Jeff Pearlman

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Category Archives: QUAZ

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Kelly Swanson

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Over the course of two decades in the business, I’ve dealt with an endless conga line of publicists—95 percent of whom stink.

I mean no offense. It’s just that, well, no matter how many times you call, I’m not writing about a foam cheese head, or interviewing Menudo’s former road manager. I don’t want to meet Rex Hudler, or try tuna ice cream or sit in on a conference call with the seven living members of the 1933 New York Yankees.

Sorry. I just don’t.

Kelly Swanson gets it. She’s always gotten it, even since I was a young buck at Sports Illustrated and she was pitching boxing-related stories. Kelly is a journalist’s publicist—meaning: A. She knows her stuff; B. She won’t waste your time with trash. Wanna know if a PR person is trustworthy? Wait for him/her to say, “Look, I know you probably won’t wanna do this, but I have to at least try.” That’s the sort of publicist I dig. That’s Kelly.

For more than 20 years, Kelly has been the biggest publicist in boxing. Her clients are legendary, her fights larger than life. She also happens to be one of the coolest people I know, despite her apparent disinterest in granola and Malik Rose.

One can visit Kelly’s site here, and follow her on the ol’ Twitter here.

Kelly Swanson, to hell with Floyd and Hopkins. You’re the undisputed 245th Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Kelly, boxing is one of the most criticized, lambasted sports on the planet. And yet, you’ve devoted much of your career to it. Why? And what do you think people misunderstand about the sport?

KELLY SWANSON: Boxing is an uncomfortable sport to watch if you don’t know or understand it. Most people don’t know how to watch boxing and therefore they don’t see its technical side through the offensive and defensive skills that are displayed during a fight. It’s actually similar to any of the other contact sports, such as football or hockey, when two or more make aggressive contact. From what I am reading these days, I think I would want to be a really good fighter over a football player.

Also, the fighters love to fight. They absolutely love to do it. For most of them, who sauntered in or were sent to their neighborhood boxing gym as young troublemakers, it’s the only way out of what are some terrible circumstances, whether it’s their family situation or their local surroundings with negative influences. I see their passion and their plight and I am OK with trying to help them make their world a better place for themselves and their families. It’s their backstories that make for unbelievable copy. Several fighters’ stories I have pitched have ended up on A1. That’s thrilling to me as a publicist.

J.P.: You work a ton with Floyd Mayweather—a marvelous boxer and the closest thing we have to a villain in pro sports. So … what’s he like as a person? As a guy to work with? Are we missing something when we label him as “bad.” And is he truly trying to orchestrate a certain image, or is he a guy who just can’t help himself.

K.S.: Floyd was an extremely hard-working and dedicated professional athlete who took his craft very seriously and became one of the greatest fighters of all time. As far as working with him, which I did for more than 10 years until he retired this past fall, he has always been respectful and appreciative of my help. I was able to do a job for him that he needed, and in so doing we had a lot of success. He probably executed more than 5,000 interviews over the 10 years we worked together. As a small business, he contributed greatly to the overall success of my company during these years. He was very loyal to me and I to him.

As for who Floyd is as a person, few get to see or know the real one. A lot of fighters are very insular. Floyd lives by himself. When he is alone, or with his closest friends, which is a very small circle by choice, he is reserved and actually pretty quiet.

But having grown up in the public eye and accumulated the wealth he has, I believe it is confusing for him at times. I think because of the nature of the “bad” guy persona crafted as part of his “image,” and his willingness to “show off” his success with bravado and flash, people either love him or hate him. He has taken his share of criticism from a lot of people.

Yes, he has had his own personal failings that are well documented and known to everyone. But he has also paid for those failings and is doing the best he can to not make the same mistakes again; to be a better person all around. You have to respect someone, whether you like him or not, for doing that. It’s the nature of humanity.

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J.P.: You spent many years working with Riddick Bowe, one of the great heavyweights of the past 30 years and one of the saddest boxing sagas of quite some time. Why, just recently the New York Daily News ran the story, “Riddick Bowe, former boxer, says he will Tweet anything for $20.” And it was true. Kelly, what went wrong with Riddick Bowe? And how does it make you feel when you see former clients done in by the sport?

K.S.: It’s very sad what happened to Riddick. He had such a gigantic, fun-loving personality when he was fighting and he was a very happy guy. But he also had personal hardship when his marriage fell apart (his first wife was the mother of his five children). I don’t think he ever recovered from this and instead of relying on the people that helped secure his financial future, he turned his back on them and made some bad decisions to find himself in the situation he is in now.

J.P..: Back in 1991, you got in a heated exchange with a fighter named Elijah Tillery, but I’ve never heard the details. So … what happened? And did you ever make up?

K.S.: Very funny JP, and only because it is you will I answer this question. Riddick fought Elijah Tillery and we were all staying at the same hotel for fight week. Every time I saw this guy, he would say, “Yeah, don’t worry, come Sunday, you’ll be working for me!” So the night of the fight, after Bowe beat him, I went around to his corner (he was still in the ring) and said, “Yeah, Elijah, ha ha ha (or something like that)” and he turned and spit at me. It was disgusting and thankfully it landed on my clothes. But trust me I never let that happen again! Who was I to think I could go toe-to-toe with a real prizefighter, let alone a heavyweight!

J.P.: This might sound simplistic, but why do so many boxers end up broke? I mean, some of these guys make millions upon millions. Is it background? Is it people leeching on? Why?

K.S.: Why do so many athletes end up broke? I don’t think it is just boxing but I do think there is more responsibility in the other sports, the ones that have commissions, team ownership and other resources, to not let this happen on such a regular basis.

Boxing is a sport of the streets and fighters don’t have a great “trust” gauge. So when it comes to their money, they would rather keep it to themselves than work with others to help them with their savings and investments. It’s sad because it never works.

J.P.: So I know you grew up in Buffalo, I know you’re based out of New York City—but why did you become a publicist, and why a boxing publicist? When did you first know this is what you wanted to do?

K.S.: I didn’t know I wanted to be a publicist right away, but I did know fairly young, maybe high school, that I wanted to work in sports. I grew up with three brothers and all we did was play and watch sports, one of which was boxing. When I moved to New York City after college, I started to look for a job in sports and landed a public relations job at a small sports PR firm. It was great and my career took off from there.

I have worked and do work in many other sports besides boxing (you can check our website). But a lot of my business comes from the sport and it is our niche. I am delighted that I have had such a successful career and boxing has been a part of that success. When my agency was chosen to handle the overall publicity for the Mayweather vs Pacquiao fight, in addition to handling Floyd’s individual PR, that was the greatest compliment to our success. It was a tremendous job, which came with an enormous amount of responsibility. We were congratulated for our efforts.

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J.P.: You’re the best publicist I’ve ever dealt with, and it’s not even close. But I wanted your take—what makes a good publicist and what makes a shitty one? Are there obvious differences dividing good vs. awful?

K.S.: Thanks JP. That’s a huge compliment as I am sure you have worked with many good ones. I think the single most important part of being a good publicist is to know and have passion for your clients, whether they’re persons, products or events. Know the intricacies of what makes their stories unique, fresh, new, different, odd, topical, time sensitive and relevant. Also you have to know and study the person you are pitching to. I’ve heard horror stories from my friends in the media about calls they received from publicists asking them to cover something they aren’t even remotely covering (ah, I think you told me that, too). Unfortunately there are too many publicists that are just told to “pitch” because it’s their job and not their passion. That’s when they are shitty.

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

K.S.: Couple of great moments—When Riddick Bowe won the world heavyweight title; this past year working on one of the biggest event in sports history—Mayweather vs Pacquiao.

Lowest—doing a press conference for a coffee table book on Notre Dame and no one showed up. It was my first assignment with this client, the publisher, and I was mortified. This past year when I found out members of the press will create falsehoods just to infuse themselves into a story they have no business being a part of, rather than just to cover it, if in fact they even have a real assignment to cover. Ridiculous.

J.P.: Give me your absolute craziest story from your boxing experiences.

K.S.: Would probably have to be working with Bernard Hopkins when he fought Tito Trinidad. We were in Puerto Rico promoting the fight. During the press conference, which was open to the public, Bernard took the Puerto Rican flag out of Tito’s hands and threw it on the ground. All hell broke lose and we basically had to run for our lives. That was crazy!

J.P.: There was recently a piece in Sports Illustrated on Don King, and how he’s now this sorta sad, washed-up has-been. I’m sure you’ve had plenty of King experiences. Was he as awful as they say? And what would you say is legacy is in the sport?

K.S.: Not that awful and his legacy would have to be that he created the most dynamic boxing promotions and storylines of all time in the history of the sport. Very hard working, and although he isn’t what he used to be, he is around at the tender age of 84 and still working as hard as he can.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH KELLY SWANSON:

Hagler-Leonard—who do you think won?: Hagler

• Rank in order (favorite to least)—Malik Rose, Jake Locker, Boom Boom Mancini, Yom Kipper, Shamu, Empire State Building, granola, brown rice, Eight Men Out: Boom Boom Mancini, Shamu, Yom Kippur, Empire State Building, bottled water, brown rice, granola, Eight Men Out, Malik Rose, Jake Locker and Boise.

• Five nicest athletes you’ve ever dealt with?: Caron Butler, Felix Trinidad, Jackie Joyner Kersee, Bob Beamon and Sam Shields

• One biggest jerk?: As a publicist can’t kiss and tell! Sorry!

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Nope, but I have the dream all the time. I always wake up!

• One question you ask Bill Frist were he here right now?: As a former heart and lung surgeon, do you eat southern BBQ, ribs in particular?

• We give you one start in a WNBA game—this coming season. You play the entire game. How many points you score?: If I am lucky I hit my favorite shot—the 3-pointer from left side, back of circle. Made it every time in high school.

• I just paid $5 for a coffee drink. This seems ridiculous. In 14 words, tell me why I’m wrong: I just saw 7-Eleven has $.50 small special. Sometimes fancy coffee is worth it, but 7-Eleven has good coffee too.

• Fill in the blank: “When I see Muhammad Ali, I feel …” Love.

Celine Dion calls. She wants to hire you as her personal publicist. Two guaranteed years, $45 million per. But you have to cut off one finger, get a Celine tattoo on your left knee and legally change your name to Pen Case IV. You in?: Which finger?

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L. Jon Wertheim

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In many regards, I owe the subject of today’s 244th Quaz my happiness.

Back in 1999, when we were co-workers moving up the ladder at Sports Illustrated, Jon Wertheim invited me to his wedding. I was, truly, a fringe guest; an office chum and probably the 199th of 200 invitees. Not only had I known Jon for just three years, but I’d never met Ellie, his fiance.

Anyhow, that night—standing alongside Grant Wahl (another SI pro)—I watched as this angelic little creature (Ellie’s best friend) gave a toast as the maid of honor. She was beautiful and energetic and, it seemed, a bit nervous …

Seventeen years later, she’s my wife and the mother of our two kids.

All because of Jon Wertheim.

That said, he’s not this week’s Quaz because of any sort of payback. Nope, Jon happens to be one of America’s best sports journalists; a dazzling writer and storyteller who has mastered the art of turning spoken words into timeless features. He also happens to be the author of an excellent new book, “This is Your Brain on Sports,” which lands everywhere today. I’ve known Jon for two decades, and he’s one of the most decent and compassionate people in the business. He also loves Dean Garrett and Dairy Queen (but no one’s perfect). One can follow Jon on Twitter here, and read much of his work here.

Jon Wertheim, welcome to the land of the Quaz …

J.P.: Jon, I’m gonna start randomly joyful. A decade ago you wrote an excellent book about Indiana basketball called, “Transition Game.” During the promotional period, you were sent to a bookstore that didn’t exist. Details, please …

J.W.: First off, there is a vast gulf between the perception and reality of a “book tour,” a concept that sounds infinitely more glamorous than it, in fact, is. This was a decade ago or so. I don’t want to pick on the publicist because I’m sure he was overworked, undercompensated and given limited resources. I was sent to a Fort Wayne Barnes & Noble for a signing—which consisted mostly of me sitting idly behind a table alongside a stack of unsold books and explaining to passers-by that, no, I didn’t know where the diet books were located or whether gift-wrapping was free. (Every author has stories like this.)

On my itinerary, I was told that I should make time to visit another Fort Wayne store in the afternoon. The Coffee-Stained Cover, or whatever it was called. So after this B&N debacle, I drive to the strip mall, do a cursory check in the rearview mirror of my rental car to make sure I don’t have remnants of my Chipotle lunch in my teeth, optimistically grab my Sharpie and get out of the car … only to see that the store is vacant. I ask someone at the neighboring establishment whether the store has moved or I have the wrong address. “Nah, they shut down a few months back.” O-kay.

I call my publicist and ask how exactly this shuttered store ended up on my schedule. He mumbled something to the effect of, “Well, I know we had a good relationship with them in the past.”

“Yeah, but did you actually contact someone at the store in advance of my visit?”

“Well, not necessarily. But, again, that store had been good to our authors in the past.”

J.P.: You’re the executive editor of Sports Illustrated, which means you’ve seen this whole journalism thing from a writer’s perspective and an editor’s perspective. So, having that vision, what becomes of print journalism? Is there a physical magazine on paper a decade from now? Two decades from now? Do you think the decline of print has hurt the business? Quality and such? Helped? Does it bother you? Not concern you? Both? Neither?

J.W.: I feel like there’s this great irony in media. Many of us got into this profession, yes, because it allowed us to write and travel and meet interesting people and tell our stories and offer our commentary; but also because it was an alternative to spending days working under fluorescent lights, consumed with quarterly revenue reports, P/L statements, spreadsheets, focus group data and the like. Because of the—I think this year’s euphemism is precarious–state of media, we’ve all turned into management consultants. Without irony, we spend half of our time discussing whether gains in digital can offset the decline in print or how an a la carte pricing model for cable might impact ESPN’s cash flow in the era of cord-cutting.

As for SI, I don’t think I’m trafficking in industrial secrets when I say that the print magazine is still profitable. (And, immodestly, I would assert that the quality on the pages is still, consistently, high.) I’d like to think that, so long as that’s the case, there will be a place for the print product. But, honestly, I’m indifferent to platform and think most of my colleagues are as well. It’s like Willie Sutton and the banks—you’re happy to go where the audience is.

I have two optimistic riffs. 1) if no one gave a shit about sports, we’d be in trouble. But people are more engaged than ever. So long as that’s the case, this is a solvable riddle and we should proceed on the assumption that there will always be a place for well-told stories, incisive columns, enterprising ideas, investigations etc. I will always want to read Steve Rushin and Tom Verducci and Scott Price, whether it’s on my phone or in hieroglyphics on my cave wall.)  2) The dirty secret is that this uncertain, multi-platform world is a lot of fun. You write one day and do t.v. on another day and try not to embarrass yourself podcasting on the third. It’s like MMA versus boxing The notion of only being a writer (or commentator or radio host) and not doing the other disciplines, sort of seems as limiting as only using your fists in combat.

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J.P.: You have a book coming out today called “This is Your Brain on Sports.” I was riveted by the chapter on quarterbacks and looks, and whether the position truly draws handsome men. And I wonder—what even made you think to explore the subject? I mean, where did the idea come from? How do you go about pursuing it? Is the a result you’re anticipating, or hoping for?

J.W.: My co-conspirator, Sam Sommers, is a social psychologist. At the early stages of this book, we brainstormed—to use a cringe-inducing word—and came up with a list of topics to explore. The whole idea of the book is to try and explain and/or explore some of the quirks of sports. Why do we root for cheaters when they play for our team but boo like crazy when Ryan Braun comes to town? Why do athletes choke? Why do athletes play so well in the immediate aftermath of tragedy? (You know better than anyone about the game Brett Favre had the weekend his dad died.)  Why do we go nuts for that stupid t-shirt cannon? “Why are quarterbacks so good looking?” was high on the list. When we tested this, the results were really interesting.

