Jeff Pearlman

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Category Archives: QUAZ

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Nancy Lee Grahn

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In this age of social media and instant access and Donald Trump and caged children and a nation melting, I am thankful for Maggie Haberman. I am thankful for Jonathan Martin. I am thankful for Chuck Todd and Katy Tur and Chris Wallace.

I am thankful for Nancy Lee Grahn.

Now, to be honest, I’ve never watched an episode of General Hospital, the show on which Nancy has starred for decades. I’ve never seen Santa Barbara, another soap on which she appeared. I didn’t see when she guest-hosted The View and I only vaguely recall her briefer-than-brief stint on Little House on the Prairie (one of my childhood staples).

But here’s the thing: Nancy Lee Grahn kicks ass. She has a platform, she has a voice and she uses both of them to speak her mind. She’s loud and opinionated and smart and as socially conscious as any celebrity you’ll ever see. Her Twitter feed is often on fire. In a good way. Not literally.

I digress.

Nancy’s Emmy-packed acting career is riveting, and this week’s 365th Quaz opens up on what it is to be a soap opera star; on her steamy relationship with Michael Landon; on Bill Bixby and fame and the pressing question she would ask Mr. T.

Nancy Lee Grahn—you are the newest Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Nancy, you’ve acted in a ton of different places within a wide variety of genres, but you’re best known for your work on “General Hospital” and “Santa Barbara.” And I wanted to ask, as a non-soap opera guy, why you think the soaps have lasted this long, and drawn so many fans/viewers? Is it the message? The medium? The time slot? The … what?

NANCY LEE GRAHN: Technically, we’re supposed to get our scripts 72 hours in advance. That used to matter to m e… now I can quickly assess the import of my material for the day and measure the time I need the material to ruminate in my brain. After all those years in acting school, along with acting every day for 31 years I’m fairly adept at doing this. So depending on the material, I can either learn lines on way up to shoot, or look them over a night or two before. And sometimes, even after I see scripts ahead of time, I have no idea what Alexis is doing or why. That used to upset me. Now I just say it fast and hope no one notices.

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J.P.: Is fame great or awful? I mean, you’ve had this long, wonderful career. I’m sure you’ve been well compensated, etc. But—does being in the public eye become exhausting? Do you sorta cringe when people approach in, say, a restaurant? Are there times you wish you could be invisible?

N.L.G.: Never. I can honestly say I’venever had a moment of not enjoying my relationship with my audience. What could be so bad about having people come up to you and telling you how much they like you? My fame is very manageable and quite lovely. I don’t think I’d have the same feeling if I were Jennifer Anniston or Madonna, who can go nowhere unnoticed. For me it’s just a nice thing.

J.P.: I know you’re from Evanston, Illinois, I know your idol was Katharine Hepburn, I know you got your start in a community production of “Oklahoma.” But when did the acting bug first bite you? When did you first realize, “Holy shit! I want to do this”?

N.L.G.: I auditioned for “Bye Bye Birdie” my junior year in high school having not been in the theatre. I got the lead. I remember each night singing on stage and feeling 100 percent tapped in, tuned in, and turned on. I had this sense of confidence, centeredness and certainty. Still not believing acting was a practical choice for a career, I played the lead in my senior year musical. Someone saw me, and told me to audition for the Broadway Equity production of “Guys and Dolls” that was coming to the Goodman Theatre, a very reputable repertoire theatre in Chicago. They were looking for a couple roles to fill in Chicago. I auditioned and got the role. And so it goes.

J.P.: There’s a quote on your IMDB page—“I’m not a radical feminist, I’m an optimistic one.” And, truth be told, these days I’m having a ton of trouble feeling optimistic, what with Donald Trump’s pure awfulness, the rise of North Korea, climate change, etc. So … are you still optimostic? And, if so, how? And why?

N.L.G.: As you can tell from my Twitter, I’m filled with rage, shock, horror, and utter bafflement. I vent daily, RT info, call senators and scream at them, write checks to the blue team, and laugh when I can. But underneath it all, yes, I am optimistic. We unfortunately needed this contrast. We grew complacent and fine about sitting back and letting other’s handle things while whining about how unlikable really qualified women were. We forgot that democracy and equal rights aren’t to be taken for granted. They are privileges that need to be continually fought for. Everyone needed to wake up. And the inexplicable contrast that Trump and his baf-goons have presented us with, has awakened and activated us. It is a giant freakin soap opera that has us engaged, and mercifully schooled in civics like never before. I see the fire in the bellies of many of us, but mostly in these kids. They’re gonna shift the plates under our earth, stabilize us, and set us on a better course. Yes, I’m optimistic … when I’m not in a fetal position crying for my mommy.

J.P.: Hold on, Nancy! I was just reading your IMDB page and, in 1980, you played “Saloon Girl” in an episode of Little House. Ok, make my happy. How did you land the part? What do you remember?

N.L.G.: I slept with Michael Landon!

Just kidding.

I auditioned for those coveted twO lines. I remember, Michael Landon who was a dream, meant nothing by it, but when giving me a direction, called me “sweetie.” I asked him if he could call me by my name. I’m such an asshole.

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

N.L.G.: I like winning awards. So Emmys are nice moments … but I truly love what I do, so the great moments are many and the low ones are forgettable.

With daughter Kate

With daughter Kate

J.P.: Serious question—should we be giving soap operas more respect? What I mean is, I feel like there’s a certain eye roll with soaps. Like, “Yeah, she used to be in a soap, but now …” Do you feel like we idiots misunderstand the genius of the medium?

N.L.G.: This is such a good question and one I’ve never been asked after all these years. The lack of respect for soap operas is due to a lack of understanding for what we do. Let me start by saying that I have more of a sense humor about soap operas than anyone. There are days when I’m asked to do and say things that would never happen on planet earth. In order to act you have to be able to answer the question why

Why is my brother not dead, after I saw them extract his liver that was used to save my daughter? Why does my neighbor have a bomb strapped to him that goes off at his house, knock everyone in my house unconscious, while he walks out of his kitchen with a scrape on his forehead? On those days you either throw a fit about how no one can act this shit, you laugh your way through it, or you have an out-of-body experience while you’re acting it. I’ve done all  three … sometimes at once.

But here’s the thing, we shoot seven, sometimes eight shows a week. Each script is approximately 150 pages. Writers, producers, directors, crew, have to navigate all of that, along with sets, lights, actor availability, and a myriad other things. The actors have to efficiently figure out how to make it all believable with only one rehearsal. It is not for sissies. And it is not a damned training ground. Never, ever, say that to an actor on Daytime television. It’s not an actor training ground, It’s a fucking acting warzone, and you’d better know what you’re doing or you’ll be chewed up and spit out. When young actors come in, they often stick out like a sore thumb until they catch on and most don’t. Even if you’re a pro … the last person who is very well known on prime time came on for five days and when it was over said, “I feel like I’ve been dragged through a swamp naked.”

Most of us who’ve been doing this for a while have figured out a method to be as good as we can with every limitation. We don’t have the luxury of budget, time and a team of 50 writers who have six months to weigh their every word and weave intricate, detailed stories. We are TV rep company. We do a different play every day on a dime and a prayer … and make a whole lotta people happy in the process. So, yeah, respect would be nice, but not necessary. We know who we are, and what we do. The truth is, I’ve gotten to say some incredibly beautiful words and do some great acting, over the years that I’m very proud of. I’ve watched others do the same. I’ve also been able to act regularly for 31 years, and I still love it. I love going to work. And on the days that are silly and I can’t answer the question why? … as my acting teacher, Sandy Meisner said to me … “You can always listen and respond.” True that.

J.P.: You’ve won multiple Emmy Awards, and while that’s awesome, I wonder whether, in acting, there’s such a thing as “best.” Maybe that sounda naïve or corny, but it seems that acting—like writing—is subjective. No? And, along those lines, what did it feel like to win the first Emmy?

N.L.G.: Winning an Emmy is lovely. It’s nice to imagine stuff and have it happen, but mostly it’s a great opportunity to go on a rampage of appreciation for your family and friends.

At the Emmy Awards with Greg Vaughan

At the Emmy Awards with Greg Vaughan

J.P.: You’re an actress in her early 60s who has managed to work and work and work. Which is amazing, but it also seems unlikely, given the way your profession seems to treat many women as they age. So how do you feel you’ve been able to survive and thrive? And do you feel like my take on the profession and women is right? Or overly simplistic?

S.L.G.: As a woman on General Hospital, I’m still relevant. I’m 60, having better sex on the show than … well, anyone … thriving … front burner and interesting. Soaps are better than any medium on television for honoring and respecting woman. I cannot stress enough the gender equality and lack of age discrimination that I’ve experienced on daytime television. I cannot say the same for primetime. The roles available to me as a woman on primetime are down to a five-line guest star with no substance or relevance. There is typically one white woman lead, an ethnic supporting woman ( thank God for that) and a thousand men. It is not OK. As archaic as people think soaps are, they value women more than most others.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH NANCY LEE GRAHN:

• I feel like your last name is begging for an M to replace the N. How often have you faced that misspelling in your life?: Oy! GRAHN. It’s AAAH not AT like in bat. Why don’t people get that?

• Three reasons one should make Skokie his/her next vacation destination: I’m not gonna lie. It’s a great place to grow up… not vacation.

• I’m wondering what—if anything—you remember about the whole Nazi/Skokie controversy from your youth?: I was there then. I was home visiting. As a daughter of a Jewish mom, which makes me Jewish, and growing up with many friends whose parents had numbers branded on their arms … it was jaw-droppingly horrifying and confusing. There was a part of me that said ignore these assholes. They are few and irrelevant. But the other part of me knew that, that is how the holocaust happened. No one should ever ignore this evil. Stomp it out.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Chicago Tribune, doing laundry, Tyrod Taylor, distance running, “All the President’s Men,” Kim Zimmer, the Electric Slide, Elton John, Winnie Cooper: Chicago Tribune (only because @rexhuppke writes for it and makes me laugh and think every day). Elton John (because Charlie, my daughter’s bestie in the pop program at USC, is the son of his guitarist). Kim Zimmer because she is my fellow soap diva, “All the President’s Men” because it is the truth and I hate the electric slide and don’t know who Winnie Cooper is and I’m sure she doesn’t know me either.

• Three memories from your appearance on The Incredible Hulk: I run like a really uncoordinated girl. I loved Bill Bixby. I learned to drive a stick shift on set and made Bill and my dog so nervous, they both pee’d in the seat.

• The world needs to know—what did David Hasselhoff’s hair smell like?: I did not smell David’s hair, although he was much funnier than I expected.

• We’ve both been blocked on Twitter by Scott Baio. What does that say about us?: Being blocked by Scott Baio shows good breeding.

• Tell us a joke, please: I am the worst joke teller ever. I laugh before the punch line.

• Without Googling, name every Donna Summer song you know: “Last Dance.”

• One question you would ask Mr. T were he here right now: Why?

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The Postal Worker

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So I’m not big on anonymous Quazes.

I like names.

I like photographs.

I like identities.

Every so often, however, I’m willing to make an exception.

Today’s Quaz is a 33-year Massachusetts mailman. He asked to remain nameless because he’s still employed by the United States Postal Service, and some of the answers below could cause him to be reprimanded or, perhaps, fired. So—because this is fun and quirky and terrific—I made the exception.

For the first time ever, your Quaz delivers mail.

It’s a goodie …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, you’re a longtime postal worker with more than three decades in the business. So I start with this—what’s your absolute craziest story from your career?

POSTAL WORKER: I have worked for the post office since 1985, so I have had several hundred co-workers and supervisors. There are many crazy things and situations to pick from. I would say the most bizarre thing I have seen is a fellow carrier getting fired because he pleasured himself in the back of his mail truck, and he videoed the whole thing on his phone. He sent it to his ex-girlfriend and she reported it to the postal inspectors and he ended up getting fired. We also had a Supervisor who rode his bike to work and then he would give himself a sponge bath in the restroom. Many, many crazy things during my exciting postal career, lol.

J.P.: So obviously you know the term, “going postal.” And I wonder A. How you feel about it? B. Is there any legitimacy to it? Does working in the postal business for a good chunk of years possibly cause one to lose his shit? Become angry? Etc?

P.W.: I personally was annoyed at the term “going postal” because I think it shed a negative light on the many great people who go to work every day and do a great job. For all of us to be associated to some degree with a few unstable people … I always thought was a bit unfair. I think the term came about because of one of the first mass shootings was a postal worker in Edmund, OK many years ago. I think there are many professions that can be very stressful, all for different reasons. I think a lot of times the stress isn’t even job related. It’s financial, it’s marital or relationship issues. Any number of things. As far as stress in the post office, sure there’s stress. Most of that has to do with how qualified management is in that particular station. Unfortunately, in my 33 years on the job I honestly can say I have been around only a handful of people who know how to deal with employees, treat them with respect and still get their job done.

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J.P.: I’m sure you’ve had your handful of angry dogs in your career. How do you deal with them? What’s the best approach?

P.W.: Dealing with dogs is definitely something you get a knack for. First thing is to make sure you always have dog repellant with you. One of the benefits to having your own assignment every day is you learn who has dogs and other pets. Before you get your own route, you easily could be on a different route every day, so having the repellant is a must because you’re not familiar with that neighborhood. Dogs and cats can come out of nowhere at anytime. The best approach with a new dog is to act casual around it and don’t show any fear. The best is when an owner says, “Don’t worry, he doesn’t bite.” Yeah, he doesn’t bite you …

J.P.: So when we lived in New York we had a mailman who, every holiday season, would whistle Christmas songs as he approached the door—and only as he approached the door. Clearly he was reminding us about seasonal tips. What do you think of that? Cheesy or OK?

P.W.: Any mailman who whistles Christmas songs during the season is being a dick. As a carrier, you do your job every day and talk to your customers and be friendly. If they choose to tip you at Christmas, great, if they don’t than that’s OK, too. We have had carriers who left a route right before Christmas to take another route. Then the week leading up to Christmas they actually drive around the old route to see if there are any envelopes on the mailbox. That is not cool. The way that works is, if the guy who took over your route sees an envelope with your name on it, he’s supposed to give it to you.

J.P.: How has e-mail impacted your professional life? Do you see a day when the postal service will become obsolete?

P.W.: E-mail has definitely impacted the Postal Service, as well as people paying their bills online. First class mail has been steadily dropping for those reasons. The future of the post office right now is totally in the hands of parcel and package delivery. If the post office ever loses the account they have with Amazon, we will be in serious trouble. The amount of parcels has increased steadily over the last 10 years.

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J.P.: How do you deal with a package that features nearly illegible writing? I’m sure you’ve had plenty of times when it’s unclear whether the address is 53 Emerald Lane or 92 Emery Lane. So is there a process?

P.W.: When either a package or a letter has a funky address on it, due to bad handwriting or rain or damage, I usually show it to a couple of guys to see if they can see something that I can’t. If there is no way to figure it out, the usual move at that point is to mark it “Insufficient Address” and it will go back to the sender.

J.P.: Do customers ever weird you out? Freak you out? Hit on you? Scream at you? And is there some sort of code of decorum you need to turn to?

