Clyde Drexler, Wolverhampton, Rubik’s Cube, Snoop Dogg: Iced coffee, McDonalds, Snoop Dogg, racoons, Posh Spice, Rubiks Cube, Wolverhampton (as in the UK…? I presume not!), “Love Actually” (ugh), Joe Biden (not 100% sure who he is, some kind of politician?), I had to look up who Clyde Drexler is, too…

One question you would ask Rebecca Lobo were she here right now? 
Who are you? Then after a quick Google search—what size are your feet? Maybe not, that’s quite rude.

Three memories from your first-ever date? 
We don’t really go on dates in England. We get drunk down the pub and then if we’re lucky we get a kebab and if he’s lucky a shag.

In exactly 17 words, make an argument for the music of MadonnaMadonna has done at least two really good songs that can, at times, be good to hear.

What’s the general take of America these days in England?: I don’t really talk about America with people who aren’t American, so I have no idea! Personally, because of moves/TV as a kid the U.S used to fill me with wonder and awe. Now I’m an adult it scares me. Some of your laws are crazy—guns?! Death penalty?! The president is an ego driven, hateful moron; a big joke. Sad! Buuuuut your TV shows are the best, lots of states have legalized weed and you can get alcoholic iced tea … soooooo ...goooooo USA!

What are the top three things men screw up when it comes to understanding women?: 1. They don’t try to understand women in the first place.
 2. Or thinking all women are the same and can be understood ‘collectively,’ like a type of breed. 3. Or thinking we are difficult to understand because fundamentally we are ‘different’ to you. Are we? Or are we different because you treat us that way?

Would you rather lick the entire floor of your nearest coffee shop or spend a week locked in a room with Donald Trump?
: Donald! I would never ever lick the floor, not even for a million, and I would pay to be in a room with that man for a week. Psychopaths are fascinating, plus I’d love to fuck with his head.

I don’t really get the appeal of Batman. You?: I don’t feel it, but I do get it.

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Dave Levitan

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Who wants to be really depressed?

I know … I know—not a glorious way to kick off the 338th Quaz Q&A. But if I’m being honest, this week’s  offering is an ode to, well, how preposterously fucked humanity seems to be. How we ignore serious issues. How we don’t care about the planet. How we only see what’s directly in front of us.

Dave Levitan is author of “Not A Scientist: How politicians mistake, misrepresent and utterly mangle science,” and while the book is fascinating and engrossing and eye-opening and meticulous, it’s also brutally honest. A science journalist with a Masters degree in journalism from NYU’s Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program, Dave knows his stuff.

So … hey.

Awareness is power.

Be empowered—with the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Dave, you have a book out titled, “Not A Scientist: How politicians mistake, misrepresent and utterly mangle science.” But it seems to me this isn’t a matter of mistaking or mangling—but a precise, selective decision to only use scientific data when it supports a POV. For example, when we’re told a hurricane is coming in four days, well, a hurricane is coming in four days. The governor of Florida doesn’t doubt or deny it—he acts on the info. But climate change?  What’s climate change?  So … am I misreading this?

DAVE LEVITAN: I made a pretty careful decision to not try and tease out intent in the book, at least when possible. Some of the errors or — if I’m being honest — lies on science are impossible to use without meaning to, and I try and note that in a few spots. But the goal was to try and provide people who may not be super well versed in science with some ammunition to spot when politicians are taking some liberties with science — if we’re being charitable, there could be times when this is unintentional. After all, science is complicated, and being able to spot the errors is a pretty good first step toward trying to fix them by pressuring elected officials or just voting them out.

But okay, yes: I’m not trying to pretend that there’s this entire cadre of politicians out there who have somehow missed every science class ever offered, and every reasonable newspaper and magazine article ever published. Clearly, there’s a whole lot of incentive to try and mislead us on a lot of issues, climate change being chief among them. The problem, in my mind, is a matter of timing, and matter of money. Climate change is, as the NYT’s Andy Revkin has called it, a “slow-drip problem.” Its effects take years, decades, centuries to fully come into focus, and it is easy for a bad-faith actor to claim the TODAY issue — the hurricane, the drought, the heat wave, whatever — is unrelated. It’s not, of course. But scientists are careful about attribution, and politicians don’t have to be. Combine all that with the money issue, which we’re seeing play out in real time with the health care debate, and you’ve got a horrific perfect storm. They don’t deny the hurricane is coming in four days because the correlation is too clear: the storm is the thing that killed people, or tore rooftops off houses. They deny climate change because the linear relationships aren’t that clear, and the money is telling them to make use of that lack of clarity.

J.P.: Here’s something, along those lines, I don’t get: So many climate change deniers are parents, grandparents. And I get that they’re receiving loads of money from people who want as little regulation as possible. But why don’t political leaders—right and left—think first about humanity? About their family members’ futures?

DL: This is pretty much the $64,000 question, right? I have thought a TON about this, and, in most ways, it’s utterly baffling. My bit of armchair psychologizing comes to this: it is TOO BIG of an issue for people to think clearly. If you’re, say, Senator James Inhofe, or Rep. Lamar Smith, and you spent a couple of decades basically doing the fossil fuel companies’ bidding and denying the avalanche of evidence in front of you, how could you turn back from that and just renounce your past? “I admit, I tried to destroy the world, and I am sorry” is not a position that I imagine many people could easily take.

So, instead, they just read the denier talking points and internalize them. It doesn’t really matter that the science itself is just overwhelmingly against them — there will always be some conspiracy theorist out there who can offer up a semi-believable sounding bromide. It’s much more comforting to continue believing it’s all a hoax than the possibility that you really have helped doom your children and grandchildren. Why confront your own existential culpability when alternatives abound?

J.P.: You’re a science journalist. Serious question: Are we just, simply, fucked? As a planet? As a species?

D.L.: Short answer: yes.