J.P.: You may well disagree with this, but I feel like when we were coming up at SI, we all had our little breakout moments. I guess mine would be John Rocker, and yours, perhaps, would be Paternity Ward, the 1998 piece you co-authored with Grant Wahl on pro athletes and out-of-wedlock children. The story was doggedly reported, deftly written—and included a cover featuring the young son of Celtics guard Greg Minor. I remember, at the time, feeling conflicted. Was this right, or was it taking it too far? I don’t think I ever had an answer. But looking back almost 18 years—do you? Was the magazine wrong, right, journalistic? And what do you, specifically, recall from the reporting?

J.W.: You mean the story itself or the cover? I think the story was—and is—fair. I would sign off on it today if the idea crossed my desk. The cover … yeah, now that the statute of limitations has lapsed, I would probably be inclined do it differently today. It was an arresting image, no doubt. But that poor guy—no longer a kid—had no agency, no say in what was a pretty major decision. He could perfect the self-driving car or win the Heisman trophy and Google might still identify him as the poster child (literally) for athletes having children out-of-wedlock. At least once a year a colleague or reader will encourage me to write a “Where are They Now?” piece on the kid—notice that I’m taking pains not to mention him by name–who’s now in his 20s. I have no interest. Give the guy his privacy.

With the legendary Bud Collins.

With the legendary Bud Collins.

J.P.: I know you’re an Indiana kid, I know you attended Yale, I know you have a law degree. So … why journalism? Why (and how) this path?

J.W.: I get this a lot and always feel like I should have a better answer than I do. I guess it ultimately redounds to this: I care about (and like) writing and reporting and being in media, more than anything else.

Like so many people in media (and this is a real virtue of the profession), my path was random. After my first year of law school, I worked as a summer associate in a big firm. I was well-paid, met important people, ate fabulous lunches…and almost got carpel tunnel syndrome looking at my watch, hoping the days would end. There was no way in hell I had the constitution to do that for the next 40 years. That next summer I applied for an internship at Sports Illustrated. This was (gulp) 1996, after O.J. and Mike Tyson and at a time when there was a realization that the intersection between sports and the law was only getting busier. I was told, “Go be a junior Lester Munson.” I had a great time and, cheesy as this sounds, felt like I’d found my tribe. I stayed on staff for my third year of law school, graduated, took the New York bar and started at SI the next day. Grant Wahl and I shared an office. You were a few doors down. Been here ever since; and am hopelessly behind in my NY State bar dues.

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

J.W.: Lowest moment? I don’t know. We’ve all stories had we wish we could do-over. Phrases and conceits (and entire pieces) that now make us cringe. Times we could have and should have reported more vigorously or creatively. Times when we were sloppy or lazy. I remember being pretty down after covering Penn State and Sandusky. I spent a week there and I remember coming back and thinking, “This sports industrialist complex created this climate. The hero worship. The absence of accountability. These insulated athletic departments that are mere outgrowths of the university. And much as we like to think of ourselves as these watchdogs, we’re all part of the machine.”

Greatest moment? I don’t know. Here’s one and I hope this doesn’t come across as self-serving: I’m really proud of Sports Illustrated in 2016. What do I mean by this? When you and I started at SI in the mid/late 90s, it was the tail end of the golden age of magazines. We had off-site junkets and fancy parties with ice sculptures and lines of black town cars to take us home in our intoxicated states. No expense was spared in pursuing a story. Resources were abundant. Today it’s obviously a much different media climate. And with a much smaller staff and in this do-more-with-less era, we still crank out a magazine every week, break news, win awards, have an editing process that improves the quality, run a 24/7 website, feature some dazzlingly good writing. We do podcasts and launch SI Films and projects like Peter King’s MMQB site. We have more diverse staff—gender, ethnicity, age, but also sensibility and writing styles—than when you and I started. Sure, there are swings and misses. And of course there are times when it’s a pity we don’t have the resources that we had in the 90s. And, still, we’re doing independent journalism we can be proud of. In a weird way, to me, the job is as gratifying now as it was in the flush times.

J.P.: I’ve always admired your ability to get people to open up. Seriously—you’re really good at it. So … how? What are the keys to interviewing people? How do you make subjects feel comfortable and relaxed?

J.W.: Hey thanks. Seriously. I believe Verducci once made a similar point to you and I think it’s really instructive. Sometimes just making small talk—without scribbling notes or thrusting a recording device against an athlete’s chin—goes a long way. Same for asking a question you know they’ve never been asked before. It’s a luxury, I realize. For a Sports Illustrated feature you might have a few days in town and a chance to build rapport that others may not. But these post-game scrums are so unappealing and so not conducive to rapport

J.P.: Your main sport has been tennis, and you’ve probably covered Venus and Serena as much as anyone out there. This might sound naïve and will definitely sound simplistic—but are they likeable? Are they nice? Has fame changed them, in the way you and I have seen so many athletes go from modest to dickish? Or are they basically the same women they were when you met them X years ago?

J.W.: Tennis is my guilty pleasure. I have no delusions about its status as a niche sport—Wimbledon ratings will pale in comparison to an NFL preseason game—but the flip side is that it’s a hell of a lot of fun to cover a sport that’s close-knit (and so congenitally crazy). Maybe 18 months ago, I wanted to do a long sit-down with Roger Federer, the greatest player of all time. The response: “Okay, sure, what time’s good for you?” No ground rules. No demands to reference a charitable foundation. No minder sitting in on the interview. Maybe because there are no home teams, it’s this global sport with this family environment.

All that said … well, where to begin with the Williams sisters? For one, my time covering tennis corresponds almost exactly with their emergence, so I feel this real kinship. I covered them when they were this curiosity with an outrageous dad. When they became No.1. When they had their assorted setbacks. When they became these dignified figures playing deep into their 30s. In different ways, they’ve both chosen to be fairly opaque and not put themselves up for public dissection. I totally respect that. We’ve always been cordial. Venus once kindly agreed to be a guest for a writing class I taught. But even after all these years, I wouldn’t say I know them particularly well. Are they the same as they were as teenagers? No. But we all evolve. Three random points: A) I maintain this is still one of the great underrated stories in sports. This is the equivalent of LeBron James having a brother who is the second-best NBA player of the last 20 years. B) Close as they are, they are strikingly, determinedly different people. Once, they were conflated as the Williams sisters. No more. C) Their pressures and burdens and expectations are so different from those of other tennis players they must be held to a different standard.

With Tommy Hearns and the late Emanuel Steward

With Tommy Hearns and the late Emanuel Steward

J.P.: Is it OK to be a sports journalist and a fan? Can you root for the Mets? Can, say, Lee Jenkins root for the Chargers? Is that allowed? Are there limits? And have the expectations changed through the years?

J.W.: There is of course the no-cheering-in-the-press-box dictum. We root for the stories, not for teams/players. But I feel like A) objectivity is a false god. B) There’s an unofficial rule that you get you one team you can hang onto and call your own. It has the effect of keeping your fan sensibilities intact and acting as a safeguard to keep the sports media type from becoming entirely jaded and neutral.

It helps to be up front about it. It helps if the team is not from a sport you cover regularly. If it is a long-suffering franchise (my Indiana Pacers; Lee’s Chargers; Grant’s Royals—at least before 2014) so much the better. But put it this way: for all that plagues sports media and for all the ethical questions and challenging, this one doesn’t rank high with me.

J.P.: What’s the book-writing process for you? I know you dig writing in the local YMCA. But, soup to nuts, how do you go about it? What’s the process?

J.W.: Now that I’m no longer writing full-time, sadly, it’s less a process than just a matter of banging away when I have a block of free time. I do love writing at my local YMCA—the most populist place you’ll find in Greenwich Village. (The wifi is dodgy which, of course, is a disguised blessing.) Macro process? I get an idea. Then I use an old trick Scott Price once taught me and ask myself: “If I saw this book out there and it was written by someone else, would it upset me?” If the answer is yes, I poke around with some reporting, make sure it can sustain itself for 90,000 words (or double that if I am Jeff Pearlman) and then crank out a proposal.

I tend to work pretty fast and one reason is that I write as I go. For my first book, I didn’t really know what the hell I was doing. I figured I’d spend X months on the reporting phase and block off three months to write 1,000 words each day. What you realize is that the memory fades and trying to recreate interviews and reread notes months later is a fools errand. So when I have an interview or witness a scene or just have an idea, I try to force myself to stay up late and put pen to paper. You can always go back and sharpen the prose. But waiting months to try to write about a conversation/event is a mistake. “Pen to paper” is a horrible cliché, but I mean it literally. Another one of mine habits is to write out every paragraph by hand in a notebook—each graf gets its own page—and then when I fire up the laptop, I at least have a plan and am not staring at the blank screen.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH L. JON WERTHEIM:

• Why don’t you use Lewis Wertheim as a byline?: Never liked my name, Lewis. All the more so when I’m about to start middle school (in the sensitivity hotbed that is southern Indiana), “Revenge of the Nerds” comes out and the lead character’s name is Lewis. Even spelled the same way.

Me: “I hate my name.”

Parents: “Too bad. When you leave home and get to college, call yourself whatever you want. Use your middle name. See if we care.”

Me, first day of college: “Hi, I’m Jon Wertheim.”

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Keith Smart, Peter Cetera, Dairy Queen, Finland, Jeb Bush, lamb kabob, Steve DeBerg, “Word Freak,” Plato, Olive Garden, Mo Cheeks: Dairy Queen, hands down. Then? Keith Smart, lamb kabob, Word Freak, Finland, Mo Cheeks (underrated player; overrated coach), Steve DeBerg, Olive Garden, Peter Cetera. (Jeb Bush, I find deeply sympathetic these days. You see him saying to himself, “Wait, I was governor of a state with a GNP bigger than Saudi Arabia’s; and I’ve been rendered irrelevant by this carnival barker?”)

• Three memories from your first date with your wife: Philadelphia, fall of 1994. Nothing says “romance” like the 76ers’ home opener at The Spectrum. Three things? Shawn Bradley. Zero points. Six fouls. The rest, as they say …

• One question you would ask Taylor Dayne were she here right now?: To what extent do feel responsible for the fact that two of every five friends my kids bring home appear to be named Taylor?

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Never. But I was flying back from Atlanta recently and the woman next me announced that she hates flying. Fair enough. We hit minor turbulence. She closes her eyes, bites her tongue and grasps my hand. For a solid twenty minutes, I am holding hands with a stranger. Eventually she releases. No “thanks” or sheepish “sorry” much less “let me buy you a gift from Skymall.” Plane lands and she departs as if we’ve never had an interaction.

• You could make the argument my kids don’t exist if we never meet. So, eh, what do I owe you?: Dairy Queen.

• Best joke you know: “I like foosball. It’s the perfect combination of soccer and shish kabob.” — Mitch Hedberg.

• Five greatest female Jewish sports journalists of your lifetime: My inner pr department is telling me to duck this one for fear I’ll omit someone obvious, make a false assumption, etc. Jane Leavy, Andrea Kremer, Maggie Gray, Emily Kaplan, Mary Carillo Stein.

• If you played John McEnroe in tennis right now, and he has a patch over his left eye, what’s the final score?: 0-6, 0-6

• Your all-time favorite book …: Fiction: “The Brothers K” by David James Duncan. Non-fiction: “Breaks of the Game” by David Halberstam.

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Maggie McNeill

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I had never heard of Maggie McNeill before a week or so ago when, in the aftermath of my ridiculously stupid comment about Fox News reporters dressing like hookers, she fired off one of the most surprising Tweets of my life on the information superhighway.

Like many, Maggie was insulted by my words. But instead of wondering how I could dare compare the women of Fox News to hookers, she, um, sorta wanted to know why I’d compare hookers to the women of Fox News. Or, really, why I chose to use a cliched insult to degrade female sex workers.

So, well, that was a first.

Then I saw Maggie had a website—an amazing, detailed, beautifully written website about the ups and downs, highs and lows of a prostitute’s life. I sat there reading for, oh, an hour or so. And not because of the sex or pictures. Nope, it was simply a fascinating glance into a world (and profession) I knew little about. It also happened to be delivered by a prostitute who received her BA in English from the University of New Orleans in 1987 and her MLIS from Louisiana State University six years later. Having worked as an underpaid librarian post-degree, Maggie—in need of money—turned to stripping, then to life as a call girl and madam.

She’s never looked back.

Here, the 243rd Quaz takes you inside her life and inside her bedroom. She hates toe cheese, has never heard of Todd Hundley and considers monogamy an ideal lacking ideal. You can follower her on Twitter here, and visit her website, The Honest Courtesan, here.

Maggie McNeill, welcome to the world of the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Maggie, so I’m psyched you’re here, and I wanna start with a question I’ve never asked anyone before: So you reached out to me, via Twitter, after I ripped some Fox News female on-air people as dressing like “hookers.” I meant that they were dressed inappropriately scantily; that the network tries selling sex via women employees. I’m curious why this bothered/offended you. Because, as a prostitute, don’t you dress as such as part of the gig? I’m NOT mocking—genuinely interested.

MAGGIE MCNEILL: Well, I just found it annoying because I’m rather tired of my profession being used as the go-to insult for anyone female. We’re portrayed as stupid, ignorant, classless, tasteless, vulgar and above all, expendable. We’re one of the few minority groups it’s still considered PC to insult and use as the butt of jokes, including jokes in which we’re subjected to violence such as rape or murder; a few years ago an Obama administration crony even thought it was cool to make a joke at an official White House function about a prostitute being gang-raped by prisoners, and everybody laughed. Hahahaha! So funny! In truth, the great majority of my friends are whores, and they are among the smartest, wisest, most generous, most loyal, most discreet and most poised women you’d ever hope to meet. As for dress, most of the whores I know dress attractively but modestly unless they’re A) receiving a client at their own incall space, and B) he specifically requested otherwise. Most women going to clubs dress more “sluttily” than the actual pros I know do. It’s true that some street workers dress in a more overtly “sexy” manner to attract attention (that’s called “advertising”), but even that is less true than it used to be due to increased police harassment. And besides, street workers are only about 10% or so of all sex workers; the majority are internet escorts now. Even in pre-Internet days, street workers were always just a very visible minority.

J.P.: How does this work? What I mean is, someone calls you. They want an experience. Where does it go from there? And what if they show up drunk? Or they’re just disgusting—I dunno, tons of acne, or really bad tuna breath?

M.M.: When someone calls me (or more often, emails me) I first ask him if he’s seen my website because the answers to a lot of questions he might ask are there, including my prices. If he’s smart, he’ll use the booking form I have on the site, because that shows he’s paying attention to my ad copy and is willing to follow instructions (which lets me know he’ll probably respect my wishes in session as well). I ask gentlemen who approach me for references, meaning I want the names and email addresses and/or phone numbers of other ladies he’s seen so I can call and ask them what he was like – is he nice and respectful, or will he try to push my boundaries? Is he generous, or will he try to haggle? Is he prompt, hard to deal with, courteous, rough, or what? Most importantly, is he a cop? Because the majority of the danger in my line of work isn’t from clients, good or bad; it’s from cops, who even when they don’t arrest and cage us may rape, rob or extort us, or worse. Most normal guys try to be on their best behavior when visiting sex workers because they know we’ll give them bad references if they aren’t. As for stuff like poor hygiene, that is unpleasant when it happens and I’d definitely mention it if another lady called me for a referral, but it isn’t that common and it isn’t really as repulsive as bad manners, rudeness, roughness, cheapness, etc.

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J.P.: On your website you write, “Somehow, neither my mother nor the nuns who taught me ever managed to instill in this little Catholic girl any sense that sex is dirty, bad, wrong or otherwise distasteful, and without that unhealthy concept imbedded in one’s psyche prostitution is no different from any other service one might perform for hire.” And it’s a riveting sentence, because it flies in the face of what we’re told repeatedly. So do you think people misunderstand prostitution, or that we—as a people—have a wrongheaded take on what sex is and is supposed to be?