P.W.: I have come across many strange customers. I have had guys open the door just in their underwear, or just a towel around their waist. Many times you can smell pot coming out of the house. Some people will yell at you because of a bad experience they might have had with a clerk at the post office. They get mad because someone mailed them something and they want to know where it is. The best way to handle that is to stay cool and give them the number to the post office and the supervisor’s name, so they can call him for more info on whatever the problem is. I have had gay guys dropping hints at me and invite me in (no thanks). Another area you find weird things is when you take the mail out of the blue collection boxes. I have found food, feces, Ziplock bags with piss in them. Every day brings something new.

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J.P.: How did this happen for you? I mean, you’re a kid from Mass. I’m sure you had hopes and dreams, and I’m guessing at age, oh, 8 they didn’t include working for the postal service. So, soup to nuts, how did this career come to be?

P.W.: I grew up a big sports fan. Played sports all through elementary school and high school and never really stayed focused on my future. I got decent grades, but looking back I know I could have done much better. My father worked for the post office for many years, so after I graduated it didn’t look like college was possibility so I took the postal exam. I took the test in January of 1984 and I was hired a year later.

J.P.: How did 9.11 and terrorism impact your profession, if at all?

P.W.: Well, 9.11 put everyone on alert for a while. We had to use caution when collecting mail from boxes, be observant for any packages that might look different. The Anthrax scare was also something that caused a lot of concern in our profession. We actually had to call the State Haz Mat team in one time due to a powder substance coming out of a package. Nothing came from that, thankfully.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH THE POSTAL WORKER:

• One question you would ask Viola Davis were she here right now: I would ask Viola Davis what her favorite episode of How to Get Away with Murder was.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Fred Lynn, retirement plans, San Francisco, Post-it Notes, Jewish holidays, Etta James, gender-neutral bathrooms, Captain Kangaroo, Meek Mill, Delta Airlines: San Francisco, Fred Lynn, Gender-Neutral bathrooms, Post it notes, Etta James, Retirement plans, Captain Kangaroo, Jewish Holidays, Delta Airlines, Meek Mill

• Three reasons one should still subscribe to a newspaper?: 1. Still love walking into a store and buying a newspaper; 2. Nothing better than having coffee and reading the paper on Sunday morning; 3. Buying newspapers keeps a lot of good people employed.

• How did your senior prom go?: Didn’t attend.

• Three all-time favorite athletes: Larry Bird, Jimmy Connors, Tom Brady

• In exactly 12 words, make a case for Billy Sims: Being drafted by Detroit cost Billy Sims a chance to be great.

• What’s your hidden talent?: My ability to debate.

• Do you think millennials sorta suck?: Yeah, I find them very annoying and obnoxious.

Two things you need to do before you die?: Fly in an F-16 and travel cross country

• Why can’t I stop eating breakfast cereal late at night?: Because cereal is a great late-night snack

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Tess Stone

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It’s April 23, 2018.

I enter the nearby Starbucks to redeem my birthday drink coupon. Only my app is telling me I can’t redeem my birthday drink coupon, because my birthday is April 22. I’ve missed it.

The barista looks at me and takes pity. “I’ve got you,” he says.

Three words, and my sorta crappy day is transformed.

We chat briefly. He tells me he’s an artist, and I ask whether he’s on Twitter. I start following him here and—holy shit—he’s talented and funny and just warped enough to make me smile. He also happens to be transitioning, and announced such with a marvelous pinned Tweet.

And, just like that, we’re here. Tess Stone is the 363rd Quaz Q&A.

Life is good.

Tess is the genius behind the horror comic, “Not Drunk Enough,” which is just really sharp and edgy and fun. You can purchase his stuff here, and visit him on Twitter here.

Tess Stone, you are officially Quaz material …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Tess, you draw the horror comic, “Not Drunk Enough.” And, to be honest, until discovering your work I didn’t know “horror comics” were a thing. Sooooo … what, exactly, defines a horror comic? And how big is the genre?

TESS STONE: Comics are at a point right now where there’s so much good stuff being made that it spans all sortsof genres. Stories of all types are being told, even within the superhero format. Drama, horror, fantasy, sci-fi—you name it! A horror comic is defined similarly to any other media, though I do wish the genre was a little bit bigger in comics, just so I could have more in my grubby little hands. I’m a fan of horror of all types and consume it on a regular (if not somewhat aggressive) basis. I always consider “Not Drunk Enough” a horror comedy. It’s primarily defined by the body horror, monsters, setting, and a little bit of gore, but with the wish that I make you chuckle along the way.

J.P.: So in October of last year you used a comic to announce that you were transitioning from female to male. You wrote, “It’s all pretty scary … but I’m happier now than I have ever been in my life, and I wanted to share that.” First, bravo. Second, how did you make the decision to announce this huge change via a cartoon?

T.S.: Thank you so much man! As previously mentioned, it was a darn scary thing to announce, but cartoons are where I’m the most comfortable. In my work, I’ve always been myself no matter what the circumstances were, so it honestly felt like an incredibly natural choice. I started to write a blog post or a Tweet, and it just felt clunky. Wrong. I was abusing the backspace key like crazy. Kept second guessing myself. Then when I sat down to draw it out, it just came so easily. I was able to articulate that I was more happy than I was scared, and hoped that this format may also have a further reach. Maybe it could get to someone who is more scared than happy, just like I was before. It felt like a good way for me to express myself and try to offer a hand to someone who might need a little tiny bit of picking up–or just to know they’re not alone.

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J.P.: Along those lines—how did you know you wanted to transition? How did you know you were ready? And what has it been like this far?

T.S.: I was in the closet for a pretty long time. When I dig back into my past, I realize it’s been something I’ve wanted since my teens but had no way of knowing what my feelings meant, or if they had any validity. I pushed it aside until I was 30, and it really wasn’t until one of my friends started his own journey that I was really forced to look at myself.

I’m lucky to have some really great friends who really encouraged me, some of them pioneering the way for me, and offering their advice and support. I don’t know how else to say it, but it was so buried that I didn’t realize I was trans until several tearful conversations with my friends drug out every thought and every fear I never wanted to say, even to myself, and it clicked. I made an appointment for hormonal therapy, and it suddenly was the clearest, easiest decision in my life. I woke up already feeling like something massive was lifted off my shoulders.

So far, it’s been great. I’m not that terribly far in, less than half a year, so I’ve yet to see the biggest changes, and there are definitely ups and downs. The fear of how society and people will view me definitely exists, but being able to be myself makes standing up for myself a lot easier. I’ve seen my confidence grow monumentally since the transition and I try to use that boost to work on making myself a better human as much as possible!

J.P.: You are an amazingly skilled artist. And I wonder—how did this happen? Like, were you the kid doodling around the house? Were you a natural? Did you have a lightbulb artistic moment?

T.S.: Aw, shucks! My parents are both creative people. My mom was a painter and my father went to school for music composition. Heck, they met at CalArts! They always were supportive of me, and I definitely doodled everywhere. I used to draw my own paper dolls for toys and cut them out and laminate them with my sister. I can’t remember ever not drawing. I held a Sonic comic in my hands from the grocery store when I was in the first grade and decided I was going to be a comic artist. I was lucky to have so much clarity in my dream, to be honest!

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J.P.: We met when you were working at the neighborhood coffee shop, and you were kind enough to help me when my app acted up. We chatted a bit, and you mentioned that you needed the health insurance afforded via the gig. And I wonder—how hard is it to make it as a cartoonist? What’s the battle like? What are the successes? The failures? And what’s the ultimate goal?

T.S.: It was a pleasure, man! Being a cartoonist can be tricky, and I think every creator I meet along the way has varying ultimate goals, but the most common one that I find in others (as well as myself) is a desire to just be able to do what we love and live comfortably. Unfortunately that isn’t the easiest thing to accomplish, since I think (like most media) success requires a bit of talent, and a bit of luck. There’s hard work involved, but there’s also being in the right place at the right time with the right idea or the right story.

I’ve definitely had ups and downs. I’ve had some really rough times where lack of confidence made me susceptible to getting incredibly low rates, bad contracts, and just really cruddy situations. But lately? I’m lucky enough to have a great manager to make sure that stuff doesn’t ever happen again and amazing co-creators to help inspire me along the way!

The best successes I get are when people take the time to tell me how much my work has impacted them. Cheered them up, been there with them through a hard time, or just gave them a good feeling when they could relate to a character. When that happens, it feels great. I know it’s kind of cheesy but it’s a feeling that’s really hard to replicate any other way.

J.P.: Earlier this month you got your first tattoo—an eyeplant from the artist Neitzke. Soooo … why? Why a tattoo? Why there? And how bad was the pain?

T.S.: I’ve always wanted tattoos, but never had the confidence to get one! So I just decided to stop worrying so much and just do it. The only thing I knew was I did not want my own art on my body. So I drew up one of the eyeplants from my comic “Not Drunk Enough,” and handed it to an awesome local tattoo artist who then drew it up in his own style! (@neitz_1 on Instagram) I chose to have it by the base of my neck because in the comic, the plants always have a constrictive theme and primarily hover around the head and neck area. As far as the pain goes, it kind of just felt like when your hand tingles and falls asleep a little bit, but in one concentrated area for a long time. So actually—not bad at all!

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J.P.: So what are you thinking when you draw? Where are you? What are you listening to? What’s running through your mind? How do the ideas arrive?

T.S.: Oh man. Music is a huuuge part of my process. I make playlists based on characters, settings, or just a whole story. I pull them up depending on my mood, what I want to accomplish, how I want to think. When I draw I generally think about the people I’m writing or drawing. It’s even beyond just “who are they and what are they feeling?” I try to slip into their shoes—see the world the way they would, whatever world it may be, and think like they would. And when I get that way, I honestly just feel like the ideas come by themselves.

J.P.: You have a comic called, “Seen Nothing Yet,” which you describe as the story of “two boys attempting to be amateur ghost hunters and finding more distraction in each other than anything else…!” OK, so I’m riveted. Where did the idea come from? How did you develop it? When did you know it would work?

T.S.: Thank you! First off, I definitely want to point out that “Seen Nothing Yet” is 18+ adult erotica, just in case anybody unsuspecting starts a search for it. I was lucky enough to be able to work with Slipshine to release some short 14-to-16 page comics on their site while I was working on “Not Drunk Enough,” so I wanted to come up with something that I would be passionate about. So the obvious choice to me was ghost hunters.

Depending on the different stages of my work, I often have TV playing in the background in order to keep my mind stimulated. During writing or sketching or anything hyper creative, I stick to music. But inking, lettering—I gotta find me a show to watch. In this way I became very addicted to ghost shows. I’m obsessed with the paranormal and the people who are on a constant search for what is beyond. After watching dozens and dozens of shows and dozens and dozens of different seasons I just kept thinking to myself—the people who do this are so fascinating! I want to make my own! And so I did. And then they fell in love, because it’s an erotica.

I had no idea it would work, to be honest, but I was really touched by the responses. People really connected with the characters despite the nature of the book, and that’s what I really wanted. I’ve had people return to my table during a con after purchasing it to tell me how much they really actually just were surprised by how easy they fell in love with Owen and Nash. It probably helps that they’re reaaaally chatty and exceedingly dorky.

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J.P.: You’re a transitioning artist with this wild, dazzling approach to your work. So I ask—how are you surviving the Donald Trump years? Because I’m losing my shit …

T.S.: Oof. It’s difficult. I’m doing okay because I have an amazing support system with my friends and family, but every day I do feel like I’m fighting off a headache from the state of the news. Mostly I try to make a difference if I can. Donate when possible, put out positivity. That sort of thing. I know it sounds weird coming from a person who makes a horror comedy comic, but I try to put important messages in there, too. Tolerance, representation. One of my major goals with “Not Drunk Enough” and honestly any comic that I do is to have a cast that is identifiable with everyone. Not just one group. It’s not perfect yet, and I have a lot to learn along the way, but that’s just it. I want to learn, I want to grow, and I want to help others to, too. There’s no shame in realizing you weren’t as educated about something as you could be, as long as you’re ready to listen and learn. And there’s no shame in being wrong. We’re all wrong some of the times, it’s only bad when your pride makes it to where you’d rather feel right than actually do the right thing.

J.P.: When I was a kid my mom wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer—and I wound up a sports writer. So, Tess, what do you parents thing of your life path? Are they supportive? Skeptical? Both? Neither?

T.S.: I think the sports writer is working out pretty darn well for you! My parents are incredibly supportive, actually. My poor mother doesn’t love horror at all, but will read mine. They both do. They check my Twitter, my website. It’s great, and honestly I couldn’t be luckier.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH TESS STONE:

• One question you would ask Paul Ryan were he here right now?: How can we be better as a country in practicing tolerance (of all sorts) and supporting minority groups?

• Five all-time greatest superheroes?: Oh gosh these are always so hard … but off the top of my head—Carrie Fisher, David Bowie, Andreas Deja, Naoki Urasawa, Junji Ito

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Mike Trout, Stan Lee, Whitney Houston, Burger King, B.B. King, Ellen, Oprah, Dan Zanes, the short guy from Backstreet Boys, “The Quiet Place,” safety pins: Whitney Houston, B.B. King, Oprah, Ellen, Stan Lee, Safety Pins, Mike Trout, Dan Zanes, the short guy from BBoys, and sorry Burger King but you are definitely the last one.

• Three memories from your high school graduation: I actually got a GED at 15 and went to college the moment I turned 16! So I’m weird.

• What’s the greatest coffee beverage known to humanity?: Iced Americano. In my humble opinion. With nothing in it.

• Three reasons one should buy your T-shirts: 1. You like horror. 2. You like weird typography. 3. You like me?

• On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the quality of Jack’’s nude sketch of Rose on the Titanic?: I give it a 8. I think I’d make her look like a weird cartoon and I probably wouldn’t have managed to seduce her, that’s for sure.

• Do you think the Mets made a mistake dealing Matt Harvey to the Reds for a backup catcher?: I had to Google all that, I’m very sorry.

• What’s the greatest physical pain you ever endured?: I got the very inklings of a kidney stone and let me tell you nobody’s lying when they say it’s incredibly painful. Drink lots of water, everyone.

• What’s your go-to artistic tool?: I actually really enjoy drawing with ball-point pens. But if I’m doing work professionally, I use a WacomPRO!

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Jordan Williams

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The wife and I welcomed our daughter Casey into the world on July 31, 2003, but we’ve long  suggested that our first-born actually came some three years earlier, on Sept. 27, 2000.

That’s when Jordan Langston Williams—our nephew—was born. And while a nephew isn’t technically your kid, and while Jordan has been raised by excellent parents, and while he’s never actually lived under our roof, well, we do think of him as far more than mere nephew. We’ve been there since his birth. We’ve watched him crawl, walk, cry, scream, blow out birthday candles, string decorations onto a Christmas tree, roll through elementary school and middle school and, now, high school. We’ve been side by side for vacations, holidays, Bar Mitvahs, funerals. Truly, one of the great joys of our lives has been watching Jordan emerge from boy to man (Hell, I’ve even overcome the disappointment of losing to him in arm wrestling).