Longer answer: I mean shit, the planet isn’t fucked. Like, the big hunk of rock itself. It’s big and old and doesn’t give a shit what we do, really. It will die when a bigger hunk of rock hits it or the sun explodes in five billion years. The species? That’s tougher.

I think on a relatively short time scale — say, 50 to 250 years — the human race is in for a dramatic reckoning. No matter what we do about the climate, there is a certain amount of catastrophic change now baked into the system, and it will be truly devastating. We can debate the details — and scientists continue to do so, on specific amounts and speeds of sea level rise, and so on — but there is no escaping it, I’d say. This is very much in the doom-and-gloom realm that a lot of science journalists say we should avoid, but I think the geopolitical effects of the changing climate are among the most under-discussed aspect to all this — the world is about to shit itself and start flinging that shit around catastrophically, would be a dramatically unscientific way to put it. Some would disagree with me, sure, but I don’t see a great next-couple-centuries for humanity, if I’m being honest.

What’s interesting is that there are all these other humans-are-fucked aspects that I think climate change just kind of overwhelms. Like plastics in the oceans — you read anything about that and the veil just kind of falls away and it all seems hopeless, and yet that is nearly irrelevant compared to what warming is going to do.

I would like to say I’m sorry to everyone who now feels like jumping off a bridge.

 J.P.: Last year you wrote a really fascinating piece for undark.org headlined PLANNING FOR THE END. And it asked the question: Should certain low-lying island nations evacuate, what with the inevitable rising seas? And I’m wondering, do you see the necessary panic? Like, do the people of Kiribati know how screwed they are? Do government officials? And are their fates now inevitable? Like Krypton, is their home doomed to vanish?

DL: Well, I’m not really sure about the people who live in those countries, but my guess is there is some degree of panic among them. I mean, when entire towns in the Solomon Islands have already picked up and moved to escape rising seas, it’s hard to imagine that the average citizen isn’t pretty well versed on the issue. The governments definitely know — they are consistently some of the loudest voices at any international climate negotiation or meeting, and have been advocating on the issue for decades now.

What’s odd, though, is that in the course of reporting for that story I didn’t find all that many actual plans in place. Kiribati buying land in Fiji is the only solid one really, though a few countries have some language in various documents about forced evacuations. The consensus among experts was that it would likely take a catastrophe — a huge storm that hits during a king tide, or something — that finally forces their hand. On the one hand, I totally get this — it’s a weird, baffling concept to proactively decide to just leave the place your culture has existed for centuries. On the other hand, evacuating when the water overruns your home is a whole lot tougher and more dangerous than getting out of the way of the storm ahead of time. So there is a chance that inertia, along with uncertainty about timing (no one knows exactly when they’ll need to leave) acts as a sort of Xanax dose over the existential panic. But in the end, though it is awful, I think the answer is yes — Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga, Vanuatu… these places will likely vanish.

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J.P.: I don’t know a ton about you, Dave. You graduated from Haverford College, then landed your Masters degree in journalism from NYU’s Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. But how did this happen to you? When did you know journalism would be your thing? Did you have an ah-ha moment?

D.L.: I guess I came to it somewhat gradually, though I was always trying to combine science and writing in various ways. Right out of college I started out as a writer for a medical publishing company before heading to grad school a few years later to do more mainstream journalism. I do remember one of the biggest pushes I had in that direction was when I read Elizabeth Kolbert’s amazing book “Field Notes from a Catastrophe.” I think it’s still one of the two or three best books written about climate change, and it both woke me up to the direness of the issue and made me want to write about it.

More generally, journalism is a great way to stay connected to science without actually having to be a scientist — I always balked at the way that a scientist in pretty much any field has to specialize and focus in, working on a single issue and its details for years or decades. Obviously I’m thrilled that so many people DO want to do that, but I just don’t have the attention span — science journalism lets you wander from topic to topic all the time, which fits pretty well for me.

J.P.: Trump—I don’t get it. I truly don’t. Two days ago he referred to a world leader as “Rocket Man” … and his followers loved it. He doesn’t believe in climate change. He wants to crush everything Obama did, because Obama did it. How do you explain the rise and existence of President Donald Trump? And equally important—how do you maintain your sanity?

D.L.: To the last question first: not so sure that I am maintaining my sanity. I’ve joked that there will eventually be a psychiatric syndrome named after the Trump presidency, and whatever it will be called, I’m pretty sure we all have it now.

But anyway — I think I’ll leave the how-did-this-happen issue to others, since writers far smarter than I have taken some pretty good stabs at it so far (Ta-Nehisi Coates’s most recent piece chief among them). In terms of his continued existence, I almost find it more shocking that GOP leadership outside the White House is so willing to be utterly, monumentally embarrassed by the clearly unfit toddler running things. Obviously, the “gravity” and “decorum” we were used to with every previous administration is something of a smokescreen for all the terrible things government has managed to do over the years, but the people in the government generally LOVE those sorts of things — civility, gravitas, etc, it’s like catnip for a lot of them. So why do they not seem to care that the fucking president is tweeting out badly made violent memes and failing to form complete sentences at every turn??? It’s baffling, though I guess “all that Koch brothers money” is a pretty good Occam’s Razor attempt at explaining it.

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J.P.: Totally unrelated to science—you’re a freelance writer in the age of, well, tough times for freelance writers. So how do you go about pitching stories these days? How has that changed through the years? Are your pay expectations lower? Are you frustrated? Is there any reason to give young up-and-coming journalists optimism?

D.L.: I have good days and bad days in terms of how I view freelancing. There are a bunch of newer outlets that offer up different places to pitch, and different styles to write in, so in a way the environment is better than it used to be. But there are also lots of publications doing their dumb “pivot to video” thing, and there’s still a bit of a catch-22 when it comes to breaking into longer form, glossy magazine feature writing (need clips to get assignments, need assignments to get clips) that frustrates me to no end.