M.M.: Both. People have really dumb, childish, fantastical ideas about sex; they think it’s magical or sacred or whatever, because in ancient times religion larded it with all this mumbo-jumbo and people still haven’t let go of that, even if they’re irreligious or even atheists. And starting about 200 years ago (after the French Revolution), secular governments started horning in on the act as well, and now it’s embedded in the public consciousness that government “should” or even “has to” interfere in private sexual behavior, in the name of “regulation” or “order” or “public decency” or some other bullshit. Nurses clean shit off of bedridden patients’ bottoms, doctors probe their genitalia, masseuses put their hands all over people’s bodies, day-care workers tend to the care of their children. Yet nobody thinks any of these extremely intimate activities needs to be banned, and nobody pretends that nurses must be coerced into nursing. Furthermore, it’s A-OK with a lot of the anti-prostitution crowd if a woman screws dozens or hundreds of strangers, as long as she claims she did it for “pleasure”; it only becomes a problem in these fanatics’ minds if she actually gains a concrete outcome from it.

J.P.: You’re married. I’m surprised by this. I’m not saying I should be, but I am. So how does that work, emotionally? I would not be comfortable with my wife having sex with other guys. So, I guess, how did you meet your husband? How did you come to an understanding? What are the complexities, complications?

M.M.: Actually, we’re not married any more; we amicably divorced last year. It had nothing to do with my work; in fact, we got along better when I was working than after I retired. I’m just a very intense person, and not easy to live with, but as long as we live apart we get along wonderfully. We still talk several times a week and he’s coming to visit me in a few months. He was a client when we met, and things just went from there; we were together for 14 years in all, though we were estranged for the last few. I think the best way for you to understand his feelings would be for you to read an interview with him I published five years ago, but the short version is that he understands that my work is just that—work—and that my clients pose no greater threat to my relationships than they would if I did any other job. If someone can’t wrap his or her brain around that—and certainly not everyone can—it’s best they don’t even THINK about dating a sex worker, except professionally of course.

J.P.: You’re an absolutely beautiful writer, which makes me even more fascinated by your background. So … what’s your background? How did this happen? Soup to nuts? I know you’re a call girl, I know you worked as a stripper. But how did this happen?

M.M.: I’ve always had a very pragmatic view of sex; it’s always been a thing I used to obtain other things I wanted. Some of those things include intimacy, fun, adventure, money, social clout, information, and assistance … I use it to show gratitude or empathy, to help friends, even to manipulate people (but never for evil purposes; I’m actually very moral and would never harm anyone except in self-defense). I took money for sex casually and sporadically from 1985 until about ’87, and when my first divorce in ’95 left me with about $90,000 of bills on a $24,000 librarian’s salary, it didn’t require any huge paradigm shift for me to go back to my old standby, trading sex. The only reason it took me a couple of years (I started stripping in September of ‘97) to get around to it was that my first husband was emotionally abusive, and my self-esteem was really screwed up for a while. It took me that long to realize that I was still hot enough to make a living by my sex appeal.

J.P.: One of your posts contains a really loaded point: “The typical black man seems to believe that the point of intercourse is to damage a woman’s sexual equipment as much as possible.” I would think one’s approach to sex would be more based on, oh, geography, parents, what you’ve seen in your personal life. So why do you think black men, as a general rule, behave in a certain way? And do white men? Asians? Does it apply, in one way or another, to all groups?

M.M.: *Sigh* Every writer, especially when first starting out, writes a few things that, on looking back, cause her to say something like “Was I smoking crack when I wrote that?” In fact, there are a LOT of things I wrote my first year that make me feel that way. However, I’m a big believer in transparency; before the Internet, one couldn’t just “un-publish” embarrassing articles, and I don’t think it’s ethical or even wise to try that now just because one can. You can’t un-ring a bell, and you can’t unsay hurtful things, and to attempt to do so by shoving mistakes – even ugly ones – down the memory hole is to attempt to rewrite the past, a favorite pastime of censors and tyrants through the ages. I’m a real, flawed human being, and though I’m not a racist or any other flavor of bigot sometimes things don’t really come out like I wanted them to. The post to which you refer is hands-down my most controversial; there are a lot of people who have called me a racist and worse because of it. However, I’ve also received a lot of mail from black men thanking me for explaining it, even if they sometimes (rightfully) chastise me for the crappy, sloppy, careless, insensitive, amateurish, assholish, and unnecessarily hurtful way I expressed it. So I really prefer not to opine any more on the subject; anything I say would probably be viewed in the worst possible light, and I don’t wish to inadvertently cause any more hurt than I already have.

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J.P.: Guys are assholes. It’s been proven time after time. I’m guessing—in your work—you see men often at their worst. What does that look like? And do you also see men at their best? And what does that look like?

M.M.: I do indeed see men at their best and worst. At their worst, they’re vicious, barely-human thugs who collect in packs to deceive, rape, rob, threaten, brutalize, cage and destroy the lives of women they’ve never met before, rationalizing their atrocities with excuses like “the law.” “decency” and, worst of all, service to an “authority” who pretends to know better than me what I should and shouldn’t do with my own body and my own life. At their best, they are good, warm, kind, generous, tender and loving to women they don’t really know, have nothing to gain from, and may never meet again, for no reason other than basic human goodness.

J.P.: Is it weird, or uncomfortable, or … anything, when married men sleep with you? Obviously you’re doing nothing wrong, but … I dunno. Do you/did you ever feel bad? And, along those lines, you write a lot about guilt and repression. Do you have clients who cum and are immediately overecome (no pun intended) by guilt? Is that annoying, depressing, neither? Do they expect you to then play therapist?

M.M.: The majority of adult men I’ve been to bed with, from the age of 15 until now, have been married; I’d say at least two-thirds of them, maybe more. It’s no more weird or uncomfortable to me than any other fact of life; in fact, whores save far more marriages than we damage. Humans aren’t designed for monogamy; that’s the invention of agricultural societies with a vested interest in knowing whose kids are whose. It can’t work in the form society pretends it must, which is why whores are necessary; since we aren’t interested in married men except as sources of income, we don’t pose any threat to their wives the way a mistress might. Prostitution is the secret ingredient that makes monogamy possible, which means it isn’t hyperbole to say we make Western civilization possible. The ancients understood that; it’s the reason that in the Epic of Gilgamesh, the world’s oldest surviving story, it is a prostitute who tames the wild man Enkidu, enabling him to live in civilized society.

To answer the second part of your question: it’s not at all unusual that guys are overcome by guilt or shame as soon as they climax; it’s certainly not a majority or even a substantial minority, but we all see that from time to time. Usually when they’re like that they get quiet and either rush out the door or shoo the lady out (depending on whether it’s her place or his) within a few minutes. It’s not annoying except in the rare case when the feeling of tension is palpable, and even then that vanishes as soon as either he or I goes.

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J.P.: Might sound weird, but what are the keys to absolutely great sex? I feel like most of us don’t know, and maybe you do.

M.M.: The most important key to being a great lover (which does not guarantee great sex) is paying attention. When having sex with your partner, pay close attention to his or her reactions: if there is none, try something else; if the reaction seems negative, stop what you’re doing immediately; if the reaction seems positive, keep doing more of that. It may seem silly, but you’d be surprised how few people actually do it. Another important key is to listen and keep an open mind; a lot of what holds people back from really great sex is shame and fear of the partner’s reaction. When you’ve got that stuff on your mind you can’t relax, and if you can’t relax you can’t surrender to the experience. When two people trust each other enough to share what they want without fear of shaming or rejection, there’s a lot better chance for really good, mutually-fulfilling sex.

J.P.: What’s the money story from your career? Best story you feel OK telling …

M.M.: I think the most interesting story, with the most complex implications, happened soon after Hurricane Katrina. I was the only escort in town for over two months, so I was extremely busy, yet I didn’t have much more sex than usual. Why? Because a lot of them just wanted company. I remember one in particular; he was in charge of a crew that was literally pulling bodies from the wreckage, and he was considerably stressed (as I’m sure you can imagine). I got undressed and lay down beside him, but when I went to start undressing him he stopped me and said, “No, I don’t want that.” I looked at him quizzically, and he explained that he was married and didn’t want to cheat on his wife, but said “I see so much ugliness every day, I just want to look at something beautiful for a while.” It struck me that it was a terrible shame that his wife could never be told of this demonstration of his loyalty, because instead of cherishing that he was only looking and cuddling when he could’ve had sex, she probably would’ve been angry or hurt that he had called me at all. Which is … spectacularly dumb, but typical. It also demonstrates the falsity of the evil lies spread by prohibitionists, who pretend that our clients are predatory, abusive monsters looking for warm holes to penetrate; this sweet, gentle, loyal man was in pain, and he wanted the magic of simple human contact to assuage that hurt. And that sort of client is far closer to the norm than the kind of misogynistic jerk who populates prohibitionist propaganda.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH MAGGIE MCNEILL:

• Why Maggie McNeill? How’d you pick the name?: ”Maggie” was my childhood nickname, from my middle name (some friends still used it into my early twenties). “McNeill” is my mother’s maiden name.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Abigail Van Buren, Todd Hundley, “Thelma & Louise,” tomato soup, Arsenio Hall, July 4, Mark Twain, the Bible, nipple rings, the two-point conversion, Tito Jackson: I had to look up “Todd Hundley” and “two-point conversion.” Sports are not my thing, I’m afraid. So … tomato soup, Mark Twain, the Bible, July 4th, nipple rings, Thelma & Louise, Tito Jackson, Abigail Van Buren, Arsenio Hall, Todd Hundley, the two-point conversion

• Your 30-word take on Pretty Woman: Prohibitionists whine that it’s unrealistic because Vivian isn’t a pimped drug addict. IOW, it follows Hollywood’s unrealistic stereotypes rather than theirs. A Disney romantic comedy, and they expect cinema verite?

• One question you would ask Ted Cruz were he here right now?: “How much longer do you think the American people will buy the notion that the Republicans and Democrats are substantially different?”

• Bigger turn off—a chronically dripping nose or toe cheese?: Toe cheese. No contest.

• Five sexiest movies you’ve ever seen?: Off the top of my head, and may be different tomorrow: Story of O, Eyes Wide Shut, Secretary, The Hunger, The Black Cat (1934). Don’t try to understand that last one; it’s a weird horror-fetishistic thing I have.

• Someone farts during sex—what usually happens immediately afterward? Ignore, laugh, make a grossed-out face?: Professional sex: ignore. Non-professional sex with a man: grossed-out face. Non-professional sex with a woman: laugh.

• Three memories from your first-ever date?: I honestly can’t remember my first official “date”, so here are three memories from my first sex: It was on my 15th birthday (Halloween, 1981); he was an 18-year-old LSU freshman who is now a prominent journalist; it was at a friend’s house, in her bed, while my chaperon had gone to pick up a girl who didn’t have a ride to the party.

• Am I allowed to say something if I’m working in a coffee shop and someone’s talking loudly on his/her phone? Or is that their right and I need to shut up?:  If you’re working there, it’s probably wisest to defer to your boss unless you don’t mind losing your job on principle. But if you’re a fellow customer, hell yeah say something.

• Do you believe in monogamy at all? Like, does it have its place? Or is it just some implemented idea from long ago that sucks?: Well, I think a kind of monogamy can work for some people, though they both need to consider what they might do if they catch the other cheating. And if they’re going to go outside without permission, it should be with a pro.

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Marquis Daniels

Screen Shot 2016-01-17 at 8.10.09 PMI’m a fan of transitions.

I don’t mean literary transitions, though those are fine. No, I mean life transitions—the moving from here to there; from there to here. I like that Mookie Wilson went from stealing bases to driving a truck. I like that Jamie Walters (90210 dude) is now a firefighter. On and on, I’m an absolute sucker for these things.

Take, for example, today’s 242nd Quaz …

Before he was the rapper known as Q6, Marquis Daniels was a 10-year NBA veteran; a sinewy slasher and ball hawk who went undrafted out of Auburn in 2003 and ultimately became a top-shelf professional. Daniels bounced around the league a bit (Mavericks to Pacers, Pacers to Celtics, Celtics to Bucks) before retiring in 2013 to focus on hip-hop.

But, as he’s learned, shedding one’s skin isn’t so easy. Q6 is a talented lyricist who has (professionally) tried to escape from Marquis Daniels’ shadow.

There’s rap.

There’s basketball.

He excels at both.

One can visit Q6’s YouTube world here, follow him on Twitter here and read up on Daniels’ hoops career here.

Welcome to The Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Marquis, I wanna open with a question that might sound weird, might not. Hard to tell. So I live in Southern California, a part of the country where parents REALLY push their kids into sports. You sorta get the idea they desperately want their children to become pro athletes, because they see it as this dream existence of money and fame and happiness. My question for you, having played 10 NBA seasons—is pro sports a dream existence? Does it live up to the hype? Or are there things we, as a people, don’t see and/or understand?

MARQUIS DANIELS.: Pro sports is definitely a dream existence for any kid who grew up playing and watching sports daily, especially for me it was part of my diet. Now does it live up to the hype? It does, but there are several cons that come with it all. But to be a professional you have to be able to take the good with the bad. As a professional we always have to seem like we’re happy but that’s not always the case. Regardless of it all, you have to make the fans feel good and let them know you appreciate them.

J.P.: I remember, years ago, writing about a former NFL halfback named James Allen who tried transitioning to a hip-hop career with limited success. One of the big issues, as I recall, is the unwillingness of people to see him as something other than an athlete. Have you faced this, too? Is it a challenge? And how do you do it?

M.D.: Of course. That’s why I go by the name Q6 instead of my name. As you know, they will automatically say, “Here’s another athlete trying to rap,” which I expect from the media and fans. Any type of negativity is good for their ratings, so it’s to be expected. But I go by Q6 so when you hear my music, you judge it off of music and not my name.

J.P.: Keep It Solid—great song. Seriously love it. Everything about it. So, using it as an example, what’s the process for you? Like, where did the idea for the song come from? How do you go about writing lyrics? Do you have the beat in your head first? And when do you know a song is complete?

M.D.: I don’t write my music, so I kinda go in the studio and play a beat and just vibe to it and try and speak on things I have either seen, done or been through. And once the engineer puts his touch on it the song is pretty much completed.

J.P.: So I’m fascinated by something: You’re the kid in Orlando, great player, Edgewater High, and then—senior year—you’re off to Mr. Zion Christian Academy in Durham, N.C. How does this happen? Is it all about a school building a basketball power? Did you even want to leave home?

M.D.: I was on spring break my junior year in high school. I come home one day and my mom had my bags packed. I asked her where I was going and she said, “You’re getting the outta here.” Ha. I mean, it was the best thing for me because I was doing right school wise.

Did you even want to leave home? I definitely didn’t wanna leave home but my mom made a decision that needed to be made and I’m forever grateful she did.

J.P.: On July 12, 2006, you were traded from Dallas to Indiana for Austin Croshere. It was the first time you’d been traded. I wonder what this felt like? How’d you find out? Can you see it as someone wanting you (good), or as someone discarding you (bad)? And how did you adjust from exciting Dallas to, eh, Indianapolis?

M.D.: I was ready for the trade. I told my agent I needed a new scene and a fresh start, but Dallas is my second home. The fans and community there are both amazing.

It was a good thing, due to the fact that I was able to go somewhere and be a part of a team that wanted me and I felt wanted so I didn’t view it as a negative.

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J.P.: According to a Wikipedia entry, you have a Bible verse tattooed across your chest, and it’s the verse you’d read to your paralyzed grandmother. True? Not true? And, if true, who was your grandma, what do you recall of her, why/when would you read to her?

M.D.: The Bible verse is true, but my grandmother isn’t paralyzed. She has really bad cataracts and my grandfather was blind but he was the pastor at the church in Jennings, Florida. My “Bigma,” as I call her, has always been there for me no matter what, I have two wonderful grandmothers, but the one we are referring to now is my Bigma and she is a spiritual warrior, always praying to keep the family together. The Bible verse I have is Psalms 91—she told me it’s my 911 for whenever I need guidance.

J.P.: Last year you talked about wanting to possibly become an NBA coach. A. True? B. Why? C. Do you think guys who played in the NBA are better coaches than guys who didn’t? D. Best coach you played for?

M.D.: Yes, I would love a chance at coaching or possibly scouting. I think more players should be more involved in the game as coaches, scouts or whatever. It’s only right. We basically have been playing this game all of our lives. That said, I wouldn’t necessarily say that former players are better coaches. It’s not always the case!