That’s why, for the 362nd Quaz Q&A, I thought it’d be cool to talk to the ol’ nephew about his final days as a high schooler; about life with divorced parents and as a bi-racial entity in an increasingly diverse-yet-complicated world.

Jordan will be attending New York University next fall, and it has been my honor to be a part of his life.

Jordan Williams, you are the new Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Jordan, you graduate high school in the coming weeks, and I wonder: When you look at the world, are you optimistic? Pessimistic? Neither? Both? I mean, climate change, Trump, North Korea, corporate greed, on and on. On the other hand—ice cream, sunny days, New York City, college. So … where are you? And why?

JORDAN WILLIAMS: When I look at the world today I am definitely greeted by feelings of both optimism and pessimism. On one hand, I am vehemently against our current president, his ideas, and the path he is leading this country down along. I’m scared for my future because of the rapid changes in our environment and what these changes mean for my generation. But at the same time, I couldn’t be more hopeful for my future. I am about to graduate high school and go to my number one choice college, NYU, in the greatest city in the world. I know I have a bright future ahead of me and I have hope that my generation will be the one to finally do something that will change the tide in our war against climate change, not because I think my generation is superior but because it will be a necessity. I’ve seen the predictions of the state of the world 50 years down the line if we continue on the path we’re on and I know that my generation will not be content to live that way.

J.P.: It’s an age-old question asked of every generation, so I’ll ask you: What don’t we (people over, oh, 40) get about your generation? What do you feel like we don’t understand? Fail to understand?

J.W: The thing I would say people over the age of 40 don’t understand is that my childhood doesn’t compare to your childhood. Older people are always complaining about the way that kids act now a days and that what we do would never fly when they were growing up. I don’t care what it was like when you were growing up, this is how it is now as I grow up and I guarantee that if you had been raised now you would be the same way. I’m sure people in the generation before your’s said the same things about your generation. That’s just the way of the world; things change over time and if you can’t get with the program I don’t wanna hear about it.

J.P.: A couple of years ago, after my kids were born, I was thinking about cigarette smoking, and how happy I was that it wouldn’t be a draw to my children. I mean, it was clear how awful it was, how expensive it was. And it became a non-issue. And now—vaping. I don’t get it. What’s the appeal? Why are people your age drawn to it? 

J.W.: Vaping has exploded as a fad among young people in just the same way that cigarette smoking did before people knew the health detriments of it. In the past, smoking was seen as a cool thing to do and I suppose it isn’t any different now. Since vaping is a new thing there haven’t been any long term studies on how it impacts health. Because of the this many people who would never smoke a cigarette would smoke a juul or a vape because they think it is perfectly harmless. I would never buy a vape because I am positive that vaping will turn out to be just as dangerous as cigarettes.

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J.P.: I feel like your life has flown by. I mean, I vividly remember when you were born; your first birthday party; you as an infant in the city. But that’s from my vantage point. What about from yours? Is your life flying by? Crawling? Do different age gaps have different paces?

J.W.: From my perspective I feel like the years go by faster as I get older. I wouldn’t say it’s flying by but I definitely feel like my life is going by faster than I thought it would. I mean I’m graduating high school in less than a month but it feels like I just walked into my first day of high school like last week. To me, the days go by slowly but the years fly by.

J.P.: You’re the product of divorced parents, which is obviously pretty common these days. But, now looking back on your childhood, what does that come with? What I mean is, what are the complications, the issues? Does it eventually just become … life, or are there always hiccups related to it?

J.W.: Being the product of divorced parents has it’s ups and downs. Since my parents got divorced when I was very young it has just become my life, I don’t know any thing else. On the bright side, I get two of everything, two rooms, two sets of birthday gifts, two summer vacations. And being a somewhat materialistic person, I’m certainly not complaining about that. On the other hand, I don’t get to spend time where I want to spend time, I stay with whatever parent on a fixed schedule. I also don’t get to see my beloved dog all of the time. I definitely feel like one home feels more like home than the other, but I do love both of my parents so divorced or together it doesn’t impact me much at all.

With his Aunt Catherine back in the day

With his Aunt Catherine back in the day

J.P.: You’re also bi-racial. And I wonder—how does this impact you? I mean, there have been 1,001 research papers done, etc. But throughout your life how do you feel like it’s impacted you, if at all? The way you approach situations? React to situations? Do you identify as any more African-American than white or vice versa? Do you think about it much?

J.W: I feel like being bi-racial is definitely a blessing. I get the best of both worlds and I feel like I can fit in with anybody. Since I live in New York, race has never really been an issue for me, people here see color less than in other places so they just see me as me and nothing else. I identify more strongly with African American than white because I am more appreciative of black culture than white culture and my skin tone is closer to black than white. It’s not that white culture is not as good, it’s just that I feel more connected to black culture, especially hip hop. The only time I think about my race is when I’m on vacation with my white side of my family. Often times we go to hotels or resorts and I look around and I feel like I’m the only black person for miles.

J.P.: I don’t really love the modern state of hip-hop, but I also feel like a relic saying such a thing. But … I dunno. I hate trap rap, I feel like there’s more mumbling than ever before, the joy doesn’t seem quite so … joyful. I guess, in a sense, I long for, oh, 2003. Tell me why I’m wrong. Or not.

J.W.: You could not be more wrong. Hip hop is forever evolving. I myself am not a fan of the mumble rappers that have recently take over the mainstream but that is not at all reflective of the state of hip hop today and trap rap is only one sub genre of hip hop. I love old school hip hop more than I like the new school but there is so much great rap music out there now, you just need to know where to find it. I would be more than happy to share my gold mine of amazing modern rap music with you.

With his brothers Oscar (middle) and Isaiah

With his brothers Oscar (middle) and Isaiah

J.P.: You’re in front of a screen, ahem, quite often. I HATE that. I mean, I hate it with you—but I REALLY hate it inside my house. Here’s my question for you, and I’m asking you to step away from yourself: Am I wrong to feel this way? I just feel like there are so many interesting things in the world, and staring at a screen for eight hours a day seems, well, sorta like a waste. No?

J.W: Yes I think you are wrong to feel that way. We live in the digital era now completely surrounded by screens at all times so it’s pretty much impossible to get away from them. I think your issue with my generation intake of “screen time” is more of a generational difference than anything. You grew up in a world that had far fewer screens than the world we live in now so it’s only natural for you to be biased against screens because you feel like if you could grow up without screens so can we. This is just my generation’s form of entertaining ourselves. I don’t feel like it takes away from my experience of the world because if there something I want to do I have no issue putting the screen away and going to do it.

J.P.: “Bullying” became the buzzword of my generation of parents. So … does bullying exist? Is the whole thing overrated? Do we need to chill?

J.W.: Bullying does exist but I don’t think it’s nearly as serious as people make it out to be. For the most part, as far as my experience goes, people have their own particular friend groups and their own particular preferences and usually other people just let it rock. Nobody really bullies anybody unless that person has wronged them in some way. Of course kids are still mean to each other, but not in such a frequent way that it would be classified as bullying.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH JORDAN WILLIAMS:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): your brother’s Afro, mathematics, Hall & Oates, Kevin Durant, wood cabinets, the ceramic bunny you recently threw out, your dog, Chance The Rapper, toast with jam: My dog, Chance the Rapper, the bunny I recently threw out, my brother’s afro, toast with jam, Hall and Oates, wood cabinets, mathematics, Kevin Durant.

• One question you would ask the members of the Wiggles were they here right now?: Was the sum of money you were paid worth being forever remembered as the Wiggles?

• Five greatest superhero films of your lifetime: Black Panther, Avengers Infinity War, Deadpool 2, Thor Ragnarok, Spiderman Homecoming.

• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between you and my dad (and he’s holding a chainsaw). How long does it go?: Your dad, even without the chainsaw; Stan da Man is unstoppable.

• Five reasons one should make New Rochelle, N.Y. his/her next vacation destination?: Our high school looks pretty, Chicken Joe’s, close proximity to New York City, scenes from Catch Me If You Can with Leonardo DiCaprio were shot here, there is an abandoned warehouse with a lot of cool graffiti in it.

• What’s it like having the world’s greatest uncle?: I feel the pressure to be the world’s greatest nephew.

• Five words you’ve never used in your life?: Argute, eucatastrophe, liripipe, orrery, thalassic.

• What are the odds you wind up vomiting at/after your prom?: 0% chance at prom 20% chance after prom.

• Celine Dion calls. She’ll pay you $500 million, but you have to move to Las Vegas and spend a year sleeping on the floor of her shit room. It’s the room made of crusted Celine Dion shit. Oh, and for those 365 days you can only eat apple sauce and maple syrup. And you need to stand still 7 hours of the day.You in?: No—that’s gross and not worth it.

• Watching you grow up and leave childhood behind makes me sorta sad. In 12 words, tell me why it should or shouldn’t: Don’t be sad, be glad for what I’ll accomplish in the future.

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Walt Maddox

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On May 22, 2017, Walt Maddox was sworn in for his fourth term as the mayor of Tuscaloosa.

That seems like a pretty sweet deal. You live in a great city. You’re popular and respected and successful in your chosen career. So why not just kick back, pop open a few cold ones and enjoy the ride? Why not bask in the security of a fruitful gig?

It’s a good question, but one Maddox doesn’t struggle to answer. As you read this, he is in the midst of a fierce battle to unseat Republican Kay Ivey as Alabama’s governor. To be polite, this isn’t an easy fight. Ivey is a Trump-praising right-wing adherent in a state overflowing with Trump-praising right-wing adherents. Yet Maddox looks around at Alabama’s failing schools, Alabama’s up-and-down economy—and wants to do something. So here he is—running and Quazing. Quazing and running.

One can visit Walt’s website here, and follow him on Instagram here and Twitter here.

Walt Maddox, you are the 361st Quaz Q&A …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Walt, you’re a Democrat. Runningfor governor. In Alabama. This seems, from afar, as a super longshot in a state America views as redder than red. So … why am I wrong?

WALT MADDOX: I believe there are three reasons. First, on Dec. 12, 2017, we elected a Democrat, Doug Jones, for United States senator. Making this remarkable, it was a special election which should have suppressed Democratic turnout. Second, as mayor, in a purple city, we have demonstrated bi-partisan and effective leadership for over 12 years. Lastly, Tuscaloosa has succeeded through the Great Recession and the April 27, 2011 tornado which destroyed 12.5 percent of the city (5,300 structures impacted). Our response and recovery from both has demonstrated the type of crisis leadership we need in Alabama and that will appeal to independents.

J.P.: You spent four years on the University of Alabama-Birmingham football team. Right now, across America, there’s this ongoing debate over the sport, and—in particular—head injuries. Personally, I wouldn’t let my kids play, what with so many safer sports out there. I’m guessing you disagree. So what do you get out of your college sports career? And what can we do about the sport?

W.M.: I understand the concern, and as a parent, I have entertained the same thoughts. First, reducing the amount of practice contact is paramount. Second, continuing to use technology to enhance safety measures. Third, ensure that coaches know how to teach the fundamentals of the sport (i.e. tacking form). Fourth, contact should not begin to high school. Lastly, at all levels, require concussion protocols.

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With wife Stephanie

J.P.: You’re in a state that Donald Trump won by a large margin. And, if I’m being honest, that causes me to question the judgement of your denizens. So … how? How did he win? Why did Alabama support him? And do you see any of that fading away?

W.M.: There is President Donald Trump, and then there is the idea of President Donald Trump. I believe the idea of a person who would fight for the “little man” and shake things up was very appealing across America, including Alabama. The idea of Donald Trump is still popular, but even amongst his most ardent supporters you are seeing weariness because the issues are compounding. I believe the Trump phenomena will continue to slowly fade due to the cumulative effects of his behavior.

J.P.: The governor of Alabama is Kay Ivey. I’m guessing you’re not a fan of her politics or job performance. But will it be possible—truly possible—to run a positive campaign? What I mean is, people always say, “I plan on staying above the mud,” but then they wind up lathering in it. So how do you do this? Can you rip her without, well, ripping her? I mean, Trump’s campaign was super negative—and he won. So isn’t that the way to go?

W.M.: I respect Governor Ivey, but disagree with her policy positions and her desire to maintain the status quo which means remaining last in nearly every quality of life measurement. I believe campaigns boil down to three things: 1) Narrative; 2) Contrast; 3) Momentum. In our case, I believe we have all three areas solidly in our favor. I say all that to say, we can make our case without going negative.

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J.P.: You’re the mayor of Tuscaloosa. What don’t people understand about the gig of mayor? I mean, from afar it seems like we get it—work on enforcing local laws, keeping the city safe, etc. But what are we missing?

W.M.: In Tuscaloosa, the mayor is the Chief Executive Officer of the city, and the majority of what I do each day is not sexy. Yet, beyond the day-to-day administrative duties of overseeing the 11 departments of the city, since I have veto power, I have a unique opportunity to engage in policy making with the council. For me, it is a great opportunity because our standard of excellence is to be the most innovative and effectively managed city in the United States. Bottom-line: It should always be about results and not rhetoric!

J.P.: What’s the hardest decision you’ve ever had to make in politics? And how did you go about making it?

W.M.: The strategic pathway to recovery after the April 27, 2011 tornado was by far the most difficult-but-necessary decision thus far in my tenure. The 12.5 percent of the city destroyed had nearly $1 billion in unmet needs, including $700 million in water, sewer, road and storm water replacements or improvements. As a community, we decided to take the long view and after numerous town hall meetings involving thousands, we developed the Tuscaloosa Forward Plan.

After the first year, especially from conservative think tanks, we took a great deal of criticism; however, seven years later the results speak for themselves. It wasn’t easy, and each day we learned something new or had to confront unseen challenges. The good news is that I have been re-elected two times since April 27, 2011, which indicates to me that the people I work for appreciated our honest and transparent efforts.

J.P.: Alabama has had substandard education numbers for many moons. You’ve made this one of your big issues—but, truly, how much can things improve? Teachers are underpaid, your largely Republican state hates spending money, on and on. Are there actually steps to be taken?

W.M.: Below is a link which will take you to all four components of my education platform. We can invest $300 million without raising taxes. Check it out and I will be happy to answer specifics …

Alabama Education Lottery: The Foundation Program Promise

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

W.M.: Greatest: Our response and recovery to the April 27, 2011 tornado.

Lowest: The night of the Coppertop shootings in downtown Tuscaloosa in 2012.

J.P.: What do we do about climate change? I mean, people seem so insanely focused on what’s five feet in front of them. So how do we get people to set aside the immediate issues and deal with a horrible trauma looming over us? In short, how do we get action?

W.M.: I believe moving from the equation of who is to blame and transition to talking about achievable solutions is how we guarantee action. Climate change is real, but those who want to prohibit real solutions divert the attention with the blame game.

J.P.: Weird one—but I’m terrified of death. Not dying, per se. But being dead. Not existing. Nothingness. I just hate the very idea of it, but I also don’t believe in any sort of afterlife. I dunno, this thing just hangs there, waiting. How much thought do you give to this? How much does it/does it not bother you?