But I don’t think my pitching practices have shifted all that much over the last bunch of years, really. I think a good freelancer tailors pitches to the editor s/he is pitching, so it’s tough to pick out any hard practices. The same goes for the pay question — sure, I have lower expectations for some fun places to write just because I know they’re not flush with cash, but it’s not like the more established outlets are dropping their rates all the time or anything.

As for up-and-coming journalists… I think the biggest reason for optimism is that at least to some extent, the Old Boys Club nature of the field seems to be crumbling more and more all the time. There are really, really successful editors and writers who got that way by the time they were 28 or something, and not necessarily through the same mechanisms that used to be a semi-requirement. In other words, it feels to me like a bit more of a meritocracy (I should add: still PLENTY of work to be done to level the playing field for women and people of color), but maybe I’m naive.

J.P.: In your book you write, “In short, [Trump’s] errors on scientific topics are so blatant, so crude, so lacking in even the most basic understanding of physics or biology of chemistry or any other discipline that debunking them often requires essentially no effort at all.” And here’s the thing, David: I hear people debunking him ALL the time. Nonstop. And those with their minds made up seem unwilling to listen. So how do we—you—get them to listen?

D.L.: Well, I think you’re right that his hardcore base just doesn’t care how wrong he is. Debunking his lies on anything, science or otherwise, won’t crack that shell, as depressing as that is to think about. But there’s some portion of the population who maybe can be convinced via inundation — debunk loudly, often, and thoroughly, scream it at the top of our lungs in every outlet we can slither into, and maybe it starts to take hold. I mean, it has in some ways, with all the polling showing how a huge piece of the country thinks the president is a liar. It seems odd to say we should essentially abandon hope for the tens of millions on the Trump-Can-Do-No-Wrong team, but that’s pretty much where we are, I think.

Specifically about science, the one saving grace is that the president himself almost never talks about science. He just ignores it. In a certain, twisted way, that gives science journalists an opportunity to cover the various things government is doing that are profoundly unscientific without the noise of an actual Trump quote getting in the way. Even his hardcore base probably doesn’t have a lot of opinions on Scott Pruitt or Rick Perry, so if we get really aggressive on some of their moves — rolling back clean water regulations and pesticide bans, undermining support for renewable energy, and so on — then maybe it can make a dent in public understanding and public opinion. Again, I am probably being naive here.

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 J.P.: When things get really, really, really, really bad, I feel like all these people who deny science will be begging science to save us. So, um, can science save us? Can science, potentially, solve the ozone issue? Can science raise our shores? Can science rebuild reefs? In short, how much will science be able to do?

D.L.: It can do a LOT, but it’s not magic. (I mean, it sort of is, when you think about it — federally funded biomedical research is a big part of the reason we live THIRTY years longer than we did a century ago. Magic.) The discussion surrounding geoengineering is a good microcosm of this: can we manufacture a way to cool the planet? Sulfate particles in the stratosphere to reflect sunlight, iron filings dumped into the ocean to create CO2-sucking algal blooms, etc — these are pure technical fixes, and though in some sense they would likely work there is also a whole universe of unanswered and largely unanswerable questions about them.

My guess is that when the level of bad rises to all those “reallys” you mentioned, people will start trying some of these ideas — they’re not all that expensive, and they could be done unilaterally. But they are truly rife with danger and uncertainty, so it’s a scary thought. On a more localized level, there are tech fixes that really might work — think a massive sea wall in New York Harbor — and other situations that I find hopeless, science be damned (so long, Miami). Ozone hole? Yes. Coral reefs? This is awful, but probably nope. And so on — we’ll have some Ws but also take some pretty big Ls.

J.P.: I love hearing book process stuff—so what was your process? How did you go about researching/writing? How long did it take? Was it fun? Awful? Awfully fun? Hell, how’d you go about landing the book deal?

D.L.: I had more of an easy time of book writing than a lot of people I think, just by dint of what the book actually is. The idea for it arose when I was a staff science writer for FactCheck.org, and I started sort of collecting patterns of deception I was seeing from politicians. Because of that, I had done a decent amount of the research already when I left the gig to work on the book. Once I was just working on the book itself, the whole research/writing process took me about a month and a half; I’d tackle a chapter at a time, covering a certain type of error or misdirection, usually finishing each one within two or three days. (Fun tidbit: science writer eminence Mary Roach laughed and told me to “fuck off” when she heard that was how long it took.) I had three good editors: my real one at the publisher, my wife, and an old friend of mine who read through it as well.

I had fun writing it, just as a change of pace from my day job. As for the book deal, that was pretty smooth too — I have a good agent who thought a certain editor at WW Norton would be interested in the concept, and he was right. We had it settled pretty quickly.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH DAVE LEVITAN:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): crumbs, Rich Dotson, the Styx-REO Speedwagon tour, Katy Tur, Glen Rice, Madeleine Albright, Johns Hopkins University, Rwanda, Gym Class Heroes, Tampa, Cookie Monster, Betsy DeVos: Glen Rice, Katy Tur, Rwanda (I have a KICK ASS feature story idea about Rwandan cancer care, if any editors with a budget happen to be reading this), Hopkins, Gym Class Heroes, Tampa, Cookie Monster, Styx-REO Speedwagon tour, Albright, Dotson, crumbs, DeVos

 • One question you would ask Terry Crews were he here right now?: Who was the weirdest guy on the set of the Expendables, and why?

• Greatest moment of your sports existence?: Since I wasn’t sure if this meant me playing sports or watching sports, I’m giving two. Playing: Soccer game, sophomore year in high school, I scored a diving header goal that was pretty much the prettiest goal anyone has ever scored. Yes, Messi included. Watching: I am sorry to everyone who (justifiably) hates Boston, but I’m from there, so — end of game 4, World Series, 2004. Total anticlimax of a series, but the most relief I’ve ever felt watching sports. The most satisfying balloon deflation in history, inside my chest.

