Jeff Pearlman

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Category Archives: QUAZ

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Lady Valencia

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The Quaz turns 305 this week, which means I’ve been at this madness for more than six years.

If you look at the all-time categorical leaders, journalists, actors and singers lead the way by an enormous margin. Then you have athletes, educators … and sex workers.

Yes, sex workers.

As I noted once before, sex workers are ideal for the Quaz, because:

A. Their lives tend to follow 800 different paths.

B. They’re eager for the pub.

C. They’re exceedingly nice.

That being said, with today’s Quaz I’ve decided to retire sex worker as a category for a while. It’s the second  time I’ve done this (nationalistic cult leaders need no longer apply), and here’s the reason: Lady Valencia’s Q&A was so complete, I feel like we need not another.

In case you’re wondering, Lady Valencia is a Los Angeles-based dominatrix and so-called “professional sadist” who has an enormous back tattoo, delights in beating down men and—off the cuff, via DM—happens to be a fascinating conversationalist and delightful person (but don’t tell anyone).

You can follow her on Twitter here, visit her website here, her Niteflirt page here and her Fetlife page here. She hates Los Angeles, doesn’t mind olive breath and wouldn’t recognize LeBron James in a crowd.

Lady Valencia, welcome to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, so here’s what I don’t understand, and hopefully you can explain: Men pay you money so you, an attractive woman with sexy photos and an active Twitter account, can treat them like shit and tell them they suck. Then they give you even more money. I’m NOT being critical—I just don’t fully get it. Please explain what I’m missing.

LADY VALENCIA: Not all of my submissives like being told mean things and being humiliated. I am usually nice to most of my subs at least sometimes. All of my subs are finsubs (financial submissives) meaning that they enjoy giving money to a beautiful and powerful female. As far as me treating them like “shit,” humiliation is a popular fetish in the findom and BDSM world.  Some people get off on and love being treated poorly, at least sometimes. It’s just like how some men love getting blowjobs. Same concept. It’s just what they like and unfortunately society usually shames them for it and tells them that it’s wrong. Therefore, these men tend to come to sex workers so they can be understood and enjoy their humiliation fetish.

J.P.: How did this happen for you as a career? I mean, how does one become a FinDomme?

L.V.: I’ve been in and out of sex work since I was 18 (I’m almost 25 now). My old job required me to be in a specific location and I got really sick of the managers and working for others. I’m very familiar with the BDSM scene as I’ve practiced it a lot in my private life and used to work at a dungeon. I stumbled upon findom while on my Fetlife account this last August. I had never heard of it but I did my research and was interested. Yes, I love making lots of money. Who doesn’t? That isn’t the reason I got into it though. I have plenty of money from working my ass off all of these years in different sex worker fields. I love humiliating men and am a true sadist (I enjoy physically hurting men or making them hurt themselves). I crave the feeling of power and am dominate in my everyday life.

I’m also drawn to findom because I am still able to travel, plus I’m my own boss. I am a huge travel junkie (24 countries and counting). I live to travel, and I live to control men.

J.P.: Without the simple (yet perhaps true) “men are pathetic,” how do you explain this? What I mean is, there are tons of women online doing exactly what you’re doing, and very few men in the profession. So why are men so drawn to this, while women appear not to be? Is it something inside of my gender?

L.V.: Men are used to getting whatever they want in society so sometimes they enjoy  being told, “No” for once. Women are unfortunately used to being treated like lesser than human beings due to sexism and the idiotic culture we live in that values men over women.

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J.P.: You’re married, so I wonder what your husband thinks of all this. Also, were you doing this when you two met? Did you have to explain it to him? And what about when you meet people for work? Does he come along? Sit at the next table?

L.V.: He is very open minded and supportive. I love him to death even if I have my moments of wanting to strangle him. We met when I was 17 and he was 20 so I hadn’t been introduced to any form of sex work yet. When I started in this field I told him about it and he never judged me for it. He doesn’t completely understand some things (like men wanting to be humiliated) but he is very supportive.

I meet select subs when I feel like it’s safe to do so and a sub seems trustworthy. I’m a very independent person. I travel the world, usually on my own, while my husband usually has to stay home and work. If I can make it around the world by myself without knowing anyone where I’m traveling and sometimes not being able to speak the local language then I’m pretty sure I can handle meeting a “man” on my own.

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J.P.: What’s your life path, then to now? Where are you from? What’s your background? Career path? Goals?

V: I’m very indecisive and a bit of a commitmentphobe in some ways. I book my tickets last minute when I travel and only book a couple nights at a hostel at a time. I get bored very easily which is another reason I enjoy sex work. You never know how much you’ll make in a given day. My point is that I don’t have a “life path,” a “career path,” or set “goals.”  My goals at the moment are being happy, being the best FinDomme that I can be and traveling the world. My career path depends on how bored I get but I do hope to be doing this for a long time as I believe I’ve found my niche.

I’m a SoCal native and have lived most of my life in different areas of LA. I did well in school despite never studying or doing homework. I graduated high school early and got accepted into every college that I wanted to go to but changed my mind about wanting to go. I’m a licensed makeup artist and a licensed massage therapist specializing in deep tissue and sports massage.

J.P.: You have an enormous tattoo along your back. A. What’s the story? B. How long did it take? C. How much pain? D. Was it worth it?

L.V.: A. The main one is a coverup of three horribly done tattoos I got when I was younger. In February 2016 I finally got around to covering it up. It was finished this past December. B: Probably around 40 hours. C: It definitely hurt, especially the spine and lower back because of all of the nerve endings.  D: It was definitely worth it. I love it.

J.P.: Do you worry at all about the potential ramifications of this profession? What I mean is, images don’t vanish—and yours are all over Twitter. What if you apply for a job, or PTA president, or run for office in 20 years, and Lady Valencia past pops up? Is that at all a concern?

L.V.: Not really. I would never be elected to office as I’m too liberal. All of the people close to me know what I do; friends and some family. Maybe one day it will come back to bite me in the ass in some way but it’s the 21st century and sex work needs to stop being seen in such a negative light.

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J.P.: What’s the strangest story from your career as Lady Valencia?

L.V.: I’m not sure what you would consider the strangest but I’ll tell you my favorite story that you may or may not find strange. Years ago I was on and I got a message from a female. She told me that she thought her boyfriend was cheating on her so she set up a nannycam at home. She saw him having sex with the nanny or cleaning lady and confronted him without telling him that she installed a camera. He denied it and got so angry at her that he anally raped her. It was her first time doing anal.

As revenge, since she got him raping her on camera, She told him that if he didn’t stay in chastity for a year and let her peg him (use a strap on on him) when she deemed fit then she would turn over the tape to the police.

She asked me if I could use a strap on on him because she thought having another female do it would be a great humiliation punishment. She said that he would have an envelope with cash in it and told me where to meet him. I told him what she told me (the nannycam story) and he confirmed that it was true. He gave me an envelope and I told him the address to meet me at half an hour later. The envelope had money in it for me to buy a strap-on at a local sex shop. I bought a strap on and then headed over to where I told him to meet me.

We met and walked inside. He had no idea that it was a dungeon and was freaking out. I explained to him that she wanted me to use a strap on on him and that he could leave whenever he wanted to. I’m not going to rape a guy. Jesus. I ended up using a strap on on him over my clothes and beat the shit out of his balls and locked up dick with crops and whatever else I could find. He cried and cried and cried. Then he couldn’t handle it anymore so I let him leave. I’m proud of that. Makes me smile everytime I talk about it.

J.P.: Totally out of context, but you seem pretty liberal. How did you take the Trump win? What do you think is going to happen to the U.S.? How worried are you?

L.V.: I am a hardcore liberal feminist. I was in Bali at the time and had already mailed in my ballot. I voted for Hillary but am not a fan of hers. I couldn’t believe he won. I was so shocked. He may end up being the next Hitler. America was never great. Sexism and racism are not okay. Trying to ban abortions is not okay.

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• Three memories from your senior prom: I didn’t go to prom because I graduated early.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Cat Stevens, nipple rings, Kamala Harris, Cincinnati Reds hats, slippers, Drake, armpits, peppermint mocha, the number 12: I love peppermint mocha and nipple rings are awesome. No opinion on the others.

• One question you would ask John Elway were he here right now: Didn’t know who that is until My friend told Me. Don’t follow sports.

• Five reasons one should make Los Angeles his/her next vacation destination: Don’t come to LA for vacation. This city sucks. There’s traffic, smog, LAPD, wannabe famous people, and an endless supply of assholes.

• Less sexy—unibrow or olive breath?: Unibrow. What’s wrong with olive breath?

• What is the one thing too many men misunderstand about women?: Women don’t live to serve men. Women don’t need men. Women can be breadwinners. Women can raise a kid(s) alone. Wanting a Female to be a virgin is idiotic.

• My wife is addicted to Gilmore Girls. This concerns me. Thoughts?: My mom and I just finished the most recent episode of Gilmore Girls. It’s an okay show. Love some parts of it. Hate that they portray Loreila as a lost ditz though.

• Who is the most famous person you’ve ever seen in person? What was the circumstance?: That is a secret. We’re good friends. We met due to a mutual interest in BDSM.

• Here in Orange County nobody seems to care about the drought, and it infuriates me. Can I hit my neighbor over the head with a brick and be OK in your eyes?: I’m all for hurting but not for killing. So if you were to just hurt your neighbor I wouldn’t condemn you. The police? That’s another story.

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Stephen Bishop

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Every now and then I go through one of these oddball phases when I listen to the same song over and over and over again. I’m not sure why it happens, but I’ll be driving along with my iPhone set on REPEAT, irking the hell out of any unfortunate souls in the passenger seat.

This happened not all that long ago, when I probably played “Separate Lives,” the Phil Collins/Mary Martin tune, a solid 15 times driving home from San Diego. There’s one particular moment in the jam (“Well, you built that wall … yes you built that wall …”) that gets me every single time, and I simply need to re-hear. And re-hear. And re-hear.

Anyhow, I tried reaching Martin for a Quaz, but she never responded. In the process, however, I was reminded that “Separate Lives” was actually penned by Stephen Bishop, one of the absolute all-time brilliant pop music writers. So I found his website, sent an e-mail … and here we are.

In case you don’t know, Stephen Bishop is The Man: Nominated for two Grammys and an Oscar;  Songs in 14 films (including the legendary “It Might Be You” from “Tootsie”); Eighteen albums, a slew of songs on the Billboard charts. And now, he can add the ultimate gem—Quaz No. 304.

Stephen Bishop, welcome to the land of the Q&A legends …

JEFF PEARLMAN: I was watching a video of you the other day, and it was last year—you singing, “It Might Be You.” And I was wondering … that song is about 35 years old …

STEPHEN BISHOP: Let’s add it up. It actually came out and was a hit in 1983.

J.P.: So 34 years ago. After that many years, does it get boring singing a song? Can it still have meaning, or is it just by rote and it’s singing without thought?

S.B.: Well, not just that song, but my other hits—“On and On,” “Save it for a Rainy Day” … I mean, do I think of the exact lyric as I’m singing? Sometimes, but not always. It’s a human thing.

J.P.: If you sing a song the 7,000th time, can you be singing it and thinking about what you have to shop for later in the night? Can your mind be 1 million different places because you’ve done it so often?

S.B.: Oh, yeah. Years and years ago I was with my first wife, may she rest in peace some day, and I thought it would be a wonderful thing for me to treat her on Valentine’s Day to Frank Sinatra at the Desert Inn. This was, like, 1990-something. So there was Frank Sinatra—the amazing singer, such a history. And we’re watching him, and his son was conducting him. And he was singing and he was going, “Wheeeeen somebody loves you …” and then he’d turn and yell at his son, “You’re not conducting right! This doesn’t sound right! What are you doing!” And then—“Alllllll thhhhheee waaaaay.” He’d sing and sound perfect. Then he’d turn and yell again—“You call that a string arrangement? I think not!” Then—more singing. It was really funny.

J.P.: Your big break was when a friend gave Art Garfunkel one of your songs. How did that happen?

S.B.: Well, I heard about Leah Kunkel as a singer because I saw her name on the back of Jackson Browne’s debut album. So I knew who she was and that she sang on his album. And I was seeing a friend of mine, James Lee Stanley, singing at McCabe’s in a show years and years ago. I was rushing in and I was late, and he told me he was going to do some of my songs. So I wound up sitting next to this person and I leaned over and I said, “Excuse me, has he sung any of Stephen Bishop’s songs?” And she said, “No, Stephen.” We became really close friends and great buddies. So Leah had recordings of mine, and her husband Russ was doing some drum stuff with Art Garfunkel in the studio. I think the year was 1975, and Leah gave him a cassette to give to Garfunkel. This was in the days of cassettes. So he wound up listening to the songs and really liking them. I wound up coming in, and I met him. When I first came in he was in the recording booth singing the “Disney Girls” song. And I was like, “Wow! There’s a superstar!” I was only 24 or 25.

J.P.: So to have your first song used … appreciated by someone you viewed as a superstar, what did that mean to you?

S.B.: Well, it turned into a friendship. A 40-year friendship. We’ve been friends all these years. He’s a different type of guy. You don’t know many people who are icons. He’s an icon, and an icon is a different kind of a person. It’s a whole different thing. Some people would say I’m an icon, but I don’t feel like I’ve achieved my icon status yet.

J.P.: Why do you say that?

S.B.: Because I have a lot more music in me.

J.P.: My kids listen to the radio all the time, and you’ll hear Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez and Twenty One Pilots … whatever. Maybe this is a dumb question, but why don’t you write songs for these people? Couldn’t you write Justin Bieber a really good song? Would you even want to write Justin Bieber a really good song?

S.B.: I would love to write with him. I listen to all that stuff. I listen to the radio every single day. I kid my stepson—he’s 15, and boy, he doesn’t like anything I like. And at that age, they’ve heard it all a million times before. So when you’re doing lyrics and melodies now, you can’t do stuff like, “I looove you soooo … eveeeerrry niiiight I think of making looove to yoooo.” That kind of song is so corny and it’s like a million years old. So he plays me the music he likes and it’s really different. It doesn’t have a lot of melody, or it has unpredictable melody.

J.P.: So if you wanted to write for the 21-year-old singer being heard now, would you have to change as a songwriter?

S.B.: A little bit. Yes, sure. It’s challenging. I’ve been working on this new song I want to get to my publishers to see if they can get somebody to record it. I mean, I had Beyonce sample one of my songs. In her last album—“Platinum Beyonce.” A song called “Ring Off.” She used the lick from “On and On” all the way through her song. And I thought it was going to be one of her singles. Talk about counting chickens—I had all my chickens counted. I thought it was going to be one of her singles. I was thinking that a single from Beyonce should be $400,000, $500,000. Oh, my god! What kind of boat will I buy? Then her mother, who the song is about, she divorced Beyonce’s father and she didn’t want the song out. It’s on the album, but it wasn’t a single.

J.P.: You still get paid, yes?

S.B.: Yeah. But airplay … once she’s on the radio with a good single, it’s a different thing. A wonderful thing.

J.P.: Do you like the modern music business? Clearly it’s about touring. You’re not going to sell albums. Apple Music makes everything downloadable for $10 a month. Do you find it dizzying? Do you like it?

S.B.: Now it’s … wow. It’s mostly appearances. Album-wise, I make a pittance now. I’m not complaining, and it goes up and down a bit. But what can you say? It’s not like the older days where … there were times … God, some of the airplay money I used to get from BMI, before they had everything changed. They had this rule put in where they stopped giving advances to people. But back then it was like, ‘Wow! The money!’ But it’s all gone now.

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J.P.: I’m a 44-year-old sportswriter, and I find myself in this business feeling older and older. I go into a press box to cover a baseball game and a lot of the writers are in their 20s, and I think, ‘Fuck, I’m old.’ With music—when you look out into the audience, and it’s a bunch of people who are 60 who love “Tootsie”—does it make you feel old because people are still listening to your music? Or does it ever make you think, “Fuck, I’m old”?

S.B.: I do. I flash my mind to … we always go to the ASCAP Awards. And for years I’d go to see my friends, and everything would be great. In the last year, I didn’t recognize hardly anybody. And that’s kind of weird. But you know, you go around town here in LA and you see these restaurants you used to go to and now they’re chains. We used to go to the greatest Japanese restaurant, and now it’s something else. Weird. But it’s a part of life, right?

J.P.: The original reason I called you is because I went through a recent musical obsession with the song, “Separate Lives.” I’d drive and play it 10 times in a row, and I have no idea why. But I wanted to ask about that song. I consider it a great song. Truly great. But I wonder if you do, because you wrote the thing …

S.B.: When people ask me what’s the song of your career you’re proudest of, I say that’s the song. It was a really true song. At the time I had gone through this combination of things. That’s how I wrote it. I had been in touch with Taylor Hackford, and he gave me a brief concept of an outline of this movie [Jeff’s note: The exceptional “White Nights.”]. And at the same time I was going through this very big breakup with …

J.P.: Karen Allen, right?