W.M.: My faith removes my worry and teaches me there is an afterlife so I do my best to follow the guidance of St. Francis of Assisi who said, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” Please note that I fall short each and every day of my life which is why I am glad that God’s grace is abundant. I also believe, and this is my own theology, that God gives you two great gifts. The first is the gift of free will and the second is the gift of learning. For me, I want to maximize this gifts while I am here on earth and what is on the other side will take care of itself.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH WALT MADDOX:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Walt Williams, Walt Michaels, Tommy Maddox, Walt Whitman, Maddox Chivan Jolie-Pitt, Menudo, Walt Disney, USS Maddox, Walter Mondale: 1. Walt Disney (He is really first and last. He is first because of the memories and experiences with all things Disney. He is last because he has cost me thousands upon thousands creating those memories with my children); 2. Walter Mondale; 3. Tommy Maddox; 4. USS Maddox (it may have helped to start the Vietnam War, but …); 5. Walt Williams; 6. Walt Michaels (J-E-T-S, Jets! Jets! Jets!); 7. Walt Whitman; 8. Maddox Chivan Jolie-Pitt.

• One question you would ask Malik Rose were he here right now?: Why are my Atlanta Hawks so bad, always?

• Five all-time favorite movies?: A Few Good Men, Bourne Supremacy, Rogue One, Empire Strikes Back, Red Dawn (original)

• Who wins in a dance off between you and Mike Pence?: I would destroy Mike Pence!

• How do you decide what tie to wear in photos?: There is no strategy. If there needs to be, then Steph lets me know.

• You have a daughter, Taylor, who appears to be just about the age where everything in the world involving people our age might embarrass her. So how is she handling life as a politician’s child?: Taylor is amazing. She doesn’t remember a time when I wasn’t mayor so she has grown accustomed to the “political life.” Also, she has developed a true social conscience which I think is wonderful. She understands our moral obligation to serve others.

• Three memories from your first-ever date?: 1. I had a mullet. 2. I drove an El Camino. 3. Knowing the first two, I don’t know how I managed to have a beautiful girl go out with me.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: No. (thanks for jinxing me with this question)

• What are the keys to making great soup?: Buying it from a restaurant you trust!

• How did you meet your wife?: She was communications director with Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports, and so I fortunately got to interact with her on a routine basis.

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Jamie Altman

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I have now been an adjunct journalism professor for the past, oh, seven or eight years, spreading (non) knowledge and (non) inspiration to young minds at Manhattanville College, SUNY Purchase and, of late, Chapman University out here in Southern California.

The gigs tend to be mixed bags of (mostly) joy and (a dash or two of) frustration. I absolutely love talking journalism. I love passionate dialogue. I love amazing guest speakers. I love when a student enters the classroom lacking confidence, then months later departs with an A paper and a zeal for the written word. And, sure, there are potholes—iPhone addicts; no-shows; arguers. But, mostly, I don’t walk toward my class. I run.

I digress.

In all of my years as a teacher, few students have brought greater satisfaction than Jamie Altman, a soon-to-be Chapman graduate and outgoing editor of The Panther, the school’s student newspaper. Jamie was everything you’d want in a pupil—inquisitive, dogged, naturally talented. She took this stuff very seriously, and would work a story and work a story until she felt as if it were just right. Even in my sports journalism course (a subject she, admittedly, knows little about), Jamie stood out.

This past semester, I served as a quasi-adviser to The Panther, and—for my money—the newspaper was one of the best in the nation. The coverage of the Koch Foundation alone was award-worthy, times 1,000.

Hence, it with a mix of pride and sadness that I invite Jamie to be the 360th Quaz Q&A. You can follow her on Twitter here, and please wish her well as she flies off to San Francisco to live with her aunt and work in public relations.

Jamie Altman—you’ll be missed …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, so Jamie, you graduate from college in a few days—and, then, the real world. And I wonder how you feel about this, because we live in this uncertain age—politically, socially, environmentally, on and on. And I could see it being sorta ominous and scary. So … where you at?

JAMIE ALTMAN: I grew up watching “A League of Their Own” every year with my softball team (back when a certain “you look like a little penis with a hat on” remark flew right over my head). Lots of life lessons in that movie, but this is the big one: “It’s supposed to be hard. The hard is what makes it great.”

Another anecdote: My dad and I used to be roller coaster junkies. The bigger, faster, scarier the better. We used to wait in these long lines at Six Flags for 90-degree drops, ridiculous velocity, corkscrews—you name it. I’d always bounce around and get butterflies in my stomach and look anxiously up at my dad, a professional public speaker who thrives in nerve-wracking settings. “It’s OK to be nervous,” he would say. “It means it’s important.”

That’s a long way of saying that I’m scared as hell. You only get one shot at this, and odds are it won’t go the way you want it to. I got lucky, and I landed my first-choice job in my favorite city and I’m living with my aunt, who is my best friend. But even so, I’m a mess. I’m breaking out, I’ve got dandruff, my hair falls out in the shower. As excited as I am, my life is drastically changing, and that freaks me out. But it means it’s important, and it’s especially important today, with all that crap going on that you mentioned before. It’s easy to get down and feel frustrated and helpless when we lose net neutrality, or DACA gets repealed—or whatever. Sometimes I can’t even read the news because it depresses me too much. But when something makes you anxious or scared, it means it’s important. Life is supposed to be hard—it’s what makes it great.

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J.P.: You’re a journalism student and editor of the campus newspaper. But you’re not going into journalism. Um, what the fuck?

J.A.: Saw this one coming as soon as you asked if I wanted to do this. I guess the simplest way to answer this question is that I lost my passion for it.

I tell people that I had wanted to do journalism since the womb. I wrote a letter to my principal in fifth grade asking if there could be a school newspaper and if I could be editor-in-chief. I sent out a monthly “Altmanac” to my family members, writing articles about my family and school. I created my own student paper in middle school, took journalism every year of high school, became editor-in-chief, went to summer journalism camp, got a journalism scholarship to Chapman, and, well, you know what’s happened here.

I studied abroad in Paris during my sophomore year, knowing that the summer before junior year was the summerfor internships. But email after email, I got rejection letters. I started stalking the people who did get these internships—what did they have that I didn’t?—and I realized that they just wanted it more. I didn’t want internships that started at midnight and ended at 6 a.m. I didn’t want to move out to the middle of nowhere. I didn’t want to just freelance. What I did want was to live in San Francisco, work semi-normal hours, make enough money to travel, shop and eat out, and have a family. I don’t love journalism enough to sacrifice any of that.

Journalism is harder than ever these days, and that’s what makes it great (according to Tom Hanks). But you have to really want it. And I only kind of wanted it.

PS: My parents had a similar reaction when I told them two years ago (after they’d had a couple margaritas) that I didn’t want to pursue journalism anymore: “What the fuck?!”

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J.P.: The big story for you and yours this year was Chapman accepting money from the Koch Foundation. The school says it won’t be impacted by outside forces. You’ve covered this at length. Now, as you leave, what’s your take? Is Chapman wrong? Is Chapman right? Are there unclear factors?

J.A.: Ralph Wilson, a co-founder of UnKoch My Campus, told us that The Panther’s ability to view Chapman’s donor agreement with the Charles Koch Foundation is the most progress he’s ever seen at a private university. Coming from someone who has essentially devoted his recent post-grad life to studying these donations in higher education, that’s big. And it should be recognized that we even got the opportunity to view the documents.

My problem with Chapman’s acceptance of the donations doesn’t even really come from what’s in those donor agreements—t’s more about the universal issue. Seemingly every week, there’s a new Koch-related problem at a university. George Mason. Florida State. Wake Forest. Arizona State. Whitman College. University of Kansas. Montana State. The list goes on.

It’s impossible to ignore what’s going on at these other universities, and doing so is not only irresponsible—it’s dangerous. We wrote about this in our latest editorial, ‘Where there’s Koch, there’s fire.’ On a smaller scale, it’s like saying, ‘That friend has never stabbed me in the back, and I know for a fact that she won’t, even though she’s stabbed every single one of my friends in the back.’ It just doesn’t compute.

J.P.: This is gonna sound weird, but I remember being your age and thinking, “Jesus, 45 … 46—that’s old.” And now I’m 46, and I sit there advising the student paper, and I forget that there’s this 20-year gap. But I’m guessing, from your end, I must seem super ancient. So I was wondering—do I? And, on a larger scale, what does getting older look like to you? Is it scary? No biggie?

J.A.: You’re not ancient at all—I mean, you’re 13 years younger than my parents, who still seem young in a way to me. We laugh a lot in the newsroom about you being a ‘dad’ not because you’re old but because you make dumb dad jokes, use an absolutely ridiculous photo editing app and talk about how things were ‘back in the day.’ But it’s all ENDEARING, not ancient. It’s actually seen as cool in college—there’s this one frat house at Chapman called the ‘dad house,’ and they did this whole photoshoot posing in front of a grill with skewers. It was odd. College is weird.

But you actually remind me a lot of my dad, who is a teenage boy at heart and pretty popular among my friends (with two daughters and two sisters, he likes to think of himself as ‘one of the girls,’ in the least creepy sense of the phrase). He got his first tennis racket for his Bar Mitzvah, and I kind of think he just stopped aging after that.

In terms of getting old, I worry less about becoming ancient and more about having regrets. For Christmas this year, my mom got me one of those inspirational life books about secrets for your 20s. The writer talks about this one night at a bar, when five people were invited to volunteer to perform air guitar onstage, and then a winner would be chosen to receive a free guitar. He wanted to so badly, but he was too scared, hesitated, and by the time he mustered up the courage, the five had already been chosen. And they all sucked. He knows he would’ve kicked ass and won that guitar. But he lost his chance. So I guess I’m more afraid of missing those air guitar moments because I’m too nervous to take risks. There’s only one opportunity to win that metaphorical guitar.

But old age doesn’t really worry me, not when I look at the quality of life my sweet 98-year-old Papa has. He plays bridge twice a week, attends music lessons, lunches every week with others in their 90s and takes walks every day. He has a martini every day at 5 p.m. Without fail. Fifty family and friends from around the country just flew to the Bay Area in February for a big party to celebrate his 98th. If that’s what getting old means, then I’m extremely down.

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J.P.: Did college live up to what you were hoping for? I mean, we were all high school seniors at one point, psyched and giddy for the next four years. Well, did you get what you anticipated? Was it worth it?

J.A.: I actually said, day one, “I do not want to become editor-in-chief.” I knew that, as an editor, you didn’t get to write as much, and writing was my passion. I thought that I would just write for The Panther every semester. Well, that clearly didn’t happen, as a I became an assistant editor second semester of freshman year and gradually started to accept my fate.

Socially, I actually thought that I would be way more involved in my sorority, which seems extremely ridiculous now looking back, a year after I dropped out of the chapter. Friendships and relationships were way too dependent on going out and partying, something I just really hated. I don’t regret joining though. My sister and I actually had a falling out right before I left for school freshman year, and then I joined the same sorority she was in. I really believe that my first semester in that sorority helped repair our relationship and bring us closer again. So everything happens for a reason. (That’s the only cliche thing I’ll say. I promise.)

And of course, the most unexpected thing—my mid-college crisis, as I lovingly call it now, when I realized I didn’t want to be a journalist anymore. I pretty much gave all my loved ones heart attacks that summer as I gradually told them the news.

 

J.P.: Do students care about student newspapers? I mean, back when I was at Delaware everyone picked up The Review. But you have grown up in a non-pick-up-the-paper age. Do you ever feel like you’re screaming into the wind?

J.A.: Yes, a lot of times, and it can be frustrating. But people care about things when it affects them or someone they know. For example, we just published a guest column from a graduating senior who wrote about his experience being sexually assaulted by his boss, and about how the school sided with his assailant. That blew up (it’s still blowing up) because it’s something that happened to someone who people care about.

One of the biggest arguments we’ve had in the newsroom was about whether to write our most recent editorial about the Koch donations. My managing editor Rebeccah and I were both heated about what President Daniele Struppa had said about not caring what happens at other universities. But others in the newsroom, who haven’t spent the last year reporting on and researching this topic, weren’t as passionate. “Chapman students don’t care about this as much as we do,” they said.

This sparked a whole ‘nother conversation about the role of a student newspaper. Do we only write things that students care about, or do we write things that students need to care about? I side more on the latter, and that’s how I’ve carried out my editorship.

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J.P.: Back to Koch—you’ve obviously spent a lot of time on these pieces, and that includes dealing with Daniele Struppa, the university president who solicited and received the funding. How has he been? What sort of reaction has he had to your work?

J.A.: To his credit, Struppa has always been a big proponent of our work. I’m sure there have been times when he wasn’t happy with an article or five (especially when we inevitably make a mistake), but he respects us as a newspaper and free press in general. That said, he was not happy with our article after we had viewed the donor agreement because of our quotes from Ralph Wilson, who I mentioned earlier. While we were intending to represent both sides fairly and get an expert source to analyze the main points of the donor agreement, Struppa thought we were trying to prove something that wasn’t there. I don’t necessarily agree with that, and I especially don’t agree with what he wrote in his guest column, that there had been unanimous agreement that there were no “strings” in the contracts. I wasn’t there, but I’d bet my first-born child that Rebeccah never said anything like that. There’s no way in hell that a journalist would make that kind of comment when looking at those documents. So that peeved me a little.

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

J.A.: When I was studying abroad for a semester in Paris, my best friend and I traveled to Switzerland one weekend. On a clear morning, we were the first ones to take a gondola up 7,000 feet to Mount Pilatus in Lucerne. For a good 15 minutes, we were the only ones on top of that mountain. We could see out for miles—the snow-covered mountains, the tiny town of Lucerne, the expansive lake. And it was dead silent. I still get chills thinking about it.

I don’t really have a lowest moment, just kind of a lowest period in my life, which was last semester during that transitional period at The Panther I mentioned before. I don’t need to go into much detail, but it wasn’t great. Lost 15 pounds, started seeing a therapist, cried in my driveway more times than I’d like to admit. I wouldn’t wish how I felt during those months on anyone.

J.P.: What do you see in the future for journalism? Are you grim? Upbeat? Neither? Both? And can you see ever again having the itch to be a reporter or editor?

J.A.: My response to this question is usually this: Journalism isn’t dying. It’s just print journalism. But people will always want the news. So in that sense, I’m not grim. Media outlets just have to keep up with the trends and the way people want to receivethe news, because that’s what’s changing. But people still care, and despite what our president says, most people still recognize the importance of that fourth estate. But local news? That’s going to shit. I don’t know what to say about that. It makes me sad. I don’t see much of a future there.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH JAMIE ALTMAN:

• What are your three random talents?: 1. Dance Dance Revolution (I’m extremely unathletic and uncoordinated); 2 Sudoku; 3. Egyptian War card game (I have insane slapping instincts)

Best advice you’ve ever received?: Can I list the best advice I’ve received from each of my family members? All impactful.

“The bad days make the good days seem all the better.” — Becky Altman, mother

“Everyone’s too wrapped up in worrying about what others think of them to actually notice your insecurities.” — Rick Altman, father

“Whenever you feel ugly, just wear lip gloss, blush and sunglasses.” — Jody Altman, aunt/best friend

“Stop being a bitch.” — Erica Altman, sister

• One question you would ask Tim McGraw were he here right now?:  What were you thinking in the first take of the first scene you filmed for the first movie you did?