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

M.D.: I don’t view life on a negative aspect so any day above ground is a blessed day for me!

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J.P.: Does it matter if teammates like one another? Like, on the teams you played for, were happier locker rooms better units? Did you ever hate a teammate? Teammates? Does it matter?

M.D.: It helps if teammates like one another, but as long as it doesn’t affect chemistry on the basketball court and during games, who cares? That’s just my opinion. I’ve never hated a teammate—when you’re real and solid you’re gonna agree and disagree with teammates. That’s just life. And as competitive as the sport is, there are gonna be times you have run-ins with one another.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH MARQUIS DANIELS:

• Five greatest rappers of your lifetime: 2Pac, Wayne, Andre 3000, Biggie and Scarface. But that’s a tough question because you have Drake, Future and Fabolous—also good artists.

• Three non-Disney reasons one should make Orlando his/her next vacation destination?: The weather, the culture, and, of course, the beautiful women.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Jay Electronica, Josh Howard, Cindy Brady, Carson Daly, professional golf, the smell of your socks, Popeye, Sylvester Stallone, Wilson Phillips, Carmelo Anthony, Pizza Hut: 1. Josh Howard, 2. Sylvester Stallone; 3. Popeye; 4. Carmelo Anthony; 5. Jay Electronica; 6. Carson Daly; 7. Cindy Brady; 8. the smell of your socks; 9. Wilson Phillips; 10. Pizza Hut.

• The world needs to know: What was it like playing with Troy Murphy?: My main man Murph! Great teammate, good friend, awesome on and off the court.

• Coolest NBA city to visit? Worst?: Toronto—the best. The worst? I’d have to go with Salt Lake City.

• The next president will be …: Hillary Clinton

• Best lyric you’ve ever written: As of now it would have to be 2 am in Orlando.

• Would you rather have an extra $500,000 or the power to never have to go to the bathroom again?: Gimme the extra $500,000 lol.

• One question you would ask John Denver were he here right now?: What inspired him to make the music he made and did he ever think it would be classic?

Friend of mine wrote this song to help promote one of my books. Thoughts?: Nice.

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Henry Schulman

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For my money, being a Major League Baseball beat writer is the hardest job in sports journalism. You’re covering hundreds of ballgames, day after day and night after night. You’re seeing the same people, often asking them the same questions. You’re flying from Chicago to Detroit to Kansas City then back home before another trip to Tampa, then Miami, then Atlanta. In 2016, you’re not merely writing 700 words. You’re Tweeting. You’re thinking up sidebars. You’re answering reader questions.

On

And on.

And on.

And on.

Brutal.

Henry Schulman isn’t merely the Giants beat writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. No, he’s the best in the business; a nearly 30-year veteran who writes with an artful flair I both admire and envy. Since starting on the beat in 1988, Henry has covered last-place losers and multiple world champions; he’s been with Dusty Baker and Roger Craig, Reggie Sanders and Matt Williams, Darnell Coles and Tim Lincecum. He might not have the fame or money of a Major League All-Star, but he’s outlasted the very best of them.

Today, Henry talks about enduring Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent, crafting the perfect game story and fighting through non-Hodgkins lymphoma. You can follow him on Twitter here, and check out his work here.

Henry Schulman, Royce Clayton has nothing on you. You’re Quaz No. 241 …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Henry, as you know I wrote a biography of Barry Bonds several years ago. But you covered him for his entire time in San Francisco—which strikes me as both fascinating and a sort of cruel punishment. I know this is a big question, but the Internet offers unlimited space. So, what was it like covering Barry Lamar Bonds?

HENRY SCHULMAN: Ah, I see you want me to write a book, too, because it would take 50 chapters to answer this question properly. Covering Bonds could be exciting, rewarding, instructional, maddening, painful and funny at once.

Really, there were different stages. First, the honeymoon stage after he signed with the Giants in 1993 and came home. That was not too bad. But after the strike, once he settled into San Francisco, he became his surly self. It still was not difficult to cover him then. The Giants started an upswing in 1997, he was a big part of it, and while he was not easy to talk to, it was not a terrible chore, either.

Then came the PED phase, which encompasses his chase for the single-season home run record, link to BALCO and chase for the all-time home run record. Then, things got hairy. He became a national story, and those of us who covered him on a daily basis became small players in a bigger show. The clubhouse that I covered became America’s clubhouse, which made it more difficult to do our jobs on a daily basis. Since Bonds did not want to talk most of the time, about homers or steroids, and every reporter still had to file their stories, the other 24 players had to absorb all the questions, which made for a tense environment.

We local beat writers had to cover the big stories, too, but we also had to know how Rich Aurilia was feeling after he strained a hamstring, or get Tim Worrell’s response to a blown save, etc. These and most other players just hid so they wouldn’t have to answer Bonds questions (and ultimately resented Bonds for putting them in that position).

The chase for 755 homers was surreal. By that time Bonds had been exposed as a steroid monster. The record, once he got it, would be tainted. Yet we in the local media still had to write about it every day. There was a lot of tension even within my paper. Mark Fainaru-Wada, who co-wrote “Game of Shadows” and exposed Bonds as a PED abuser, insisted that I mention his indictment (for perjury) and drug use every time he hit a homer and got closer.

Whenever Mark and Lance Williams discovered a new fact about Bonds regarding BALCO, I was the one who had to ask Bonds for his reaction, since Mark and Lance never went to the clubhouse. I think that’s when I lost most of my hair.

But how many beat writers were at the epicenter of such a quake for so many years? My stories were better read than most beat stories, and we at the Chronicle were praised constantly for our work in unmasking Bonds.

Frankly, I was happy when the Giants announced shortly after Bonds broke Henry Aaron’s record that they would not retain him after the 2007 season. The clubhouse culture had changed with an infusion of youth (Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, etc. …) and I really wanted to cover a “team” again.

We local beat writers no longer had to cringe while we watched 50 national reporters clog the clubhouse, actually hoping at times that Bonds would not speak that day because we had other stories to write and that would make life harder for us.

Of course, there were many times Bonds would not speak to me at all, which I believe you’ve chronicled in your book. For some reason, he really didn’t (and still doesn’t) like me. He also took it out on me that our paper continued to write stories about his PED abuse.

I learned a lot about being a good reporter then, especially that I could do my job regardless of whether a key source wanted to talk to me or not. I didn’t need Bonds, and making that discovery made me a better, stronger reporter.

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Henry, far right, with good ol’ Barry.

J.P.: Fuck it, I’m gonna be unoriginally original and follow with: You covered Jeff Kent during his entire San Francisco career. This strikes me as both fascinating and a sort of cruel punishment. I know this is a big question, but the Internet offers unlimited space. So, what was it like covering Jeff (Mustache) Kent?

H.S.: Covering Jeff was not difficult at all. He was a strange bird, and he despised reporters as much as Bonds did, but he played “the game.” He knew the best way to get reporters off his back was to give them the five or 10 minutes they needed after the game. He also was a great quote (as was Bonds at times).

When Bonds and Kent got into a physical fight in San Diego in 2002, Bonds left the clubhouse before we were allowed in. Kent made a point of staying so that he could tell us exactly what happened. Not only that, he ordered all electronic media to leave. He respected the fact that writers were there every day, their paper spending money to send us on the road, and wanted to reward us.

I was kind of sad when Kent was not re-signed after that season, even though we had a falling out that changed our relationship.

In the spring of 2001, Kent broke his hand popping wheelies on his motorcycle in Scottsdale, Ariz. He claimed he fell off the top of his monster truck while washing it, but I did some detective work and wrote a big story proving it was a motorcycle accident. He never forgave me for uncovering the truth.

Still, a few years later he hit a walkoff homer for the Astros in a playoff game that I covered, and he gave me a one-on-one interview afterward that was fantastic.

Kent comes to spring training every year to tutor Giants players for a couple of weeks. We’re cordial now, and he’s happy to do interviews with all of us. He claimed, much like Bonds does now, that his orneriness was just a persona he needed to prepare himself to compete.

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J.P.: On Aug. 17 you posted a letter to “friends and readers,” explaining that you were away from the Giants beat because of illness. It turns out that illness is non-Hodgkins lymphoma. So I’d like to ask: A. How did you find out? Were there symptoms? Was it a random doctor’s visit? B. How did you digest the news? C. What has your life been like since the diagnosis?

H.S.: In January last year, I discovered a small lump underneath my left jaw. My doctor misdiagnosed it as a blocked salivary gland. She gave me antibiotics, told me to eat sour candy to stimulate the gland to make more saliva and apply compresses. But just in case, she told me to make an appointment with an ear, nose and throat doctor at my clinic.

I then had the worst luck. Before I could see the ENT the swelling went away. I thought the diagnosis was correct and went on my merry way. Then, in June, the lump returned, as did several others. When I finally saw the ENT at 10:30 a.m. on July 15, he had me on a CT Scan table by noon. By 5:30 p.m. I was back in his office for a needle biopsy, which confirmed the presence of cancer cells.

That doctor phoned me from Alaska two nights later (he was on a fishing vacation) to tell me. I was in Arizona, at the ballpark, covering a Giants-Diamondbacks game. I was naturally scared, but even more ill at-ease telling my beat-writing compatriots, which I felt I needed to do because clearly I was not myself.

I’ll never forget reading the conclusion of the radiologist who interpreted my CT scan. She wrote, “Constellation of findings worrisome for metastatic disease.” Those words will be emblazoned in my mind forever.

A surgical biopsy revealed Stage 2A diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, the most common kind. In my first meeting with my oncologist, he told me that the cure rate was 66 percent. My sister and then-girlfriend were in the room. They were thrilled to hear how good my chances were. All I could think about was being in the other 33 percent.

On Aug. 7 I began what became 3 ½ months of chemotherapy. I am just now completing radiation but even before I started radiation I was declared disease-free after a PET scan.

Something like this changes you in all the cliched ways. Mainly, it hit home that I might not live a long life and I can’t put things off. I never felt sorry for myself. Whenever I started to, somehow I’d see a photo of a 5-year-old cancer patient in the hospital with hair gone, or I’d see a patient at my clinic or in the chemo infusion center who clearly was worse off than I was.

I really have not dwelled on death. My recent Buddhist training has helped me there. I dwelled more on being able to live my life the way I wanted to and not being a patient anymore.

I am grateful The Chronicle allowed me to continue working, from home, which saved my sanity. I did not cover another game this year after July 26. I returned to the ballpark once, for the penultimate game of the season, just to say hi to everybody. I was nervous as hell walking into a clubhouse and press box that really are my homes away from home. I’m not really sure why.

My life is back to normal now, sort of, and I’m looking forward to going to spring training on time next month. Interestingly, I’ve been thinking for a few years about moving away from beat writing so I can spend more time at home as I get closer to retirement. I turn 56 in April.

But like many athletes, I want to go out on my own terms, not forced out by this disease, so covering this season is very important to me.

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J.P.: I know you started covering the Giants in 1988 for the Oakland Tribune and San Francisco Examiner, I know you moved to the Chronicle in 1998—but how did this happen to you? What I mean is, why journalism? Did someone push you in the direction? Was there an “ah ha! moment? In short, what’s your path from there to here?

H.S.: Like many people my age, who went to high school in the mid-1970s, we were entranced and inspired by Watergate, specifically the role that two newsmen played in uncovering the scandal and forcing a president to resign.

When the book and movie “All the President’s Men” were released, that did more to swell the ranks of reporter wannabes than anything else in history, I’d bet. I wanted to be a political reporter and got my degree in political science at UC Berkeley.

I worked my way up the old-fashioned way, from being half of a two-man reporting staff at a 14,000-circulation weekly to the Oakland Tribune, where my focus actually shifted to high-technology reporting mainly because that was the opening the Tribune had.

My love for politics never waned, but my love of sports, baseball specifically, waxed greatly. When the Giants job came open at the Tribune after Nick Peters left for the Sacramento Bee, I told the top editors at the paper that I wanted to move to sports. I figured they would elevate a current sportswriter to the Giants beat and I’d start doing college football or some such thing. Instead, they liked me a lot and just made me the Giants writer.

I was terrible at first. I didn’t understand the rhythm of baseball beat work and it took me some time to spread my wings, so to speak, as a writer, which one is allowed to do on the sports pages.

I didn’t really have an “aha” moment. I just remembered sitting at my desk in the business section, in a suit and tie, talking on the phone to others wearing suits and ties (or women’s business attire), writing stories to be read by similarly attired people and thinking, “I don’t want to do this for the rest of my life.”

For the first six years of my career I established myself as a reporter and did what I had to do to move up. After that, I followed a passion, sports, and it was the best professional decision I ever made.

 J.P.: When you’re in the press box, covering a game, what are you looking for—and what are you hoping for? Are you watching every pitch? Paying half attention? Chatting? Etc? And do you prefer a close game? A Giant win? Neither? Both?

H.S. Ninety-nine percent of folks believe I root for the Giants, which is obviously not true. I’m a reporter, straight down the middle. I root for 2-hour, 20-minute games.

All we ever hope for is an interesting angle. Nowadays, we don’t write game stories in AP style. We are encouraged to featurize, so many times I’ll have my angle before the game begins, so during the game I’ll start crafting. I don’t watch every pitch. Many times you look up when you hear the crack of the bat. We have to be social media stars now, too, so we’re often tweeting as we watch and write.

One of the best parts of the job is B.S.ing and joking with others in the press box. Not an hour of my professional life goes by without a belly laugh, and really, how many people can say that about their jobs?

Close games are fine during the day, when we have plenty of time to write. At night, every beat reporter will admit, a blowout is better. More to the point, you do not want something major to happen that will force you to blow up the story you’ve mostly written.

When a game is close in the ninth inning, I actually have two stories going at the same time: a “win” story and a “loss” story, because I have to file as soon as the is over. I literally have one “thrill of victory” story on one Word document and an “agony of defeat” story on another, and I toggle between them to polish them until the game is settled and I need to file one.

Thank goodness, so far, I’ve never sent the wrong one.

A future great deep in young thought.

A future great deep in young thought.

J.P.: In 1996 the Giants went 68-94 and finished 23 games out of first. Dusty Baker was the manager, two starters had ERAs over 5.00. People always ask about covering the legends, the greats—but what’s it like going through a season of absolute sludge?

H.S.: That year was horrible, not because the team stank, but because it was boring. The Giants not only lost every day, they lost the same way every day. It was so difficult to come up with something fresh. We couldn’t wait for the season to end. Boring is a sportswriter’s Kryptonite.

The Giants also stank between 2005-08, but at least we had the Bonds stories to attack some days.

I’ve actually been blessed to cover mostly winning teams during my tenure. I often wonder what it must be like to cover one of those teams that loses every single season, the Pirates, for instance, who did not finish above .500 from 1992 (Bonds’ last season) until they reached the postseason in 2014.

Ugh.

 J.P.: I’ve never wanted to be a newspaper beat writer, because it just seems like a job that destroys souls and enthusiasm. I mean, you probably cover 150 baseball games a year—year after year after year. The travel is brutal, the airport security lines a pain in the ass. It strikes me as a gig for 25-year-olds who have the freedom and sense of wonder. I’m assuming you love it. So, with 100-percent respect and admiration, I ask—why?

H.S.: I guess it’s because that’s who I am and what I do best. Also, I just love the sport. I love the grass, the energy of the crowd (most nights) and being part of something so popular.

I actually cover about 125 games a year. Like you said, the travel is brutal, but you learn how to navigate airports and hotels to your advantage. You’re also correct that this is a job for people in their 20s and 30s. But the physical and mental demands also keep me young, in a way. You can’t be out of shape and do this job.

As I said earlier in this Quaz, I do hope to shift away from baseball beat work soon. It’s been almost 30 years, and I actually think it might benefit Chronicle readers to have a new, younger voice.

The job has changed so much, with video, graphics, social media almost overtaking the writing in importance. I’m not a dinosaur when it comes to technology or change, but my strength is in crafting a story that I’ve reported. That almost seems secondary now to the main goal of gaining clicks on our websites.