S.B.: Ha. Yes, Karen Allen. It’s funny how all this stuff winds up coming out. You try and be classy and say, “With an actress,” but the power of Google. So we’d been together about 2 ½ years, and we had this romantic, young relationship and everything, and it was a tough one because I lived in LA and she lived in New York and we both shared a place in New York. We just had problems and she was being pursued by everybody she was making movies with. She was at her peak as a gorgeous thing, and guys from the movies—big stars—would call her trying to jump on her. And it all became part of that song.

I was with another actress—I was going through my actress thing. I was with Cindy Williams. Really funny and really cute and everything back then. After I broke up with Karen I started going with Cindy. She thought I was still with Karen and all this stuff. We wound up going to Italy and Cindy and I broke up in Venice. And then I called Karen thinking … I had been told by one of her friends she was still in love with me. Then she told me about this guy she was going out with and that was like the whole story right there.

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J.P.: So is the song about Karen Allen?

S.B.: That, and the talk that I had with Taylor Hackford.

J.P.: I’ve heard two versions—the one you sing and the one Phil Collins and Mary Martin sing. How do you feel when you have someone else sing a song that you love … and they put their own imprint on it. As a songwriter do you like that, or does it pain you?

S.B.: Well, I’ve had my songs sung by quite a lot of people. You’ve seen my bio. I’ve had songs by Pavarotti, Eric Clapton, the O’Jays …

J.P.: Do you ever disapprove with a song and the way it’s done?

S.B.: Oh, yes. To tell you the truth, I think Barbra Streisand is one of the most amazing singers of all time. I’m a big fan—her “Lazy Afternoon” album is one of my favorites of all time. But she wound up doing my song, “One More Night,” and she really just threw it away. She didn’t do a proper version of it.

J.P.: She didn’t put enough into it, or she did it poorly?

S.B.: It was not a sensitive version. She could have done it amazing. But, no, it wasn’t a good version.

J.P.: Your new album “Blueprint” has a song with Eric Clapton. How did that happen?

S.B.: He played on my first album in 1976, “Careless.” We stayed friends. I stayed at his castle in England a few times. We became really good pals. I was staying there and Phil Collins invited me to come to his wedding. I stayed at Eric’s place, and at one time I went down to the study and Eric said, “Hey Bish, I have an idea for a song. Wanna write it, man?” I said “OK, what’s it called?” He said, “Holy Mother.” So I said, “Sounds interesting.” So I went upstairs and wrote a big chunk of it. Then he wrote stuff with it. He changed some things, made it more his own. And this version on my new album “Blueprint” is kind of my version of it. We wrote the original in 1984.

J.P.: When you record a 23-year-old song, do you have to change it for the times?

S.B.: I think so. I don’t think of myself as a 70s artist or an 80s or 90s artist. I’m an artist. And I exist for all time. I’m still doing it. And I just want people to listen and give me credit.

J.P.: Is it more about sales, or just people listening?

S.B.: It’s all about sales. Right now it’s all about sales. Making a good living. I just celebrated my 50th anniversary in show business. I still feel good. I still feel I can hold up.

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J.P.: You appeared in a bunch of John Landis movies, including “The Blues Brothers.” What do you remember from that?

S.B.: When you asked that, right away I thought of when they were filming, and I was in John Landis’ … we were friends. We met the day of the LA earthquake in 1971. Through a friend. And we became really great friends, and so he had already done his first movie. So in “Blues Brothers” I was in the trailer watching … it was at night and they were filming outside. And I was watching the movie “Holocaust” on TV. The one with Meryl Streep. And I was really affected by it. And I thought, “This is really heavy.” I was feeling all emotional. And Belushi comes in like a bull in a china shop and he’s just stomping down the hall. And he throws me down onto the couch in the trailer and he kind of snickers—Heh-heh-heh—and he goes to the bathroom. And I said, “Fuck you!” I was really upset because I was in this kind of mood and I felt really terrible for these people. So I stormed out of the trailer and I walked around. And there was a huge mall there we were gonna trash, and I walked around for hours. And finally his gopher grabs me and says, “Hey, man, I’ve been looking all over for you. Belushi feels terrible.” Then he apologized to me later. From that experience, he apologized every time he saw me after that. He always apologized and always felt bad. He had two sides. He had this real jerk side and kind of a weird guy. And then he had this real generous little kid side.

J.P.: Do you have a process for writing a song?

S.B.: Usually I write from titles. I really like titles. I need titles. I just need titles. It gives me something to center on. It’s how I’ve pretty much always written. I’ll see somebody and they’ll say, “Your nose looks strange.” And the next thing I know I’m singing, “Yooouuurreee noooosseee looookkks strrraannge.”

J.P.: Wait, so you’ll come up with a title before you’ll know what the song is about?

S.B.: Um, yeah. I need a title.

J.P.: Like, ‘Cardboard Boxes in the Rain”—you need that?

S.B.: I mean, if I hear something that’s a really good line I write it off to the side. But mostly, yeah, I need a title. Sometimes I’ll use titles that I decided not to write a song on and I’ll put that in the verse. But more often than that, I need a title.

J.P.: Are you a different songwriter now than you were 30 years ago? Better? Worse? Different?

S.B.: I think you have highs and lows in your songwriting career. There was a time when I was writing all the time. Like 10 songs a month, but most of them were really weird, like “There’s a Hair in Your Enchilada,” and “Beer Cans on the Beech” and “She Took All My Kumquats.” Weird songs. And I’m kind of like … I sometimes I feel like I don’t get appreciation as far as being the real thing for a songwriter. I’m like the guy who actually came to LA in an old car when I was 18-years old and walked around Hollywood until I got a song publisher deal and made $50 a week. Lived on $50 a week for like three years, riding a bicycle. My dad wouldn’t co-sign insurance for a car.

J.P.: Why did you want it so badly?

S.B.: I guess partially because it was really the only thing I could do. I did some jobs and stuff where I broke things or crashed cars. They made me realize this was pretty much the main thing I could do. And I’d stick to that. I’m not very good at a lot of other stuff. I can do voiceovers and stuff. I’m trying to get more work doing that. I’ve done some work doing that. It’s fun. But I don’t know. The entertainment world these days is a tough one.

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• Five all-time favorite male singers: Right away I would say No. 1 is a tossup .. the thrill I get would be John Lennon in his early Beatles days, like when he sang “Bad Boy” and when he sang “I am the Walrus.” To me that was phenomenal singing. But also, Frank Sinatra. He’s second. He’s mind blowing. Three I guess would be Sam Cooke. I mean—there’s a line in one of my songs, “There’s a little bit of Sam Cooke in everyone.” All us singers picked up something from Sam Cooke. Four, I guess, would be a tossup between Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger. And Kenny Rankin ranks in there somewhere. Some would say, “Where is Elton John?” I was never a big Elton John fan. But you know who I forgot? Marvin Gaye. What a great singer.

• My wife and I debate Elton John vs. Daryl Hall: You know what’s weird? When Elton John first came out, I thought it sounded like Jose Feliciano. Isn’t that weird? Some of his delivery is like Jose Feliciano.

• What’s the strangest song you’ve ever written?: I have this one song that’s really funny called “The Farts.” I wrote it when I was 15. It goes like this: “What by yonder window breaks/Me lady makes a fart. Her husband says for goodness sakes/When she tells him it’s an art …”

• How are you feeling about President Donald Trump?: Oh, boy. There’s a question. It’s just so hard to say how you feel now. So I’ll say this—no matter what, it’ll come off like … the way I feel, it’s all going too fast. I think they should slow down a little bit.

• Have you ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash?: Not totally. But I’ve had some good scares, sure. The time I went to the Dominican Republic. That was like a ride from another planet. That was so bumpy.

• I’m 44 and I’m taking piano for the first time. Why is it so much harder for me than my kids?: It’s easy for children to adapt. They’re so geared to learning at that age. They’re all about learning. Every day they learn something new. We’re all learned up. I think that’s very bold. I lot of people think I play piano. I can’t play a note, really. I’m terrible. I have a beautiful grand piano and it sits there. I’m a guitar player. Have since I was 13.

• How’d you meet your wife?: We were in this tea place. I had some coffee earlier in the day and it upset my stomach. I was in there and she was behind me. I asked her if she knew of a tea that helps your stomachache or something. It’s really stupid.

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Maria Scrivan

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The coolness of this interview series is that subjects come from all corners of the planet. I’ve found Quazes on Twitter, Quazes on Facebook, Quazes in Major League clubhouses, Quazes in diners, Quazes in the hallways of my old high school, Quazes in small Mississippi music clubs.

Today’s Quaz was discovered taped to a cash register.

I don’t mean literally. But back in December, I was buying coffee at a small spot in Los Angeles when, while paying, I came across a comic strip created by someone named Maria Scrivan. It was Santa Claus with a bunch of boxes, saying, “Thank God for Amazon Prime.” Two things happened:

A. I chuckled aloud.

B. I thought to myself, “Anyone who drew this needs to be a Quaz.”

Hence, here we are. Maria Scrivan is the talent behind the syndicated strip “Half Full,” as well as myriad greeting cards, mugs, T-shirts, etc. She’s ridiculously talented, ridiculously funny and one hell of a Q&A.

One can visit her website here, check out her daily panel here, follow her on Facebook here, Twitter here and Instagram here.

Maria Scrivan, life is complete and you need not draw again.

You’ve been Quazed …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Maria, so I’m in a coffee shop right after Christmas and I’m at the counter paying, and there’s a strip of yours hanging there, clipped from a newspaper. It’s Santa with a bunch of boxes, saying, “Thank God for Amazon Prime.” I loved it, Tweeted it out, it got re-Tweeted, then re-Tweeted and re-Tweeted. And here we are—all because I went to a new coffee shop I found on Yelp after dropping my kids at the airport. And I starting thinking—how does the viral world affect you, and the business of comic strips? I mean, back in the day you’d see Family Circus in your newspaper—and that’s it. How has the game changed, and how does that make people in your shoes change?

MARIA SCRIVAN: As a cartoonist, having my comic clipped out and hung on a fridge is a big compliment. A coffee shop, even better. Especially one on the other side of the country.

The viral world adds another dimension to how artists connect with their audience. That newspaper clipping took an extra trip around the world thanks to your tweet and the subsequent re-tweets. Artists now have the opportunity to reach a tremendous audience, however they are also competing with a sea of other artists. At the same time, there are now so many more channels available to distribute your work.

The internet has caused artists to become more resourceful and has given us a new set of tools. Self-publishing, online stores and fundraising websites like Kickstarter and Patreon are helping artists create new opportunities for themselves.

The Internet isn’t going anywhere so we have to embrace it and figure out how to make it work for us. Luckily, artists are creative not only in how they produce their work but how it is presented to the world. Artists will always evolve.

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J.P.: I know you’re from Cos Cob, Connecticut, attended Greenwich High and Clark University; know you worked in an animation studio for a spell. But how did this happen for you? Having your own strip? Syndication? What’s the path?

M.S.: I had an incredibly windy path. Immediately after college, I worked at an animation studio creating hand-drawn cel animation. The studio slowed down a bit so I took at job at an interactive ad agency as an art director. We were creating some of the first websites and ad banners, and trying to persuade our clients to put their URL on their printed campaigns. I was there for about two years when I decided to start my own graphic design and web design business. That detour lasted about 15 years. I was doing some illustration and animation work, but something was missing.

By 2009, I could no longer deny my passion to be a cartoonist. I started writing and drawing cartoons and posting them to a blog called Open Salon, which was part of Every week, the editors would choose their favorites and put them on the home page. I ended up on the home page every week for 26 weeks and eventually was picked up by After that, I started submitting to magazines. In 2010, I sold a large batch of cartoons to Parade Magazine. Shortly after that, I sold to MAD Magazine, Prospect magazine and Funny Times.

In 2013, I was asked to do a guest week for syndicated cartoonist Hilary Price for her comic “Rhymes with Orange.” Her comic is in my hometown paper and I was thrilled to see my comic in the funny pages. It was a childhood dream come true. I continued to submit to magazines and to the syndicates. A few months later, Universal Uclick asked if I wanted to be syndicated online on with my comic, “Half Full.” I chose to do seven comics a week because my goal was to become syndicated in print as well.

A few months later, the newspapers in Stamford and Greenwich asked me if I wanted to be in the comic pages seven days a week. I was self-syndicated until 2015 when “Half Full” was picked up by Tribune Content Agency. “Half Full” is now distributed to newspapers nationwide including the Los Angeles Times.

I started submitting to greeting card companies in 2011 and license my work to eight companies in the US and UK. I also license my work for checks and T-shirts along with having my own online store that sells prints, mugs and T-shirts.

J.P.: There’s a panel of yours that I absolute love—a balloon animal and a porcupine having tea, and the porcupine, serious look on her face, says, “It’s not you, it’s me.” OK, so I love breakdowns. Soup to nuts, how did you come up with the idea, create it? How long did it take? When do you know something is done and ready?

M.S.: I start by brainstorming and let the ideas fly all over the page. I make connections, add twists and write a list of usable gags. I keep a constant sketchbook and also jot down ideas on my phone. If I’m running or driving, I ask Siri to save the idea. Every once in a while, he really screws it up. I once found “claustrophobic tomato” in my notes and have no idea what that was meant to be.

Sometimes a complete idea shows up in a flash all at once and other times it appears in bits and pieces that need to marinate. I keep notebooks of gags that I refer back to. Sometimes, months later, I will revisit a fragment of an idea and will be able to complete the gag. I use Evernote to organize my ideas for cartoons, books and greeting cards.

I usually write first, but some of my favorite ideas develop from doodling or happen organically as I’m working on the comics. I mostly draw in the studio but I love working out ideas and writing in diners and coffee shops. It’s nice to have an opportunity to kick off my bunny slippers and see what the rest of humanity looks like.

If I have the ideas in advance, I can usually draw seven comics in a day in both panel and strip format. Sometimes they spill over into the next day. Then I use the rest of the week to work on greeting cards, books and administrative details. I usually work six days a week, sometimes more, sometimes less. I like to work very far ahead of deadline.

The work is done when I can’t add any more or take away any more away.

J.P.: I read something about you that jumped off the page—“I had every Garfield book there was. I studied them.” My kids are 13 and 10 and have been obsessed with Garfield books for years. There have been thousands of cartoons, comics through the years. What is it about Garfield?

M.S: I was 7 or 8 when I first was interested in Garfield. At the time, I guess the allure was a cat with attitude. I loved the simplicity of the panels, the humor and the expressions. I also loved Chuck Jones and Sandra Boynton for many of the same reasons.

I met Jim Davis at the National Cartoonist Society Reuben Awards in 2012. He gave a panel and spoke about Garfield’s evolution. As the newspaper panels shrunk, Garfield’s eyes got bigger so you could see his expressions even in a small space. He also has a consistent formula to what type of jokes appears on different days of the week.

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J.P.: Do you ever put something out there and a week later think, “Jesus Christ, that sucked”? If so, how often? And what causes a shift of moods/feelings on a project?

M.S.: I certainly have comics that are not my favorite.

What I find fascinating is when a cartoon that I cringe at gets a tremendous response and one that I think is the best idea I’ve ever had gets a resounding symphony of crickets. Go figure.

As far as a shift in mood, the only thing I can think about is a recent children’s book I’ve been working on that went through so many iterations, I lost the story. That was frustrating for a while but after giving it the chance to sit and marinate, I realize that it will have an even better outcome than before.

 J.P.: Print newspapers are dying a very fast death. How does that impact you? The business?

M.S.: That’s interesting because the reason we are having this conversation is because you saw one of my strips clipped out from the newspaper. I don’t think someone can have an interview with a cartoonist without asking that question (also: “How do you get your ideas?”, “What pen do you use?” and if you’re a woman, “What’s it like being a woman cartoonist?”)

Media will always evolve. Just because we have Spotify doesn’t mean radio will cease to exist. Netflix hasn’t wiped out the movie theaters. Creative people are incredibly resourceful. We will always find a place for our work. We are positioned to reach a much larger audience in many different ways. I look at syndication as a cog in the wheel of my creative profession that includes newspapers, magazines, an online presence, greeting cards, licensing and books.

J.P.: You do greeting cards. My complaint with greeting cards is they’re rarely funny. You know, I walk through CVS, looking for a chuckle—nothing. So Maria, how do you approach a greeting card? How do you make one funny?

M.S.: My panel comics translate really well into greeting cards, so theoretically, they’re made to be funny.

I like to find gags that will resonate with the recipient and avoid mean-spirited humor. I write a lot about my own experiences and what I observe about different holidays and occasions. In a world of writing a generic “Happy Birthday” on a Facebook wall or sending a text with a cake emoji, I think greeting cards are more important than ever. I love sending and receiving mail. You can’t decorate the envelope of a text or pick out just the right stamp. It’s a nice surprise to find good news in the mailbox.

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

M.S.: There have been so many great moments. Selling my first batch cartoons to Parade Magazine, getting published in MAD, getting online syndication on GoComics, getting print syndication by Tribune, having piles and piles of greeting cards I’ve created. All of that, and I feel like I’m just getting started.

By far, the best thing that has happened is all of the meaningful connections and friendships I’ve made with other cartoonists and artists.