• You told me you had a professor who took students to drink. Did I disappoint you by just bringing cookies to class?: Yes.

• Do you feel like my generation sorta fucked it all up?: No, I think my generation will sorta fuck it all up. We’re too lazy. Standards will fall. But I also lose hope for anyone who doesn’t know the difference between your/you’re, so in that case, I worry about all generations.

• If you were playing for the Mets in the 1986 NLCS, do you complain about Mike Scott scuffing? Or let it go?: Complain. I’m definitely the “let me speak to your manager” type.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): oregano, Pizza Press, Demi Lovato, “Saving Private Ryan,” eBay, Orange, Cal., antique stores, Childish Gambino, The Panther’s newsroom dog, old tires, Sam Darnold: Newsroom dog, Pizza Press, Childish Gambino, “Saving Private Ryan,” oregano, Demi Lovato, Orange, eBay, antique stores, Sam Darnold (sorry, had to look him up), old tires

• Celine Dion calls. She wants you to move into her house for a year and serve as her personal stenographer. You’ll be paid $50 million, but you have to shave your head, tattoo a picture of James Cameron across your back and legally change your name to Don Trump, Jr. You in?: No. I would rather die than become a professional transcriber. All the other stuff is irrelevant. Too dramatic?

• Three reasons to make Orange, Cal. one’s next vacation destination: 1. Sometimes cute dogs hang around the fountain in the Orange Plaza; 2. It’s 15 minutes from the beach; 3. There are two In-N-Outs. (Sorry, that was hard.)

• Can I borrow $8?: Sure, what’s your Venmo?

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Syren Rayna

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Anyone who visits this site (and, specifically, The Quaz) knows I have a Q&A thing for journalists, athletes, politicians and … sex workers.

Mostly Sex workers.

Is it because I’m a horny old man? Eh, not really. Is it because they’re overflowing with philosophical views on a world on the edge of crisis? Um, not exactly.

Truth be told, I dig Q&As with sex workers because they tend to be riveting people with out-of-this world back stories and a willingness to open up and explain (deeply) who they are and how they wound up in said profession.

Today, however, that’s not my motivation.

No, today’s guest is here because, well, I’m absolutely riveted by the rise of Stormy Daniels; the the way she emerged from fringe adult entertainer to this ubiquitous presence in our lives. There’s Stormy on 60 Minutes, on SNL, on CNN. She’s anywhere and everywhere and, as a result, her profession is regularly in the news.

Enter: Syren Rayna.

A trained hypnodomme with an apparently flourishing business, Rayna has opinions. Lots of opinions. On why people are so mean on Twitter. On why men send pictures of their penises. On Stormy’s emergence and Ichiro’s Hall of Fame chances.

One can follow Syren Rayna on Twitter here, and visit her website here.

With no delay, here is the 359th Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: How do you feel about all the exposure Stormy Daniels has been receiving? What I mean is, it’s the most exposure I can remember seeing for someone who works in the sex industry. Is that good for the profession? Bad? Is she a representative you’re comfortable with? Like?

SYREN RAYNA: I have only been following it a little bit but from what I saw I thought the way she handled the initial attacks was very impressive. She is well put together, intelligent, articulate, and classy. I am sure all of these traits as well as her being a stunner is what provided her the opportunity to show her fortitude and wit. But as we often see in this industry, as soon as the male’s ego is compromised attacks of some form on the female will usually ensue. I don’t think it has an impact on the profession one way or another really. Sex work as far as safety and how creative the workers need to be can be fragile but as an actual profession it is really hard to destroy. It has been around a very long time and as long as a desire for sex exists the profession will as well. It might take different forms but it will persist.

J.P.: So you identify yourself as a “trained hypnodomme.” But I’m not entirely sure what that means—or if others know what it means. So … what does it mean?

S.R.:  It means I spent many hours in a classroom learning how and why hypnosis works. It also represents the fact that I was unhappy with the amount of information presented to me because I was sure there had to be more (also, because I am a information junkie). I spent and extra 20 hours a week for about 6 months researching, reading, watching videos, listening to podcasts, and attending workshops and seminars to make hypnosis be as natural to be as breathing. You know how you don’t notice your breathing until someone says something about your breathing? Then suddenly you shift from unconscious breathing to conscious breathing. You just did. :) I want(ed) my skills to be that good. I am also nationally certified in hypnosis and certified in Neuro-Linguistic Programming. I am always learning.

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J.P.: I had a phone sex domme do this series a few years back, and when I asked her about erotic hypnosis she said—in unambiguous terms—it’s “a gimmick.” She said people enjoy it because they think it’s real. But that, truth be told, you can’t actually control someone via hypnosis. Especially from afar. You say?

S.R.: Ha!! I love this. Before I started this I talked to a phone sex Domme who told me “Hypnosis is easy … you just talk slow”. This is a big topic, so I will apologize now for the diatribe that is about to commence.

Hypnosis is very real. The way it works is often misunderstood. The idea is usually to remove the obstacles that is preventing a person from doing a thing they want to do. Woman wants to lose weight but won’t stop binging on treats at night. Ask her conscious mind why and she might tell you she doesn’t know she just craves it. Ask her subconscious mind why and you might find out that she is actually petrified of needing to deal with a ton of male advancements if she loses the weight that is keeping her safe. Well now you have a place to work. But that is not the arena we are working with.

Mind control using hypnosis is debated across the board. There are two schools of thought. The first being that the subconscious mind is built with safety features that keep you from doing anything that goes against your core beliefs. The second being that you can brainwash anyone into anything. I fall in the middle. There is proof that you can brainwash people into crazy things (look at cults), but the time and energy investment is more than most of us are willing to do.

So, in kink we meet in the middle. A client comes to me and says “I am into ______ and love to be brainwashed to do_______.” I, then, use actual hypnosis to play with the “want to do a certain thing”… even if that thing is to feel out of control. Sometimes the hypnosis is to plant a trigger like “become insanely aroused anytime you see the color red” or it can be used to to break down unwanted shame that we have around out kinks. It is a mix of role playing and legit hypnosis with me depending on the scene and the client.

I have seen very little of other girls work in this field because once you see it you can’t unsee it and I don’t want to impact my style; but I can tell you that just rubbing your tits and calling it hypnosis is probably more role playing than hypnosis (and technically the correct term for that is “fixation,” same as spirals). Furthermore, for the girls who are not trained and just do that….GREAT!! Because social conditioning and expectation plays a huge part in it all. So if their client thinks that works for them, it probably does. Keep doing it.

J.P.: We DMed briefly about the modern world of social media and sex work, and you mentioned the raw meanness of people. So how do you deal? React? Do you respond when people are rude? Cruel? Do you take it personally? Care at all?

S.R.: I am in the process of growing a very thick skin. Most of it I let roll off of me. Sometimes it bugs me because I have a strange need not to let people just get away with things and I can be a tad vindictive when I get angry. I am actively working on correcting this behavior in myself. I also have a support structure that is my lifeline and a total blessing to me. I have a small group of online Dommes who I am very close to. These girls are my family. We share a lot with each other. I have some of them on speed dial. Lol. We support and coach each other through the rough patches … and share sexy photos in the good patches (entendre intended). I am also lucky enough to be safe to be out to my partners and my family. If something hurts I have people who will, usually, tell me that it is not worth my energy. Lol.

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J.P.: You also said men send you penis pictures. I wrote a biography of Brett Favre, the famous quarterback who once dick shot and sent to a female reporter. I wonder—why do you think men do this? 

S.R.: If I had a quarter for every dick pic I have seen I could retire. LOL. This is another topic that branches out a bit. I think there is many things at play.

First, the anonymity of the internet. They don’t see the person as a person. It is a username and a screen. So, who cares? They will just get their kicks and the consent of the other party doesn’t matter to them.

Second, it is the exposure of it. They are attention whores and want to be seen and/or acknowledged. Even if it is to lash out at them for violating you. They are still getting the attention.

Lastly, it is a power trip. They are removing the person who is receiving the photos right to consent. Just like flashing someone in public. Because this has happened so much in many countries (USA, UK, and Canada I believe) it is now possible to file a police report with the information you have and if caught it is a crime punishable under the same measures as flashing as if they were to do it in person.

J.P.: You have a degree in graphic design. You’ve worked myriad jobs in myriad fields that don’t sound overly enrapturing (insurance, medical, transportation, user research). So—how did this happen? This gig?

S.R.: I got bored. Story of all of my gigs is I go from ground floor to running the show in a short period of time. I work very hard at everything I do but when it stops being a challenge or stops making me grow I get bored. So I was working too hard and too much and my partner said, “You would be good at hypnosis, you already are good at manipulation.” I had been interested in behavioral psychology for years and thought this would be a good way to explore that. I was also spending time with some Dommes and getting into the kink world more and more so it made sense to combine the two. Plus, it is much harder to get someone to pay you to make them stop eating their beloved ice cream if they are not a masochist.

 J.P.: There was recently a lengthy Washington Post story about financial domination, and how it’s exploded into a huge industry. But I don’t really get it. Why would someone send you money—for the right to send you money? What am I missing?

S.R.: Oh, the joys of kink. If it is not your kink it is so hard to understand. Financial submissives usually have a couple of driving factors that give them pleasure inside of that kink. Masochism plays a big part. They suffer and go without so that their Domme can have what she wants. They are rewarded by her happiness and they get off on their suffering. There is also a little edge play and fear play that comes in there. They don’t know if she will break them. Will they make bills? Will they have to live on Top Ramen for the rest of the month so she can have pretty things. The suffering is the joy.

Another aspect is more like worship. Think of the pretty girl in high school. The popular cheerleader. Now think of the geeky boy who wants to date her. She laughs at him. But, he is there and wanting so she says, “Buy my lunch” and he does. He gains a bit of attention from this girl who would otherwise be ignoring him. Now a pattern is established. Buy her things=get attention. And, if she knows anything about behavior modification she will randomize his rewards causing the addiction to her to grow.

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J.P.: It seems like much of your business (maybe most) is illusion. You’re selling the ideas of sexiness, of servitude, of lust, of domination. But I’ll take a stab and guess you go to the bathroom, stub your toe, burp and fart and snore. So do you have to “become” someone/something when you’re doing a session? Like, is there a temporary transformation that you go through?

S.R.: I rarely snore. It wakes me up if I do. Lol. I think some of us have to become something every day in any job. The CEO that is a needy, groveling, Syren addict is also not that at work (unless I am teasing him and making it hard to focus). I think the things I become in a session are all parts of me just with the volume turned up. The parts very from session to session.

I had someone once tell me I reminded him of the escorts (not sure if that was their occupation) in Star Trek. They would shift their personality to match the person they were with. Becoming the perfect compliment to that person. If they were with them for too long it would permanently imprint them with those traits. I chose to take that as a compliment.

Some of my guys are in love, some are in lust, some are under my spell and others are intrigued. I pride myself on my adaptation skills but it is all still me. I feed off them and their energy. This is why a good fit is more important to me than anything else.

At the end of the day I am a person, with a life and emotions, struggles, a stubbed toe, motion sickness, and all the other things that come with being human. Something that the online kink community struggles with, in my opinion, is thinking that a Domme or a sub can’t also be a human with needs or else it removes the magic. Here is the secret: the magic is in the relationship you create between each other. The connection. The Domme/sub part is the power exchange. It is the toy you both are sharing.

J.P.: Soup to nuts, how do you construct, compose and execute a recorded sessions? For example–your audio “Resist Me.” How long did it take to write? Where do you write? Where did the idea come from? Where do the word choices come from?

S.R.: Each track is different. If I am inspired I will grab my laptop sit on my bed and pound out a four-page script in about an hour. I research special language patterns I might want to use in that time too. Then If it is not too late I will try to record it right away. Since this usually takes place around 2 am I don’t always have the voice to record at that time. Other times if the track is something I struggle with it can take me weeks to write it. I have one in the back of my mind now that I have been sitting on for a month because I just don’t know how I want to approach it yet.

“Resist Me” was built from a pattern used for polarity responders (people who subconsciously do the opposite of what you say). Many people were saying how they like to put up a fight and be overpowered that I thought it would be possible to take a pattern for people who don’t do it purposefully and use it on people who want to resist. It has been wildly popular and is probably my very favorite track. It was, hands down, the easiest one to write and record as I felt like it really had a it’s own audience.

J.P.: Donald Trump is president, and it feels like our nation is turning to dogshit. I mean, outside of the strictly political, there’s so much anger. And it’s raw. Does this impact your gig at all? Like, does more stress=more customers? Does it ever come up in your job?

S.R.: Actually, the only thing I have seen is some fear with the latest sex trafficking bill that passed. People are afraid it will be misused, abused and will make me and other sex workers just go away. But other than expressing that I have not seen the state of our political environment have an impact on my client base.

Stress, by the way is just a conflict between the way things are and the way you think they should be. I can’t change the way things are so I am left with either staying in a state of stress or changing the way I think about it. I try to choose to be empowered whenever possible.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH SYREN RAYNA:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): French onion soup, winning, pantyhose, Mike Epps, Guns n Roses, Joe Niekro, cold brew coffee, a slice of warm apple pie, Roseanne, church: Cold brew coffee, winning, pantyhose (stockings are better), Mike Epps (“Gotta let that booty breath” – Fighting Temptations), French onion soupRoseanne, church, GnRwarm apple pieJoe Niekro (sorry Joe I am just not a sports fan, though I am sure you are lovely). [JEFF’S NOTE: He died in 2007]

• One question you would ask Jeanie Buss were she here right now?: What is the biggest challenge you have had to overcome and how did you manage it?

• Why “Syren Rayna”?: Siren because of the call of the sirens to the sailors. Their voices pulling them in. “Syren” because is a version of siren that I could easily use on all platforms and not worry about it being taken. Rayna is an alternate spelling of a name from a character in a book series that I love by Laurel K. Hamilton. She was a villain who was really well written and quite a horrible creature but her spirit ends up residing in the Protagonist of the story and is the catalyst to her becoming, basically, a succubus. (My dog is also named Nathaniel after a character in the book as well)

• Five things you hate about humanity: Its fragility, greed, that we are losing it to technology, when useless ego gets in the way, selfishness.

• Five things you love about humanity: Our compassion, our passion, our ability to express in artistic ways, our ability to feel and express emotions, and the entire concept of love.

• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between you and Nancy Wilson from Heart?: Ommph … probably me. I have this thing where I despise giving up so I tend to push well past my body’s limits and just pay for it later. I sparred for three hours one time because the trainer was trying to push me into fatigue. It never happened. But given a choice I would rather go drinking with her than boxing. Just saying.

• What’s the weirdest request you’ve ever had in your gig?: Weird is hard to define because I don’t like to kink shame. I would rather say that the humor in making someone cluck like a chicken (because that’s what hypnotists do, right?) and then having them become obsessed with it to the point of needing to cluck to orgasm was a unique one.

• What do your folks think of your gig?: My mom is pretty sure the world is out to kill me … but to be fair she feels that way about my trips to the grocery store. Aside from regular check ins where I have to let her know I am not dead she is fine with it. She keeps threatening to join me in this arena. She is a pretty intimidating person for many … she could have a lot of fun. My step-dad is fine with it. He had a couple of questions and a few jokes but it was not really a big thing one way or another to tell my family. I am out to my entire family about what I do and who I am. I refuse to hide or pretend.