BONUS, SINCE I DON’T EVEN WATCH BASEBALL ANYMORE AND I’M AN NBA JUNKIE: The Block. I stood up from my couch, fell down on the floor, woke up my wife, got up from the floor and then fell back down again. McGrady scoring ~792 points in 30 seconds was great, but I’ll never forget witnessing the Block.

• In exactly 23 words, explain the unwillingness of humanity to embrace tuna melts: Humanity is righteous and good and has showed excellent judgment. There are, give or take, five hundred better sandwich options than tuna melts.

• Al Gore: Tremendous spokesperson for climate change or does more damage than he’s worth?: Oh man, this is in the rapid-fire section? I have fucking BOOK CHAPTERS worth of thoughts on this issue. The super short answer is that he WAS a tremendous spokesperson but it might be time for some new high-profile messengers.

• How long does Trump serve as president?: If I’m betting my life on it, four years. If I’m betting like one fifth of all I have and I will not die if I’m wrong… Mueller might get him. So… 1 1/2  years?

• Do you think Claudell Washington and Paul Zuvella were enough of a return for Ken Griffey, Sr.?: I am aware that I was probably just supposed to go with “yes” or “no,” but I couldn’t help it:

Post-trade career WAR: Washington, 4.3; Zuvella, -1.0; Griffey 1.6.

Meh. I’ll go with sure, why not.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Nope, though I have plane crash dreams ALL THE TIME. Like, once a month I’d say, if not more. I fly a lot but have a fairly healthy fear of turbulence, though I understand fully how irrational that fear is. I hate it. I’ve been on some verrrrrry bumpy flights, but never had to assume a crash position or anything like that.

• On a scale of 1 to 100, how concerned/scared are you about your own mortality (100 being terrified beyond belief)?: 65. It’s not super healthy.

• Five things that really gross you out: Cockroaches, The squeaky sound/feeling in my teeth that I get from eating green beans, Very moldy bread, Steve Mnuchin’s weirdo corruption smile, Cockroaches again

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Lynnette Shelley

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One thing I love about the Quaz is the exposure it brings to people with whom I share little in common.

For example, Lynnette Shelley and I both worked at the University of Delaware’s student newspaper in the early 1990s. And, eh, um, hmmm … we both have, eh, hands. And, ah, feet. Noses, too. Otherwise, however, we’re pretty far apart in the “what are your interests?” categories. Lynnette is an artist who specializes in contemporary mixed media animal paintings. I have a dog. Lynnette is the lead singer of two bands—one (Green Cathedral) that “explores the mythologies of this and other times, as well as the inner journeys of the mind, heart and soul” and another (The Red Masque) that boasts of an “experimental songwriting style [that] is both angular and eerie, accented by freeform space rock improvisations.” I like Tupac and A Tribe Called Quest. Lynnette’s personal photos lean dark and mysterious. My T-shirts are pretty much all bright with logos.

The point? I dunno, but it’s thrilling to have my old classmate here this week to chat art, music, criticism and LeBron James (a man she’s pretty sure plays basketball) possibly coming to Los Angeles.

You can visit Lynnett’s website here, follow her on Twitter here and Instagram here.

Lynnette Shelley, you are the new Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Lynnette, I want to start with something very specific. One of your eye-catching pieces of art is called “Apres Espirit.” I’m staring at it as I write this, and I’d love to know—soup to nuts—how this one came to be. Where did the idea begin? When did the art begin? How long did it take? What were you trying to express?

LYNNETTE SHELLEY.: While some artworks kind of evolve as I am creating them, this one I had an idea in my head that was very close to what the end artwork ended up looking like. I have been working on a series of long vertical artworks, and for this one, I wanted to put an African woman as the central, sun-goddess type of figure, with a swarm of orange butterflies coming up the sideS. In this work the after image of a spirit (here represented by the bottom butterfly ) is both in this world and in the next. Butterflies symbolize resurrection and eternity in many stories. The hummingbird represents lightness of spirit as well as a spirit messenger (in many myths, birds are messengers for the gods). The figure in the piece has a crown with a moon and a sun on it, representing life cycles and her gown is adorned with various solar and floral symbols, representing life. Taken in total, this new artwork is meant to show how a loved one, who is passed, still has their image in our hearts and lives on in thoughts and memory and in their imprint upon the world.

I chose to do an African woman for the figure partially because when I was envisioning a sun goddess type of figure, I pictured a person of color in my head. I also wanted to use a person of color because it occurred to me that most of the people I have drawn in the past have been Caucasian. Though I do not tend to draw humans very often (I am more known for my animal paintings), I decided to do a person of color because a) that’s how I was envisioning it in my head and b) I thought I should try and represent a broader spectrum of humanity. Plus with all the current racial tensions and bigotry, I just wanted to represent a beautiful, positive image of a POC in my painting.

The actual painting I started working on this past October. I’d say I worked on it off and on for about a two weeks. I also had originally made a much smaller, simpler version of this image prior to working on the larger one. The smaller version, which was a prototype for me to work out some ideas, sold almost immediately to someone who saw it on Instagram.

J.P.: How, as an artist, do you take criticism? You are the gallery manager at Ivystone Studio, where your work is displayed. So surely you’ve heard customers openly say stuff along the lines of, “Oh, that’s [fill in the blank]” and “Ugh, no thanks.” Just because art is so subjective. So … is it painful? No biggie? Do you develop thick skin over time?

L.S.: I kind of wear two hats. When I am working on stuff, I have my artist hat on and I am putting my energy and emotion and my artistic sensibilities into the piece. Once it’s finished, I put my business hat on, and I don’t (usually) take things personally. Trust me, over the past 10 years I’ve been working as a ‘professional’ artist, I have heard all kinds of things said about my art—some are well meaning, some are downright rude. It’s actually pretty appalling what some of the general public will say to an artist that they wouldn’t dream of saying to their neighbor or co-worker.