Some of the lowest were the collection of rejections, but I’m used to them by now. Rejection is just part of the process. Another low point was discovering Internet trolls. It’s too bad they exist. I learned quickly not to feed them. Luckily, my work gets mostly positive feedback, which is another high point. I’m thrilled to get emails that my comics are making someone laugh.

 J.P.: Maria, I’m horrified by the words “President Donald Trump.” Scared, anxious, horrified. You find humor in everyday things. Should I be finding humor in this man?

M.S.: I think humor is the only way people are going to be able to get through this, along with continued actions to make their voices heard.

I was at the Women’s March on DC and it was an incredible moving mass of positive energy. People were outrageously kind and courteous to each other while peacefully dissenting.

I do find humor in every day things, but it does not mean those things start out funny. Some of the funniest gags come from things that are annoying, frustrating or painful. Almost anything that evokes a powerful emotion can be turned into something funny (after the fact, I’m usually not laughing while it’s happening).

J.P.: How do you work through writer’s block? I imagine there are times when you’re like, “Crrrrrraaaaaaaap … nothing.” So what to do?

M.S.: I don’t experience writer’s block too often. Creating a daily comic for almost four years has given my gag writing muscles a pretty consistent workout.

The more I write and draw, the more freely the ideas appear. My workload keeps expanding organically. There are moments when I wonder if I will run out of ideas but they keep showing up and I’ve learned to trust that process. I keep a pretty consistent routine and I think that helps tremendously. I also make a conscious effort of writing down ideas as I have them throughout the day. I keep notes in my phone and refer back to them when I sit down to write my gags. It is so much easier to have bits and pieces to work with instead of sitting down cold.

If I get really stuck or I’m not having fun, I’ll do something different. Sometimes going for a run or a bike ride helps. I call it “gone fishin’” (for ideas) and even if I don’t get something while I’m running or cycling, it usually jostles my brain enough to get things flowing. Walks, car rides or any kind of movement also helps.

If I’m so outrageously stuck that I’m completely unproductive, I’ve learned to just do something else. Administrative stuff, errands, something fun.

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• Rank in order (favorite to least): Stamford Town Center, Scooby Doo, Natalie Portman, Bananarama, Olive Garden, 1,000 Points of Light, Joe Lieberman, Cesar Cedeno, Toys R Us, Anderson Cooper, A Walk To Remember, James Madison, San Francisco: I don’t think I can! The best I can do is to tell you that I love Scooby Doo and I love San Francisco. Also, thank you for the “Cruel Summer” ear worm.

• You have to go on vacation (and have a nice time) with three cartoonists, who do you pick?: I could never pick just three! I have so many amazing and hilariously fun cartoonist friends.

• Would you rather spend the next three months only drawing stick figures or lick clean the bathroom floors of Yankee Stadium after a game?: Stick figures can be very expressive. The other option isn’t an option at all.

• My daughter wants Snapchat. She’s 13. We say no. Thoughts?: I’m not a Snapchatter so it’s hard for me to say. I can, with confidence, advise her to avoid all things Kardashian.

 • Five reasons one should make Stamford his/her next vacation destination?: It’s not really a vacation destination which is part of the appeal of living here. There are great roads for cycling, trails for hiking, pretty beaches and it’s a short trip to New York City. I’m not sure what the tourist appeal would be. I guess Stamford is a nice place to live but I wouldn’t want to visit there.

• When I was in junior high a bully named John beat me up. Some 25 years later, do I have any right still holding a grudge? Or should I just forgive the guy?: All I can think about is that quote: “Resentment is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Doesn’t every one get beat up in junior high? If not physically, then certainly emotionally. Especially if you’re a girl.

 • One question you would ask Earl Thomas were he here right now?: Why does a 60 minute Super Bowl game take three and a half hours?

• What do your shoes smell like?: I ran this question by a few friends and they agreed that this sounds like something somebody with a fetish might ask. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

• Tell me your best joke: I would but it’s NSFW.

• Tupac, Pearl Jam, Joan Baez, Yes, ELO and Journey were elected to the Roll and Roll Hall of Fame recently. Rank who you consider to be most-to-least deserving: It wouldn’t  be fair for me to say. I recently dusted off an old Yes album (downloaded it on Spotify) and ELO’s “Don’t Bring Me Down” always manages to make it’s way onto one of my playlists.

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Dr. Celine Gounder

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Back in the day, when I was a journalism youngin, I served as the seventh or eighth man on Sports Illustrated‘s basketball team.

We played down on the courts at Chelsea Piers in New York City, and the games were a genuine ball. We were fast, we were deep, we were combative. We weren’t the Golden State Warriors, but for a collection of scribes, we did quite well.

Anyhow, while the team was strong, we only had a cheering section of one. Her name was Celine Gounder, and she was the girlfriend/future bride of Grant Wahl, our excellent soccer writer/solid small forward. Were I on the bench, I’d often look over at Celine at marvel at the merging of commitment and boredom. It looked like there was nowhere else she less wanted to be, yet as the other girlfriends (mine included) stayed home, she stood out as a loyalist.

I bring this up because some two decades later, Celine’s steadfastness remains on display as she travels the world in her work as an HIV/infectious disease specialist and internist. In 2015 she spent two months volunteering as an Ebola aid worker in Guinea. Between 1998 and 2012, she studied TB and HIV in South Africa, Lesotho, Malawi, Ethiopia and Brazil. In other words, she’s doing good and doing good and doing good where good is often in short supply.

In today’s magical 302nd Quaz, Celine talks everything from enduring the grossest of sights and smells to enduring the grossest of American presidents to enduring infectious diseases up close. You can help fund her documentary, “Dying to Talk,” here, follow her on Twitter here and visit her website here.

Dr. Celine Gounder, you’ve come a long way from basketball boredom.

You’re the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Celine, I’m going to start with an unorthodox one. So you’re a practicing HIV/infectious diseases specialist and internist, among other things. Which means, I have no doubt, you’ve seen stuff that would make most of us pass out. And I’ve always wondered this—are doctors born with the ability to not be grossed out by blood, by guts, by nails in skulls and half-decayed flesh? Or do you develop a hardness over time? How has it gone for you?

CELINE GOUNDER: I think there are different ways in which doctors, nurses and other health care workers become jaded over time, some necessary and some dangerous to ourselves and our patients. Blood, flesh-eating bacteria or putrid sores don’t gross me out. Smells sometimes still get to me, but in my line of work, I’m often wearing a mask, gown and gloves. But I really don’t like vectors of disease, especially bats and rats. When my husband and I visited the Botanic Gardens in Sydney, Australia, I had to run for cover, gagging at the bats overhead.

Being desensitized to blood, guts and gore isn’t dangerous, but losing our empathy is. The rigors of medical training push people to their mental, physical and psychological limits. Just over the course of four years of medical school, students’ ability to empathize with their patients takes a big hit. At least half of physicians in the U.S. report burnout—exhaustion, cynicism and ineffectiveness—and burned out doctors provide worse care.

In the U.S., health is not a human right, it’s a privilege. At the same time, altruism is a core value of the medical (or education or social work) professions. But our health system treats patients like widgets and health care providers like plumbers or electricians on a moneymaking assembly line. Moreover, the way we value health care providers is not proportional to the quality (or even the quantity) of our service, but to the way society values our patients, and I can tell you, they aren’t all valued equally. Our professional values are at odds with the system, and that’s intensely demoralizing.

There’s no question I’ve experienced these same feelings of burnout. My way of coping is to fight the good fight when I’m on the job caring for patients, but to provide direct clinical care only part-time. I need time in between to reflect, recharge and bear witness—but that comes at a very real cost too.

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J.P.: In 2015 you spent two months volunteering as an Ebola aid worker in Guinea. Most people (myself included, I’m embarrassed to say) would want nothing to do with Ebola. The name alone evokes panic, fear, dread, all of our bases mortal impulses. So what made you go? What did you learn? And what is your documentary “Dying to Talk” about?

C.G.: I grew up and became a doctor in the age of HIV, another disease that also conjured panic, fear and dread. But infectious diseases like HIV, tuberculosis, leprosy and Ebola have also inspired tremendous human kindness, love, sacrifice, courage, perseverance and beauty. Like Ebola, it’s a disease that kills the most vulnerable, the poor, the stigmatized and the marginalized. I became an infectious disease specialist because it was a way for me to fight social inequity using the tools of medicine and public health. So when Ebola exploded in West Africa, I couldn’t imagine sitting on the sidelines.

In some ways, epidemics are all the same, and yet they are as unique as the cultures of the people affected. They make us more fearful of the sick—the “other”—lepers who are to blame for their illness. In Guinea, people near the coast blamed the spread of Ebola on “primitive” forest peoples for eating “bush meat.” Americans spoke fearfully and hatefully of “dirty” Africans. In the 1980s, government officials cracked homophobic jokes about HIV.

Politics inevitably frames the way we view epidemics and respond. In Guinea, the Ebola epidemic arrived on the eve of the country’s second democratic presidential election, and in the U.S., during our midterm elections. Guinea is a country where politics and government service are seen as routes to self-advancement, not public service. Early messages about the Ebola epidemic in Guinea could easily be confused with propaganda. Politicians arrived wearing the yellow scarves and logos of the ruling party. Faced with a ruling party that appeared to use Ebola as an excuse for political campaigning, the opposition party spread rumors about the origins of Ebola, sowing confusion and distrust. Guineans flaunted presidential declarations of public health emergency and instructions on how to prevent disease transmission. Meanwhile, back in the U. S., politicians like President-elect Donald Trump called for travel bans, and Governors Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo, mandatory three-week quarantines for travelers returning from West Africa.

In the shadow of infectious diseases emerge parallel epidemics of mistrust, rumors and conspiracy theories, especially when people feel voiceless and powerless. Many Guineans spoke of “Ebola business”— their way of expressing frustration at the lack of transparency around Ebola control activities, especially management of the massive infusion of funds into the country. Government officials were accused of manufacturing Ebola to keep their hold on power or to line their own pockets. Expats were seen as Ebola mercenaries who weren’t of and with the people and who could leave at any moment. Meanwhile communities failed to see those funds trickle down to their level and have a tangible impact on the ground. Excluded from decision-making and perceived profiteering, the public was cynical about the true motives behind the Ebola response. Similarly during the early years of the HIV epidemic, gay men questioned the true motives behind bathhouse closures. Others spread rumors that the CIA invented HIV to kill homosexuals and Africans. With the arrival of the Zika epidemic, we’ve heard conspiracy theories that vaccines, pesticides or genetically modified mosquitoes spread the virus, and that the Gates Foundation or Monsanto invented Zika.

In early 2015, I spent two months volunteering as an Ebola aid worker in Guinea, but in my free time, I interviewed survivors, anthropologists, religious leaders, doctors, nurses, local journalists, youth and women leaders and average citizens living in the community to understand how the crisis was affecting them. I’m currently making the documentary “Dying to Talk” about the West African Ebola epidemic because I think it’s more important now than ever that we learn the lessons of Ebola and other outbreaks. We’ll see more diseases like HIV, Ebola, MERS and Zika emerge (or reemerge) and spread faster than ever before. There’s no turning the clock back on globalization. It’s in our enlightened self-interest to listen, understand and care about the rest of humanity in order to protect ourselves.

It’s been both fun and frustrating to make a film. I’m learning by trial and error as I go. Other than financing, my major challenge is to figure out how best to shape the narrative. Many in the film industry have advised me to include myself in the film to serve as an empathic bridge of sorts, and they tell me I need to include some celebrities (anyone know Angelina Jolie or Jon Stewart?). I’m really proud that all my reporting on the ground was with Africans, almost all Guineans, in contrast to much of the Western-centric media coverage of the Ebola epidemic—what former New York Times journalist Howard French called “Africa without Africans.” I’m hesitant to include myself (I’m in the trailer), because I’m not the story and because I know there will be those who think it’s self-serving. But I’m willing to be in it if that’s what it takes to get the message out there.

J.P.: Random question—but you’re a curious, well-educated, accomplished American. We recently had a president elected basically because he’s “going to make America great again!” How do you not bang your head against a wall and think, “Jesus Christ, we are such a stupid species”?

C.G.: Like so many others, I’ve been giving this a lot of thought … there are three books I’ve found especially helpful in thinking this through: “Wired for Culture” by Mark Pagel, “American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures” by Colin Woodard and “Strangers in Their Own Land” by Arlie Russell. I’ve also added those cited here to my reading list.

I think humans are first and foremost emotional, social animals. We’re not all that rational. We function in groups, and groups are governed by culture. Our loyalty to our culture is strong because it’s an important survival skill. When we say that people are voting against their own interests, we’re framing their voting behavior at the individual level, not in terms of the cultures to which they belong.

Secondly, I think we all—across the political spectrum—have a lot of soul searching to do. The way we work and live is undergoing a massive revolution a lot more quickly than we realize; this is going to be even more disruptive than the shift from agrarian to industrial economies. It’s not just coal miners and factory workers who are going to lose their jobs (for a little background reading, see herehereherehere and here). It’s also accountantsfinancial analystscomputer programmerslawyers and doctors like me. Many Americans—especially the earliest casualties of this economic disruption—voted for Trump because they were voting for a change. They understand intuitively that neither political party has plans to address what’s to come. While I vehemently disagree with that vote, I think we’ve got to start coming up with solutions to help the vast majority of us who’ll eventually lose our jobs to automation.

J.P.: Does death scare you? I’m not talking about the deaths of others—I mean your death. You’ve seen it up close. Does the potential eternal nothingness keep you up at nights? And how does being a doctor impact your view?

C.G.: No, I’m not afraid of my own death. To me, death is the end of fear. What is important to me is doing the most with my life, and what scares me is failing to do that. I also fear a painful, protracted death, which has, unfortunately, become the norm. So I’m doing what I can now to avoid disability and disease later. I eat healthy. I work out with a personal trainer. I’m big on squats, deadlifts and core strength. Your ability to sit down cross-legged and then get up again without using your arms is an easy test of your flexibility, strength and risk of dying. I can’t tell you how many of my patients can’t sit up in bed without a boost from me or their hospital bed. Many Americans suffer from chronic neck and back pain due at least in part to poor posture and core strength. Cardiovascular exercise is important too. Our gym just closed, so my husband and I are now looking for a new place for HIIT classes in the city. Any recommendations?

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

C.G.: The lowest point in my career is what some might have called the greatest.

After I finished my medical and public health training (twelve years on top offour years of college), I stayed on at Johns Hopkins for a couple more years. I was well positioned to stay at Johns Hopkins as an academic researcher, but was becoming increasingly dissatisfied and disillusioned. I also didn’t like that in academia we were forced to work in silos, structured around a more senior mentor and his (or occasionally her) NIH grants. In my experience, the NIH grant system promotes “safe” research, not innovation. I wanted to be in a place where I could be creative, have fun working with others and feel like I was helping people. Academia didn’t feel like the right fit.

I looked for jobs in public health both in the USA and abroad. Meanwhile, I was starting to burn out on travel overseas—I was flying to sub-Saharan Africa every six to eight weeks for a couple weeks at a stretch—and spending a lot of time away from my husband Grant, who also travels a lot for his job. We both thought we’d ultimately like to move back to NYC one day. He’d lived there after college and I lived there part-time with him in the late 1990s until we moved to Seattle together. So I focused my efforts on finding a job in NYC, and specifically at the NYC Department of Health.

I eventually landed a job as Assistant Commissioner, leading the NYC Department of Health’s Bureau of Tuberculosis Control—the current CDC Director Tom Frieden’s job in the early 1990s. But the place had changed a lot in the twenty years since. In the early 1990s, NYC was experiencing a spike in TB cases among the homeless and HIV-infected patients and funding was plentiful (thanks to Reagan Administration era cuts in public health infrastructure). It took about a billion dollars to control that TB outbreak.

I arrived in the job post-recession, post-sequestration. While I understood we’d be facing budget cuts, I didn’t realize what little control I’d have over who would be cut. I spent my first three months on the job meeting with as many of my staff of 250 as possible. I spent time with them in the clinics and the communities we served. And I put together a layoff plan in collaboration with HR and the Office of Labor Relations, only to realize that I was really powerless to target those cuts. Here’s an example to illustrate how I was trying to target the layoffs: I polled the staff to find out what languages they spoke. TB cases in the USA, especially in NYC, are largely among the foreign-born, in contrast to the early 1990s, when many of the cases were still among U.S.-born persons. It’s important to have field workers who make home visits who can speak to the TB patients. But there’s also a divide among the staff: older employees are largely African American or white while younger employees are largely foreign-born or white. And this is where the union-driven system of favoring seniority over skills and job performance becomes a real problem.

I felt physically ill going to the office. After much soul searching—and my boss’s generous and kind support—I decided to resign. From that experience, I learned that being the boss or having a big title don’t necessarily translate into impact. I found the job stifling. I couldn’t apply my scientific expertise or be creative. I believe that good leaders are good mentors to others and should measure their productivity through the accomplishments of their mentees. I didn’t feel like I could reward good work in a meaningful way. I could only scold bad performers. I also realized that this early in my career I wasn’t quite ready to give up the feeling of more tangible accomplishment. I didn’t like spending most of my day at a desk in the office or in meetings. I had become used to the more flexible life of an academic. You might have to work a lot, but you at least had the freedom to dictate when, where and how you did it.