• What are three things men generally don’t understand about women and sex?: That it is a mental game more than a physical game. That effort is 9/10ths of the law and when you take shortcuts or just try to get done you send very clear signals that sex with her is a chore (even if that is not your intention). That rejection is not always about you.

• Is Ichiro an automatic Hall of Famer in your eyes?: I don’t really follow baseball, sorry.

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Lisa Winston

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My all-time favorite sports writer is Lisa Winston.

Is Lisa the most talented scribe I’ve ever worked with? Probably not.

Is she the most successful scribe I’ve ever worked with? Also probably not.

Does she have more swag than Tom Verducci? More bylines than Tyler Kepner? More name recognition than Ken Rosenthal? More front-office contacts than Joel Sherman? More TV experience than Buster Olney?

No, no, no, no and no. But what Lisa, my longtime colleague and wonderfully regarded former Baseball Weekly scribe, leads the world in is goodness. She’s simply a nice person with tremendous talent who learned—early on—the power of relating with players. That’s why, during my time covering baseball at Sports Illustrated, Lisa served as both a friend and role model. And it’s also why her website, Who The Fuck Is This Guy?, is a must-stop spot for information on every person making his Major League debut in 2018.

One can follow Lisa on Twitter here. She’s both an absolute gem, and the 358th Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Lisa, we first met when you were writing for USA Today’s Baseball Weekly, mainly covering minor league baseball. And I wanna go big and broad here: What’s your absolute money story from the minors? The craziest, weirdest, scariest, oddest thing you ever experienced?

LISA WINSTON: It was 2005, my last full season at Baseball Weekly (I am going to refer to it as Baseball Weekly instead of Sports Weekly for sentiment’s sake!), and we were right in the midst of minor league All-Star season. I would usually go on the road to at least one or two Class A games, which were all held in late June, and then hit Double-A and/or Triple-A which coincided with the MLB game in July.

For a few years, the two “high-level Class A” leagues, Carolina and California, would play against each other, trading coasts. This year, I got “lucky” because the game was being played in Frederick, Md., literally a 20-minute drive from my house.

While the Triple-A game would be a multi-day bonanza with a home run derby and gala one night and the game itself the next, the Class A events crammed everything into one night.

I’d done a few interviews with players I wanted to write features on from both leagues, and we (players and some media) were clustered in front of the two dugouts to watch the pre-game home run derby. I’d done this for years and had never come even close to having a foul ball hit anywhere near me. But there I was, standing with a few folks right by the dugout on the first base side when Miguel Montero hit a screaming line drive foul ball down the line. I didn’t even have time to react or jump or duck before it hit me smack on the lower shinbone of my right leg.

You could hear the ooooooohs from the crowd and you could hear the crack it made hitting me before it just kind of trickled into the dugout where a photographer grabbed it and gave it to me as a souvenir, LOL. I didn’t even wince. (I believe there is a recording of the on-deck batter, Howie Kendrick, saying something like “Wow, she didn’t even go down!” I’m super-proud of that!)

To be honest, my leg went so numb it didn’t hurt (yet)  … I just gingerly walked into the dugout and sat down, where one of the trainers immediately put a huge ice pack on it … you could already see that there was a teeny tiny boo boo (I’d had childhood playground spills with worse results) and a huge goose egg on the shin.

Because I still wasn’t in pain (yet) and I lived so close, the trainer told me to get my ass in my car and get home while I could still drive, which I did (the only All-Star game I actually missed!) … When I got home, I took off the bandages, cleaned up the boo-boo, and rebandaged the leg.

I went to the doctor the next day who did some X-rays so make sure there was no fracture, and she put some antibiotic on the teeny tiny boo boo and put a light bandage on that, and then I kept it wrapped because the bruise was so bad, it was definitely tough to walk.

Important note here: A day or two before the incident, I had scraped myself on some rocks and the abrasion was kind of ugly so my doctor had put me on a two-week course of antibiotics to play it safe.

So over the course of the next 10 days-to-two weeks, my bruise was healing pretty well and the next round of All-Star games came up, with the Triple-A game being held in Sacramento. I think I finished my antibiotics the day before I left.

By the time I got to the gala the night before the game, I noticed that my lower leg and foot were really swollen but I thought it might be due to compression after a five-hour flight. A few players mentioned my leg looked like someone’s grandma’s leg. Funny stuff.

The next day, before heading out to the park, I finally decided to take a peek under the bandage at the “boo boo.” At this point I was maybe 24-to-48 hours off of antibiotics. I saw that the tiny boo boo was now about an inch or two in diameter and had turned … well, black. I didn’t think this was normal but I wasn’t totally freaked out (again, yet).

When I got out to the ballpark, though, just to be safe, I approached the Sacramento trainer and asked him if he’d be willing to take a look at my leg. He gave me one of these, “Oh, man, are you serious?” but agreed to look at it.

Basically the moment he saw my leg, in one movement, he had pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and was on the phone to the team doctor, saying “I’m sending someone over to you right now and you have to see her immediately.”

Turned out that I had necrotizing fasciitis (more commonly referred to as “flesh-eating disease”). The doctor put me on massive amounts of new antibiotics … he wanted to put me in the hospital right then and there but I begged him to let me see if it started to heal in 24 hours (thinking, stupidly, of how much it would cost for me to be hospitalized out of network and not knowing that what I had was potentially fatal) … It did start to heal almost immediately. But if I hadn’t shown the leg to the trainer and he hadn’t sent me to the doctor … well, I don’t think I’d be Quazing or if I was, it would be with one leg.

So in a nutshell, Miguel Montero almost killed me. But … a few years later I got him to autograph the baseball. This is the only time in my life as a working journalist that I asked a player for his autograph. I think I can be forgiven for that professional lapse in this situation, yes?

I guess that’s my money story.

First headshot, for a summer class at Circle in the Square, summer 1978

First headshot, for a summer class at Circle in the Square, summer 1978

J.P.: In 2002 you served as the ESPN2 dugout correspondent for the Triple A All-Star Game. Don’t hate me for this, but that sounds sorta simultaneously awful and amazing. What do you recall?

L.W.: This may fall under the “it sounded like a good idea at the time” category but my recollection of it is definitely more amazing than awful.

Just to give a little context, I was not then, nor did I ever claim (or even aspire) to be, an “on-air type.” I had been an occasional “talking head” when they needed someone to talk baseball on outlets like CNN and a now-defunct channel called “America’s Talking” or something along those lines.

Some of the AT folks migrated over to the not-yet-launched Fox News Channel (Don’t judge! I didn’t know!) and their original program lineup featured a three-hour live sports talk show that aired every Sunday morning from 6-to-9 am east coast. They recruited me to be the lead co-host and so I did that for several months in 1996 and 1997 (still working full-time at Baseball Weekly). I’d head up to New York every Saturday to go over the topics and guests, do the show Sunday morning, and be on my way back home Sunday afternoon.

I quit the job in the spring of 1997 for a variety of reasons, but the main one was it was just really negatively affecting my quality of life (I’ll give them credit, though … they would foot the bill for me to bring my then-6-year-old daughter with me every other weekend or I would never have taken it to start with).

But my stint there, I guess, is what put me on the radar for the few occasions that there was a need for someone who could talk minor league baseball on the air and if I recall correctly that’s why ESPN reached out to me for the Triple-A All-Star Game (which I covered every year as a writer anyway).

I always did all my homework on the players and was familiar enough with most of them to know their backstories, their quirks, their hobbies—I had a famous/infamous survey I’d send out to every minor league team each spring (with SASEs) and a reasonable percentage of players would send them back so I had a nice little collection of fun anecdotes.

The good part about that gig for them was that I gave them a few great ideas for fun personal-side clips they could shoot … for example, I knew that Michael Cuddyer did amazing card tricks, including one that no matter how many times I saw him do it (and I’d always ask him to keep showing me), I could not for the life of me spot how he did it. So they got him to do it in front of a bunch of the players and they all just fell out laughing in amazement. So that was maybe the best moment of the broadcast.

But I had not done this kind of live no-room-for-retakes work before and there were a few cringeworthy moments (let’s put it this way … I do have a tape of this somewhere but I have never had the stomach to watch it. I’ll save it for the grandkids). The crew had somehow not noticed that I am “fun-sized” and I think the first “live on air” interview they had me do was with a pitcher who was about 6-foot-6. They just stuck me out there with him holding a mic and we were on air … and I looked like the freaking Statue of Liberty holding up that mic. It just looked, I’m sure, really amateurish. After that, a production assistant carried around a milk crate for me to stand on.

I also have very weirdly-shaped inner ears and have never been able to wear in-ear buds—they actually had one pair custom-made for me at Fox—but they handed me some stock earpiece for this broadcast and I could not hear any of the cues so I did have a dreaded “Is this thing on?” moment live for all of America to see before one of the back-from-commercial in-dugout interviews. Fortunately, I’m guessing “all of America” watching were the families of the players who hadn’t been able to make it to Oklahoma City and my husband who was taping it from home.

Oh, also? It was July in Oklahoma City and on the field it was about eleventy-mazillion degrees. Of course, professional women broadcasters would tough it out with great hairspray and makeup and look awesome. I had no hair person, no makeup artist, and hated wearing makeup anyway … so IIRC I had my hair in a messy sweaty ponytail and maybe some lip gloss. I did not look like any of the on-air broadcasters you see these days.

So, of course, those are the only things I remember … the screw-ups. I was told later that it went really well. Maybe someday I’ll watch the tape and decide for myself.

Interviewing Bruce Aven at the 1997 Triple-A All-Star Game.

Interviewing Bruce Aven at the 1997 Triple-A All-Star Game.

J.P.: You attended the Major League Scouting Bureau Scout School, graduating in 2009. I literally have no idea what this is. Please explain …

L.W.: This actually still exists, though it is under new leadership and I’m not sure how the current iteration compares to the “good old days.” The MLSB is (or was) basically a group of veteran scouts who work for MLB rather than for a given organization, and their scouting reports can be accessed by any organization through a database. There is no bias, and everyone has access to the same reports.

“Scout school,” as we referred to it, was a two-week program where basically you’re taught all the ropes of scouting, from learning how to recognize pitches, batting stances, etc., to how to grade players to how to write a scouting report … it’s almost like learning a language because everyone needs to know the terminology. Everything is addressed, from proper etiquette to proper attire (I had no idea I wasn’t supposed to wear a tie-dyed dress when I went out to scout).

Each organization could send one or two students, either people they hoped to train to be scouts or individuals in other areas of their front office such as player development who would really benefit from the information.

They would also generally allow a few individuals who were not affiliated or sponsored by an organization … international scouting hopefuls, occasionally journalists, etc. I actually attended scout school twice, in fact. I went in 2002 to write an in-depth feature about it for Baseball Weekly. That time, there would be occasional programs that I could not participate in, and while I was an active student for most of it, I did not get graded (all of the participants get graded and ranked at the end).

In 2009, I had left MLB.com and was really interested in getting a job in a front office in scouting or player development, so the folks at the MLSB, who already knew me, were kind enough to allow me to return as a full-on participant “independently” without being sponsored by a team.

While I never saw the rankings my roommate did (she worked for a front office and every scouting department received the full rankings at the end of the session) and I’ll just say that she told me that I finished ranked pretty well. That said, I never did get a front office job. Sad face.

It was a fantastic experience both times, though. I really did make some “friends for life,” and it’s been a lot of fun to see some of my classmates land in some very prominent front office positions. Whenever we see each other, there’s something about having been “scout school classmates” that is a lot like being fraternity brothers (and yes, I can say that because I happened to be in a fraternity in college … not a sorority, but a fraternity, because when my college went co-ed the year before I started they told all the fraternities that the only way they could remain open is if they went co-ed. But that’s a question you didn’t ask!)

Portrait of a fledgling Minor League beat writer in Summer Woodbridge Virginia

Portrait of a fledgling Minor League beat writer in Summer Woodbridge Virginia

J.P.: OK, you’re not only a new Quaz—you’re actually married to Quaz alum. So you met Wayne when you worked as tour publicist for Skyy. Two questions: A. How, exactly, did you meet? B. What was it like being a tour publicist for a band?

L.W.: As for A, We “met cute,” I think. My first “real” job after college was working for a music PR firm in New York. I manned the front desk, handled all the incoming calls, typed up the press releases, did the receptionist/administrative stuff, and finally got my first “assignment” which was doing the “tour” PR for Skyy, an eight-person R&B band from Brooklyn that was pretty hot stuff at the time with their hit song “Call Me” (“… here’s my number and a dime, call me any time!”)

As “tour publicist,” I assisted the main publicist (an amazing woman named Jeffi who is a friend to this day) and handled sending out press releases, following up on them and trying to set up interviews and press coverage for all of the band’s shows all over America except in New York City or Los Angeles (those two cities were always handled by the main publicist). (This also pretty much answers B).

The band was playing Radio City Music Hall, opening for Kool and the Gang, and so there were some New York media gigs they set up for them, including appearing on a kids show on then-fledgling Nickelodeon called “Livewire.” The show filmed at the Ed Sullivan Theatre.

Although it was a New York gig, which meant I was not handling any of the press there, Jeffi thought it would be a good idea for me to actually meet the band members, so she brought me over to the theatre for the taping. I remember that it was April 6, Passover, and it was snowing.

I went up to the dressing room and was chatting with the band members who I recognized, and we were all eating New York deli sandwiches. There was one guy that I thought was their manager and I don’t remember how it happened but for some reason we both started singing all of “Springtime for Hitler” together (not just the chorus but right from the intro … “Germany was having trouble, what a sad, sad story …”)

It turned out he was their keyboard player (I can be forgiven for this lapse, because he had just replaced their original keyboard player and most of the photos I had of them were of the first guy, who was also a nice Jewish boy from New York).

I won’t get into the details of how/when we finally started dating/got married (which wasn’t for another two years) but that’s how we met.

Just to follow up on B, though … being a tour publicist could be fantastic when you had a band like Skyy, with several great, funny members who were wonderful about doing interviews and who had a fabulous road manager who was always reliable about accommodating what we needed.

It wasn’t as fantastic when you had a douchebag client whose bigger douchebag road manager had such a high opinion of himself and his client (who would go on to be a huge star) that even though said client was the opening act for a much bigger name, he actually got livid when said client was not greeted at some airport in South Dakota by all three major TV networks (do they even have all three major TV networks in South Dakota?) … and since one of my administrative jobs had been transcribing said client’s “information interview” and had to listen to his ranting obnoxious sexist racist redneck comments, I really didn’t want to deal with this manager calling me at home over a holiday weekend to tear me a new one (I still don’t know how he got my home number). I did, however, learn the term “dingleberry” and its meaning from the taped interview. Gross. The guy is a superstar now and has this whole “America’s homeland hero” image and all I can think of is his talking about feeling some girl up and finding a dingleberry.

With the great Paul Blair.

With the great Paul Blair.

J.P.: You once took a sports media summer class at Pace University with the legendary Bob Wolff. I, sadly, never met Bob—but he’s larger than larger than larger than life. What did you learn from the man? What impression did he make?