Back to answering your question, just when I get frustrated or tired of the sameness, I’ll write a great gamer—not because of my skill, but the greatness of the game itself—and remember why I love this job. That is the fuel that keeps the engine of this old jalopy running.

Listening to the deep musings of Buster Posey.

Listening to the deep musings of Buster Posey.

J.P.: What’s the absolute worst mistake you’ve made in print? And how did it happen? What’s the story behind it?

H.S.: I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve never made one of those star-spangled, 10,000-kiloton mistakes that becomes a national story for days and gets you called into not only the sports editor’s office, but the top editor’s office.

One that comes to mind, though, was the last year Bonds was an All-Star. They wanted him to be in the home run derby and he kept putting them off. Finally, he agreed, and a source told me that he changed his mind only because he would be paid, which was quite a story because none of other players in the derby ever was paid.

I went to Bonds and asked him what he was getting and he said, “Everything they’ve got.” I assumed that he just confirmed he was going to be paid and wrote that he agreed to do the home run derby after negotiating “compensation.”

I was wrong. It turned out he did negotiate a whole bunch of perks, such as extra suites, more access to the field for family members, minuscule stuff like that. Bonds immediately issued a denial and called me a “liar.” I was awakened the morning the story ran with a phone call from MLB saying I was completely wrong.

Making it worse, I had a scheduled day off and did not go to the clubhouse when the other reporters asked Bonds about my story. It looked as though I was ducking him. Moreover, this came during the time The Chronicle was breaking all the BALCO stories and we were being accused of trying to destroy Bonds, so my mistake looked like part of the conspiracy.

 J.P.: This might sound weird, but is a World Series championship payoff for you? What  I mean is, obviously players bust their asses to win the ring. But is covering the Series, and having your team the last standing, also sort of a reward? Or, by that point, would you rather be home?

 H.S.: I wanted to do it once. I wanted to see a team through from the first possible day they could work out in spring training through the last possible pitch that can be thrown in a World Series. In 2010, it happened. I was wiped out afterward, because the baseball postseason means 30-40 days working in a row, but it was rewarding. I got what I wanted.

Then, I got it again in 2012 and 2014, and I was not thrilled necessarily. This is when my middle-agedness comes into play. It’s physically exhausting to work every day until Nov. 1. After all three World Series I got sick as soon as I got home. So did the other beat writers.

But a beat writer can’t root against his team just to start vacation early (though some do). The story ends when it ends. And it is rewarding to write during October because you know how many people are reading … not only reading, but hanging on every word.

I’ve done some of my best work in the postseason. Call me the Mark Lemke of baseball writing. I’ve had quite the opportunity, since the Giants have won a World Series in every even year since 2010. I’d like to respectfully ask them to skip 2016 and go for 2018, though. I’ve had a tough six months.

A visit to Fenway with fellow scribes Chris Haft and Andrew Baggarly.

A visit to Fenway with fellow scribes Chris Haft and Andrew Baggarly.

J.P.: I’m pretty sure a lot of young, aspiring and up-and-coming sports writers read these Q&As. So Henry, what’s the key(s) to writing great game stories; to making them more than merely, “The Giants lost to the Reds, 4-2, after Jay Bruce blah blah blah …”

H.S. Picture what you want to write very early in the game. Spend as much time as possible imagining and crafting the lede, which is the gateway to the story. Once you have a great lede, the rest follows.

Remember that nowadays, people know the final score, how the teams scored and even can see a pitch-by-pitch reckoning on the Internet. Remember that you are telling the readers something they cannot discern on their own, and you have to do it in the most entertaining way possible.

Take chances. Be funny. Don’t worry about what anyone else is writing. Have a voice. Enjoy writing the story. Think outside the box and come up with interesting angles, even if you think you might be the only one who finds them interesting, because you’re probably wrong on that.

Be Reggie Jackson. Take a big swing every time. Yes, you’ll strike out sometimes (Jackson struck out a lot), but when you hit a home run on a story, like Jackson’s homers, they’ll travel a long way.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH HENRY SCHULMAN:

• Five nicest ballplayers you’ve ever covered?: Ellis Burks, Darryl Hamilton, Rich Aurilia, Brandon Crawford, Barry Bo … no, wait. Omar Vizquel.

• Have you ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, please explain: Team flight, when we used to fly on those, from Cincinnati to San Francisco. Worst turbulence I’d experienced at the time. I was in an aisle seat. A row behind me, in another aisle seat, was Duane Kuiper, who saw my white knuckles and kept saying with a sadistic smile, “We’re going down, Henry, aren’t we? We’re going to crash, aren’t we?”

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Elvis Presley, Georgetown University, turducken, Ron Jeremy, Chris Bosh, Home Alone II, Billy Swift, Boogie Nights, warm slippers, Santa Claus, Brazil, cockapoos: Elvis, Boogie Nights (seriously), Ron Jeremy (has to follow Boogie Nights, right?), cockapoos, Georgetown, Billy Swift, turducken, Bosh. I’ve not seen Home Alone II, don’t wear slippers and haven’t been to Brazil.

• The world needs to know—what was it like covering Brian Johnson?: Fantastic. He was a candidate for the top-five nicest question, and the gamer I wrote after his 1997, late-September homer to beat the Dodgers in extra innings is one of the best I’ve written, and still one of my favorites. We’re still close, as source and reporter go. He’s a Giants scout.

• Five people from your industry one would be remiss not to follow on Twitter: Tim Dierkes (@mlbtraderumors), Buster Olney (@buster_espn), Ken Rosenthal (@ken_rosenthal), @mlbcathedrals (fantastic photos of ballparks of yore) and, of course, @hankschulman.

• Most overrated stat in baseball: OBP. Sometimes, especially as a middle-order hitter, you just need to swing the damn bat.

• Would you rather work for a year as Celine Dion’s private writing counselor (which would pay $33,000—and you’d have to also babysit her kids and wash her laundry) or streak naked, opening day, across a packed Yankee Stadium, mid-game, holding a sign with your phone number and social security number?: Celene, as long as she promises never to sing when I’m in ear-reach.

• What’s your moment when an athlete was an absolute dick to you story?: You’ll find this hard to believe, but it was Buddy Black, one of the nicest guys in the game. He was pitching for the Indians. They were terrible. He must’ve hated life. I started asking Jesse Orosco at the next locker what it was like facing Ozzie Canseco in a game in Oakland, and Buddy kept interrupting and chiming in. I finally turned to him and said, “Was I talking to you?” He responded, “There it is. There’s the attitude.” It was my first encounter with Buddy and I thought he was an asshole. Years later, of course, I realized that being an Cleveland Indian at the time would do that to anyone.

• Five coolest places you’ve ever visited: La Sagrada Familia cathedral (actually, Barcelona in general), Denali National Park in Alaska, Rome, anywhere in Hawaii besides Waikiki, the White House (in the East Room and the South Lawn for Giants World Series-winner ceremonies), the house in the San Fernando Valley where Ron Jeremy made all his movies. (I’ll let you guess whether that’s a joke or not.)

• What’s less seductive: Tuna breath or an awful stutter?: Tuna breath. I hate tuna.

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Jim Williams

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I love news guys.

I’m not talking about modern wanna-be celebs angling for a spot on “Dancing with the Losers.” Nope, I’m talking about hardcore, roll-your-sleeves-up-and-make-the-extra-call reporters who cultivate sources, live for the dig and die to break stuff ahead of rival newspapers and networks.

I also love survivors.

Journalists who last, despite the changing medium and corporate influences. They’re almost always the ones whose reputations trump circumstances. Yes, we can lay off him and her and her and him. But that That Guy—he’s our glue.

In short, I friggin’ love Jim Williams.

The anchor/reporter for Chicago’s CBS affiliate is the genuine article, and has been for decades. He’s also fascinating—a guy who covered Barack Obama before he was the Barack Obama; a guy who worked as Richard Daley’s press secretary; a guy who grew up the son of a Chicago cop; a guy who has covered death with heartache and grace; a guy who doesn’t seem to dig “Love Actually.”

You can follow Jim on Twitter here, and marvel as his dazzlingly shiny dome, too.

Jim Williams, awesome news. You’re the world’s 240th Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Jim, I’m so thrilled you’re doing this, because I have a question I’ve always wanted to ask a news anchor. I’ll try and not sound ridiculous here: So you’re at the desk. And there’s a story about, say, a shooting. A horrible shooting. Innocents and all. And, as the anchor, your voice is somewhat measured and somber. You know, you start with, “In [Wherever] tonight, residents are shocked and saddened by …” And you’re supposed to sound saddened, or at least have a tone of, “This is terrible.” But then, two minutes later you can say, “In other news, a dog rescued a penguin who was …” And your voice is up and peppy. So what I’ve always wanted to know is, well, how much of this is acting? Performance? And how much is feeling the news? Being sad over the killing? Being peppy over the dog? Or is it merely this instinctive thing that kicks in having done this for a long time?

JIM WILLIAMS: Jeff, if you and I were having a conversation about Walter Payton, a subject you know well, and you described a serious episode in his life, your facial expression and tone of voice would reflect that story. If suddenly you shifted to one of Walter’s funny antics with his teammates, your expression and tone would change. You’d smile. How you communicated each story would be natural. Anchoring should be the same. I don’t say, “Now I have to show my sad face.” Or, “Now I have to show my happy face.” After you’ve anchored for a while, it is instinctive. Is it a performance? Sure. But any public presentation is a performance. A speech. Teaching sixth-graders math. A television interview when you’re promoting your books. You want to emphasize the right words. You have to watch your pacing. Your face should be relaxed; you can’t look like a deer in headlights. A performance can be authentic. It’s not acting.

J.P.: From 1992 to 1997 you were Richard Daley’s press secretary. I’ve always had this image of Daley as larger than life; bigger than God. I mean, hell, the family name alone. So what was it like, being his press secretary? What was he like to work for? And do political gigs suck as much as I imagine they might?

J.W.: I was covering politics for WGN TV in 1992. Mayor Daley’s press secretary went to work for Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. I wanted the administration to find a good replacement because I’d have to get information from that person. Two days later one of Daley’s top aides called and said I was on a short of list of people they wanted to talk to about the job. On a short list for a job I had expressed no interest in? I was stunned. I had never thought about being a government spokesman. After a flurry of conversations, including a two-hour lunch with Daley, he offered me the job … and I turned it down. I told myself I didn’t want give up reporting. That was part of the truth. I also feared I wasn’t up to it: the pressure, managing all media relations throughout city government, answering reporters’ questions without embarrassing the mayor or myself. His aides asked me to reconsider. After some soul searching I decided I needed to take the job because it did scare me. David Axelrod, then Daley’s communications consultant, promised it would give me a political education only an insider could get. He was right. It changed my life. He hired bright people and I got smarter through osmosis. Daley was tough. He yelled at staff. He had testy exchanges with reporters. But no one questioned his love of Chicago. He’d sit in the back seat of his car with a legal pad writing down things he wanted changed throughout the city. Heaven help the commissioners who didn’t get it done. He also helped shape urban policy across the country because he was president of the U.S Conference of Mayors. When he was elected mayor in 1989, he had single-digit support in the black community. His approval soared over time because he made a strong effort to build a relationship with African Americans. I saw it all and played a role. But I had difficult moments.

In my first few months with the mayor, one political columnist called me the weak link of the Daley Administration. Nearly every day Daley was losing his temper publicly because the city had nearly 1,000 murders that year (yep, it was even worse back then) and some of his proposed big public projects collapsed. Unnamed City Hall insiders blamed me for his outbursts. They thought I was not “controlling” him and making him too accessible to the press. I guess they also determined I didn’t have a strategy for creating a better image for the mayor. I had to develop thick skin. I had seen former reporters become spokesmen and turn on the press. That didn’t happen to me. I maintained a relationship with good reporters. A wise man once a said about the role of press secretary: “You protect the boss with the press; you protect the press with the boss.” Aside from my political education, I got to see the news-gathering strategies of lots of reporters. Some were excellent at interviewing, so smooth and conversational I’d have to be on guard not to disclose something that shouldn’t be made public. A few were obnoxious. Some had preconceived ideas about a story and did everything possible to support their thesis. All of those lessons—the good and the bad—I took with me back into journalism when I left City Hall for ABC News in 1997. To answer your question, it didn’t suck.

With Richard Daley, legendary Chicago mayor.

With Richard Daley, legendary Chicago mayor.

J.P.: Are you ever like, “Ugh, this is so repetitive?” What I mean is—another broadcast, another election, another Cubs season, another celebrity sighting, another tragedy, another New Year’s Eve story, another bad weather story. Are how do you survive the monotony that is life?

J.W.: Maybe it’s because of my age or I meditate every day, but I’m not troubled by monotony the way I was when I was younger. I try to find something in every experience to appreciate or at least tolerate without agitation. With my peers starting to drop and get sick, I don’t want to rush life, even the monotonous moments. Yet another broadcast, Cubs season, whatever? I say, enjoy it; life is flying by.

J.P.: I know you’re from Chicago, I know you started your broadcast career with WGN. But, soup to nuts, how did this happen for you? When did you first think, “You know what my career should be?” What inspired the chase?

J.W.: As a teenager I wanted to be a filmmaker. I was obsessed with movies. I’d read film journals at Chicago’s main public library. At 20, I found about a part-time job at WGN as a film librarian in the newsroom. I knew William Friedkin and Haskell Wexler worked there years before and had gone on to win Oscars. I thought maybe a television station could lead me to the movies. In the first two years I was there, some very kind people taught me how to write news. I became a radio newswriter (WGN Radio and TV were in the same building then) and later a TV news producer. I liked the pace of television news, different stories every day, being in the newsroom when the big story broke. But I really wanted to be on the street reporting. It didn’t seem likely I’d start on-air in the country’s third largest market. Still, two colleagues and I convinced the station’s general manager to let us do a magazine-style public affairs show—all out in the field. I was the reporter for it. The show was well received and convinced our news director to put me on the air on weekends. (In addition to my full-time responsibilities writing and producing.) That led to a full-time job as a political reporter. WGN gave me a career.

J.P.: You’ve been around the Chicago news scene a long time. So what can you tell us about Barack Obama coming up through the ranks? What do you remember about him from back in the day? When did he first seem presidential to you?

J.W.: I met Barack Obama before he was elected to the Illinois state senate and worked with Michelle at City Hall before they were married. We all knew Obama was smart, poised and eloquent. The same comportment you see now on television we saw 20 years ago, before his first election. He had a promising future. But president? I don’t care who you are, you have a greater chance of winning a multi-state lottery than becoming president. Some of us thought he might be elected mayor 15 or 20 years down the line. Today, when he comes to Chicago on Air Force One, takes Marine One to the Soldier Field parking lot, and streets are closed and cops are everywhere, I can’t help but think of Obama walking alone, unrecognized, on these same streets not long ago.

Reporting from Wrigley Field before the stadium's first night game.

Reporting from Wrigley Field before the stadium’s first night game.

J.P.: What does it feel like to have a really awful on-air screwup? And can you tell the story of your worst?

J.W.: It’s awful. It’s especially bad is when you make a mistake and hit the slippery slope, then it’s one mistake after another. It’s like the shortshop who commits three errors in the first inning. I don’t know if this is my worst screw-up, but a several years ago I covered a sentencing hearing for two young men convicted of murdering an elderly couple in their home. The couple’s adult children made deeply emotional statements about the loss of their parents and how they must have suffered. People in court were crying. The hearing went on all day and ended moments before our first afternoon newscast. I rushed out to the cameraman and delivered a live report so discombobulated it makes me cringe describing it now. I had been so moved by the children’s statements that I tried to cram too much information into the live shot, including some legal technicalities. The advice I give young people starting out in television is when you make the first mistake take a deep breath, settle down and let the mistake go.

J.P.: Back when I was a kid, I used to think the news media had to be, truly, fair and balanced, because, hey, it’s the news media, and they’re honest. But now, as an adult, all I see are leanings. Left leanings, right leanings. Is there any unbiased media out there? Is there such a thing? I mean, you worked for a staunchly liberal mayor. Are you unbiased in your reporting?