My greatest accomplishment? I’m working on it … stay tuned.

Celine, husband Grant Wahl, two furry things and a baby.

Celine, husband Grant Wahl, two furry things and a baby.

J.P.: A few years ago I wrote a book about the 1980s Lakers—and, obviously, a big character was Magic Johnson. As you surely remember, when he contracted HIV there was this national irrational fear. Will he bleed on another player? What about sharing water? Surely he’ll die as a 90-pound skeleton. On and on. Now, however, people seem to shrug off HIV. Ho-hum. I wonder, in your eyes, if our general modern take on the disease is fitting with where we are, treatment-wise? Or have we grown too lax?

C.G.: If I were forced to choose between having HIV or diabetes, I’d choose HIV. We now have many effective, well-tolerated one-pill, once-a-day treatment options for HIV. If you have HIV, start treatment early after infection and take your medications everyday as prescribed, you can live a nearly normal healthy life. But I still wouldn’t wish HIV on anyone. While we don’t see many HIV-infected people dying from exotic infections (e.g. bird tuberculosis) anymore, we do know that if you have HIV, you’re at higher risk for cancer, cardiovascular disease, kidney and liver disease and dementia. Moreover, HIV is an expensive disease to treat and is still very stigmatized.

J.P.: Big, annoying question that fascinates me—how do these things unfold for you? What I mean is—OK, you’re Dr. Gounder, and you decide you want to study TB in Ethiopia. How does it happen? From decision to being on the ground? Do you come up with the idea, then pursue? Do you see some fellowship or such and think, “I’m going for this?” And when you arrive, is it, “Hey, she’s here!” Or “OK, figure it out on your own …”?

C.G.: First and foremost, where I work has been dictated by the need. It wouldn’t make much sense to go to Norway to set up malaria programs.

Much of this work is also about relationships and funding streams. Relationships are usually in the form of research collaborations or contracts for a specific scope of work. You’ve got funding for research and for programs, and there’s some overlap. There’s funding from the in-country governments, which rarely funds expats; government agencies (e.g. the U. S. Agency for International Development, the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U. S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the U. S. National Institutes of Health, and their foreign analogues like the UK’s Department for International Development); multilateral organizations (e.g. the World Health OrganizationUNICEF); foundations (e.g. the Gates Foundation); and religious charities. Non-governmental organizations (e.g. Partners in HealthInternational Rescue CommitteeSave the Children) are typically funded by some combination of all these types of funding.

My relationships were largely shaped by my academic connections. A colleague from Johns Hopkins was leading TSEHAI’s efforts to scale up HIV-related care in Ethiopia. Tuberculosis is the most common cause of death among people with HIV in the world. I reached out to my colleague in Ethiopia to see if I could help her incorporate TB-related activities in their work. I worked with other colleagues in South Africa, Lesotho and Malawi to do the same. These projects were supported by a combination of funding from the Gates Foundation, NIH and USAID.

Volunteering for the Ebola epidemic was a bit different. I started applying to volunteer as an Ebola aid worker in the summer of 2014, first with Doctors without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières, MSF), and later with the World Health Organization, Partners in Health, Save the Children, AmeriCares, the Red Cross, the International Rescue Committee and the International Medical Corps. MSF initially told me that they were only accepting volunteers who’d worked with them previously or who had experience with viral hemorrhagic fevers (an exceedingly small group of people at that time). I asked if I could get the appropriate training whether they’d take me. They said sure. I then reached out to several biosafety level 4 labs throughout the USA and asked if they would be willing to train me as they do their staff. A couple said yes, if I could fly myself out there. One of those labs then got back to me to say that the CDC had also reached out to them to organize a training course of their own. I then signed up for the CDC course. I went back to MSF to ask about volunteering. By this time the epidemic was completely out of control, but they simply didn’t have the beds or capacity to take on more volunteers. As Dr. Armand Sprecher with MSF told me, “there’s no point in hiring more pilots and flight attendants if you don’t have planes to fly.” So I looked elsewhere.

The application process with each of these groups was chaotic. They were inundated with applications from interested people, but didn’t have the ability to sift through them. People volunteered for all sorts of reasons. Many didn’t have the right skill set, so it was important to vet the applicants. I eventually heard back from Partners in Health. I passed the two interviews and vetting process and was offered a placement in Sierra Leone. Then over the holidays in December 2014, I received a call informing me that they were withdrawing the offer due to my media ties. I went back to applying and eventually landed another placement with International Medical Corps, this time in Guinea.

J.P.: You’re married to Grant Wahl, Sports Illustrated’s excellent (and always on the road) soccer writer. You, too, are always on the road. How do you guys make it work? What’s the longest you’ve gone without seeing one another?

C.G.: Good question. We try our best, but there’s no perfect solution.

We talk every day. We’re very much involved in the lives of each other’s families. When we’re in the same place, we enjoy each other’s company and shared interests. We also understand our limits. We realize there’s only so much we can take on, individually and as a couple. I don’t believe you can have it all, do everything well and be happy, at least not in our society. Grant and I don’t have kids because we don’t have the time or energy a child deserves and the time and energy it takes to maintain and nurture our marriage. I’d rather a husband and no kids than kids and no husband. Our two toy poodles, Coco and Zizou, are about as much as we can handle, and those two little furballs are our bundles of love and joy. As I write this, they’re snuggled up between me and Grant’s mom.

But these are very personal decisions. My mom was an amazing stay-at-home mom. My sister had a baby a year and a half ago and took almost a year off work afterwards to be with her daughter before going back to work part-time. My mom and my sister each made the right decisions for themselves and their families, as Grant and I have for ours.

That said, I also don’t travel as much as I used to. I left Johns Hopkins in 2012 in part because I’d burned out on all the traveling I was doing for work. Grant and I tried to align our trips as much as we could, but it still took a toll on us and our marriage.

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• Rank in order (favorite to least): Tim Howard, the Bureau of Tuberculosis Control at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, George Patton, handbags, Taco Bell, Adele, John Travolta, ESPN: The Magazine, Al Gore, Ben and Jerry’s: Al GoreBureau of Tuberculosis Control at the New York City Department of Health and Mental HygieneGeorge Patton, handbags, Adele, John TravoltaTim HowardESPN: The Magazine (I love the Body Issue), Ben and Jerry’sTaco Bell.

• Someone sneezes at the table next to you without covering up. Your reaction is?: To give them a look of disgust. Especially since I know what a sneeze really looks like. But don’t cover your mouth and nose with your hands when you cough or sneeze. Use a tissue or the crook of your elbow.

• One question you would ask Desmond Tutu were he here right now?: How can the United States undertake its own truth and reconciliation process to help our country heal from its history of violence against blacks and Native Americans?

• What’s the grossest thing you’ve ever seen?: I find smells to be far more off-putting than anything I’ve ever seen. Smells trigger an especially primal part of the brain.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Never. But I was asked to check on two sick passengers when flying back from Guinea after two months of volunteering during the Ebola epidemic. It crossed my mind that either passenger could have had Ebola.

• I have to think your last name is butchered quite a bit. What are the common misspellings?: Grounder

• Five favorite places to eat in New York City?: If I had to eat one cuisine for the rest of my life, it would be a toss up between sushi and French food. But since my mom is an excellent French cook and I’m a half-decent one, I tend to prefer going out for sushi. Our two current go-to spots are: Sushi Seki in Chelsea and Sugarfish in the Flatiron District. (We also love Kura, but it’s tiny, so you can’t just walk in; but the jewel box size and hushed whispers over soft jazz and exquisite fish make for a divine experience. We also love Sushi Nakazawa, but not only do you need a reservation well in advance, it’s also a big splurge.)

We enjoy going to BXL Zoute in Chelsea, Morandi in the West Village and LPQ in Central Park with our dogs when the weather is nice. Zizou likes eating bits of salad off my plate.

• Three memories from your first date?: With my husband Grant? 1. A black Argentine leather jacket; 2. Orangina; 3. Black and white cookies

• In exactly 22 words, make a medical argument for eating your own toenails …:

Hair and nails

Are made of keratin

Kid malnourished?

Got marasmus or kwashiorkor?

Eating nails might reduce hair loss

But won’t save lives

• As you surely know, at the end of “A Walk to Remember,” Jamie walks down the aisle for her wedding to Landon. She has leukemia, is days away from dying, but looks great and does everything without help. Is that even possible?: I haven’t seen it. I suppose she could have died suddenly if she had a leukemia-related complication like a blood clot.

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Martin Ingelsby

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As a journalist I’m not supposed to admit this, but the Quaz has leanings.

I mean, just look at the all-time categorizations. I love people from Mahopac, I love writers, I love sex workers, I love Wonder Years cast members and I love love love love folks with ties to my alma mater, the University of Delaware.

It’s a strange thing, perhaps, because several years ago the school’s athletic department ripped my heart out by eliminating the men’s running program, and I swore I’d never forgive. But, ultimately, I’m a Blue Hen, and history is history, and love is love and forgiveness is forgiveness and …

I digress.

With March Madness upon us, I thought it’d be cool to extend a Quaz invite to Martin Ingelsby, first-year men’s basketball head coach and a guy who, from all accounts, did a marvelous job in taking over a pretty thin roster and leading the Hens to a 13-20 mark. Martin came to UD from Notre Dame, where he played point guard before serving as an assistant to (former Delaware coach) Mike Brey for 13 seasons.

Here, he discusses what it’s like to watch the NCAA Tournament from a sofa, how a coach goes about connecting with a new roster, why Michael Porter, Jr. won’t be receiving a letter on Delaware stationary and um … what the hell is a Blue Hen?

One can follow Martin on Twitter here, and learn more about the basketball program here.

Martin Ingelsby, you didn’t wind up in the Elite Eight. But you’re the elite 301st …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So … what’s it like watching March Madness when you want to be in it?

MARTIN INGELSBY: Honestly, I hate it. I feel like I don’t have any friends. To not be a part of it, I felt like I was a bad kid for the year and I didn’t get any presents on Christmas. It’s very weird. But that’s always the goal—it’s the end goal to teams. At Notre Dame we would always talk about, ‘All you need is access to be a part of it.’ There’s nothing better than being there with your team, celebrating your season, seeing where you’re selected, seeing your team on the board. There’s so much excitement to be a part of that. And it hurts to miss that. We weren’t really sweating out selection Sunday like some teams. But I wish we had been.

J.P.: This will sound weird, because people are generally like, ‘March Madness! I love the final!’ But my favorite moment is always that early spark for the underdog, when hope is alive and it’s ‘Vermont 12, Duke 9’ or ‘Delaware 6, Arizona 2,’ with a minute gone in the game. Do you get that?

M.I.: A little bit. I think the best part of March Madness is the first weekend, when you have the upsets, you have teams … the 5-12 matchups, the 4-13 matchups. It’s so much hope. And when it whittles down you really do get the best of the best teams in college basketball. But what makes March Madness special is anybody can beat anybody. In a 40-minute game you’ve seen some of the greatest upsets in sport history coming out of the NCAA Tournament. Teams have hope. If you play well for 40 minutes, anything can happen.

J.P.: Do you think we’ll see a 16 beat a 1 in the next decade?

M.I.: I don’t. I don’t. I think the ones are so good. Now I think the 16s can play them tough for 30-to-32 minutes, but I’m not sure a win will happen.

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J.P.: For you personally, what’s your greatest March Madness moment?

M.I.: Hmm … let’s see. I’d say personally for me, being a part of it my senior year at Notre Dame. We hadn’t been to the NCAA Tournament in 10 years, and kind of putting our program back on the map. It was Mike Brey’s first year at Notre Dame, and just to be able to be there, to experience it. I remember watching the selection show in coach’s basement. To see our name pop up. We were the sixth seed, Xavier was the 11th seed with Skip Prosser was there, God rest his soul. And just to be able to be a part of it. So many memories over the year.

I’m from Philly, and in 1985 I remember watching Villanova knock off Georgetown and play a near-perfect game. Shoot over 80 percent from the field to knock off one of the best Georgetown teams ever. I remember being in my living room. My dad is a Villanova grad and I was a huge Villanova fan growing up. I was 7 at the time, and that’s the one I remember at a young age.

J.P.: If Georgetown-Villanova played 100 times, Georgetown wins 90 …

M.I.: No doubt about it.

J.P.: I’ve never asked a coach this—what is the transition like taking off a program? What I mean is, you’re named the coach of Delaware. Do you call [former coach] Monte Ross? Does that type of stuff happen?

M.I.: I did not. We did not communicate when I got the job. I’ve known Monte and his assistants for a while. I followed this program, obviously being from the area. I took an unofficial visit here when I was being recruited out of high school. But, you know, it was such a whirlwind for me to get the job. I interviewed in Philly, came down here and it was like, ‘Wow, it’s real. What do I do?” Because there’s not a manual listing the next steps. I did get the job, I went to Friday’s across from the Carpenter Center, I turned on my phone and I had 344 text messages to get through. So I got the tallest Coor’s Light beer I could get, tried to get through the texts and next thing you know there are another 325 texts becaue people are texting me back and forth. It’s a whirlwind, I’m thinking about moving my family, who do I need to call, who do I thank, talk to my parents, talk to Coach Brey. And it’s like, ‘OK, here we go.’ So that’s how it happened.

As a guard at Notre Dame.

As a guard at Notre Dame.

J.P.: Is the initial emotion excitement? Is it fear? Is there, ‘What did I get myself into’?

M.I.: Yes. Absolutely. All of the above. There were a lot of emotions. I remember when [Christine Rawak, Delaware’s athletic director] offered me the job I got choked up a little, because it was, ‘Wow, this is real.’ I had a chance to interview for some jobs over the last couple of years and unfortunately I didn’t get those. But this is the one I always wanted. I thought it was unbelievable potential; it’s a sleeping giant of an opportunity. So I was so excited to be able to et it. Leading into the interview I didn’t think I’d get the job. So I prepared myself not to get it. You know, maybe it’s just not my time.  So to be able to go through the interview, meet with the president, meet with the AD and to get the job on the spot—it was a whirlwind. Because then you’re packing up at a hotel, you’re heading down to campus, I have to talk to the team. What the heck am I gonna say to the team now? I’m going down there, we’re checking into the hotel, the press conference tomorrow, my phone’s blowing up. Then I have to speak to the team at 5 o’clock and I’m thinking, ‘I have to make a good impression on these guys so they’re excited they have a new coach.’

J.P.: So what was your message?

M.I.: So I went in, and I went around the room and I introduced myself and shook everybody’s hand and told them how excited I was to be their head coach, and that we have to get to work. And I promised them three things. I said: 1. We’re going to have a lot of fun; 2. Things are going to be different. And I said, ‘The third thing I promise you is things are going to be harder. And they have to be harder for us to improve as a basketball team.’ And it was short, and it was sweet, and it was, ‘OK, let’s get to know these guys.’ And I gave them my cell number. It was all about developing a relationship with your guys. I learned that from Coach Brey—it’s the most important thing when building a program. You have to have a relationship with your players.

J.P.: Here’s another weird one that I’ve never asked a coach. You’re Delaware. Do you send a letter to Michael Porter, Jr.?

M.I.: Haha.

J.P.: Do you send the letter, just for the hell of it? Or is that stupid?

M.I.: I wouldn’t waste … whatever a stamp costs these days, I don’t think I’d waste the 40-some cents to do that. You know, in recruiting it’s all about relationships and contacts and it was important for me to put a staff together to help us get really good players. Because at the end of the day I can be the best Xs and Os coach in the country, and it comes down to having really good players. I would love to recruit Michael Porter, but he’s not going to give us the time of day. I’d love to get our level Michael Porter … I mean, look, guys fall through the cracks and you need to turn over every stone. But we’d be wasting our time if we were calling him or Lonzo Ball—his dad. Can you imagine dealing with him in the recruiting process? You’d stay away from that one.

J.P.: When you coach at a Delaware … this is before your time, but when I was there they were opening the arena, and they had these sketches and it included banners from 20 years in the future and it was stuff like DELAWARE: 2020 NATIONAL CHAMPIONS. It was silly. Notre Dame, obviously that’s the ultimate goal. At Delaware, can you peddle that? Or do different schools have different outlooks on what they can accomplish?

M.I.: Yeah, I think each school has probably different outlooks. The blue bloods of college basketball aren’t worried about making it to the tournament. They’re about reaching the Final Four and winning a national championship. Um, not to say we can’t do that here. But we need to build our program to get access and be on a level where we can consistently get to the NCAA Tournament. I think it would be unrealistic to say ‘We’re going into this season to win the national championship right now with where we are at Delaware.’ Now, what gives you hope is a George Mason, a VCU, a team kind of at our level can make a run to get to a Final Four. A Butler, when they were building their program; to be able to make those runs and get to a Final Four and a national championship game … you need to have a lot of things fall into place and have some luck through the process. But we’re just trying to build our program to be in a position to reach the NCAA Tournament. Anything can happen. We have everything in place to be successful here. We have to get the players and establish our program and the culture to be able to get to that next level. It’s a process—the big word in sport is ‘process.’ The process to get there. I think we would be a little unrealistic and go into kids’ homes and say, ‘We’re in it to win a national championship right now.’ That’s not where we are right now.