L.W.: I hate to admit that I was not as familiar with Bob Wolff when I took the class as I would become later. But I can say that, truly, I can thank him (and everyone else can blame him) for my career. He was an amazing teacher and communicator who so clearly really cared about every student. This sounds like a cliché but it’s true. His passion and enthusiasm every class just made you want to work harder, try harder, be what he thought you could be.

He was simply one of the kindest, nicest, most inspiring and most humble men I have ever met in the business. Just awesome. I am so lucky that, for whatever reason, he saw something in me that I definitely didn’t see and went to bat for me (no pun intended).

I was working in college administration at the time (at Manhattanville, in fact) and my weekly class was the highlight of my week … no matter how tired I was after work, I couldn’t wait to go to class! He brought in some great speakers from all walks of sports media (beat writers, broadcasters, etc.)

The culmination of the class was a sports talk show we produced together where every class member was either interviewed or did an interview with someone, and everyone got to shine. I was actually the anchor for it (this is another tape I need to rewatch someday … I generally hate seeing myself on tape but it would be a lot of fun 30 years later!)

At the end of the semester, he sat down with every student privately to talk about where he thought they could go in the business. The funny thing is that he really wanted me to pursue the broadcast side of the business, as an anchor or sportscaster and was willing to hook me up with his agent, etc., but honestly, it was 1986, I think, and I knew I didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to deal with being a “trailblazer” as a woman on that side of the business.

As it happened, he also had brought in one of the baseball editors from Westchester-Rockland newspapers for one of our assignments (doing stories on a Yankee game) and he had said he’d like to hire me there, so I ended up stringing high school football games for them that fall and then that winter went to work full time in the Northern bureau (how I got to know Mahopac!) for the next two years covering high school and local amateur sports, before spending a year down in the county bureau and then finally getting the job covering the Prince William Cannons and moving to Virginia.

Sometimes I do wonder how my life would have been different if I’d followed his original advice and pursued broadcasting but I’m happy with how things worked out overall in the long run.

With Ron Gant.

With Ron Gant.

J.P.: You started doing this right around the time when women were becoming a little more ubiquitous on the sports scene. So how did ballplayers react to you when you first started entering clubhouses? Did you have any awful experiences? Ever have anyone stand up for you? Etc.

L.W.: You’re right in terms of the timeline that when I started in the business, it was still kind of unusual for a woman to be covering baseball. But since I was covering the minor leagues for a good chunk of that time, I actually very rarely needed to deal with “clubhouse issues.”

For my first three years, when I covered the Prince William Cannons (the Yankees’ Class A club in the Carolina League), they actually had a “No reporters in the clubhouse” rule (I believe they may have instituted that rule before I got there because there was a beat writer that was, shall we say, not very popular but they couldn’t ban one person so they just made it a NO REPORTERS AT ALL rule and it stuck). The manager (there were three in my three different years) had an office at the very front of the clubhouse and we would go there (or I would go there, because often as not I was the only reporter covering the game) right after the game and talk to him there.

I would know which player I wanted to talk to, hop the gate onto the field immediately after the final out, and just grab (figuratively, not literally) the player and talk to him on the field or in the dugout right then and there. I was incredibly lucky that in three years covering the team, I NEVER had a problem with a single Cannons player and they were always cooperative. I made sure to get to know them all from the get-go, and meet new players as they joined the team, and I had a good reputation among the crew as being a fair, honest writer who didn’t stir shit but told their stories and knew my stuff. I knew which players didn’t really LIKE to talk, and which ones could always be counted on for a good quote.

Because I wrote for a local daily (well, six days a week), the Cannons PR people would apparently (I say this because I never saw it but was told) post my game stories and features above the urinals in the men’s room (I guess to give guys something to read while they peed). The minor league writer at newly-formed Baseball Weekly lived in Alexandria, and would come to lots of Cannons games just as a fan. When we met in the pressbox (I always sat in the stands but would go to the pressbox for notes or if it was raining), he said “Oh, I know who you are—I see your name on the men’s room walls all the time.”

Anyway, long story short (too late for that?), I wound up at Baseball Weekly about a month into the 1992 season and was there for 14 years, I guess? (Math class is hard, said Teen Barbie), becoming Minor League Editor in 1994 (the day the strike started).

Where am I going with this? Just to say that for the most part in the minors, the situation was very much like at Prince William … you hop the fence and interview the players you need to talk to after the game if it’s gamer quotes. For features, which is mostly what I did, I’d get to every game, wherever it might be (I traveled a lot), while they were still laying down the baselines and watering the grass … I’d be the first one in the dugout before they started trickling out for BP (in fact, there’s an educational video in a series that is about me and it’s called “First One At The Ballpark.”) It was comfortable and casual and hard to escape me, LOL.

The fact is, I am no more comfortable being the person who is dressed in a roomful of naked people than they are. I’m probably less comfortable because they’re used to it. But on the occasions that I did have to do the clubhouse thing (during my 2009 season doing back-up beat writer work for MLB.com), I’d always have a clipboard that I kept at a good level and I knew the color of every player’s eyes.

I’d say offhand I only had one unpleasant clubhouse experience, and while it was veiled (so, loud creepy gross comments that weren’t specifically directed AT me but obviously meant to be heard by me), the player I was actually there to interview was absolutely mortified and hugely apologetic (it was not his fault at all, and he’s one of the nicest players ever in the game so I almost felt worse for how mortified he was than I was offended by the jerky comments). Did that make any sense?

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J.P.: You worked for MLB.com for a few years. So, with your journalism background, I ask this: Can MLB.com and MLB Network reporters actually be journalists? What I mean is, can you freely cover your employer? Are the complications that can’t be avoided, looked past?

L.W.: This is a really interesting question and I’m not 100 percent sure of the answer. But if it helps, I think in this day and age of social media and electronic media and all sorts of self-started blogs and websites etc., there might actually be sort of a blurred line between “journalists” and “reporters.”

I think MLB.com and the Network have the luxury of being able to hire some of the best reporters and writers and broadcasters around. They pay well, the benefits are great, the exposure can’t be beat. Those are jobs that people would be crazy not to want.

I’m going to hazard a guess that their beat writers (who are, almost without exception, outstanding) have the most leeway to report the news accurately without bias because it’s essential they be seen and trusted as the most reliable source about their given teams.

I’m not as sure when it comes to the “on air personalities.”  I think they probably have a little more wiggle room in terms of “kicking a hot potato” elsewhere if they’re not comfortable telling it like it is.

I may be the wrong person to ask … my nickname was “Puff Mommy.” I hated writing about controversial topics, whereas other writers thrived on it. I hated writing negative stories, while others loved it. So maybe there are people who fit both roles within MLB and they know who to give what.

J.P.: I struggle with aging. You don’t seem to. I wonder why. I mean, you and I were both once hotshots. You’re 20-something, on the rise, ambitious and excited. Then, one day, you see wrinkles and your kids are bored by you. How do you handle this? How should I?

L.W.: I don’t even know how to answer this, but I’ll try.

For starters, I don’t think I was every really an ambitious 20-something, believe it or not, and I DEFINITELY never saw myself as a hotshot (if you saw me as that, thank you, I think). I kind of fell into doing something for a living that I really loved, and I hadn’t sought it out. It’s almost like it fell into my lap and I never took that for granted. Excited, yes. Always. But not really ambitious.

Part of me was always still a geeky 16-year-old inside and I often forgot I wasn’t still that geeky 16-year-old on the outside. I didn’t worry too much about “aging” per se because I always looked pretty young, and I always felt young. (Clairol helped, since I started going gray when I was 18, but the wrinkles have mostly stayed at bay).

I’ve ended up, for better or worse, kind of being forced to deal with the aging process unexpectedly due to some medical issues (which could be a lot worse, I know). They’ve hit me in an ironic way, affecting my one true “superpower” that went a long way toward making me … well, better at my job than I had any right to be. So I’ve come to terms with it and accepted it as “the new ab-normal” and pretty much gone into retirement.

I still write my longtime “debuts” column which is fun because I can enjoy seeing all these “kids” starting the next phase of their careers in the majors, something I’ve always loved. But I’m doing the column (which you can find at WhoTheFuckIsThisGuy.org) for fun and to give me something to do while I wait for Wayne to finally retire so we can move to California and I can play bingo and do arts and crafts and learn to line dance or something.

I think that last line is a good example of how I am actually embracing the aging process rather than resisting it. The only bad part is my short-term memory retention is so non-existent (the medical issue) that how on earth am I going to be able to learn how to play bridge and mah jongg?

So, I guess my advice would be to not worry about your kids finding you boring (I can’t imagine you boring, anyway), but to pick a few things that you consider to be “old people-ish” and try them out and you may find they’re really a lot of fun and that being “old” is just the new “young.” No worries, no pressures, no deadlines. Now hand over the glitter glue and no one gets hurt.

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At the finish line of the Avon Walk

J.P.: What’s your take on the PED Era? Do you put Bonds and Clemens in the Hall? Sosa? McGwire? Is there a line? A rule that we should abide by?

L.W.: Oooooh. Welcome to My Unpopular Opinion. I abide by the “we may know who DID in some cases but we’ll never know for sure who DIDN’T” line of thinking. I don’t know how many people were juicing or whatever during that era, but I’m guessing that the percentage was reasonably higher than just a handful.

Bonds and Clemens tend to be the “poster boys” partly, I think, because a lot of people think of them as dickheads. But I wouldn’t be surprised if other players who have “better reputations,” who put up big numbers, hold big records, etc., may also have had a little “help” but you don’t hear them mentioned … they weren’t tested or whatever.

So my feeling is that with that in mind, I’d still have to hold the career numbers up against their contemporaries and go by that. Bonds and Clemens, yes. McGwire, no (one-trick power pony). Sosa borderline.

I’d be much more in mind to revisit people who were inducted when they weren’t playing against their true contemporaries (say, pre-1947) and question whether THEIR credentials make them Hall-worthy.

J.P.: OK, from 1989-to-1991 you were the beat writer at the Potomac News for the Class A Prince William Cannons. I can’t even imagine what that was like. Exciting? Boring? Both? What do you recall? What did you learn?

L.W.: So, I know I’ve already referenced my time covering the Cannons several times in above answers. I will say that was one of the greatest three years of my life. It was so much fun. Never boring. Often exciting (their winning the 1989 Carolina League championship as the Cinderella team to the big bad Durham Bulls). I loved being able to follow a team and its individual players from spring training through the end of the season. I was incredibly lucky that, no joke, in three seasons I worked with amazingly nice, fun, cooperative players, managers and coaches as well as a great front office.

In 1990, my second season, I found out I was pregnant during spring training. I had a few “returning players” from 1989 and wasn’t going to say anything until I got a little further into the season, but one of them noticed that I had gained some weight and actually figured out I was pregnant so there went that “secret.” The guys were amazing about it … they’d always bring me cups of water or cold wet towels when it was hot. Several of them had wives who were also pregnant that summer so we’d talk a lot about raising kids, etc. They were very solicitous.

My due date was in mid-October but after they got back from every road trip, Brad Ausmus would look me over and say “you’re definitely having that baby before October.” And she was born September 18. I joked with him for a while that if the baseball thing didn’t work out for him, he should consider a career in obstetrics.

Also, these were the days when I worked for a newspaper that was actually printed ONLY on paper with ink. There was an 11 p.m. deadline every night. If we didn’t make deadline, it went in the next day’s paper. There was no 24-hour cycle. And I had no competition. So I could just be the best possible beat writer I could be … AND I could have a real life, which I think is a very rare thing for a baseball writer in this day and age.

Plus I had great bosses who gave me tons of room above the fold. I don’t think there has ever been or will ever be a daily paper that gave that kind of space to a Class A team. I expanded the beat to not only include gamers every day but columns, stats and other features. When the team was on the road, because I couldn’t hear the radio broadcasts from my house (the station broadcast on two tin cans and a piece of string), I’d actually set up a folding chair and picnic basket in my newspaper office’s parking lot and listen to the game there (nearer the station so we picked it up) with a scorebook and a pad.

I’ve had a lot of great jobs, and while my “best” job was being the minor league editor at Baseball Weekly, if I could go BACK to one job now, it would be this one (but with the caveat of the 11 p.m. deadline, no 24-hour news cycle, etc.).

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH LISA WINSTON:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): baby-cut carrots, Nick Van Exel, Frank Seminara, Taco Bell’s new $5 cravings meal, Carole King, green T-shirts, peeling an orange, Amherst Magazine, the slider: Frank Seminara (along with being one of “my” Cannons in both 1989 and 1990, he is also our investment banker/financial advisor so how can I not rank him at the top of this list?); Amherst Magazine because along with being a big proponent of my alma mater, they also published my first non-essay piece of journalism, a feature on fellow alum (and great person), the late John Cerutti; Carole King, because my mom was her biggest fan to the point that the organist at her funeral played the entire score of “Tapestry.” You have not lived until you’ve heard “Smackwater Jack” played as a dirge at Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home; I LOVE SLIDERS. Who wouldn’t love yummy little greasy burgers with cheese and onions? I might even like them more than Carole King but I want to honor my mommy; Baby-cut carrots are excellent when I’m dieting but want something crunchy and sweet; I think I would love Taco Bell’s $5 cravings meal if I ever allowed myself to go to Taco Bell but I don’t so I don’t; I look like shit in green so green T-shirts are near the bottom; I DO NOT like peeling an orange. The pulp gets stuck in my thumbnail. I do, however, love peeling tangerines but they’re not the same thing; I am asterisking Nick Van Exel because I vaguely remember liking him when he played but I can’t really recall so I don’t want to rank him unfairly low. He’s sort of showing up in my “Error 404: File Not Found” part of my brain.

• The world needs to know: What did Barry Zito’s hat smell like?: I have never met Barry Zito, much less smelled his hat but I would imagine a cross of sweat, hair product and patchouli.

• Three memories from the Triple A World SeriesI am going to share just one memory of the TAWS because it’s such an awesome memory it deserves to stand alone. In 2000, someone in the TAWS department had the brilliant idea of having a noon game in Vegas … in the middle of September. In Vegas. Did I mention noon in Vegas in September? It was, approximately, eleventy-mazillion degrees. I was at the game with my daughter, who was celebrating her 10th birthday, and my husband. They were smart and sitting in the shade. I, however, was with the only other reporter at the TAWS, this cool kinda quirky guy who was, if memory serves me, wearing a maroon beret.

He knew the game was being televised, so he got on his cell phone with his dad back in New York (I think it was New York but you, I mean he, can correct me if I’m wrong) and went down to the very first row behind home plate (there were like maybe 10 people at this game) and started waving his hands and asking his dad “Can you see me now? Can you see my hand? How about now?” PS Did your dad ever see us?

Oh, okay. One more TAWS memory, though again it has nothing to do with the game itself. During the 1998 TAWS, the host hotel was Caesar’s Palace. At night, most of the players would be off enjoying the Vegas nightlife but there was a little open-area bar where I’d end up every night with then-Buffalo Bisons beat writer Mike Harrington (one of my best friends in the world to this day) and Buffalo veteran and all-around great person Jeff Manto drinking strawberry margaritas and just talking baseball for hours. If you ever want the best person to talk baseball for hours with, it’s Jeff Manto. He deserves his very own Hall of Fame.