For example, once I had a solo show at a gallery. The whole gallery was filled with my work. A well-to-do woman came in and the gallery director introduced us. She looked around the gallery and said, “So what do you do for a living?” I gestured at the art on the walls and said, “This.” She laughed and then said, “So your husband supports you then, right?”  First of all this is insulting on many levels—either she’s saying my work is not good enough to sell or that I must mooch off my husband to support my “career.” Not that’s it’s anyone’s business, as how people earn a living, or support themselves, is entirely their business, but I have never relied on my husband to support me. He’s a musician and an artist as well so we both are used to working freelance. We both support each other.

Some of this is lack of education or lack of familiarity. I try not to take it personally.  I won’t say I always succeed at that, because I am human, but to do anything in the public eye you kind of have to develop a thick skin. I am in a couple of original bands too, and a lot of that was trial by fire when I first started and you just have to not let people get you down or you won’t ever leave the house or do anything creative. You have to listen to your inner voice that keeps pushing you to try harder.

J.P.: You’re the lead singer of Green Cathedral, a self-identified “contemporary art rock band.” And your debut album came out earlier this year. But what, in 2017, does releasing an album mean/entail? I mean, I can’t think of the last time I bought an album as an actual item …

L.S.: It means we self released the album and paid for the studio time and mastering out of pocket and then released digital downloads on various sites (so now you can hear us on iTunes, CD Baby, Bandcamp, Spotify etc)  as well as a physical CD that you can purchase through CD Baby. We have a limited amount of physical CDs that we use to mail out for promotional purposes (i.e. many magazines and radio stations need a physical copy of the CD) and the rest we will bring out to shows when we play out. We also needed recordings to try and book us shows in the future since we are a new band and need something for people to get an idea of what we are about. You can check out Green Cathedral and stream our music at www.green-cathedral.com.

I personally do purchase physical albums as well as downloads but I am a musician so well-crafted studio recordings created by professionals are important to me. Unfortunately we live in a throw-away mass-produced culture that doesn’t appreciate the arts (or at least doesn’t like to pay for it), but not everyone feels that way. There is a lot of really wonderful music that you will never hear on mainstream radio but if you like to search new things out, it’s there. But if you want artists to be able to continue to make music, and record albums in professional studios with good equipment and not just on the laptop in their garage with whatever cheap equipment they can cobble together, then you have to show your support by paying for it.

With Brandon, her husband.

With Brandon, her husband.

J.P.: We both graduated from the University of Delaware in the mid-1990s, both worked for the student newspaper, The Review. But, from there, how did this happen? When did you know you’d be an artist as a career? When did you first know you had talent? And how many times has someone said, through the years, “Don’t you want to make money?” or “How do you expect that to work out?” Because that seems to come with the artistic turf.

L.S.: I have always been an artist. I have been drawing since I was old enough to pick up a crayon, but when I went to the university, it didn’t occur to me (at that time) to try and pursue a career in the arts. I didn’t know any professional artists at that time. When I was trying to consider my major and possible career paths, my dad suggested I become a broadcast journalist. I didn’t think I would be good as an on-air type of personality but I was (and still am) a decent writer. So I chose print journalism. I also took art classes while I was at the university. I did work in the publishing industry for 10 years or so upon graduation. But as you know, the publishing world has changed drastically since the mid ’90s and I found myself constantly hopping from job to job, working, in many cases, for really terrible employers.

So, in 2007, I had had it with my current job (I was working in the production department of a Philadelphia daily newspaper). I quit, and started working freelance as a graphic designer as well as started showing my paintings out. Eventually I did less and less of the design work and did more and more fine art and getting more serious about my art career. Now I am primarily a fine artist, though I still do some design work on the side as needs be, as well as work part-time at Ivystone Studio in Downingtown.

I think, because I originally tried to do the “safe” thing and work a conventional job, I can appreciate what  am doing now. I realized that I have to do what I am actually good at , and what my calling is, regardless of whether it’s a “safe” job or not. And to be honest, there are no safe jobs anyway. When I had conventional jobs, I got laid off at least three times over the course of 10 years due to mergers and the like. Being a good worker was no guarantee that your company would have any kind of loyalty to you. I never even got paid very well for the work I did do. It’s just not that kind of world anymore. So I figured I might as well do what I want to do, and work for myself, because at least I can count on myself.

J.P.: I follow you on Facebook, I see your website, etc—and you ooze a Zen that I envy. I mean, every day I’m freaking out about Trump, North Korea, Mike Pence, the environment, etc … etc. Am I misreading this? Are you freaking, too? Or have you found a way to relax and maintain?

L.S.: No, I am freaking out! Ask my husband as he has to listen to me rant sometimes, lol. I try not to freak out online as much, because it’s just shouting in a bubble,  and also, because my profiles are public and I have many clients who are connected with me on social media, I try to not put anything personal online. I don’t always succeed at that, but I try and keep that in mind.

That being said, this year I have been really depressed over people’s behavior. I remember during the lead-up to the election, all my friends were like, “Don’t worry, Trump won’t win.” But I had a sinking feeling he would win, because he appealed to the lowest common denominator and to people’s fears. And when he did win, there were people who surprised me for having voted for him. While the ugliness has always been there, I think this election has shone a bright spotlight on the many ways this country still needs to evolve. I try to have hope, but it’s hard. I am glad I don’t have children. I don’t know how I would explain this to them.

That beings said, I know there is a stereotype of the depressed/angsty artist painting their emotions on the canvas. While some artists are like this, for me, I cannot create if I am upset. Creating art does make me calm and focused because you have to be 100 percent in the zone to create. You need to focus on the artwork in front of you. So it is a kind of meditation in a way. It’s also a job, like any other. I get up in the morning, i drink my coffee, I paint.