J.P.: Steve Steinwedel is a former Delaware coach, and I always got the feeling he hated recruiting. You’re going into these homes, you know there are other guys selling their product, you’re begging an 18-year-old to come … how do you deal with recruiting? Because I feel like it’d lead me to put a bullet in my head …

M.I.: Hahahaha. Well just like sales … you’re a used car salesman, and you’re trying to sell an 18-to-22-year-old kid on an opportunity here at Delaware. Just like you would a student. When I got into the profession Coach Brey told me a great line. He said, ‘If you wanna make it in this business you have to remember three things and be really great at three things. One is recruiting. Two is scheduling. And three is recruiting.’ And he said, ‘Never forget that.’ That’s the backbone of a program—you have to have players. Obviously the way colleges recruit has changed over the years with Twitter and Facebook and Snapchat … the social media platforms. But I enjoy getting to know kids and evaluating prospects and getting to know families. You’re not just recruiting a 17-year-old kid, you’re recruiting his family. That plays a part into it. And you want a supportive family that’s pushing a kid to be a really good student, and also athlete. And as we recruit kids, it’s not just necessarily what they do on the basketball coach. You’re really trying to evaluate whether this kid is a good fit for our program. And talking o a high school coach, talking to a guidance counselor, talking to a teacher. Gathering information. Because one bad apple can turn a tide for a whole team. So it’s so important to get the right kids to build, and to know they’re represent your program in a first class-manner in everything they do.

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J.P.: Is there an awkwardness that comes with the phone call from the kid telling you he’s not coming to your school?

M.I.: It’s usually very short and sweet. Sometimes you expect it, sometimes you’re not sure. Sometimes, the ways kids now make their announcements, you find out about it on Twitter or some social media. You can tell by the tone of the voice that this isn’t going to go well. “Hey, Coach, I wanted to call and just tell you I’ve decided to go elsewhere …” You know, it’s hard because you invest a lot of time and money and energy in recruiting a kid, so to not be able to get the guys you want … that’s hard to swallow. Myself as an assistant, our assistants … you get to know a kid, you think he’s a great fit, he’s going to help change the program, he’s a starter from Day One, you’re invested—and all of a sudden he decides to go elsewhere. It’s a little knock on your pride. It definitely humbles you when you don’t get the guys you’ve heavily invested in.

J.P.: Have you had moments when you were completely, totally shocked by a guy not coming?

M.I.: At Notre Dame we had a kid who we recruited for, gosh, four years, and we thought we were going to get him. He was a point guard, he was really going to be a good fit for us. You know, it was between us and another school, but we thought we were going to get him at the end. It was, ‘Stay the course … stay the course—he’s coming.’ And all of a sudden he calls and says, ‘I’m going somewhere else.’ And it’s, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ You don’t say that, but you feel that. You’re furious. You don’t wanna talk to anybody. And nowadays social media makes such abig deal of it. It’s out there. ‘These guys won, these guys lost, they don’t know what they’re doing, how did they not get this kid.’ You have to have thick skin when you’re going through recruiting battles. And it’s different at this level, because we really have to recruit more kids than we did when I was at Notre Dame. If you had 10-to-12 kids on the board, you knew you’d get two or three of them. Here at Delaware we’re recruiting hundreds of kids, and you’re evaluating everybody. Because guys fall down to this level and there’s just more kids that are fits. Maybe not as talented to play at the high-major level, but they’re really, really good mid-major players. You have to have your eyes and ears open, and you’re on the phone all the time, and doing your homework, and watching video, trying to get the guys to help you take the next step.

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J.P.: Pardon my ignorance, but was it your staff that recruited [Colonial Athletic Association Rookie of the Year] Ryan Daly?

M.I.: Yes. And I actually went to the same high school as Ryan Daly, and he’s a Philadelphia Catholic kid, went to Archbishop Carroll, that’s where I went to high school. My high school teammate is the head basketball coach at Archbishop Carroll. So Ryan had committed to Hartford in the fall, signed his letter of intent, some stuff happened up there, got out of his letter of commitment to Hartford and was going to kind of wait it out, because he really wanted to go to Delaware. He had a bunch of buddies that went here, was close to home. And then they fired Monte in mid-March, and they didn’t hire me until two months later. So he was gonna wait it out, kept waiting it out. And, literally, I had talked to Paul Romanczuk, the coach at Archbishop Carroll, and said, ‘Hey, what do you think?’ He said, ‘If you get the job, Ryan really wants to come.’ So I got the job, Wednesday was the press conference, I called him Wednesday night, I talked to his mom and dad and him and he said, ‘Coach, I’m coming. I’m going to announce it tomorrow.’ Like that, it got done.

Now I knew we were getting a good player—Philadelphia Catholic player, tough kid, knew how to play. Did I think he would have the freshman year he had? I’d be lying to you if I said I did. But just the consistency with the way he’s been able to play and the way he’s been able to produce for us. And the one thing I tell people is when you see him play in games, that’s what we see every day in practice. And that’s the one thing I give the kid credit for. When he steps on the court in practice he’s ready to compete every day, he plays his tail off. I tell people all the time, when he steps on the court he is ready to rip your throat off. He is ready to go. And there’s a toughness about him that you can’t teach and coach.’

J.P.: Do you find it weird when a kid like Ryan requests uniform No. 0?

M.I.: Hahaha. I was surprised. All these low numbers are a thing now. When I was in college it was the teens, the 20s, the 30s. Now everybody wants 0, 1, 2, 3, 4. They want these single-digit numbers. The guys here refer to Ryan as “Agent Zero.” I guess that was a Gilbert Arenas things when he played. That’s his tag line now. His hashtag. He had a phenomenal year for us.

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J.P.: Your dad Tom played in the ABA with the Spirit of St. Louis. Did he tell stories, or was it a bip?

M.I.: He actually went out there last year, they had a celebration for that team. He has some great stories, some probably not appropriate for the phone. He had a great time. He said it was complete chaos. He talks about the guys on the team, but the play by play guy on that team was Bob Costas. And it’s amazing to kind of watch his ascension in the ranks, and there he was. But my dad definitely has some great memories of being out there and playing on that team. I’m going to get this wrong, but he said the owners of that organization made one of the best deals in sports history, and now it’s paid off in huge ways.

J.P.: I often ask this of sportswriters, but I’ve never asked a coach—you look around the world and you see climate change, famine, war. Do you ever have moments where it’s a Thursday and you’re coaching a bunch of kids and you ask, ‘What the hell am I doing with my life?’ I don’t mean that in a bashing way … sometimes I’m writing a book and I ask, ‘What am I doing?’ Do you ever have these crises of conscience, or never?

M.I.: Sometimes. I remember being at Notre Dame and Coach Brey talking about that. As an assistant a lot of times you’re suggesting things, and the head coach makes decisions, and sometimes he would be in a staff meeting and say, ‘What are we doing? What are we doing?’ And then a second later he’d say, ‘We have the greatest jobs in the world … we have the greatest jobs in the world. It sures beats a day job.’ But sometimes you have to step back and put it in perspective, and whether it’s through the ups and downs of the season … I’m the oldest of five kids. I have a brother in California who’s in the movie business. And he’s a screenwriter. Sometimes I’m coaching basketball, he’s doing this in Hollywood, my buddies from Notre Dame are making a ton of money in the financial world. And I ask, ‘Is this really what I want to do?’ And there were occasional moments before I became a head coach where I thought, ‘Maybe I just want to go back and be a teacher and coach high school basketball.’ You always have those thoughts in your conscience, and trying to figure out, ‘What is my purpose, and what am I trying to do?’ There is so much stuff going on. I don’t get caught up in politics, but with all that went on with this election—I watched it on CNN to distract myself from sports at times. And there’s a lot of interesting things going around in this country and in the world.

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• Five greatest basketball players you’ve ever seen in person: Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Allen Iverson, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley.

• Worst loss of your life on the court?: I would say my senior year at Notre Dame when we lost to Ole Miss in the NCAA Tournament. That, and then my senior year in high school we lost in the Philadelphia Catholic League championship. We were 27-0, we were the favorites to win the Catholic League championship, we got upset by St. John Neumann. That was one of the hardest basketball experiences I ever had after losing a game.

• Would you recruit 17-year-old you to play at Delaware, and what’s the scouting report?: Absolutely. I’m trying to find one now. Or a couple of them. Heady guard, knows how to play, can make shots, makes his teammates better, kind of a coach on the floor. We need one or two of those guys right now.

• Three all-time favorite movies: 1. Hoosiers; 2. The Usual Suspects; 3. Goonies.

• If someone asked you to explain what is a Blue Hen, could you do it?: No, I couldn’t. I need to. It’s some bird that has a light blue tail or something. I need to find out, because people ask me and I say, ‘Oh, the Blue Hen! It’s a bird that has a blue … um …’ (Jeff’s note: He did sorta try)

• Five words that apply to Mike Brey: Um … cool, loose, confident, positive, fun dude. That’s probably six.

• We start you right now, tonight, for the Knicks at guard. What’s your line?: Geez. 0-for-2, 0-for-1 from three, maybe nine assists, two turnovers and a handful of rebounds. I probably could play 18 minutes.

• Have you ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash?: No. I’ve been on a lot of planes, too, and charter flights that have been a little bit scary. My senior year we actually got struck by lightning heading to the NCAA Tournament. That was a little bit scary. We had two band members who refused to come back on the plane when we left. You feel the lightning hit. Even the pilot got on and said, ‘That’s the first time that’s ever happened to me. We got struck by lightning.’ And the plane, like, for about two seconds … we had guys on our team throwing up. It was a little scary. We were headed from South Bend to Kansas City to play in the NCAA Tournament through a bad storm.

• How’d you meet your wife?: At a bar in South Bend, Indiana. We went to school together. She’s from Denver, I knew some of her friends. I’ll never forget—we were at a bar, one of my friends said, ‘I have this girl I want you to meet …’ And the rest is history.

• I love the vision of you telling your wife from Denver, ‘Guess what? We’re moving to Delaware!’: Hey, we lived in South Bend a long time …

• The biggest cliché line used by coaches in pep talks is?: Oh, man. You’re putting me on the spot. I’ve always been, ‘Onto the next play … get onto the next play.’ That’s my thing. But that’s a tough one. You’ve stumped me on that.

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Kirk Haston

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I began the Quaz interview series six years ago, and over that period I’ve had myriad people try and guess my dream Q&A for this space.

The offered names run the gamut, from Obama and Trump to Michael Jordan and LeBron James. I’ve had people presume I want Joe Biden (liberal Blue Hen), Daryl Hall (Oates was magical No. 66), Celine Dion (her name has appeared in many rapid fires), J.R. Richard, Garry Templeton, Ken Griffey, Sr. (childhood favorites).


Truth be told, my ideal Quaz is … Emmanuel Lewis, the former “Webster” star who vanished from the scene a decade or so ago. Why Webster Papadopoulos? Because he’s quirky, and funky, and non-obvious. His path intrigues me, his journey intrigues me. I’ve read 1,000 stories about all the suggested names. But Emmanuel Lewis? There’s just not a lot out there. And the Quaz is all about learning what’s out there.

I digress.

The magical 300th Quaz is not the elusive Emmanuel Lewis. In fact, it’s sort of Webster’s funhouse mirror opposite.

You might remember Kirk Haston. You might not remember Kirk Haston. Back in the early 2000s he was a star at Indiana University, then was selected in the first round by the Charlotte Hornets. His NBA career lasted but two seasons, yet he is—truly—a kick-ass Quaz.  First, I covered Haston in high school. Second, he has a Coolio story. Third, he’s faced genuine tragedy, but addresses it with profound beauty. Fourth, he can tell you what Bobby Knight’s sweater smells of. And fifth, we’re kicking off March Madness, and what better way to begin than with a Quaz who walked the walk?

So today, I bring you Kirk as my 300th offering. You can follow him on Twitter here to learn about his career, his family and his day job coaching high school hoops. Also, click on the link to order his new book, “Days of Knight: How the General Changed My Life.” 

Kirk Haston, you are the Hornets’ 156th all-time leading scorer.

But you are Quaz No. 300 …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So having attended the University of Delaware, and being there (and covering) two teams that lost, as expected, in the first round of the tournament, I’ve often wondered what it is to be favored and lose. So … Kirk, in 2001 your Indiana Hoosiers were a four seed facing Kent State in the West Regional—and you lost. And, with that, your season ends, everything goes quiet, you return to campus. I know it’s an ugly memory, but what is that like? How does one digest it? How long does it take to move on? And what, in hindsight, went wrong?

KIRK HASTON: It’s pretty rough when the two toughest losses of your college career are in back-to-back games. My toughest loss to get over was the Big Ten Tournament championship game vs Iowa and then the next toughest loss was the very next game versus Kent State. We had a hard time that season guarding small guards; we matched up much better versus bigger guards, but small, quick guards gave us issues and that was a big part of our downfall in both of those games. In the Iowa game, two guards under six-feet—Brody Boyd and Dean Oliver—combined for 34 points  and were the only two in double figures. Boyd, who only averaged 5.8 ppg for that season, scored 22 points in that championship game. Then in the Kent State game, a six-foot guard, Trevor Huffman, destroyed us. He scored 24 points in the game, including 11 of their final 15 points. There is only one team a year that leaves the court winning its last game played, so if you play long enough you learn how to deal with what the ends of seasons feel like. To me, the hurt almost always feels the same at the end of the season, even today as a high school coach. But the fact that it hurts that much at the end of the season just signifies that it meant a lot to you to begin with. Which is a good thing.

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J.P.: You’re the author of “Days of Knight: How the General Changed My Life.” Now, from afar I never much cared for Bobby Knight. Actually, he sort of reminds me a little of Donald Trump—the bombast, the insults. What do people (like me) miss from afar?

K.H.: Yes, I wrote a book about Coach Knight that slants to the positive … but that was what my experience was playing for the man. In my three years with Coach Knight I would say that I understood the reasoning behind 90 percent what he said and did in the locker room and in practices and that there was about 10 percent that probably didn’t do anyone any good—which I’d say is probably a fair ratio for most coaches.

I’m a high school coach now and if one of my players said that I made good points 90 percent of the time I’d be thrilled. One of the frustrating things for former Knight players, though, is that 99 percent of the media coverage and spin is all about that 10 percent of negative and very little of it ever touches the 90 percent of good. I hope my book can be seen as an honest look from within the walls of Assembly Hall at a coach who was a complicated man with faults that have constantly been pointed out while his positives have been left by the wayside.

J.P.: How did this happen to you? Like, when did you first realize, “Dang, I’m REALLY good at basketball”? Was there a moment? A spark? A lightbulb?

K.H.: I was by no means a kid who was thought of as player who would someday play in the Big Ten. I was always tall, but I was a bit of a late bloomer athletically. I was a sophomore and 6-foot-7 before I ever even got my first dunk. Between by sophomore and junior year I put in hours of work to get my legs and game stronger. Toward the beginning of my junior year at Perry County High School we were playing a road game versus a school that was three times as large as we were. I cut toward the basket on the right baseline and our point guard threw a lob toward the rim. The pass was behind me, but I reached back and caught it with my left hand and was able to finish the play with a dunk. I think that was one of the moments that made me feel like I was getting closer to reaching that next level as a high school recruit.

J.P.: You were the No. 16 overall pick in the 2001 NBA Draft by the Charlotte Hornets, and I’m curious—what is it to be an NBA rookie? What I mean is, is it glamorous? Frustrating? Do veterans treat you kindly? Like crap? Was that a fun year for you? A frustrating one?

K.H.: My rookie season was tough.  It’s almost better for a rookie to start off on a bad team that isn’t in the hunt for the playoffs so to get more game opportunities. The Hornets were a playoff level team which meant there weren’t going to be a lot of meaningless games in which they could throw their young players out into in order to get some game experience since every game was crucial to playoff positioning (In my rookie season I never played double-digit minutes in back-to-back games.)

But I still came in with high expectations of what I would be able to do in my first year with Charlotte, since I was one of only a few forwards on the team. We had Jamal Mashburn and P.J. Brown, who I knew I’d be playing behind. But I felt like there were plenty of substitution minutes to be had at the forward spot. That is, until the Hornets traded center Derrick Coleman (who, by the way, was the only vet on the team who behaved as a bit of a tool to our rookie class) for George Lynch, Robert “Tractor” Traylor and Jerome Moiso. Nothing like having three extra veteran forwards added to the roster a week before the season starts. Paul Silas, the Hornets coach, loved veteran players, so going from third to sixth on the depth chart of a playoff team helped make it a long rookie year.

With Jerome Moiso.

With Jerome Moiso.

J.P.: Along those lines, I’ve often wondered what it’s like for a guy to leave college early, then spend his days sitting on an NBA bench. Like, did you regret the decision? Was it torturous, watching Indiana from afar as the team went on a Final Four run? Did you regret it? Do you regret it?