J.W.: First, some here would quibble with your description of Rich Daley as a staunchly liberal mayor, but we’ll save that discussion for another time. Countless reporters keep their biases out of their reporting. When I have a contentious issue, I give both sides equal play in my reports. I try not to let even the nuance slide in either direction. That extends to my activity on social media where the bomb throwing seems to rise to a new level every day.

J.P.: Your dad was a Chicago police officer, and obviously America’s law enforcement has been in the news a ton of late. I’m wondering two things: A. What was your dad like, and how was it growing up as a police officer’s kid? B. Do you think people don’t understand the police and are making something out of something little, or do you think police departments have turned to the dark side?

J.W.: My father was courageous, fiery, outspoken, and though at times distant, he loved his children. Born in 1923, he was an artillery soldier in New Guinea during World War II, and returned to Chicago only to face racism in the country he fought to protect. Though some called him a militant, he rose through ranks of the Chicago Police Department to become a lieutenant. Black officers who worked for my dad tell me he was one of the few bosses to fight for African Americans. Yet white officers tell me he was the best boss they ever had. With my dad it was all about fairness. He certainly had his demons. He was an alcoholic (though he conquered drinking in the last 15 years of his life). Married and divorced three times. My mom was wife Number Three. (By the way, wife Number One was the sister of Lorraine Hansberry who wrote “A Raisin in the Sun.”)

Imagine all the ugliness he must have seen in 35 years on the job. He never discussed it. My brother and I found a photo from the 1950s of my father in uniform holding the corpse of a baby who had been thrown into Lake Michigan. Yet he didn’t have that tough guy cop persona. He was a gentleman. But make no mistake; he didn’t suffer foolishness. One night, off duty, he fought off two armed robbers. He wrestled one to the ground. As he snatched the gun away, the robber fired up the sleeve of my dad’s winter coat. (He wasn’t hurt other than powder burns on his hand.) Both guys ran. You asked what it was like growing up the son of a cop? I loved it. I thought he had a cool job. Not only was he a Chicago cop, so was his father. We had a cousin killed in the line of duty. My brother’s wife is a lieutenant in the Chicago Police Department today. I’m proud to come from a police family. No one has to convince me how important police are. I respect their work and honor their courage. But every segment of society has flawed individuals, including law enforcement. Police brutality is not new. Old timers on Chicago’s south and west sides describe how they were treated decades ago for just standing on a corner. But they didn’t have cellphones and social media. I understand officers’ anger over how they’re portrayed by protesters and commentators. They feel under siege and that civilians can’t possibly understand the dangers they face at a time when they’re under tremendous pressure to reduce crime. But a man or woman with a badge and gun has enormous power. Some abuse it. We can’t ignore it.

With former Bear Desmond Clark.

With former Bear Desmond Clark.

J.P.: Donald Trump’s presidential campaign makes me want to slap my head, because—sadly—it reinforces my belief that a large chunk of people are, simply, dumb and anxious to follow the neon puck. Am I wrong? Are we, as a whole, smarter than I think? Because I just don’t see it …

J.W.: The United States is a huge country full of people who try to stay informed. Yes, some people surprise you with what they don’t know and often they’re the loudest on social media. But we have more information than ever before at our fingertips and a large percentage of the population uses it well. I meet them every day.

J.P.: What’s your workday like? You wake up, you get to the office, and then …

J.W.: I report three days a week, anchor on the weekends. Our news director, Jeff Kiernan, expects each reporter to have a story idea at the 9 am editorial meeting. I call sources, check email, get ideas from neighbors or see something odd in the city and ask why. The news of day determines whether an idea is accepted and put in a newscast. Part of my job is calculating logistics. How long is it going to take me to get from Chicago to Naperville in bad traffic? How long do I need to shoot the story? Am I live in the field or bringing the story back to the station? I eventually screen the video, choose my sound bites and write the script. I cover a variety of stories: crime, disputes, features, but not much politics these days. My most painful days are when I have to talk to the parent of a child who’s been murdered. People ask me why we have to do it; isn’t it an intrusion? We do it because the victims aren’t mere statistics. They lived and were loved, and we can’t sweep these crimes under a rug. A few months ago, I covered the shooting death of a 15-year old track star in Gary, Indiana. By all accounts, she was a wonderful girl. In a car fired on by a gang, though she wasn’t in a gang, nor were the other kids in the car. I couldn’t sleep that night.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH JIM WILLIAMS:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Jody Davis, Lionel Moise, Thomas Edison, “Love Actually,” flag football, Samuel L. Jackson, sugar cookies, Nikes, hot steam bath, green T-shirts, the number 42, Emery MooreheadThomas Edison, Number 42, Lionel Moise, Jody Davis, Emery Moorehead, sugar cookies, flag football, Samuel L. Jackson, hot steam bath, Nikes, “Love Actually,” green T-shirts.

Is the South Side of Chicago truly the baddest part of town?: Forgive me for taking a little more time with this one. When people outside Chicago write about dangerous places they often include the South Side: “Chicago’s notorious South Side,” etc. The South Side is enormous, bigger than most American cities, home to the University of Chicago, Museum of Science and Industry, DuSable Museum of African American History, beautiful, well-maintained homes and parks. Tough neighborhoods, yes. But much more.

• Three memories from your first on-air appearance?: 1.  It included a story on the 100 Club of Chicago, which helps the families of fallen police officers and firefighters; 2. I recorded my first on camera standup when it was below zero and I could barely move my mouth; 3. As it aired on WGN, a tape operator accidentally hit the rewind button.

Celine Dion calls right now. She offers $10 million annually to move to Vegas and anchor the Celine News Network—all Celine, all the time. Conditions: You have to live in her guest bathroom and eat five strands of her recently brushed (by you) hair per day. You in?: Can you thrown in the all-you-can-eat buffet at Circus Circus?

• What do you think Rod Tidwell did after his career with the Cardinals ended?: Moved to Hollywood and played the lead singer in “The Main Ingredient,” an original VH1 movie.

• Five reasons one should make Chicago his/her next vacation destination?: 1.  Gorgeous lakefront and architecture. 2. It’s one of the world’s culinary capitals. 3. You can walk miles through vibrant neighborhoods. 4. Rich culture and nightlife. 5. Wrigley Field

• After my book, “Sweetness,” came out, Mike Ditka said he’d spit on me. It’s been four years. Do you think if I approached and re-introduced myself, he’d actually spit on me?: I think he’d invite you to his restaurant here for pork chops. But bring a raincoat.

• How did you propose to your wife?: On one knee, ring in hand, at the Peninsula Hotel bar where we had our first date exactly one year before.

• I say this as a compliment—you have the shiniest head of all time. Explain the process: Daily shave followed by oil-free moisturize with sunscreen.

• What’s the kindest thing someone has said to you of late?: “Hey Jim, would you be up for doing a Quaz?”

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Dr. John Boockvar

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Back when she was growing up on Long Island, my wife dated a kid who became a doctor. Which, hey, is totally OK. I mean, heck, there are lots of doctors out there. Doctors who help children get over coughs. Doctors who remove moles from wrists. Doctors who fix feet, doctors who heal knees, doctors who …

This doctor is a neurosurgeon.

But, eh, not just any neurosurgeon. One could argue that Dr. John Boockvar is the neurosurgeon. He’s the director of the Brain Tumor Center, Pituitary/Neuroendocrine Center and the Acoustic Neuroma Program of the Division of Neurological Surgery and the New York Head and Neck Institute at Lenox Hill Hospital and Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital. He’s a professor of neurological surgery at the Hoftstra-North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine. He’s helped spearhead a ton of well-documented research that (just being honest) I lack the capacity to fully understand. Hell, he even has a Wikipedia page—which doesn’t happen to any ol’ physician. Worst of all, he’s a handsome, smart, cool guy with a fascinating Twitter stream (But I write sports books!).

In all seriousness, this is one of my all-time favorite Quazes, and I’m thrilled to welcome Dr. John Boockvar to the arena …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, John, so I’m going to ask something I’ve thought about myriad times, but have never asked anyone in your shoes. Namely, what goes into telling a person he/she is soon going to die? What I mean is, how do you prepare/steel yourself for that conversation? What are the emotions immediately before the words? Does your closeness with the particular patient impact the approach? Are you nervous? Comfortable? Do you ever cry afterward? Has it become common enough that it’s not as hard as it once was?

JOHN BOOCKVAR: This is one of the hardest parts of my job. However, if you can provide peace to the patient and the family while doing it, then it can be a comforting experience. It takes practice unfortunately, and in my field we do get that practice.

My emotions are always sadness and reflection. I remember my own experiences with my father before he passed and the disappointment I felt with the doctors taking care of him. Every time I have these conversations with my patients, I promise not to replicate the lack of compassion those doctors showed toward my family at the time of my father’s death.

Closeness to the patient does impact me. But we get close to all of our patients at this point. If we are having those discussions about death, whether we know them for one hour, one month or one year, we have become close to them. We know their loved ones, we have seen pictures of them in their “prime.” I have the same approach with all my patients at this point. I always say to them that we would like to adhere to the wishes of the patient and the family. Obviously that includes difficult decisions about end-of-life care, artificial resuscitation, etc. I tell them they should all be on the same page and respect each other’s opinions even if they are not always in agreement. Some want every medical treatment done, others want nature to take its course. Being a caregiver at this point is like being a family coach. I always remind families that “death dies, but regret lives.” I don’t want any family who has lost a loved one to also suffer from the regret of either not doing a particular treatment or from not adhering to the wishes of the patient or family member.

Rarely at this point in my career am I nervous. Actually, I am usually very comfortable and motivated to help the family get to the next phase of dealing with a tragedy or loss of a loved one.

I tell all my students, residents or fellows—I have cried many times in the stairwells of hospitals. It is important to be able to take a moment, step away, put your head between your knees somewhere and let the tears roll. You develop a real appreciation for what is most important in life, your health and the health of your wife, children, siblings, parents and loved ones.

J.P.: So, like my wife, you were a kid in Hewlett, N.Y.—good student, athlete, popular, etc. And here we are, 30-some years later, and you’re the director of the Brain Tumor Center, and the Pituitary/Neuroendocrine Center of the Department of Neurological Surgery and the New York Head and Neck Institute at Lenox Hill and Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospitals. I’m a HUGE fan of paths—so what was yours? When did you first know you wanted to pursue medicine? Was there pressure, coming from a long line of doctors? When did you first think, “Brain surgeon”? And were there moments along the way when you thought, “Eh, this just isn’t for me”?

J.B.: The most important influence on my career path was my father, who was an ophthalmologist. In fact, medicine runs deep in my family. I am a fourth-generation physician dating back to Dr. John Baily at the turn of the century. I have cousins and uncles who are physicians and an older brother Kenny who went to medical school before me. Going into medicine seemed only natural to me.

I don’t remember any pressure from my parents to become a doctor. Lots of pressure to do well in school though.

The most difficult decision you make in medical school is whether to be a surgeon or not. For me, I knew that I wanted to be a surgeon. I also had studied the brain at Penn as an undergraduate. So when I went to medical school with a particular interest in neuroanatomy and neuropsychopharmacology, combined with my love of surgery, neurosurgery was a natural fit. I sat my parents down in my kitchen as a third-year medical student and I remember telling them that I was going to pursue a career in neurosurgery. I remember my parents thinking I was crazy. How would I have time for grandkids? It was the right choice for me. I have never had any doubts this was the perfect career choice for me.

With wife Jodi.

With wife Jodi.

J.P.: Six years ago you were featured in the New York Times for your work on a trial where you would treat glioblastoma by spraying the drug Avastin directly onto the tumor. It was amazing; I mean, just reading it I thought, “This guy was at my wedding!” So two things: A. What has happened since then? B. How does a guy in your position come up with the idea, “You know what we should do? Spray the thing with Avastin! That could work!”

J.B.: One thing that we as scientists and surgeons have trouble doing is getting good drugs into the brain due to the blood-brain barrier. I have been studying brain tumors now for almost 20 years so this is of particular importance to helping our patients survive longer. We have learned a lot about how to deliver drugs into the brain since that New York Times article in 2009. We have improved the frequency of delivery of Avastin and the dosage. We have also moved ahead with four other drugs using the same delivery technique—Temodar, Carboplatin, Cetuximab and Herceptin. We have also begun to combine drugs and have used this modality to treat kids with brain tumors, too. We continue to publish our techniques so my colleagues can also help to move these advances forward.

Serendipity is often the root of all good ideas. I have been fortunate to be surrounded by very smart people as well. Many of my Penn neurosurgery residents have been my colleagues as well over the years. One of my partners now, Dr. David Langer, was my chief resident when I was at Penn. When I was at Weill Cornell as an attending I was working closely with another very talented former Penn resident, Howard Riina. The story went something like this … in about 2007 we were at his house for a barbecue when he got called back to the hospital because of a patient with a stroke. As an endovascular neurosurgeon, he was going to the hospital to use microcatheters to either break up a clot in the brain or retrieve the clot and pull it out. He left and told me to man the grill. He returned within two hours having saved the person from the effects of a devastating stroke. As a neurosurgeon focused on neurooncology I had not kept up on the advances in microcatheter technology. I became fascinated with the new speed and agility that these surgeons had in using these tools. I immediately challenged him to use these catheters to delivery high doses of new drugs that we had to treat brain tumors.

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J.P.: I feel like, much like 95 percent of the technology we use, humans have little knowledge of what makes the brain tick, and how absolutely amazing it is. So, John, how absolutely amazing is it? What can you tell me about the human brain that most of us don’t know? That’ll blow my, eh, mind?

J.B.: The brain is so perplexing it is hard to comprehend. We know less than five percent of how it actually works, how it heals, how it degenerates.

The most amazing thing about the brain is how unpredictable it is. Particularly the pediatric brain. I had a teenage patient who stuck his head out looking for the next subway and was hit by the next subway. He came in essentially brain dead. We took him to surgery right away and saved his life. His brain healed and he is normal. I operated on a window washer who fell 47 stories and lived! I tell every family who has suffered a major tragedy that, with some good decision making and some good luck, miracles can occur.

J.P.: How do you feel like being a doctor has impacted your thinking on your own mortality? Do you fear death? Think about it more than your average person? Or has it become so common that it’s almost less daunting and forboding?

J.B.: I don’t think about my own mortality much. I don’t fear death or illness. I think about the health of my family all the time. I treasure it. I think about the ‘what ifs’ … the time the other shoe will drop. Is that black and blue mark on my 12-year old an early sign of leukemia? Is my daughter’s fever tonight due to acute tonsillitis? I treasure—probably more than the average person—when that black and blue mark goes away and when the fever breaks in the morning. I don’t fear death at all. I fear a devastating sickness in my family.

Alongside two of his mentors, M. Sean Grady, MD and Kevin Tracey, MD

Alongside two of his mentors, M. Sean Grady, MD and Kevin Tracey, MD

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

J.B.: I don’t really have an answer for the greatest yet.

I think the lowest point of my career was when I was named in a lawsuit by a patient who I not only trusted but I thought that I had done a terrific operation on. She had come in with a terrible spinal tumor and I had removed it safely and she now leads a normal life. During the trial, I felt that the plaintiff misrepresented my relationship with the patient, the goals of the surgery, the outcome, etc. This was my only experience with a malpractice trial and it was rather demoralizing. I felt like the villain during the trial despite my very best efforts to help the patient. Fortunately the jury agreed with my efforts and ruled in favor of me and my defense. However, those experiences in medicine can leave an awfully bitter taste in doctors mouths.

J.P.: One of your bios reads, “Dr. Boockvar directs the Brain Tumor Biotech Center at the Institute that seeks to bridge the translational gap between basic and clinical science for patients with malignant brain tumors.” I wonder if there’s more to this than that sentence contains. What I mean is, how complicated is it to bridge that gap? And, when you’re someone who’s deep into the clinical world (and jargon), is it sometimes easy to forget that the guy sitting across from you doesn’t know glioblastoma from Jason Giambi?

J.B.: The translational gap or divide is a big problem for all of us. What it means simply is that it takes an extraordinary amount of time (10 years or more) and money ($1 billion or more) to take a good idea (piece of intellectual property) from the laboratory bench and bring it into the clinic for a patient at the bedside. We developed the Brain Tumor Biotech Center at the Feinstein Institute to help shorten the time it takes and the amount of money required to bring a drug or device from the bench to the bedside for our patients with brain tumors.