• Four things we need to know about your house: 1. It is the ONLY single-family house I have ever lived in or ever will live in (five apartments and two townhouses, not including dorm rooms). Once we move to California, it will be rental apartments from there on out. Hubby doesn’t ever want to be a homeowner again; 2. I fell in love with this house the first time we saw it, the last day it was on the market, and the sellers sold it to us over two other equal bidders because they knew I TRULY loved it and wanted it to go to someone who would appreciate it (plus, their son was my husband’s piano protégé); 3. We have the biggest yard in the town and it’s super-garden friendly because it’s totally flat and gets sun and shade, but hubby and I are both city kids and don’t know from gardening beyond trying to grow sunflowers in coffee cans on our windowsills. That said, we have awesome lilacs; 4. The house looks quite small from the outside but is surprisingly spacious inside and manages somehow to stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter. What more can you ask for?

• Who are your five all-time favorite Menudo members?: The little one. The big one. The other one. The one who joined that other group. Okay, I give up. I can’t even name a Menudo song.

• One question you would ask Othella Harrington were he here right now?: Who are you and why are you here right now?

• What are the keys to the perfect gas station bathroom?: On that wooden paddle next to the guy in the bulletproof booth with the gum display. Oh, WHAT? I thought you asked WHERE. No pee on the floor. Toilet paper that is not ON THE FLOOR getting stuck to my shoe. Running water a plus, ditto paper towels.

• Do you think the Rockets made a mistake trading Ralph Sampson?: The Rockets traded Ralph Sampson??? How did I miss this?

• Three athletes who were complete dicks to you: Josh Beckett (he literally hadn’t even played his first pro game yet and he was already being a dick). David Segui (see answer about awful experiences). Raul Mondesi, Sr. (I would say the latter was more of a jerk than a full-on dick, but he deliberately wasted my time which was a shame because I had a very cool package that he would have been a great addition to … his son seems like a cool kid though.)

• What happens when we die?: I get to hug my mommy again. Do not tell me if this is the wrong answer.

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Ken Shetter

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I grew up in a small town knowing I’d inevitably leave my small town.

Why? Because I wanted to see what was out there. I wanted to roam, explore, check out new places and meet new people and experience life away from the comfortable-yet-suffocating boundaries that surround my place of origin.

So here I am in Southern California, a mere 3,000 miles away from Mahopac, N.Y.

Ken Shetter is not me. Or, perhaps, you. He’s the mayor of Burleson, Texas, a Fort Worth suburb of 40,000 residents and the place where he was born and raised. Why has he stayed? Love. For the people. For the land. For the potential. And why is he the city’s mayor? All the same reasons.

Today, Ken talks job experiences and life experiences; why he would be a better president than Donald Trump and why—as the governor of Texas—he will one day mandate the Houston Texas become the Houston Oilers.

One can follow the mayor on Twitter here and Facebook here.

All hail the chief. He’s the 357th Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Ken, you are the mayor of Burleson, Texas, a suburb of Fort Worth with a population around 40,000. And I wanna start with a weird one—at this moment we have a man with no political experience in the White House. Which has people thinking, “Who’s next?” Oprah? Mark Cuban? The Rock? So, Ken, does a small-city mayor have the experience to jump to the presidency? Can that argument be made?

KEN SHETTER: The argument can certainly be made that many small city mayors are at least as well suited as those you listed (including the current occupant of the White House) to run for president. In fact, one of the things about being a local elected official is you have to learn to be accountable to those you serve very quickly. It is not unusual to encounter a constituent with a concern, complaint or suggestion in the grocery store or at one of my kids’ school events. That kind of personal accountability, if one takes it seriously, is an important element of the experience gained from serving as a mayor. In addition, local elected officials have experience making decisions that impact people’s everyday lives to a greater extent than officials at any other level. Think about it—we are responsible for making sure you have clean running water, that your toilet flushes, that your trash gets picked up, that you have a decent neighborhood to live in, that your kids have good parks to play in and that you are physically safe. Those are some of the most important functions of government at any level. Of course, the lack of national name identification makes such a leap unlikely, from a political perspective.

J.P.: You’re in Texas and you’re a Republican. Yet, judging from social media, you don’t seem to be hard- hard- hard-core far right or a Trump backer. Sooooo … how does that play? What I mean is, you’re in a state that’s run deep red for many moons. How have you succeeded with a divergent world social view?

K.S.: Actually, it’s worse than you thought—I’m not even a Republican (gasp!!!). In my official capacity, I am nonpartisan. Our city charter requires us to run and govern as nonpartisans. While it’s no secret that I lean center-left (some would say just left), I work well with folks of all political stripes and certainly promote a number of policies that some would associate with conservatism. I have promoted strong accountability and transparency practices, been fiscally responsible and prioritize strong public safety.

I think I’ve been successful in my campaigns for two reasons. First, the city has thrived during the time that I’ve been mayor. We have doubled in size, our economy has been remarkably strong, and we’ve focused on quality of life. Second, when you govern in a nonpartisan context, you have the luxury of just arguing the merits of an idea or a platform, without getting bogged down in partisan BS. In fact, when some have tried to introduce that as part of the conversation or debate, I think it has generally backfired—turns out people like nonpartisan government. Also, it doesn’t hurt that I’m a hometown boy—it’s harder to despise someone you’ve known since they were in diapers.

Delivering Meals on Wheels with son Alister.

Delivering Meals on Wheels with good ol’ Alister.

J.P.: What is the day-to-day life like for the mayor of Burleson? Soup to nuts? What are you doing? How many meetings are you attending? What are the main issues you need to address?

K.S.: Because I have a full-time job in addition to being mayor, most days are a mix of mayor and day job duties. We have official council meetings every two weeks on Monday nights. Most weeks I will have a few other city-related meetings and often speak to civic or student groups. Of course, every day involves phone calls and emails from city staff members and citizens. I know my day is about to get more complicated if I get a call from a staff member that begins, “Mayor, there’s something I need to make you aware of …” There really isn’t a typical day or week, but I would estimate that spend, on average, between ten and twenty hours per week on city business.

The main issue I deal with is management of our population growth, which implicates public safety resources, public works and transportation infrastructure and development policies.

Currently, the development of a public plaza in our Old Town district and the expansion of higher education opportunities are particular areas of focus for me.

J.P.: How did this actually happen for you? I mean, I know you attended Baylor. I know you have a law degree. I know you’re in your mid-40s. But when did you know politics were for you? When did the lightbulb go off?

K.S.: I am one of those weirdos who was interested in politics and public policy from the time I was a small kid. In fact, even when I was nine or ten I would get in knock-down-drag-out political arguments with family members. My goal was always a career in public service. When I was in my twenties a seat opened up on the city council and I threw my name in the hat. I intended city council service to be a stepping stone to higher office. Funny thing happened—I found serving in city government to be far more rewarding and consequential than I expected. Any time I’ve thought about running for another office, I always felt like there was more important work left to do as mayor.

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J.P.: You also serve as the president of One Safe Place, a non-profit that focuses on preventing crime and violence. Well, how do we prevent crime and violence? It seems rather impossible, considering the amount we have in this nation … every … single … day.

K.S.: It would be impossible to eradicate crime and violence, but that doesn’t mean we should throw up our hands—there is a lot of good we can do for a lot of people! At One Safe Place we have several different programs (including Crime Stoppers and a DOJ federal grant program called Project Safe Neighborhoods), but for our discussion, I’ll focus on our family justice center. We serve victims of domestic violence and children who live in violent homes. The idea of a family justice center is to bring all the services a victim needs together in one place, and to integrate those services so they are more effective for the victim. There are twenty-two different partner agencies working together through One Safe Place. We prioritize domestic violence because it makes up a significant percentage of all the violent crime committed, because perpetrators of domestic violence pose a danger to the community at-large and because most of our violent criminals grew up in homes where there was violence.

To drill down a bit more, we are particularly interested in strangulation as part of domestic abuse. A significant percentage of domestic violence victims suffer non-fatal or near-fatal strangulation and that has lots of ramifications. First, there are often long-term medical consequences that aren’t immediately evident to the victim, and second, victims who have been strangled are 700% more likely to ultimately be killed. It also turns that intimate partner strangulation is a warning sign for violent behavior outside the home. For instance, there are multiple studies which have found a majority of cop killers have a documented history of intimate partner strangulation.

Sometimes my work at One Safe Place and as mayor intertwine—I’m proud to say the City of Burleson was recently the first city in the US to adopt an ordinance creating a strangulation protocol for first responders. Among other things, the ordinance requires an emergency medical response anytime strangulation is alleged or suspected.

Finally, I can’t talk about One Safe Place without mentioning Camp Hope Texas. We do a week-long outdoor adventure camp for kids exposed to violence. In addition to traditional camp activities, we have a special curriculum designed to increase our campers’ level of hopefulness, which is the key to creating more resilient kids who can overcome the traditional cycle of violence.

J.P.: I just came upon a story from 2015, headlined BURLESON MAYOR’S PRO-SAME-SEX MARRIAGE POST DRAWS MIXED REACTIONS. It was about you posted a congratulatory message to LGBT friends on Facebook—and the backlash that followed. And I wonder, did you at all see that coming? Did you debate the initial messge? And how have you seen the views of people morph on gay rights during your time in office? If at all …

K.S.: The initial post was a simple congratulatory message to LGBTQ friends, with an expression of hope for LGBTQ youth that this was one more indication they were fully loved and accepted. A citizen challenged me to justify my statement as mayor, considering what the bible has to say about homosexuality. What actually got all the attention was my response to that citizen (which you can read here). I certainly expected that the post could get a lot of negative reaction. While a few responses were downright hateful, most were very positive. In fact, the large number of positive responses served to provide further affirmation to the LGBTQ community. I even got a few responses from citizens who said for the first time they felt accepted in their own community, and they had thought that would never happen for them. It was a great lesson for me—NEVER miss an opportunity to let people know they are loved and they belong in our community.

I certainly have seen the views of people morph on gay rights during my time in office. I don’t think there’s any way the post I wrote in 2015 would have received so many positive responses if it had been written in 2003.

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Meeting with first grade students at Irene Clinkscale Elementary.

J.P.: Your last election was May 2017, and you beat two challengers—Katherine Reading and John Garrison. I wonder, how do you move past an election? What I mean is, the months leading up are filled with criticisms of your performance, your stances. Then this vote happens, and it all ends. So … can you let any bad feelings go? Can you run into Katherine or John at, say, CVS and have a buddy-buddy convo? Is it awkward? Weird?

K.S.: You don’t have much of a choice—there’s always a city council meeting within a couple of weeks of the election, and the work must go on. In terms of personally letting feelings go, the honest answer is sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t. After having served in local government for almost 20 years, I’ve had lots of opponents and made lots of people mad over the years. I can almost always get over it and repair relationships … but I can’t deny there are some folks out there who wouldn’t vote for me if I was running against Satan (an actual quote from a voter in the last election) and they’re never going to feel differently.

I am happy to report there are no lingering hard feelings from the 2017 election, at least between the candidates.

J.P.: It’ the elephant here, so I’ll ask: Donald Trump. You’re in Texas. Can you explain his rise? His appeal? Because I see a lifelong conman with no convictions or moral compass. How do so many, um, not?

K.S.: I agree with your assessment and would add that I think he’s a literal threat to our democracy. My best explanation is that his victory was a combination of two things: One, there were a lot of people on the right who despised Hillary Clinton, and they thought there was only so much damage one man could do. Two, there wasn’t enough excitement on the left to turn out the vote for Hillary Clinton in places where it really mattered.

I think all the hand-wringing over the angry white voter is kind of ridiculous. Just looking at demographic forces, the focus for those wanting to elect progressive candidates should be on turning out the kind of coalition that elected Barack Obama.

J.P.: You live in a gun-friendly state. I’m terrified every time my kids leave for school. Seriously, what can we do about this? Are there ANY steps that the nation might agree upon?

K.S.: Yes! I think the most important thing we can do is pass comprehensive background checks. That’s the first and most important step to making sure we keep guns out of the hands of people we all agree shouldn’t have them. It drives me bonkers when politicians say, “We just can’t do anything until we find common ground.” About 90% of Americans agree on comprehensive background checks. For the love of God, that is common ground.

J.P.: What’s the appeal of living in the town where you grew up? Like you, I was raised in a small town where you always saw familiar faces, did things repeatedly, drew on traditions and festivals and the such. And, to be honest, I wanted out. And left. So why stay? What is it about a small town that does it for you?

K.S.: This is a great question. In fact, I often ask teenagers, “What do we need to do to make sure you want to stay or come back after college to raise your family?” For me, the fact that most of my extended family lives in Burleson (they have for generations), and that I actually like them, makes it hard to leave. We also have the advantage of having a lot of the benefits of a smaller town while being right next to Fort Worth, which is one of the most vibrant big cities in the country.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH KEN SHETTER:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): roller coasters, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, TLC, Justin Bieber, “Ocean’s Eleven,” USFL, puppies, Jeff Flake, peppercorn medley grinder, overly ripe fruit: Puppies, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, roller coasters, Jeff Flake, peppercorn medley grinder, Ocean’s Eleven, TLC, USFL, overly ripe fruit, Justin Bieber

• Five reasons one should make Burelson his/her next vacation destination: In no particular order: 1. Outstanding food and music in Old Town; 2. Awesome golf courses; 3. We’ve got two great wineries; 4. We have events throughout the year that are worth the trip: free summer concerts, a big bicycle race in the Spring and Founders Day in the Fall are just a few examples. Plus, we’re always thirty minutes from something amazing in Fort Worth or Arlington (but stay in Burleson and get the added value of small town charm); 5. The Old Town Ghost Tour.

• One question you would ask Kim Jong Un were he here right now?: Do you speak English?

• My nephew Jordan won’t let me chaperone his senior prom. What should I do?: Find a single teacher and go as her date.

• In exactly 17 words, make an argument for the acting talents of the late Jim Varney: He has never uttered the intolerable, fingers-on-a-chalk-board-annoying, moronic phrase, “Git-r-done.”

• What’s your secret talent?: I grew up playing the fiddle.

• Would you consider running for governor, then insisting the Houston Texans become the Houston Oilers and switch back to their old unis? Please …: Yes, absolutely. And I would pass a law that every head coach of the Houston Oiler had to legally change their name to Bum Phillips.

• If you had to hang out with three 1980s sitcom characters, who would they be?: Coach, from Cheers, Hawkeye, from MASH, Judge Harold T. Stone, from Night Court.

• Don’t get mad at me, but I’ve gotta think you received a few “Ken Shitter” ridicules while growing up. Yes? No? How bad was it?: Actually, I got a lot more Barbie cracks when I was growing up. The “Ken Shitter” ridicules have been more common since I’ve been mayor. Like water off a duck’s back.

• I’m not sure the Reds getting Cesar Cedeno from Houston was such a great idea. Thoughts?: Well, I’m a lifelong Rangers fan, so my strongest Astros thoughts involve bitterness that they won the Series before the Rangers did.