The Red Masque

The Red Masque

J.P.: Your resume lists a ton of awards you’ve won through the years, and I wonder—as an artist—whether you care. What I mean is, I like a painting, you don’t. Is there a way of truly deeming something first place worthy vs. third place worthy? In short, do awards matter in art?

L.S.: No, not really, other than getting the warm fuzzies. Having dealt with art critics and judges, there is no rhyme or reason to who wins. It all comes down to what the judge likes. I don’t really care about awards other than if they come with cash that’s nice, and yeah, you can stick it on your resume. Though it is true certain high profile awards (and cash) can really help an artist in their career. I haven’t really approached that end of the business yet.

J.P.: You’re in a second band, “The Red Masque.” And your bio says this: “Part art, part alchemy, the group’s experimental songwriting style is both angular and eerie, accented by freeform space rock improvisations, intricate acoustics, dark atmospherics and chunky riffs. Unconventional and eccentric in musical form, the sophisticatedly sinister The Red Masque fuses together such disparate musical references as horror movie soundtracks, rock-in-opposition, progressive rock, experimental, zeuhl, heavy rock, gothic, psychedelia, space rock, and kraut rock.” Um, what the hell does that mean? Who are you guys?

L.S.: We are an experimental progressive rock band. If you follow that scene, some of the terms used are specific sub-genres under the umbrella label of progressive rock. But basically, for the layman, we play very heavy progressive rock with a good dose of dark psychedelics and musical improvisation thrown in. We are currently in the studio and we hope to finish a new album by early 2018.

J.P.: OK, off of that—I just listened to your song, “The Labyrinth.” And I’m both riveted and a little confused. So how did this tune come to be? What are you trying to say? Put forth?

L.S.: That particular song is an improvisation, i.e. created entirely in the moment, in the studio. So while many of our songs we write and rehearse for months before they are ever recorded or played live, improvisations are spontaneous.  We all jam with one another and create something on the spot. So there is more of a looseness and, in many cases, experimentation going on during the jam. Sometimes a jam can fail miserably, but when everyone is on, it’s magical. I would say, if you are not used to listening to improvisations, or freeform music, your best bet is to just let the music envelop you and not try to think about it too linearly. It’s an atmosphere. It’s soundscaping. It’s like abstract art. It’s texture and auditory colors.

Although I wrote most of the lyrics in the Red Masque, for that particular piece, my husband (bassist / keyboardist Brandon Lord Ross) wrote the words as a poem. Don’t ask me what he was thinking. 😉

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

L.S.: I feel like I am still climbing towards that greatest moment. Maybe I’ll know it when I get to it. Lowest point? Well, most artists have been at that point, where nothing is selling, and you think you may have to give everything up. I’ve been there a few times. I’ve been down to a negative bank balance and bills piling up. I’ve had panic attacks in the middle of the night because I am not sure how I am going to make it. Sometimes I’ve had to ask for help. And through it all you have to think of the big picture. And do what you have to do to keep going. Being an artist is a long-game. You have to keep focused on the big picture and always be ready to adapt. This is not a “safe” profession and to be successful requires wearing multiple hats and working long hours and being 100 percent committed, even when it seems like you are doing an insane thing.

J.P.: How do you feel about modern pop? Taylor Swift, Demi Lovato, etc? Can you find yourself in the car humming along? Are you horrified?

L.S.: It’s complete dreck.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH LYNNETTE SHELLEY:

This is my all-time favorite song. What do you think?: I like it. I like some Blind Melon music though they are not in my top ten bands or anything. I did see them at a festival in DC back in the 90s and they put on a good show.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Dan Marino, The Scronge, iPhone X, Thanksgiving, John Boyne, typewriters, Slick Rick, Twitter, Keebler Elf, Kim Jung Un, pet snakes, Ontario, Fred Flintstone: I don’t know who Dan Marino, John Boyne, Slick Rick, or The Scronge is. Do you mean U of D’s “The Scrounge?”. IF so, it was fine. My one band, The Red Masque, played a show there very early on in our careers, back in 2001. I think it was our second gig.

I have never owned an iPhone so can’t comment about iPhone X.

I just looked up John Boyne and I guess I did see a movie of one of his novels, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas , which I did like. I’ll have to look up his work. For novelists, I’ve been really into Octavia Butler lately, and also I read a really excellent book this past year called Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer. A friend of mine gave it to me for my birthday. I hear they are making a movie of it too.

I guess I’ll put Kim Jung Un as my least favorite because he’s a murderous psychopath 😉

I like snakes. They are fun to draw.

This past Thanksgiving I had an excellent roasted cauliflower with mushroom gravy that my mom made.

I have been to Toronto once, briefly. It seemed very clean. Otherwise, my only other experience with Canada has been Quebec (went during February and thought I’d die from the cold) and Montreal (which was fun).

• Five all-time favorite bands: Can’t name just five so here are my tops: David Bowie, Van Der Graaf Generator, Magma (for live shows they can’t be beat), Siouxsie and the Banshees, King Crimson (early to mid period), Kate Bush, PJ Harvey, Bauhaus, Nick Cave. Some more recent / current favorite bands include Purson, Ghost, Wolf People, and Steven Wilson.

• Do you think LeBron James leaves Cleveland after this season ends?: I do not follow sports at all. So you are asking the wrong person. He’s a basketball player, right?

• What are your three favorite smells?: cinnamon, sandalwood, orange

• Two memories from your first date?: Leaving out school dances and the like, I remember I went roller skating with a guy when I was about 15 but ended up in the emergency room because I fell and split my chin open. So I’d say that went pretty well. 😉

• Who wins in a 12-round wrestling match between you and Mike Pence? What’s the outcome?: LOL. I’d like to think Karmic justice would be on my side. :-)

• Celine Dion calls—she offers $10 million for you to move to Las Vegas for the year, change your name to “Rose Dawson Shelley,” teach her painting eight hours every day while wearing only slippers and clothes made of live moths. You in?: No. If the clothes were made of lime-green Loofah sponges I may reconsider.