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J.P.: OK, so in 2008 you operated on Alcides Moreno, a 37-year-old window washer who fell FORTY SEVEN stories. I wanna say that again—FORTY SEVEN stories. John, are you a magician? Isn’t that automatic death 99.9 percent of the time?

J.B.: That is truly an unbelievable story. I am no magician. The entire trauma team including the neurosurgery team worked quickly to save that young man. I believe it is the largest survived fall in the United States.

J.P.: This might sound weird, but you do incredibly important work. You save lives, you develop life-saving techniques. Big, big, important stuff. So it’s the weekend, and you’re at the pool, and your kid is crying because his ice cream fell. Or Joe Loud Yapper is bragging about his golf score. Or your neighbor is telling you about his big day as a branch division manager something for Citicorp. How are you not like, “Dude, I’ve got bigger fish to fry?” How do you turn on and off your work?

J.B.: I am very humbled by the work that I do. I never compare being a brain surgeon to anyone. I treat so many great men and women who do important work for society, whether they are policemen, drive a school bus or teach our children. My parents instilled in me great humility. The job itself brings with it great humility. When I am at home with the family, I am just a goofy dad trying to help my kids enjoy life and stay safe.

J.P.: What do you remember from your first huge operating room moment? What happened? What were your nerves like?

J.B.: One of the best first memories I had was my very first surgery as an attending neurosurgeon in New York. They warn you in residency that when you are done with your training, the first 10 operations you do as an attending should be simple ones. Not in my case. A young man came into the emergency room with blockage of the spinal fluid in his brain from a cyst formed from a parasite. I had to operate and remove the parasite from the brain. As I did the surgery, I had some trouble finding the cyst. I became increasingly nervous that I may have been in the wrong part of the brain. However, soon enough I found the cyst, removed it, held it up and said, “I can do this.”

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH DR. JOHN BOOCKVAR:

Rank in order (favorite to least): Walter Payton, Nathan’s French fries, gorgonzola turkey sliders, Superselective Intraarterial Cerebral Infusion, the iPad, hamsters, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Wrigley Field, Stairway to Heaven, denim, Chris Farley: the iPad, Superselective Intraarterial Cerebral Infusion, Nathan’s French fries, Walter Payton, Chris Farley, Stairway to Heaven, denim, gorgonzola, turkey sliders, Wrigley Field, hamsters, Dexy’s Midnight Runners.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I hate flying in general. I have so much to lose now. I hate relinquishing control and I don’t like not knowing how planes work and how to fly them and land them. I only think about my wife and children when I am in turbulence.

• How has the Affordable Care Act impacted your world?: In sum: More low paying patients. Less reimbursement. Tighter operating margins. Less time for physicians to conduct research. Less money for research. In short, we have to do more with less.

• Is twirling a sport?: Yes.

Celine Dion calls and offers you $30 million to be her Las Vegas physician for the next two years. She demands daily checkups and that you get a tattoo on your shoulder than reads, “Jack+Rose=4Ever.” You in?: Yes, if the $30 million is tax free.

• Should marijuana be legalized? Why or why not?: Yes. Medical marijuana has import. Patients with many conditions including cancer, psychiatric disorders, seizures could benefit from medicinal marijuana.

• What interesting thing can you tell me about my wife’s childhood?: It was with Cathy that I had Korean food for the very first time and grilled artichokes. She was the very first kid who “moved to the city.” She grew up faster than the rest of us. However, she somehow remained the sweet girl from the Five Towns of Long Island.

• The greatest meal you ever had was where?: Martha’s Place in Montgomery, Alabama.

• Do you think cell phones hurt the brain in ways we should be concerned about?: Yes. They are incredible distractions while driving. This is a grave concern.

• You have a twin brother. Please tell me you had a funny moment when you pretended to be one another …: In seventh grade, we were playing seven minutes in heaven (not with your wife—I promise). My brother went in with the girl Melissa first, came out halfway, I stepped in for the final few minutes …

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Jaymee Sire

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There is a guy who identifies himself on YouTube as t00lband5252. He is one of the Internet’s countless losers, and I would never think to evoke him here, save for a comment he posted last week beneath of video of Jaymee Sire, the excellent ESPN SportsCenter host and our newest member of the Quaz universe.

I won’t use his exact words, because they were repugnant. But he tagged Sire an “uppity —- on Twitter” for “blasting people when they say anything about how she looks.”

Which is one of the reasons why, when it comes to Sire, I’m a fan.

Hell, look around televised media today. Look what it is to be a woman, and the pressure to dress in super low-cut skirts, in revealing tops, in sexy … whatever. You see it a-l-l the time, and if you’re a doubter, turn to Fox News at any given hour. If you’re a woman under the age of, oh, 40, you’re dressing for a post-prom party. It’s deliberate, it’s sad, it’s an indictment on the profession. Worst of all, it’s unprofessional.

Sire, though, is a pro’s pro. Hard worker. Knows her stuff. Paid her dues. Stays true to who she is. Besides working for ESPN, she has, truly one of America’s coolest (and most informative) food blogs as well as a passion for oregano and lefty relievers. One can follow Jaymee on Twitter here and Instagram here.

Jaymee Sire, head of the Montana Chamber of Commerce, welcome to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Jaymee, I want to start with something that concerns me. I was looking over your Instagram and Twitter accounts, and there are no pictures of you in ridiculously short mini skirts, form-fitting tops, leather pants, bare midriff, etc. Have you not received the memo that—according to many—women in sports media are supposed to peacock and sell themselves as objects as well as reporters? (Seriously, does the whole women on TV need to look/act certain ways stereotyping thing bother you?)

JAYMEE SIRE: Whoa. Comin’ in hot! Haha. I definitely did not get that memo. I don’t want to speak for other women in the business, but for me, I’ve always made it my priority to just “be me” on television. That goes for the way I talk, the way I write, and also the way I dress. (My very first news director recently paid me the best compliment ever when he said, “The best part is that the person I see every morning is the same person I knew back when she started out in little old Great Falls.” I take great pride in that). But back to clothes. I do like to look nice and feminine, but also professional, as it is a workplace after all. To be honest, I wouldn’t be comfortable in super short skirts or revealing clothing. And if you’re not comfortable, people will see right through that on TV. And though I don’t wear dresses and 5-inch heels regularly in my real life (that’s just not realistic), it is still somewhat a reflection of how I dress when I’m not at work. Classic, simple, fashion forward, comfortable and put together (well, sometimes).

J.P.: Before we get to ESPN, I love your food blog. Truly love it. Refreshing, smart, informative. So, why? How? What’s the motivation? Why the love of food?

J.S.: Thank you so much for saying that, those types of comments truly make me happy. I firmly believe it’s important to have passions and interests outside of work and sports, and for me, two of those things are food and travel. I also love to write and take photos, so this is a nice outlet for me to combine all of those things in one place. It also provides a way for me to connect with people outside of what they see on their TV screen. (Also, someone once told me that all successful people have a blog … soooooo … I dunno. Make of that what you will).

I became interested in cooking at a young age because as part of our weekly chores, my sister and I were responsible for each cooking one meal a week. (I’m talking, like, sixth grade). I remember finding a recipe for lemon chicken in a Chinese cookbook of my mom’s. It was by far one of the most difficult in the book, but I thought it was so neat that as long as I just followed the steps, I could make it! So it started there and just sort of intensified as I got older. I studied abroad in Barcelona my senior year and traveled through Europe for six weeks afterwards, and one of my favorite things was sampling whatever the local specialty was. After that, I lived in California for 10 years, and if you can’t fall in love with food there, I don’t know if we can be friends. All of the fresh produce and amazing restaurants right at my fingertips … it just became an obsession.

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J.P.: Totally random—what can you tell me/us about Leon’s Lockers?

J.S.: Haha. I see you read one of my most recent posts! Leon was my Grandad on my mom’s side, and owned a butcher shop back in the day in Denton, Montana. (Fun fact: he lived to be 100!) Leon’s Lockers was way before my time, but perhaps it’s where I get my affinity for supporting local businesses. (My 9 am Sports Center crew makes fun of me because I recently discovered a local meat shop that I absolutely adore, and they like to tease that my life is sponsored by Avon Prime Meats.) My parents also owned a cattle ranch until I was 5, and my dad still farms wheat in Montana … so I definitely appreciate good quality ingredients and the hard work that goes into producing them.

J.P.: I’m gonna throw an odd one at you: You’ve worked as a sideline reporter for the Little League World Series—an event I have very mixed feelings about, from a broadcast standpoint. I mean, yeah, it’s cool for these kids. But aren’t we taking this whole youth sports thing too far? Shouldn’t we just let them play without the pressure of national TV, errors in front of millions, etc? And, along those lines, what’s it like working the event? Fun? Lame? Both? Neither?

J.S.: I understand your concern, but trust me when I say … they don’t really feel the pressure. They’re just so pumped to get to play baseball every single day and meet kids from around the world and eat pizza and swim in the pool. It’s sort of like summer camp for them with a few baseball games mixed in. Sure, your heart might break when you see the tears flow … but what you don’t see is that about 10 minutes after that game, they are up playing ping pong and eating ice cream with their friends. I think it teaches them good sportsmanship, life lessons and social skills that are going to help them later on in life.

As far as the event itself, I absolutely love working it. It’s one of the more enjoyable assignments I’ve ever experienced in my career. The crew that works it is awesome, and it’s really refreshing to interview players who truly love the game and are excited to be on TV, versus some of the professional athletes I’ve had to deal with in my career who want nothing to do with me or the cameras. I’m going to sound totally cheesy, but it really is a magical place.

J.P.: You’re making history as the first Quazer from Montana. You’re also making history as the first Quazer to have been raised on a cattle farm. So, pre-Washington State, what was your life? And how’d the whole media interest thing evolve? Where’s that from?

J.S.: Well first of all, I’m honored to represent the great state of Montana! I only lived on the cattle ranch until the age of 5, so after that, my life was fairly normal growing up (though I did learn to ride a horse before I learned to ride a bike). I’m from Great Falls, which is a town of about 65,000 people, and my high school was pretty big by Montana standards (I think around 2,000 students). I played sports until I realized I was too short to make varsity (5-foot-4 on a good day, sans heels), and then switched my focus to things like drama, newspaper and yearbook. To me, television seemed like a natural fit for all of those things I liked to do. I decided around my junior year of high school that I wanted to be a TV reporter and picked Washington State University specifically for the fact they had a really good broadcasting program. However, I wasn’t always certain I was going to do sports. That came a bit later, after I’d done two news internships during college summers back in my hometown. Because it was such a small market, I actually would go out and turn stories on a daily basis that aired locally. I quickly figured out that I loved the storytelling aspect, just not the hard news aspect. Sports seemed like the best of both worlds.

J.P.: How’d you land the ESPN gig? I don’t just mean background—I mean, literally, did you apply? Did they reach out to you? Do you go in for tests? Auditions? How’d it happen?

J.S.: After college, I worked back in my hometown for about a year and slowly started working my way up the TV ranks. After 10 months of lugging my own camera equipment around to rodeos and six-man football games in North Central Montana, I was fortunate to jump from Great Falls to the local CBS affiliate in San Diego. I stayed there for a little over four years and then moved to San Francisco to help launch a regional network (Comcast SportsNet Bay Area). For a while, I truly believed that would be my last stop. I loved the city, my friends, my job (I covered two of the Giants’ three World Series runs). Life was great. But my contract was coming up, and it’s always a good idea to have some leverage. My agent called to tell me ESPN wanted to bring me in for an interview. I’m not entirely sure if they reached out to us or vice versa, but in early January of 2013, I flew to Connecticut to interview with the Worldwide Leader. My sole intention was to kill my interview so that I would get an offer, giving me the leverage I needed to negotiate more money in San Francisco.

Interviews at ESPN are an all-day affair. Most of my morning was spent prepping for my audition. At the time, that consisted of me doing about a 10-minute sample SportsCenter block by myself in a studio (now, we usually have them audition with one of our current anchors and/or an analyst). After that, I had a series of meetings with different people all involved in our Sports enter product. I arrived just before 9 and didn’t leave until 5:30 or so. About a week or so later, they extended an offer.

I was very torn. Like I said, I adored San Francisco. Ultimately, it came down to lifestyle versus career, and career eventually won out. I pretty much asked anyone I knew in the business what they thought. I expected the response to be about 50/50 … half of them asking how could I ever imagine leaving San Francisco and half asking how I could possibly turn down ESPN. It was a near unanimous vote for ESPN. I was nervous about moving to the middle of Connecticut and having to deal with winter again (despite my Montana upbringing) … but truly I haven’t regretted it once. I will always be grateful for my time at CSN, but I have advanced so much as a broadcaster at ESPN that I can’t imagine being anywhere else at this point in my career. Connecticut leaves a bit to be desired in the social life department … but I believe everything is what you make of it. (Also, I go to New York City a lot to keep my sanity).

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J.P.: Another random one: My wife was a sorority member. You were president of your Kappa Delta chapter back at Washington State. This sort of makes me a jerk, but I tend to look derisively at sororities and fraternities—a bunch of meatheads and status-obsessed people voting out ugly kids who wanna partake. Tell me why I’m wrong.

J.S.: Haha, I think you’ve seen Revenge of the Nerds too many times. :) I understand why this is the stereotype, but that wasn’t my experience at all. For starters, some of my very best friends were formed at Kappa Delta. Friends who I’m still very close with today. (In fact, I just saw them a few weekends ago at our annual Christmas ornament exchange they hold every year in Seattle.) I also think you’ll find that a lot people in sororities and fraternities are very motivated go-getters and charity-minded individuals. Sure, we’re also very social (aka” we like to throw parties), but that’s an important life skill too! I read somewhere that 85 percent of executives at Fortune 500 companies were in fraternities or sororities in college. As you mentioned, I was president during my junior and senior year and I was responsible for close to 130 girls. (130 girls!) Tell me another place where you will get experience managing that many people before graduating from college. (Especially when those people are college-age females sharing a bathroom). It definitely provided me with a lot of important leadership qualities that I’m thankful for well beyond my days at WSU.

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

J.S.: Is it cheesy to say I don’t think the greatest moment has happened yet? I’m so lucky to have had so many awesome experiences so far in my career. Covering a World Series champion (twice!), winning an Emmy (twice!), getting to ESPN and advancing there … but I do believe the best is yet to come. (OK, yeah. That was a little cheesy). I’m fortunate that the lowest point of my career was probably my first live shot during my first internship back in Great Falls. It was a hectic situation, we had to move it last minute and I didn’t have IFB (the way we receive communication from the studio through an earpiece). The whole thing was a disaster and when I got back to the station, our sports director looked at me with a sadness in his eyes and said, “Don’t watch it.” I made myself watch it. It was pretty embarrassing what went out over the air. But I can confidently say it’s only gone up from there.

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J.P.: Do you ever feel like we’re taking this whole sports thing far too seriously?

J.S.: I certainly don’t take it too seriously! One of the things we stress on our show (the 9 am SportsCenter) is fun. We like to have a good time, but also be informative, and I think that’s so important. Because, at the end of the day … we’re talking about grown men (and women) playing games. It should be entertaining, and we try to bring that everyday to our show.

J.P.: Why cooking and food? Like, in detail, what does it for you about the medium and genre? To some, it’s just stuff you shovel in your mouth between work and bed. For others, it’s life. Why, to you, does food seem to be life?

J.S.: I feel sorry for those people who simply see it as a means to an end. For me, it’s so much more than that. Cooking is relaxing to me. It’s my way of relieving stress. When I’m cooking, I’m not thinking about all the other problems in my life. Cooking is fun. It’s a great way to use my creativity. It’s a way to connect with people, and with other cultures too.