K.H.: In my heart I wanted to stay at Indiana for my last year, but in my mind I knew that declaring for the draft was the right thing for me and my family. Since I had redshirted I had already been at IU for four years and was all set to graduate, plus the longer you stay in college the more the pro scouts tend to overanalyze you to the point that you become a plummeting prospect stock. I was pragmatic enough at the time to realize that when you are someone who is not tremendously gifted athletically, but was coming off an All-American season, and was healthy, and had a really good NBA pre-draft camp … well, you had better take advantage of all of those criteria lining up at one time because you’re never guaranteed all of those things will ever line up again.

J.P.: So you were at Indiana when Bobby Knight was fired. In the heat of moments, everything is fiery, hostile, confusing, etc. Looking back, do you see the events differently than you did as a 19- … 20-year-old? Do you feel like there was a definitive right v. a definitive wrong?

K.H.: The No. 1 thing that still bothers me was that the administrators at the time had the chance the night before in our own locker room to tell all of the players that a decision had been made to fire Coach Knight. But that night they told us “no decision has been made.”  Then the next Sunday morning we find out they’ve called Coach Knight and told him he was fired.  Then the same administrators that wouldn’t talk to us straight the evening before wanted all of the players out there for display at the press conference the next day to announce the firing.  Looking back, if I had one mulligan, it would have been to never have agreed to go to that ridiculous press conference.

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J.P.: You’re 6-9—wonderful for basketball. But now that you no longer play, how do you feel about being so tall? Is it annoying? Can you fly coach? Do you get asked, “Hey, you play basketball?” at least 100 times per day? 

K.H.: You’d think when you’re 6-foot-9 and 255 pounds, and wear a size 18 shoe, that would mean that people would be less apt to want to talk to you. But in actuality it’s the exact opposite. It’s odd the types of questions people feel comfortable asking, such as, “How tall are your parents?” and “Do you have to special order your bed?” and “Do your shoes cost more because they have more leather?”  Once I even got asked where I order my pants from. Could you imagine if I just turned around to the person in line behind me at a Wal-Mart checkout and asked them where they got their pants and if they slept in a special bed? They’d probably call over the elderly Wal-Mart greeter guy to escort me out of the store!

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

K.H.: Greatest: Going 37-0 and winning a state title my senior year after losing by one point in the state title game the season before (The Michigan St. game winner is a very close second place though!)

Lowest: Losing the Big Ten title game to Iowa in the 2000-01 season. We had knocked off the No. 1 seed, Illinois, in the semifinals but couldn’t seal the deal in the next game.

J.P.: This is so horrifically sad, but in 1999 your mother Patti was killed when a tornado destroyed a friend’s house in Linden, Tenn. She was an elementary school teacher; you were her only child. Kirk, at the risk of sounding simplistic, how were you—a college freshman at the time—able to move forward after such a tragedy? Was it hard taking basketball seriously? Hard focusing on … life? And, if you’re comfortable, I’d love to hear about your mother. Who was she? What was she like?

K.H.: It’s hard to come up with the adjectives to describe how close my mom and I were, none of them seem to do it justice. The best way I can try to convey what it was like to have someone like her as a mom is to pass along a brief story of my all-time favorite Thanksgiving. The year before she died, my teammates and I were coming back from the Maui Invitational. We flew back and landed back in Indiana on the night of Thanksgiving Day. My mom didn’t want me to spend Thanksgiving in my apartment by myself, so she surprised me and drove up 350 miles by herself and had Burger King hamburgers waiting for me at the apartment when I got back to Bloomington. So we ate burgers and fries and watched the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. It couldn’t have been a better way to celebrate that particular holiday. That was the last Thanksgiving I got to spend with my mom. She passed away six months later.  It’s also, to this day, the last time I’ve watched It’s a Wonderful Life.

J.P.: I used to cover Major League Baseball, and it always seemed like the difference between a Ken Griffey, Jr. and a journeyman fifth outfielder was quite slim. A second faster swing, or 10 pounds more muscle, etc. Is it the same in hoops? What I mean is, in 2002 Tracy McGrady, Antoine Walker, Dirk Nowitzki, Shareed Abdur-Rahin all had huge years while you did not. So, what’s the difference between guys who have those sorts of careers, and a guy like yourself who was in the league for a brief span? Is it mainly talent? Health? Opportunity? And did you feel like, had things turned differently, you could have been a star?

K.H.: I don’t think I ever could have been a star in the NBA. It usually takes a combination of elite level athleticism mixed with good to great skills. Or, in the rare cases like Larry Bird, average athleticism with elite level skills. I do think I was capable of having a career that was in the neighborhood of six-to-eight years with career averages in the 8-10 ppg range and 6-8 rpg range. After I was cut from the Hornets I went to the NBDL and averaged 16 ppg and 8 rpg.  I know the “D-League” competition level isn’t what it is in the NBA, but I know that year in the NBDL also showed that I just didn’t go to the NBA and “lose” my ability to play the game. All sports success is a combination of hard work, timing, health, opportunity and coaching. I was very blessed to have hit the jackpot on most of those in high school, college and in the NBDL … I just didn’t happen to hit it when I played for the Hornets.

J.P.: You once hung out with Coolio. Explain …

K.H.: We were in Phoenix to play the Suns my rookie season. My teammate, Bryce Drew, and I stayed after our morning team shoot-around to get some extra shooting in at the arena. Our game started at like that evening, then right after our game against the Suns there was going to be a celebrity basketball game that involved—you guessed it—Mr. Gangsta Paradise himself, Coolio.

As Bryce and I were in the empty arena working out, Coolio came in to get some pregame work in also. We all talked for a bit and just hung out there on the Suns’ court for awhile. The real payoff for this encounter came a few hours later though. I hadn’t told any of my teammates that I had bumped into Coolio earlier in the day, so imagine the looks on the faces of Baron Davis, Jamal Mashburn and P.J. Brown as we are leaving the floor after our game and walk by the celebrities waiting to take the court and Coolio reaches out and gives me—of all people on the team—the good ol’ half five, half hug as we go to our locker room.

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• Five reasons one should make Lobelville, Tenn. His/her next vacation destination: How about three? 1. The Buffalo River: rock bottom, clear water, good fishing, good swimming, and it’s where Coach Knight accidentally got thrown overboard while on a fishing trip while visiting my hometown in 1999; 2. The Buffalo River Country Club: It’s definitely no Augusta National, but it has great golf tourneys and even better folks to play with and against; 3. Hunting: some of the best deer and turkey hunting you will find in the area.

• How did you meet your wife?: I was driving to the gym to work out at college campus near my hometown in Tennessee and I saw her walking across the parking lot. I stopped, rolled down my window, said hello, and asked her if she’d like to go out sometime. I figured that if she said “no,” at least I was in my truck with the motor running and could make a quick getaway.  Luckily, she said yes.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Jarrad Odle, Margot Robbie, Robert’s Western World, Eldridge Recasner, ear wax, the number 902, flying coach, Viola Davis, rap music, your left ear: Wow … just wow. Well, here goes nothing: 1. Margot Robbie (no explanation needed); 2. The number 902: because it’s probably close to the amount of times I’ve watched JawsGhostbustersThe Godfather and Back to the Future combined; 3. Jarrad Odle: Blunt friends are hard to find, when you do find them be happy they’re on your side; 4. Eldridge Recasner: Anyone who once played for the Presto Ice Cream Kings has to be in this top 5; 5. Viola Davis: In one of the rare, good Shia LeBeouf movies, Disturbia; 6. Rap Music: My friendship with Coolio says it all; 7. Ear wax: Is there any other product like the Q-tip in which one of the main reasons it’s purchased and used (to clean out ears) is actually not what it is recommended to be used for?; 8. My left ear: it sticks out too far and catches too much wind which leads to ear aches; 9. Robert’s Western World: I’m not a drinker, nor a liker of fried bologna so I’m out on RWW; 9. Flying coach: flying period actually.  I’m not afraid to fly, just afraid of what my knees feel like after having the seat in front of me lean back into them for two hours.  Exit rows for folks over 6-foor-5 is a must.

• The world needs to know—what was it like playing with Lee Nailon?: That, along with what will happen with our nation’s healthcare program, does seem to be some of the most pressing questions these days. Let’s just say this—there is a story that involves him, a plane, Canadian customs and a dog that should be told some day … but not now.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: No, but there were times after Big Ten road game losses that I thought I might get thrown off the plane because of how badly I’d played defense. (Before there is an Indy Star or ESPN investigation, let me say that I’m only kidding.)

• Five all-time greatest players you stood alongside on a basketball court?: Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Dennis Johnson, Tim Duncan

• What does Bobby Knight’s red sweater smell like?: Doughnuts and Boilermaker tears

• You have three kids. What’s your go-to parenting move if they’re all upset?: “Time to watch old YouTube highlights of your dad playing at IU!” … puts them to sleep every time.

• Five coolest NBA uniforms? Five ugliest?: Coolest—Lakers, Spurs, Bulls, Thunder, Sixers; Ugliest—Raptors, Hawks, Bucks, Rockets, Kings.

• One question you would ask Donna Reed were she here right now: What did you think of how bad Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty botched the end of the Oscars?

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Rabbi Jeremy Markiz

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I’m not sure what it says about my priorities that it has taken me six years and 299 Quazes for a rabbi to appear in this space.

Through the weeks I’ve had sex workers, white supremacists, morticians, Trump voters, ballet dancers, rappers, athletes, politicians, priests. I’ve had academics, coaches, high schoolers, gurus. Some have been amazing, some have been crappy. Some have made me laugh, some have made me cry.

Never, however, was I compelled to host a rabbi. Which, again, is sorta weird … considering I’m Jewish.

Well, today the long national nightmare comes to an end. Jeremy Markiz is a Pittsburgh-based conservative/Masorti rabbi who—in his words—”seeks to explore how, through the lens of Torah, we can inspire justice, love of all people, and build healthy and meaningful relationships with each other and God.” He also happens to host a fabulous blog and podcast (Mind Lox), and is a tremendous Twitter and Facebook follow.

Soooooo … mazel tov, Rabbi Markiz! You’re the 299th Quaz Q&A …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Rabbi, I’m going to start with a weird question, and it’s probably sort of off-putting. Namely, what the hell do you know? What I mean is, you’re probably 15-to-20 years my junior. You’re too young to have experienced tons and tons of stuff. Massive death, the loss of a parent, election highs and lows, etc … etc. I mean, I know you have some exposure. Because we all do. But, going off of age, it has to be limited. So why would people turn to you, as their rabbi, in time of need?

JEREMY MARKIZ: There is a real truth underlying your question here—what does a late 20s, trauma-free rabbi have to share? I can admit, I’ve been very fortunate to have had an easy life, without much loss, no kids, etc. I’ve had the opportunity to serve as a chaplain, while a rabbinical student in Los Angeles, and I can say, most people aren’t really looking for answers. People want to know that someone is there to listen, to honor their questions and their struggles, to feel like they have someone on their team. So yes, I can’t really counsel someone on how they should raise their kids or whether or not they should pull the plug on their beloved parent (not to mention that I’m not professionally qualified for that). What I can offer is, ultimately, love. To love someone by listening, by struggling with them, and by providing any wisdom that the Jewish tradition might have to offer.

J.P.: Do you believe in life after death? Heaven and hell? Does the possibility of eternal nothingness scare you at all? Worry you? Are you comfortable if this is as good as it gets?

J.M.: I don’t know. Are you surprised? I definitely don’t believe in a heaven or a hell in the fluffy white clouds and eternal fire sense. The rabbis did describe a Gehenom, a sort of purgatory, and there are references to an underworld, but neither ever really did it for me. The rabbis didn’t have an answer and in truth, it didn’t matter. For the rabbis, and this is true for me as well, the focus was, and still is, about what we do in the here and now. How I actually treat my neighbor is more important than whether or not we’ll give each other high fives in some afterlife. That being said, the Law of the Conservation of Energy has always spoken to me. We’re not solely a body and a brain, there is a spark of energy that seems to animate us. The total is greater than the some of the parts might be a good analogy. As such, I believe that energy goes somewhere. To where? Who knows …

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J.P.: So I know you attended the University of Oregon, graduated in 2010, then received a masters degree from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in 2016. But why become a rabbi? When did it first interest you? What was the path? And how did/does your family feel?

J.M.: I’m not sure this will put me in the greatest light, but I went to rabbinical school for myself. I had always wanted to learn in a serious way, to study Talmud, and explore the tradition deeply. Rabbinical school was the way I did that. That isn’t to say I’m selfish, no more than anyone else at least. I have always been involved in building community, taking on leadership roles, and serving others, so my rabbinate would always include that. I remember in the sixth grade, we had to do a job shadow project. I followed the rabbi around, sitting in on his meetings, visiting the sick in the hospital. It sank pretty deep in my bones, I guess. After that, I took leadership roles in my youth group in high school, focused my studies towards Judaism in college, and was deeply involved with Hillel there. Spending time in Israel in high school and in college made a big difference, too. By the time I entered rabbinical school, it was definitely the right thing for me to do.

While I was studying in rabbinical school, I asked myself a lot about what I wanted my rabbinate to be about. A little more than six months out, I’m not sure yet, but I can tell you this for sure: helping people develop a relationship with their tradition, to own it and be literate in it, to have access and confidence in exploring it are the cornerstones of the work that I have always done and will continue to do.

My family has always been really supportive. When I decided to go to rabbinical school, you can be sure, absolutely no one was surprised.

Left to right—Rabbi Marcus Rubinstein, Rabbi Marquise, Rabbi Adir Yolk and Rabbi Joshua Buchin

Left to right—Rabbi Marcus Rubinstein, Rabbi Markiz, Rabbi Adir Yolk and Rabbi Joshua Buchin

J.P.: There are a good number of ugly passages in the Torah in regards to women, land, fighting. I’m sure you’re asked about this every now and then, so how to justify a text that doesn’t always feel/read so holy?

J.M.: Yeah, this is a tough one. First of all, I don’t read the Torah as literally true, as one might read a history book. For me, Torah is not history. It is the story that the Jewish people tell themselves. I believe that the Torah is the result of various human beings’ encounters with the Divine and the transcription of those experiences into a narrative combined with our ancient Israelite narrative. As a result of those two things and my belief that God would not have us reject people for the way they were born, I try and find another way to understand those texts or put them in the historical context in which they were written. In either case, I don’t apply them. There isn’t a circumstance, for example, in which I can understand Torah to reject LGBTQ individuals. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

J.P.: I’m always slightly confused when I see these events where you’ll have a rabbi, a priest, an imam. They’ll all gather together to pray for something, yet you all have such completely different ideas of God and spirituality. You think they’re wrong, they think you’re wrong. So why do it?

J.M.: While there are certainly beliefs that Jews, Christians, Muslims, and others differ, there are many places in which we agree. Most importantly, I believe that most clergy people share the value of trying to make the world a better place. In the spaces in which we agree, we can make serious impact. I certainly don’t agree with everything my family believes, but that doesn’t prevent us from cooking a delicious dinner together. Often by working together we can make a greater impact than individually. This is the reason I personally look forward to when I can work with my fellow religious leaders.

J.P.: I’ve attended Bar and Bat Mitzvahs that feel like weddings. Cost $500,000, hired dancers, prize giveaways, half the people wasted, only a handful actually attend the service. And it makes me, truly, sick. How do you feel? How did this happen? And is it OK?

J.M.: I’m not a fan of that type of Bnei Mitzvah experience personally. To summarize, Bnei Mitzvah ceremonies were created nearly a century ago to celebrate a child’s entrance into communal obligation and as such bring the whole family into the synagogue. As many families have drifted away from synagogues, yet feel bound to this tradition, they shifted the celebration to the child instead of the community.

Now, I hardly wish to dictate how someone should live their lives. Instead, I’d offer an alternative experience in which our young person would learn how to access our tradition through a combination of learning skills and asking themselves self-reflective questions. From the point of their Bnei Mitzvah and onwards they would explore what being adult means, learning new life skills and engaging with real responsibilities. This could be a profound experience bridging the eight years before the graduation into legal adulthood. I bit of a grandiose image but something I believe would be deeply powerful.

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J.P.: What’s your take on anti-Semitism in America, 2016 version? Do you think it’s gotten better? Worse? Did some of the Donald Trump imagery bother you? Along those lines, can you—as a rabbi—speak out against a candidate in an election? Are you comfortable with that?

J.M.: I’m really scared by it, but I won’t let it deter me from fighting for what’s right. Standing up for those who are being attacked is more important now than ever, regardless if it is directed to Jews. I find the imagery that Donald Trump has employed to be terrifying, shameful, and entirely inappropriate. I will not accept it and will fight that type of speech every day that I need to.

As for rabbis who act and speak politically, this is a more complicated question. First of all, rabbis, much to the surprise of all, are in fact people with our own opinions. As such, we should being able to share those opinions. At the same time, we are leaders of people who are diverse in thought and political opinions who deserve to be respected.

Hate is never permissible and everyone should feel comfortable speaking out against it.