• Tell me something interesting about your mother: She used to be nun (or rather a novice nun in training). Obviously it didn’t take.

• On a scale of 1 to 100, how terrified are you of your own death?: 10?  I can’t say I think of it very much. At some point, as I get older, I’m sure I’ll think of it more. I don’t think it’s death that I will be afraid of but rather if there is pain preceding it. Or I would hate to lose my mental facilities beforehand and then linger on as a shell of myself. And I’d be sad for any loved ones I am leaving behind. I’d like to know they’d be OK. And I hope that I can accomplish something in this life before I go.

• In exactly 16 words, make a case for Young MC’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: He reached top 10 Billboard success and was a big name in West Coast hip hop.

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Don Cormier

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I’ve taught journalism for years, and at some point during every opening class I tell the students I’d rather interview the stranger at a bar than Mike Trout.

Puzzling looks ensue, so I add the explanation: “Mike Trout’s life is familiar. He generally does the same thing every day. He’s a creature of habit. The stranger at the bar is a mystery. He’s an enigma.”

I bring this up because a couple of months ago, while sitting at a long table inside a local coffee shop, I struck up a conversation with a big guy a couple of spots over. He was all alone, staring at his laptop, sipping from a cup of water. We chatted for a good while—about his childhood in Compton, about the Green Bay Packers, about his personal training gig—and at the end I said, “So … would you wanna do a Quaz?”

Enter: Don Cormier.

Don is the owners of his own personal training outfit, Cormier Fitness, as well as the proprietor of an uplifting blog on health and wellness. He helps people get fit out of Southern California and is, truly, one of the friendliest, coolest guys you could possibly meet on a random day at a random cafe. You can reach Don here.

Don Cormier, I can’t beat you up. But I can welcome you to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Don, we met a few months back while sitting at the same long table in the same coffee shop. And the thing that’s striking about you, off the bat, is your physique. You’re an insanely muscular guy who could kick my ass in about eight seconds. And this might sound dumb, but I wonder: Do you ever get tired of worrying about weight? About muscle? About diet? About physique? Like, I worry about it a fair amount and even at that level it can drive me crazy. So do you ever have moments of, “Man, I just wanna drink some fatty Starbucks beverages and lie on the couch for six days watching Entourage re-runs”?

DON CORMIER: First let me say thanks, Jeff, for allowing me to use this platform to share a few things about myself. Now about me kicking your ass in eight seconds—I feel disrespected. I was thinking three seconds.

But you know what’s interesting, Jeff? People always view me as intimidating, and I’m actually among the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. I avoid confrontation in all cases. I just refuse to use my energy in that regard.

As far as worrying about my diet, I really don’t at all. I’ve developed some good eating habits. Not saying that I eat the cleanest but I’m conscious of how much food I’m consuming. At this point of my fitness journey, I’m just focused on maintaining my body. I never compare myself with anyone else and that’s how I find contentment within myself. I think these health “gurus” make everything just sound so complicated that people quit before even trying. Instead, they should be trying to see what works for them.

Thankfully I’m not a coffee guy so I only go to Starbucks for wifi and water cups. But unfortunately I have a sweet tooth and I love ice cream. I eat cream at least three days of the week. I’m not recommending anyone to do that, but I make up for it the next day in the gym.

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J.P.: Your online bio is very thin, and I’m curious to know your life path. I know you’re from Compton, I know you played college football somewhere, I know you’re a trainer. But can you fill in the gaps? Who are you? What’s the journey been? How did this happen?

D.C.: Who am I? I’m Donald Cormier Jr, and I’m a professional fitness trainer. My purpose is to help people live a fun and healthy life. My journey has been amazing, it’s been a rollercoaster but I’m still breathing. I played college basketball and tore my ACL my first year. That mainly happened due to me not taking care of my body and making tons of bad choices. I hold myself accountable for my actions and I understand why certain things happened.

After my injury I suffered from depression. It’s hard for anyone when your dream is to become a professional athlete, then it reality starts to set it in more and more that it isn’t going to happen. During my depression I had suicidal thoughts. I just really didn’t want to be here and I would question God every day. I got addicted to prescription drugs because it was my only escape and I would sleep throughout the day. My pride wouldn’t let me go back to my mother’s house so I just lived in my car for a while. I knew I was better than the person I was, so I started reading the Bible.

My mom is a minister so I grew up in church but once I got to college that’s where I had lost my disconnection. I started going to the gym, (mind you, at the time I was completely broke so I was sneaking into the gym because I couldn’t afford a membership. Lord forgive me, I was just determined). I became fascinated with exercising, so I started thinking of careers I could do where exercise was involved. Personal training was what I wanted to do, but everyone told me working in physical therapy would be better job security. I did my research and decided to jump into the world of physical therapy. I was able to learn from some amazing doctors not only in regards to exercise but how to be an overall professional. After working in the physical therapy field for three years I decided to follow my heart and pursue my personal training career.

J.P.: I was just reading your blog, and you wrote a post headlined “Grace” a while back. One of the things you wrote was “Sometimes it amazes me when I see the things God is allowing me to do and the places He is allowing me to go and all the precious people he is drawing in my life.” And I’m always fascinated by faith, probably because I have little-to-none of it. So here’s my question: How do you explain/justify God giving you these wonderful gifts while, meanwhile, infants die every day, people are murdered every day, 9.11, Nazi Germany, Rwanda genocide, etc? Because I struggle with the incongruity of it all.