It’s nourishing. You’d be amazed how much what goes into your body affects not just your health, but your mood, your skin, your hair, your energy levels … everything!  It’s exciting! I love trying new things, learning new things, and food provides that for me. And last but not least, it’s comforting. Nothing beats sharing a home-cooked meal with friends over a bottle (or two) of wine.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH JAYMEE SIRE:

• Biggest on-air mess-up: There was this one time I was hosting the now-cancelled Highlight Express. It’s basically a half hour show that aired at the same time as SportsCenter and repeated every half hour live until all the games were over. We were waiting for a video clip to be ready, so our producer told us to “stretch.” (TV lingo for tap-dance). I ran out of things to say and eventually said something intelligible and then froze and just stopped talking. Some guy on Twitter informed me that I “wouldn’t be around at ESPN very long.” Fortunately, very few people watched that show (hence the cancellation), so it was a nice, harmless reminder that you can’t do that on national television. More than two years later, I’m still here, so I guess it wasn’t that bad.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Billings, Kevin Faulk, Elle King, Judge Joseph Wapner, Apollo Creed, Sammy Watkins, Martha Stewart, lefthanded relievers, University of Washington, oregano, “The Wire,” the smell of cut grass: You forgot bell peppers. That is my most hated thing in the world. Right below the Washington Huskies. I’m indifferent on a lot of these but here you go: Oregano (in moderation), Lefthanded relievers (sorry! but see nicest athlete question below),The Wire, Apollo Creed, the smell of freshly cut grass, Martha Stewart, Billings, Sammy Watkins (on my FF team, so we have a love/hate thing), Kevin Faulk, Judge Wapner, Elle King, the University of Washington.

• Five reasons one should make the state of Montana his/her next vacation destination: 1.) Glacier National Park; 2.) Huckleberries; 3.) Stars (No, not celebrities. Actual stars in the sky. There’s a reason they call it “Big Sky Country.”); 4.) Skiing … all year round. Powder in the winter, glassy lakes in the summer; 5.) Cleanest air you’ve ever breathed (unless it’s fire season)

• One question you would ask Jeff Foxworthy were he here right now?: What’s the secret to a great mullet?

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: No. Turbulence doesn’t really bother me and I read that you’re more likely to die from food poisoning than a plane crash so I generally just try to ignore it and go back to sleep.

• You’re having lunch with a work colleague, and he has some lettuce stuck to a tooth. Do you say anything? If so, what?: 100 percent. “Hey … you have some lettuce stuck in your teeth.” I would expect the same courtesy.

• Dancing with the Stars calls and wants you on next season. You say?: Wait. That show is still on?

• Without looking it up, how many Billy Joel songs can you list?: My mom used to listen to Billy Joel all the time! That said, I could only come up with four—Piano Man (duh), Just the Way You Are (I used to be able to play this on the piano), Only the Good Die Young, You May be Right.

• Five nicest athletes you’ve ever dealt with: Andres Torres, Dave Roberts, Javier Lopez, Jeremy Affeldt, Steph Curry (honorable mentions: LaDainian Tomlinson, Drew Brees, David Lee).

• Fill in the blank: Bristol, Conn. is the most awesome place in the world because _______: Uhhhh … is this a trick question?

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Amy Van Dyken

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Were this Quaz being published before June 6, 2014, it’d be awfully interesting. Amy Van Dyken, after all, is a six-time Olympic gold medalist and, without debate, one of the greatest swimmers in the history of the sport. She could talk to us about competing, about winning, about standing atop a podium with beautiful bling dangling from her neck. She could talk about marrying an NFL punter, about traveling the world.

Again, it would be dandy.

On June 6, 2014, however, Van Dyken’s life changed forever. While riding an ATV in Scottsdale, Arizona, she launched over a curb, fell from the vehicle and severed her spinal cord at the T11 vertebrae. She was found lying on the ground next and was airlifted to Scottsdale Osborn Medical Center. Van Dyken has been in a wheelchair ever since.

For a moment, digest the previous paragraph and be sad. Think about how awful it is; how walking is this beautiful thing; how … no. Actually, no. Stop.

Because she is, well, Amy Van Dyken, the 237th Quaz refuses to feel sorry for herself. She now travels the country as a speaker, and heads the Amy Van Dyken Foundation, which raises funding and awareness for people with spinal cord injuries.

Amy lives in Colorado, was bummed about her senior prom date and has important questions for Nicole Richie. One can follow Amy on Twitter here.

Amy Van Dyken, you’re a hero. And, now, a Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Amy, first, I’m thrilled to have you do a Quaz. Beyond thrilled. And I want to start with what might be an untraditional question. So, as an athlete you’re trained and wired to believe, “I can do this! No time is impossible, no distance is impossible. I. Can. Do. This.” And you’ve clearly taken this approach to your physical recovery. So I wonder—do you truly believe you will walk again? Not merely take steps, but walk as you once did? Or are there limits to what you shoot for? Like, does science and human anatomy create any restrictions that belief—no matter how strong—can’t overcome?

AMY VAN DYKEN: Right now I’m taking it one step at a time … no pun intended. I really hope to walk as I once did, but I’m realistic. I was told my spine was 100 percent severed, and looking at my X-ray it looked like that was totally true. With that, I have to understand that any progress I make is proving my doctor wrong. I am in braces, and walking under my own power (50 steps take almost 30 minutes; lots of sweat and lots of swearing at my therapist and husband) so that right there is a miracle.

J.P.: I have a very good friend who has MS, and he’s one of the best people I’ve ever met; almost a guru. I mean that—there’s something extra special about him. And I often wonder if, in a way, having the perspective of an awful illness is what took him from really cool guy to Gandhi-esque. Here you are—severed spine, clearly special. So how has the accident changed you? And do you know what I mean? Like, does personal tragedy change who you are?

A.V.D.: I look at the world way differently than I did before. I used to be very jaded, and thought people were jerks. Now, I wonder what is going on in the lives of people who are grumpy. I also used to be the type who would always keep my feelings close to the vest. Now, if a feeling comes up … I tell people about it. Not feelings along the lines of, “My tummy hurts, must have been the chicken.” But, well, I always tell my friends and family I love them all the time. You never know if you won’t have the chance again, so I make sure they know how meaningful they are to me. So if I leave the earth again, they know how I felt.

Also, I wouldn’t say the accident changed who I am. It just changed how vocal I am about things. I was always this way before, but now I leave nothing undone or unsaid. I’m also a bit more spiritual. Not quite sure why that is.

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J.P.: After your accident the doctor told you, “There’s more of a chance that you’re not going to make it out than you will. You need to say goodbye to your husband.” I mean—crap. Where were you, exactly, when he/she said this? How did you process the information? You’re a young woman being told your life may well end. Ugh.

A.V.D.: It was the morning after my accident. I was being wheeled into surgery, which was an emergency but they had to assemble a team. It was very soap opera-esque, what with the going into surgery and saying your goodbyes. When the doctor told me I might go, I had that feeling from the moment I could remember. I was in flight for life, and looked out the window. I knew I was in the air, flying. I yelled, “Am I dead? Please don’t let me die!” So, this wasn’t new information for me. It was very businesslike in the sense that I knew I had to say this to Tom in case I didn’t make it. I wanted him to know I was OK with him dating and/or getting married again. I didn’t want him wondering. I think at the time I was OK with moving on. I didn’t want to die, but I had come to the realization that my life was probably over, and I was OK with it. This may be why now I live life to its fullest. I was given a second chance, and I don’t want to waste a second of it.

J.P.: Lighter subject—you won six Olympic gold medals. The Olympics have always fascinated me, because it’s all this work and focus, focus and work, dedication, restraint, sweat, tears, blood—and then you’re there. And then, a few weeks later, it’s over. Done. Amy, is it worth it? Like, you win a gold, then you go home. Does the glow last? A week? A month? Forever? Are the times when you think, “hmm, I coulda been drinking beers and watching movies?”

A.V.D.: We did drink a lot of beer, and watch a lot of movies while training. I think it’s 100 percent worth it—but I did really well. Ask someone who trained their whole life, gave up so much, and didn’t do what they wanted. I think their answer may be totally different. For me I never really had a ‘glow.’ I went there to do a job, I did that job. When I get in certain moments, I will get emotional, or really proud about it. It was something I did, it doesn’t define me as a person. It didn’t change me. I’m the same, but with a lot more bling.

J.P.: With as much detail as you can muster, what does it feel like to win a gold medal? Like, what does it REALLY feel like? The moment? The buzz?

A.V.D.: It is so hard to explain because there isn’t one thing you can compare it to. It is so crazy, and surreal to hear, “The gold medal goes to Amy Van Dyken, from the United States of America”—and it’s not a dream. To this day, when I hear the National Anthem I get choked up. When I watch a race on YouTube, I get goosebumps. I was able to represent my country, and do it to the best of my ability, and walk away with something that we regard as the highest achievement in sports. To do something like that, something that not just your mom and dad are proud of, but your whole country is proud of, is really amazing. If I could bottle that feeling up and sell it, I would have more money than George Foreman with his grill. Which, by the way, I have three of.

J.P.: You seem ridiculously positive. How? Where does that come from? And do you ever have horrible days because of the injury? Moments of, “Crap, why me?”

A.V.D.: I’ve always been really positive, so this is just really me you are seeing. Most of the world only saw me compete, so you would not have seen me happy and positive behind the blocks. That would have been weird. I have bad moments all the time. I say “moments” and not days, because I don’t want to waste this time I’ve been given on being pissy for a whole day. Sometimes it’s really ugly, but I have never said “Why me?” I feel that this happened to me for a reason. I’m also not the only person this has ever happened to, and for a lot of people it’s way worse than how I have it. I look at it like, there are worse things in the world than to have a really cool looking wheelchair, and be stuck in it zipping all over the place. Don’t get me started on how awesome I am going downhill …

J.P.: We all have bad moments. You had one in 2000, when you spat in the lane of Inge de Bruijin at the 2000 Games, then said you could have won, “if I were a man.” That was 15 years ago. I wonder, looking back, if that was a worthwhile statement about something you believed in, the act of an immature kid, both, neither? And did you ever say anything to her afterward? Or in the years later?

A.V.D.: let me start by saying I had been spitting in lanes since high school. It was my good luck “thing.” When I did it in ’96 everyone laughed. I had even done an interview with a reporter for a major network about it a week earlier, and now that same person lambasted me on the air for it. He and I were laughing about it, and now he thought I was the spawn of the devil. That was odd to me. Oh, well … moving on.

That statement was something I believed in, but it was very immature. If I had been a little more mature, that wouldn’t have come out of my mouth. I should have been happy for everyone else, but it was a lot of stuff boiling to the surface. Getting back to the Games wasn’t easy. I had two shoulder surgeries, and I wasn’t the young innocent kid I had been in ’96. Not that it’s an excuse—I shouldn’t have said it. I am very sorry to Inge for saying it. That is the first time I’ve ever said anything publicly or privately to her about it. Wow! There you go, breaking news. 😉

The ol' pool spit.

The ol’ pool spit.

J.P.: You’re married to Tom Rouen, the longtime Denver Broncos punter. That’s both random and super cool. So, how’d that happen? How’d you meet? How long did you date? Proposal?

A.V.D.: Totally random, but we were both Colorado kids so it was bound to happen, right? We met after a pre-season game, at the Denver Chop House. It wasn’t love at first sight. As Tom says, it was two bulls about to lock horns. Neither of us had a great attitude at our first meeting. Then he came back after dinner and we chatted for a long time. We discovered that we lived across the street from each other. It was a very busy street, but still, a street. He proposed on the one-year anniversary of our first date. We were engaged for about 2 1/2 years. We have been married 14 years! Crazy to think it’s been that long.

J.P.: Do you feel like people treat you differently now that you’re in a wheelchair? Have you lost friends? Gained friends? Is there an awkwardness for some? Do you have to approach people differently?

A.V.D.: I am overlooked by people now. When I was 6-feet tall, that never happened. I am sometimes treated like I can’t do things by myself, that I need help to do everything. It’s getting better, but it’s the one thing that makes me crazy because I’m so independent. I haven’t lost any friends, but in some cases we don’t see each other as often. That’s not necessarily because of the chair. I have gained some more friends, which is amazing. There is an awkwardness for some—mostly for those friends who were teammates of mine or Tom’s. It’s hard for athletes to see one of their own after an accident like this. I’m not sure why, but I felt it when I was able-bodied and it happened to a friend of mine. It’s hard for them to imagine being so physical, and then having that taken away. I totally understand it. I do approach those people very carefully, and then I try to make jokes so they know it’s still me. I’m just sitting.

J.P.: I’m obsessed by death, and you said—immediately after the accident—you were in a tunnel. It was green. It was light green, dark green, it was purple. It was orange. It was beautiful. It was warm. I felt so comfortable, I didn’t see anyone there. I wanted to see my grandpa. I wanted to see my dog. But I got sent back so I don’t know what that means. U-turn.” Amy, I’m an agnostic Jew who doesn’t really buy an afterlife. But I’m openminded. Are you convinced that’s what you saw? Possible? Or was it perhaps just some weird post-traumatic stuff going on with your cranial lobe?

A.V.D.: I know some people say it’s your synapses in your brain trying to fire. I grew up in a religious home, I went to a Christian school until third grade. I understood how some would think there was a scientific reason for seeing what I did.

Now, there is no doubt that it isn’t science. Science could answer what I saw, but not what I felt. In a time when I should feel nothing but pain and heartache, I felt happy and comforted. Not sure how science can answer that. I really felt that I was going somewhere good, happy and safe. I wasn’t scared, or hurt, or sad … everything I felt was the complete opposite. How I have come back also makes me feel it was something else. I feel I have a reason for being here. I feel a sense of peace about things that I didn’t before. I know I’m not going to convince everyone of what I experienced. I don’t really care what people think about it … which, if you knew me before, would not come out of my mouth. I was always worried I said the wrong thing, I didn’t want to offend everyone. Now, I know I can only make me happy, and if I don’t say the right thing, oh well. I’ll try harder next time.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH AMY VAN DYKEN:

• Five greatest female swimmers of your lifetime?: Janet Evans, Nancy Hogshead, Mary T. Magher, Lee Ann Fetter, and … really, only one more? Shirley Babashoff.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Shasta, Dara Torres, Warren Moon, Wiz Khalifa, “Love Boat,” Thanksgiving turkey, Paul Simon, steamed broccoli, Lucille Ball, Bobby Brown, curling, Sarajevo: My ADD won’t let me look at this list long enough. OK, let me try: Love Boat, Lucille Ball, Warren Moon, Dara, Shasta, broccoli, turkey, Paul Simon, Wiz, Sarajevo, Bobby, curling.

• Worst swimming-related moment of your life?: The boys knew I’m not a morning person, so they convinced me the black line smelled like licorice. Long story short, I went down, took a whiff, and thought my head was exploding. Yup, I sniffed pool water …

• I’m itching for the Kid n Play reunion tour. Any idea when it’ll happen?: Looking at the hair style of Colorado State wide receiver Rashard Higgins, it’s coming sooner than we are really ready for

• One question you would ask Nicole Richie were she here right now?: How did you and Paris Hilton become friends, and do you regret it?

• Best Halloween costume of your lifetime?: It wasn’t mine, but my dog’s. He was the horse for the headless horseman. It was awesome.

• Grossest thing you’ve ever seen in a pool?: I’ve seen it all—poop, pee, barf, blood and even a finger.

• Should Bill May have been allowed to participate in Olympic synchronized swimming? Why or why not?: Yes, it wasn’t stipulated that it is specifically a male or female sport. Therefore, let the man swim dance!

• You mentored a contestant on ABC’s “Extreme Weight Loss.” What was the experience like?: It was really fun, and I was so happy to have met Jackie. She is an amazing woman, and just took it on full force. I really love her spirit. Also, Chris Powell is an amazing person and I’m happy to have met him. He is 100 percebt real on the show, and is really as amazing as you think and hope he would be.

• What can you tell me about your senior prom?: I broke my toe that morning. Went with a guy who was a bump on a log, so that wasn’t fun. Went with my group of friends. Two of us had moms with the same grocery getter (station wagon) so, we drove those instead of limos. I was really tired because I had swim practice that morning, but still went to after-prom. Was with the same bump on a log, so that was a bust as well. I had fun, but should have just gone with my girlfriends.