J.P.: I rarely go to services at my local Reconstructionist synagogue, mainly because while the rabbi is wonderful and the people nice, the services don’t inspire me. It’s the story of my life as a Jew—yawn, yawn, yawn. Why are we, as a people, not more Southern Baptist-ish in presentation? Why no gospel? No screams of joy? It all feels very stilted.

J.M.: Well, I think cultural background and milieu make a big difference. That being said, we Jews have lots of musical and joyous expressions. I’m a huge fan of Carlebach melodies for Kabbalat Shabbat which, in the right setting, can be quite raucous. I think that people are afraid of trying new things and feel strongly attached to “the way we’ve always done them.” For myself, I also need different types of prayer experiences at different times. Sometimes, I absolutely need the joyous, dancing type of prayer. Other times, I need the mumbling, non-musical type.

J.P.: What’s the challenge of consoling people after loss? How do you approach it, step by step?

J.M.: Everyone grieves differently. The only thing we can do is listen, to be present, and not pretend it isn’t happening. Really simple and really hard.

J.P.: How do you feel about Jews who put up a Christmas tree and hand out gifts on the morning of Dec. 25?

J.M.: People should do what they want. I’m not in a position to tell people what to do. For me, I’m very satisfied with my tradition and what it offers me. For my Christian friends, I happily wish them a merry Christmas and hope that they have the most wonderful holiday.

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• Rank the songs (best to worst): Hava Nagila, Adon Olam, Hatikvah, Dayeinu, All I Want for Christmas is You: Adon OlamHatikvahDayeinuHava NagilaAll I Want for Christmas is You.

• Who wins in a 10-round boxing match between you and Flavor Flav? What’s the outcome?: I’ve got some years on Flavor Flav, so I say me, 6 to 4.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Mike Pence, iced coffee, purple, Vlad Guerrero, Chuck D, Ventura Blvd, Seattle, purple yarmulkes, Shawn Green, your middle toe on your left foot, egg nog: Iced coffee, purple yarmulkesSeattle, Ventura BlvdMiddle toesChuck D, unfortunately I’m not a huge follower of baseball, a shonde, I know, so I’ll put those fine gentlemen here, eggnogMike Pence.

• In exactly 23 words, how do you feel about Avis?: Avis is a rental car company that I rarely even notice unless it shows up in a list of other rental companies, seriously.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Planes kind of freak me out, I know they’re safe and all, so I think this a lot. I usually think about my family and all of the things I’ve left undone.

• How confident are you in the story of Noah’s Ark? Likelihood it happened as told?: To me, Torah isn’t history, so I rarely think about it. I believe there was probably a huge flood, since it shows up in lots of ancient stories, but beyond that, I don’t worry about it too much.

Wife and I debate this all the time—is it OK to serve pork at a Bar Mitzvah or Jewish wedding if the people being celebrated aren’t kosher?: I wouldn’t want to get into a debate between you and your wife. That said, I’m not a huge fan.

• How many Nirvana songs can you name sans looking them up? List them here: LithiumSmells like Teen Spirit (Man, I’m so embarrassed by this).

• Why do you think donuts need holes in the middle? Seems like you’re taking away an extra bite: Yeah, but then you wouldn’t have donut holes. Bite size donuts? I don’t think I could give it up.

• Who wins the presidency in 2020?: Van Jones (if only)

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Dave Kindred

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So a couple of months ago I was driving home from Los Angeles when I began to play the latest episode of Seth Davis’ regularly fantastic podcast.

That week’s guest was Dave Kindred, the former Washington Post columnist and a man I both admired (as a scribe) and knew little about (as a human). To be honest, I figured it’d be a bunch of stories about the good ol’ days from a writer who chronicled some of the biggest moments in sports over the past half century. Instead, much of the episode was devoted to, well … um … eh … a high school girls basketball team in tiny Morton, Illinois.

This, I thought, is unexpected.

It turned more so. In his retirement from newspaper, Kindred has been covering girls prep hoops for … his Facebook page, as well as a local website. And here’s the beauty: He loves it. Like, loves loves loves it. Attends every game. Knows the girls and their parents. Has even written a pair of books about the Lady Potters. I was both mesmerized and dumbfounded, and decided, at that moment, the Quaz needed Dave Kindred.

So here he is. With stories of girls basketball, and Muhammad Ali, and Joe Theismann; with his take on the death of print and the thrill of capturing a moment.

One can follow Dave on Twitter here, and visit his Facebook page here.

Dave Kindred, you are the 298th Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So you’re The Man. Truly. A journalistic legend, an all-time great talent, someone I’ve admired for decades. And right now, as we speak, you’re covering—100 percent by choice—the Morton High School Lady Potters basketball team for a local website and on your Facebook page. Um … why? How? And does it bring you the same satisfaction, of, say, a World Series or big heavyweight fight?

DAVE KINDRED: To answer the easy question first: Yes, the satisfaction and the dismay are the same, all depending on how well I reported it and wrote it. It has been my blessing and curse that whatever I write, I try to make it better than the last thing I wrote—or at least the best thing I can write with the material at hand. The only real difference is the pay. Newspapers and magazines pay better than my Facebook page, though the website does pay with a box of Milk Duds occasionally … Morton, Illinois, is a small (pop. 16,670) west-central Illinois town next door to Peoria. After 45 years away, my wife, Cheryl, and I moved back in 2010. I went to a girls’ game because my sister had been a long-time babysitter for one of the players. I found out there was a team website. I asked the webmaster if I could write for him. He later said he sized me up as “some disheveled guy just coming out of the stands.” I told him, “You could Google me.”

I’m now in my seventh season. I’ve written over 200,000 words on the website and have done two books on the Lady Potters following back-to-back state-championship seasons. (You could order them from the website. Thanks.)  Why do I do it? Why does anyone work for no pay? It feels good. It feels right. It’s where I started, in little gyms around Illinois. It’s a game I love, basketball, and the Lady Potters play it with class, elegance, and grace. They’re now on a three-year run during which they’ve won the two state championships and 78 of 84 games. John Wooden liked women’s basketball. He said women can’t overcome mistakes with physical strength, and they only rarely can create their own shot. So they must master the fundamentals of ball-handling, defense, rebounding. For the same reasons, Draymond Green has said he likes watching the WNBA.

Here’s a thing, too—it feeds my reporting addiction. I don’t go to Lady Potters’ games for the “experience,” the spectacle, the hype that big-time sports sells. There are no cheerleaders, no halftime extravaganzas, nothing but four eight-minute quarters and you’re done. I go to watch a game and find a story. Stories are everywhere, you just have to pay attention. That’s what I’ve always done, whether it’s a Super Bowl or a World Series or an Ali fight—I ignore the hype and write what I’ve seen, what I’ve learned. I mean, if I go to a Broadway show, I want to go backstage afterwards to ask the actors why, why, why. After a Lady Potters game, I wait around with the parents on the court—pure Americana, pure heartland—and wait for the players to show up. I ask them why, why, why. Then I go home to the typing machine and try to earn my Milk Duds.

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J.P.: I’m gonna go totally random here, because it’s my Q&A and I can be as odd as I please. In 1987 you were the ghostwriter of Joe Theismann’s autobiography—the memorably titled, “Theismann.” I’ve never ghosted a book because A. You split the money; B. It seems pretty thankless. So what was the process like for you? Was it fantastic? Awful? Was Joe an interesting man? And how’s the book?

D.K.: In my time as a columnist at the Washington Post, Joe had been a reporter’s dream. He’d won a Super Bowl, he was counted as one of the game’s best quarterbacks, and he would talk all day on any subject. For all those reasons, I once proposed doing a book together. He passed on the idea—until Lawrence Taylor snapped his leg in two. From his hospital bed, Joe called me. “Dave, that book you wanted to do, I’ve got time now.” I wasn’t a “ghost” in that I was invisible. I’d call me an accomplice. My name was on the cover in small print, “With Dave Kindred.” But after “Theismann,” I never again aided and abetted in someone else’s literary crime. It was like studying to be an architect, then building a doghouse. Not to disparage Joe. He loved football and he was a quote machine. If you didn’t ask to interview him, he’d pick up your tape recorder and interview himself for you. My favorite moment in the book process came when I asked how, at Notre Dame, he passed for over 500 yards against  Southern Cal during a game-long rainstorm. How could he throw so well in the rain? He loved to talk about that game, a signature moment in his career. I was interested in the craft of that moment. Really, Joe, how did you do it? He began an explanation that got around to different finger pressures on different places on the ball. But when he couldn’t really explain the explanation, he gave up. He said, “Aw, that’s just bullshit. I have no idea.”

The book was as good as I could make it. It had some good stuff on George Allen, Joe Gibbs, Jack Kent Cooke, and John Riggins. The book’s publisher also wrangled a memorable blurb from John Madden. It’s on the back cover. In its entirety, the blurb goes, “Hey, not bad!”

Kindred, upper left, in his newspaper days in Louisville.

Kindred, upper left, in his newspaper days in Louisville.

J.P.: You’ve written a ton on Muhammad Ali over the years, including a book, “Sound and Fury,” about his relationship with Howard Cosell. This might be a quirky way of approaching the subject, but … do we at all overstate or overrate Ali’s greatness and meaning? I’m not referring to his boxing skills. I mean more along the lines of his late-life status as a holy, near-Gandhi-like figure …

D.K.: Ali was whatever you wanted or needed him to be. A sweet-hearted saint? OK. A crueler-than-hell sinner? OK. That’s no answer to your question, but it’s the best answer to the mystery of a man once reviled and finally, in his years of brain-damaged silence, revered. He was a follower, not a leader; he was a symbol, not an actor. He gave us reason to despise him and he gave us reason to love him. It was up to each of us to decide what we wanted him to represent. If we think of him as a great man of principle—for refusing the draft, for being willing to go to prison for his beliefs—we should also know that he didn’t refuse the draft so much on principle—he had no idea what that war was about—as he refused on orders from the leader of a racist cult/religion, Elijah Muhammad. That said, it is yet true that his refusal inspired thousands, if not millions, of protestors against that war. They didn’t care if he couldn’t find Vietnam on the globe or had never heard of dominoes falling in Asia or simply didn’t like the idea of getting shot. They cared only that the most famous man on earth stood with them at risk of his career and life. Ali’s resistance against the most powerful government in the world was no small thing, however it came to be. He gave courage to lots of folks, black and white, in lots of ways.

J.P.: Your professional career was spent largely at newspapers. Now newspapers are, print-wise, on the verge of death. I’m wondering how this makes you feel, and if you believe the business did anything wrong, or whether it was merely inevitable?

D.K.: I’m a newspaperman and proud of it. I once dedicated a book to my grandmother, Lena, who every Sunday in Lincoln, Illinois, sent me to the train station to pick up the three Chicago papers. l grew up with the inky smudges of newsprint on my fingers. A newspaper paid my way through college. I won a journalism scholarship with an essay about why I’d like to be a reporter. All I remember about the essay is that I said I was curious. I wanted to know things. After college, newspapers paid my way through life. For 50 years going onto 60, I couldn’t imagine starting a day without reading two or three newspapers. For one thing, I thought it was a citizen’s duty. How else do we know the difference between a Trump and a Clinton? But now the media landscape is so broad, with so many vehicles, that I rarely touch newsprint. I read the best newspapers online, and Twitter has become my daily index to news I might otherwise miss. I’m a dinosaur trying to stay alive.

In the "Hoosiers" gym, Knightstown, Indiana.

In the “Hoosiers” gym, Knightstown, Indiana.

 J.P.: You have a go-to line that has emerged as a favorite of mine: “If you pay attention, you’ll see something you’ve never seen before.” First, do you truly believe this, or is it more like, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”—sorta kinda correct, but not fully? And, second, how had the approach and thought process impacted your career and your writing?

D.K.: The full line finishes … “and write about that.” Yes, absolutely, I believe it—not 90 percent of the time, not 95 percent, 100 percent of the time something will happen you’ve never seen before, you just have to have paid attention long enough at enough games to know what thing thing is. It doesn’t mean the thing has never happened, it’s just that you have never seen it before and now you have a chance to learn something and pass it along to readers with the enthusiasm that comes with discovery. Last season during a Monday Night game, Jon Gruden, who has seen more football than any of us, saw a punter make a helmet-to-helmet tackle and practically jumped out of the TV booth. “I’ve NEVER seen that before,” he said.

Some of the never-happened-before stuff is obvious. When Bob Knight throws a chair across the court, yeah, we’ve never seen that one. Some of it, you really have to be paying attention—and by “paying attention,” I don’t mean just watching closely, though that’s the foundation of it all. I also mean putting yourself in position to see things happen. One of the Lady Potters twisted an ankle badly the other night. The coach and an assistant CARRIED the girl, sedan-chair style, to the locker room; then her father CARRIED her, like the baby she once was, out of the locker room. I’d never seen that before. I wrote about it, I even took a picture of it. Here’s another one:

At Augusta three years ago, I told a buddy, Steve Hummer, “Let’s go out,” meaning out of the media building. (Red Smith’s advice to reporters: “Be there.”) Steve and I walked to a spot behind the second green. Louis Oosthuizen, from the top of a distant hill, hit a shot that flew forever, landed on the left side of the green, then turned toward the flagstick, rolling, rolling, the crowd’s noise rising as the ball rolled forever, always toward the hole—until it fell in. A double eagle. We started interviewing people. We hadn’t been waiting in the media building for news to be handed to us. We’d been paying attention and we saw news happen. We wrote about that.

J.P.: I’m of the belief that every longtime journalist has a money story. Meaning, you’re at a party, a bunch of people are gathered around—and you tell this gem. For me, it’s probably the whole John Rocker thing, which I’ve recited a solid, oh, 800 times. Dave, what’s your money story? The single weirdest or craziest or coolest thing to happen in your career?

D.K.: I once was in bed with Muhammad Ali. It’s the lead anecdote in my book, “Sound and Fury.” Amazon probably lets you read it for free. But one that I’ve not written? The night Bob Knight cuffed the Kentucky coach upside the head—then didn’t want to talk about it. It was December of 1974. Had it happened after ESPN’s creation, you’d have seen it on TV on a 24-hour loop. Knight’s first great team had Kentucky down by about 30 late. Suddenly, Knight is standing at mid-court with Kentucky’s Joe B. Hall. The game is flowing back and forth while the coaches are standing there. I see Knight drop his right hand behind Hall’s back. Then he brings it up swiftly, cuffing the back of Hall’s head, knocking him off balance. Knight drops the hand in front of Hall as if to shake hands. Hall refuses. Now we go to the press room after Indiana wins big. Maybe 30 reporters are there. People ask questions. I wait for the play-by-play reporters to ask their questions. I don’t care about the game. Finally, I raise my hand. I’ve known Knight a couple years by then. I know his combative, combustible personality, and I’m about to know it even better. “Coach,” I say, “what happened there with you and Joe?” Knight doesn’t answer. He looks around the room. “We’re here to talk about basketball. Anybody got a basketball question?” The dutiful press, sitting in little desk-arm chairs like 6th-graders, asks three or four basketball questions. I raise my hand again. “Coach, you and Coach Hall there at mid-court, what was going on?” Knight sees me, even hears me, but I am nothing he cares to acknowledge. “We’re here to talk about basketball,” he says. “Anybody got a basketball question?” Questions follow. Now I am more afraid, professionally, to not ask my question than I was to ask it in the first place.

Still, I ask some version of the question again, Knight ignores me again, until he turns those coal-black eyes my way and says, “Now, David, what did  you want to know?” I say, “Coach, 17,000 people saw you hit the other team’s coach. What happened between you and Coach Hall?” At which point, Knight gives some non-answer answer about how cuffing someone on the back of the head is a sign of respect and admiration, something he does to his players all the time. Well, OK, yeah. I leave and return to my typewriter where I’m writing a column until I look up and see a bear lumbering across the basketball court. A bear. That’s what Knight looked like back in the day. Big, strong, no shoulders. I turn to my neighbor in the press row and say, “This can’t be good.” Knight climbs up to my row and sits beside me. Then he says, “How do I get myself into these things?” I begin breathing again. He seems a touch remorseful. He seems a touch human. I ask him some questions, now doing a virtual live column, just dropping in his answers. And we got along well for the next 40 years.

J.P.: How did you go about writing columns? I’m talking soup to nuts here. You have a column due in two days. It’s, oh, baseball season. You would do … what?

D.K.: Let’s say the subject is PEDs and Cooperstown. I know what I think of Cooperstown, that it should represent the best of the best, those players who dominated play in their time. I long have discounted the “character” clause because that’s laughable, considering the men already inducted. From that baseline, I read what smart people have said about PEDs. I read histories of the game. I make phone calls to sages. A day of such work and review suggests a premise for the column. Let’s say the premise becomes “Who cares? They all did it.” The work provides lots of details supporting my premise and one or two details in opposition. Then the fun begins. You find a tone. Snarky, wise, comic, incredulous, whatever. And you write.

Dave with his sister, Sandy.

Dave with his sister, Sandy.

J.P.: How did this happen for you? I mean, when did you know you wanted to write? Hell, when did you know you could write? And do you think these things (writing skills) are natural gifts, or things one can acquire via work and reading?