D.C.: I love this question, Jeff, because I ask it, too. I feel like people give God credit for everything that is messed up in the world but never give him credit for the great things. It hurts my heart to hear when someone loses a loved one, especially when you know what they’re going through. It’s hard to understand God’s ways. I just pray for understanding, which helps me become more compassionate. That in turn makes me grateful because every day isn’t promised. That’s why I try and be the best person I can be—not just for me but for my family and friends. Sometimes I fail, but the great thing is I get another chance to get better and that’s only by God’s grace.

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J.P.: In another post, you write about foods to avoid, including “junk food.” Man, I LOVE junk food. Cookies, ice cream, a Coke Zero. Soooo … what to do? Being serious—do you feel like I need to give it up?

D.C.: Junk food is everyone’s problem. I have that problem, too! I think it’s about eliminating it little by little. If you still eat ice cream, give up cookies (LOL). It’s about self discipline and being able to sacrifice temporary gratification. Should you give it up? I wouldn’t suggest that you just go cold turkey and completely give it up. It’s about moderation.

J.P.: You’re from Compton. On your site you write, “Shout out to my city Compton, California where great people are birthed despite the image the media tries to display.” What do you feel people get wrong about Compton?

D.C.: The misconception about Compton is that it’s this poverty stricken place filled with thugs. Don’t get me wrong it’s not Beverly Hills, but it’s filled with a lot of talented people … some just aren’t afforded the same outlet as others. When I was in school we had one computer to a classroom and no textbooks to take home. Yet there are numerous people who went to college on academic scholarships. But I feel the media portrays the “Straight Outta Compton” image. I guess it’s more marketable.

J.P.: I’m gonna throw a touchy question at you, and I hope you don’t mind. When we were speaking the second time I noticed that you have a slight deformity with one of your ears. As a kid I had a bad birthmark that people used to mark, and it really scarred me for a while. You ooze this really infectious confidence that says, “This is me,” and I wonder: A. Did it ever bother you? As a kid, maybe. And B. How did you develop your confidence?

D.C.: Well let me say, I’m glad you noticed something else about me besides my physique (LOL). As a kid I always wore earrings. If you had the biggest diamonds you were cool. We were kids trying to emulate R. Kelly (only in that regard, of course). One day playing basketball my earlobe split because, of course, I had my cool earrings in while playing. I got fouled hard and my earring spilt straight through.

Sounds painful, but when it happened I was looking for my cubic zirconia diamond earring. Eventually it scarred up and formed into a keloid. When I first got it, it definitely messed with my self-confidence to the point where I got numerous surgeries. But they always came back. Now I’ve just learned to live with it. It’s a part of who I am. Confidence comes from within and how you feel on the inside shows on the outside. So when you ask how I walk around with so much confidence, it’s because I know my self worth.

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J.P.: You write, “Persistence is the essence of success.” But one thing I feel often goes undiscussed is how persistence is maintained. Know what I mean, Don? People say, “Be persistent! Be persistent!” But it’s sooo much easier said than done. So how does one maintain persistence? How do you?

D.C.: When it comes to persistence you’re only going to continue being persistent if you have a big enough reason as to why you’re doing it. I maintain persistence because I understand it’s my purpose to help people live a healthier life. So at the end of the day it’s not about me.

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

D.C.: I’m currently living my greatest moment because I’m always looking toward the future and I’m accomplishing my goals one at a time. My lowest point probably would be witnessing my parents’ divorce.

J.P.: You played football. You’re also huge into wellness. Sooooo … football? Should people play? Should they not? Is it contradictory to tell people to get lots of sleep and eat well while also encouraging a sport that destroys the body and oftentimes results in CTE and brain-related damages?

D.C.: I love football. When I played I used it as an outlet for my anger during my parents’ divorce. I was able to use football instead of resorting to violence or crime, although it’s a dangerous sport. I think in all sports you are sacrificing your body one way or another. Football just gets a bad reputation because of all the attention it receives surrounding brain injuries.

J.P.: You ooze optimism and happiness. The Trump presidency has oftentimes turned my optimism and happiness to sludge. I read the paper, watch the news and feel like screaming. I don’t want to just live in a shell, but I want the happiness back. What to do, Don?

D.C.: Honestly I feel like I do live in a shell sometimes, because you turn the news and it’s always negative and injustice. Trump has always showed who he is. I’m amazed at the millions of people who have the same mindset as him. The way I stay sane is I pray and leave it up to God that the president humbles himself.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH DON CORMIER:

• Five reasons one should make Compton his/her next vacation destination: 1. Don’t make Compton your vacation destination; 2. Go to Louis Burger on Rosecrans Ave and try the chill cheese fries; 3. Go to the Compton Christmas parade; 4. Build up your street cred; 5. Generate your own perspective. 

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Frank Gore, deadlifting, Madonna, eBay, Twix bars, Goldie Hawn, Sir Mix-A-Lot, the Olympic Marathon, Dodger Stadium, E.T., leather shoes, the number 965,432: E.T., Six Mix-A-Lot, Dodger Stadium, Olympic Marathon; Madonna; Twix; Frank Gore; deadlifting; Goldie Hawn; leather shoes; 965,432 (too random).

• One question you would ask Billy Dee Williams were he here right now: Did you have a crush on Princess Leia in the gold bikini?

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I never thought I’d die on a plane.

• Three skills people might find surprising: I’m a good listener, I have a good sense of humor and I can make food disappear.

• Three memories from your first-ever date: 1. I dented the side of my mom’s car door before I even left the house; 2. I was sad the whole time and ruined the whole date; 3. I remember going to Denny’s because it was open 24 hours and I was scared to go home.

• What’s the most overrated exercise?: Benchpress.

• What do your shoes generally smell like?: Turkey bacon.

• Do you think Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire belong in the Hall of Fame?: I do. They made huge impacts on baseball.

• The coolest place you’ve ever visited is …: Atlanta. I loved the southern hospitality.