D.K.: I was 17 when I wrote an English class theme for Miss Clarice Swinford saying I wanted to be a sportswriter. That decision came shortly after my father, then 47, challenged me to a race to first base. He won. Perhaps, I thought, I’m not going to be a big league baseball player; maybe I could be a big league baseball writer. The first time I understood what writing is, I was 13. Our seventh grade teacher, Miss Prior, read Jack London stories to us. I liked the sound of the words. I suppose I had a natural aptitude for writing, but I know I had to learn how to do it. I knew nothing about grammar, for instance, until I took Latin my freshman year in high school; Latin taught me English grammar. I have never stopped trying to learn. I’ve worn out a dozen copies of Strunk and White’s “Elements of Style.” I read everything and I write all the time. I read good stuff, figure out why I like it, and then figure out how it can work for me.

J.P.: In a recent appearance on Seth Davis’ podcast you made it sound like you hated covering football and watching football. True? And why?

D.K.: I’ve written long enough to notice recurring themes in what I do. Boxing is cruel, so the columns feel like they’re soaked in blood. Baseball and golf are played on grass in the sun and under bright lights, so there’s poetry. Football, as George Carlin said, is war, it’s blitzes, it’s bombs. I prefer poetry to war, so I’d rather write golf than football. If we accept the truth revealed by autopsies—that football is a violent game killing brains—then how do we justify it as spectator sport?  Armored gladiators in Rome announced, “We who are about to die salute you.” Is that what we want?

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

D.K.: In the early ’70s, happy at the Louisville Courier-Journal, I told my wife we’d move only for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times or the Washington Post. One day I walked into our kitchen and said, “The Washington Post called.” She said, “Oh, shit.” The day I sat in Ben Bradlee‘s office for a de facto “interview”—George Solomon did the hire—was, is, and will be the greatest moment of my career … The lowest? A day in June of 1991 when Frank Deford called to say The National was folding.

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• I’m sorta obsessed with this song lately. Thoughts?: I’m a musical illiterate. I liked the girl.

• Rank in order (favorite to least)—Gary Witts, black cherry soda, Peter Criss, toast with jam, Jim Fregosi, George Will, scented candles, the fourth night of Chanukah, Earl Cox, Michelle Obama, Gregory Hines, the alphabet: Alphabet, Earl Cox, Michelle Obama, fourth night of Chanukah, Gregory Hines, toast with jam, Jim Fregosi, George Will, Garry Witts, Peter Criss, (tie) black cherry soda and scented candles.

• Ten most talented sports journalists of your lifetime: How about I name a bunch who were/are fun to read, influenced me, and became friends? Red Smith, Jimmy Cannon, Bill Heinz, Bob Lipsyte, Dan Jenkins, Sally Jenkins, Blackie Sherrod, Jim Murray, Shirley Povich, Larry Merchant, Jerry Izenberg, Joan Ryan, Frank Deford, Dick Schaap, John Feinstein, Mark KramPeter Richmond, Hugh McIlvanney, Tom Callahan, John Schulian, Jane Leavy, Furman Bisher, Dave Anderson, Tom Boswell, Charlie Pierce. I could go on.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Chargin’ Charlie Glotzbach, a big-time stock car driver, had his own plane. I once flew with him to Indianapolis. As we descended to Eagle Creek airfield, a small plane appeared directly beneath us, apparently aiming to land in the same pasture. “Charlie?” I said. He did something that made us go straight up. The ascent also caused a buzzer to go off.  A red light came on. Under the red light, the word “STALL.” I said, “Charlie?” He said, “We got 30 seconds.” So we went from going down to going straight up to leveling off and coming down again. Then came the really harrowing part: riding shotgun in a pickup to the race track at 75 miles per hour on blind-corner country roads. I never went anywhere with Charlie after that.

• One question you would ask Busta Rhymes were he here right now: Can you print out the lyrics for me?

• How did you meet your wife?: In high school. My sister made me date her. February 24, 2017, we’ll be married 55 years.

• Five greatest pure athletes you’ve ever witnessed live?: Ali, Michael Jordan, Griffey Jr., Carl Lewis, Secretariat.

• What are the three most overrated statistics in sports?: I want to waterboard the guy who invented WAR.

• You wrote for Sports on Earth. Why do you think it didn’t last?: I’m still trying to figure that out for The National.

• You have a brilliant mustache. What are the keys?: Stand in the shadows. That way it’s golden instead of white.

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Kayla Michaele

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I don’t believe in psychic powers.

I don’t think my late grandparents are available for chats.

I don’t think tomorrow’s news is available today.

I don’t believe Madonna was once a street sweeper, who was once Albert Einstein, who was once a caveman named Ugh.

I just don’t.

That being said, I try and maintain an open mind. And today’s magical 297th Quaz Q&A is legitimately convincing. Her name is Kayla Michaele, and she’s a practicing psychic who has devoted her life to assisting via divine guidance. Her stated mission? “To help people by connecting with their Spirit Guides and Angels and provide them useful information to help navigate this trip called life.” Today’s mission? To be a kickass Quaz.

One can visit Kayla’s website here, and follow her on Facebook here.

Prediction: You are about to read a fascinating Q&A …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, so Kayla, how did this happen? Like, at some point we’re all kids, putzing around, trying to figure things out. Did you have a singular moment where you realized you had a certain power? Was there, literally, an ah-ha event?

KAYLA MICHAELE: People ask me all the time, when did I know I was psychic? There wasn’t a real “ah ha” moment … but events that led up to an awakening. When I was a child I always seemed to know things about people. Like, were they telling the truth? What kind of mood they were in or sometimes if things were going to happen to them.

When I was in third grade I had a strong vision of a boy getting hurt. His name was Scottie and was in my grade. I saw him playing baseball and getting hurt. I not only saw it, I really felt it. My knuckles hurt and started turning red. I had a crush on this little boy so naturally I was thrilled that I would be able to be the one to come to his aid. I packed up some wet Kleenex and Band-Aids (like 30 of them) and set off to the playground. There wasn’t anyone there. I must have sat there for over an hour waiting for a baseball game and Scottie to magically appear. Finally I started home, crying from confusion and heartbreak. I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t there. How could I have seen this in my head and felt the injury? It didn’t occur to me that this could be just my imagination. To me imagination and precognition were the same. That was Saturday. On Monday I went to school hoping that when I saw Scottie he wouldn’t know what foolish thing I had done (because I didn’t understand that not everyone knew what I did or couldn’t “pick up” on things/event like I could).

Anyway, I’m at my desk dreading that moment, when I looked up and saw him. I was elated … his right hand was all bandaged up. He had a baseball hit him squarely on the knuckles and his entire hand was bruised up. He had been injured like I saw, but it didn’t occur to me that it could have happened at a different ball park than the one near the school.

I kept this story to myself growing up because I learned quickly that if I did share what I knew I would be made fun of, ostracized or told that I was making the shit up. Gradually, I started ignoring what came to me. I would push it aside. That is when I started making some bad decisions in my life, because I ignored the signs and info about people in my life.

J.P.: On your website you write, “When I meet with a client, the first thing I do is ask Spirit how to best communicate with this person.” I don’t fully know what this means. Is Spirit an entity? God? Something within you? And how does Spirit respond to you?

K.M.: To answer the first part of your question on how to best communicate with each client …  some people are verbal, meaning they are the type who take instruction easier than being shown. Some people are visual, so I will either draw, doodle or pull some Tarot cards to better help put forth the information coming through. These are the ones you would need to teach by showing. Some people respond to music, so I will often get songs that will mean something to them. These are usually the ones you would need to teach by doing or having them practice … etc.

When I say Spirit, I use it as a catch-all. I get the information from several sources. When dealing with someone’s life situations I communicate with their Spirt Guides an Angels. This can only be done with the permission of the Soul of the person I am working with. If their Soul/Higher Self doesn’t want me to see something, I won’t. If I’m doing a Mediumship session (this is where I am connecting with someone who has passed over/died), then I am communication with that Soul/Person.

Now, not all psychics get their information the same way. Just as each client tends to communicate more verbally than visually, we are usually stronger or totally work in one aspect over another. For me, fortunately or unfortunately, I get it every which way so it can become a circus. What I mean is that I will get information by seeing, hearing and feeing it all at the same time. Sometimes I will get tastes or odors, but that is more rare and doesn’t really add much to a reading anyway. I know one psychic who sees the words spelled out, so she is literally reading the information.

J.P.: I feel like your job must come with some serious weight. I’m imagining you deal with people devastated by loss, by grief. Does that impact how you act … what you see? For example, if you get bad vibes from a distraught woman’s late husband, do you tell her so? What if you get nothing? Just—blank?

K.M.: Yeah, I’ve seen it all. I’ve had clients who want to speak with someone who thinks that they idiots. I had one man come to a public gallery event (that is where you are doing mini-spot readings with a group of people) and wanted me to connect with his dad who had passed away. So I connect with “Harry.” He shows me a large white grand piano in a living room and I hear what sounds like klezmer music but the notes were off. The client tells me that he, indeed, has a white grand piano in his living room and his father used to play it when he was alive. So I asked him, are you Jewish, because I kept hearing old Yiddish music, but it was out of tune.  He confirmed that he is Jewish and that his dad was terrible at playing.

As the reading continues he confirmed more information that I was getting; his father was one of three boys and was the last to die. His mother was still alive, but very Ill. His father had had a few careers—teacher, worked in a grocery store and had sold clothing. After all of this the man I’m reading says … ”Yes, yes this is all fine but I think that you are a fraud.”

“I’m sorry? What do you mean by that?” I asked.

He says that while I was correct in the information that I had given him he was still waiting to hear one thing. When his father was dying he asked him to say one thing and I hadn’t gotten it. It was at this point that Harry went behind him, looked at me and said one last thing. I didn’t know what to do. I told that client that he did say something, but it wasn’t very nice and that I wasn’t sure it was appropriate. The man got very angry and insisted that I say it.

Well, I said, “He thinks you’re a putz and said ‘Once a schmuck always a schmuck’ and that you were too cheap to tune the fucking piano.”

The man smiled and thanked me.

I tell you this story because you never know the story behind why people want to communicate with the dead. Sometimes they want to know how the person really died (murder cases or health cases where they don’t believe the doctors), they want to know that they made the right end-of-life decisions for the deceased.  Mostly people want to know that their loved ones are OK, happy and still exist.

I have had a murder case where I worked with a local sheriff’s department. I know that the case was solved but not sure if any of the info that I received helped in closing it, but I do know that the family has been able to move through their grief a little better.

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J.P.: Can you give me an example from your work? A story, a narrative—something that shows what you do, and what you can do for people?

K.M.: See above. Or …

First of all, other than the mediumship part of my work (by the way, all mediums are psychic, but not all psychics are mediums), most of what I do is confirm what people already know.  People have questions like, should I keep my job? Is my marriage going to work out? Etc. I will get information about what is going on in each situation, the perception or actions of the others involved and the best possible outcome. This is stuff people already know either intellectually or intuitively. But because it is coming from someone who isn’t privy to any of this information, then it can be taken as confirming. Who better to give unadulterated information than from a complete stranger who can see into what is going on?!

Here’s a story with a lovely ending: Several years ago a young woman about 25-years old came to me with her mother. Anyone could tell that she was very sad and afraid. Her question was would she have any children? The first thing I got was that she was currently pregnant. I also saw that this pregnancy was going to end tragically as had twice before. What the fuck was I going to say to this girl? This is when I have to remind myself that, as I teach my students, give what you get, but do so with grace and love in your heart. Here’s the conversation:

Me: Honey, you already know you are pregnant now, right?

G: Yes, but I haven’t told anyone (this is where her mother first hears of it)

Me: They tell me that you are asking the question because you have lost two other babies already? Is this correct?

G: Yes (she starts to cry)

Me: And you want to know if it’s going to happen with this pregnancy?

G: Yes (now mom is crying also)

Me: Oh honey, I’m not feeling that the outcome is going to be different this time either.

This is where more information starts coming in … so I take a moment to write it all down so that I can take my time giving it over to her and not miss anything.

Me: Spirit wants to talk to you about something that has to do with your marriage. Would you like me to continue?

G: (She nods her head)

Me: OK, this is what I heard. They say that they want to give you a nudge on something that you have an inkling on. They say that your husband isn’t totally on board with having children right now. He’s the type of man who wants everything to be in place and perfect before you start having kids. It’s almost like he wants to already be well into his career and in the house that you will be raising children. Also, he also still feels like a child himself. It’s not that he doesn’t feel up to the job or that he still has some living to do himself, he just needs to have everything complete so that he can give all of his attention and love to you and the children. This is a wonderful and loving man you have here, G. The problem is that he hasn’t told you any of this. He doesn’t want to step on your dream of having children before this happens. He loves you so much, but he feels like he is hiding something from you and this is why you have been feeling disconnected to him and that he isn’t as happy as you are during these pregnancies.

G: Yea, I get it. This is why I haven’t even told him yet. You, and now my mom, are the only people that know. I haven’t even been to the doctor yet. I’m only about seven weeks. So, you are saying that this pregnancy won’t go full term either?

Me: I’m sorry, but that is what they are making me feel. However, I do see the next one will go full term, but now without complications. They are telling me that there is something wrong with your womb. Something about the placenta growing or attaching in the wrong spot …

G: Yes that’s what happened before.

Me: I think that it may happen again, but for some reason it’ll work longer this time. So you may have a preemie situation here. Feels like a boy and it will turn out OK. Spirit says that you need to have a conversation with your hubby about his fears which are feeding, incorrectly, to your fears. They say that you will immediately become closer than ever, okay?

G: I promise. Thank you.

We spoke a little longer before they left. About six months later I received an email from her mother saying that she did lose that pregnancy but was pregnant again. She was very nervous that if this didn’t take that her daughter was going go into a deeper depression than she had the last three times. I emailed her back and said that Spirit reiterated the info that they had initially given and for her to stay positive. Spirit always has our highest good in mind when they relay information and that it was going to be okay. I found out later that she did indeed go into labor early 34 weeks and gave birth to a baby boy, who after a short stay in the hospital made it home healthy. Yeah!

So, what was I able to do?  With the help of Spirit, this young woman was given info that prepped her for a terrible and lovely outcome. They wanted her to not give up hope and they wanted to give her information about her relationship with her husband that, in essence, was hindering the birth process. What we do or chose not to do can and will effect situations in our lives.

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J.P.: Is someone born psychic, or do we all have the abilities and just don’t know it?

K.M.: We are all born with the ability. I hate when some people call themselves “natural born” psychics. It’s like they have to make other people feel inadequate or that they are somehow better than other psychics. We are all born with the ability, it’s just that some people can access it easier than others.  It’s like I tell my students … everyone can sing, we just aren’t all supposed to be starring in an opera

J.P.: Among your class listings is “Past lives and Reincarnation.” Which is pretty fascinating. Do you believe we were all other people before? If so, what was the first human? And what about the fact that there are more people walking the planet now than ever before? Is it even possible that we were all someone? Also, can we always figure out who the past person was? Or is it a bit of a crapshoot?

K.M.: OK, here I go. Yes, I do believe that are born time and time again. What was the first human? Not sure, not sure that I care or what kind of bearing it would have on someone. The question that you didn’t ask Is … why would we reincarnate?  Which needs to be explained before answering your other questions.

Our Souls chose to reincarnate simply so that they can experience all there is. They want to understand what it is to be the victim and the perpetrator, rich and poor, man and woman.  Every possible perspective of a situation or circumstance is desired so that it can become all encompassing. This is called Soul Development. In order to do this, the Soul needs to put itself into many lifetimes to play out different aspects and roles.

Who was the first person?  I dunno. That Soul probably doesn’t even incarnate anymore. I would suspect that it has achieved all that it would desire on this earth plain. At this point that Souls is closer to joining all that is (The Universal power … God).  Not sure … more than my little ape brain can comprehend.

We can see glimpses of past lives by doing a Past Life Regression. With the help of a Past Life Regressionist you can access some of your past lives. It’s very similar to being hypnotized. I’ve successfully gone through it a few times and it’s quite interesting and beneficial.

J.P.: How do you feel about your own mortality? Does it make you at all nervous? Death? Are you 100 percent convinced there’s something after this?

K.M.: I have no fear of death. To me being alive, here on earth, is more like a play that I am acting out. I truly believe that this isn’t real reality … back “home”/heaven is the real deal. Listen, I’ve been able to connect with those who have passed-over so I know that they still exist … somewhere and that is where I and everyone else will end up.

BTW I do not believe in hell … the whole concept bullshit.

J.P.: Let’s exclude you from this question. If I’m someone looking to have a reading done, what do I need to know in order to avoid cons, scams, quick money seekers? Is there a directory? A rating system? Are there tipoffs to bullshitters?

K.M.: Bullshitters:

• Will ask you leading questions …

• Will ask you for all of your personal info before doing a reading.

• Will tell you that you are cursed or that there is something attached to you and only they can remove it … for additional money, of course.

• Will tell you that you need to keep coming to them for many sessions.

• Will tell you that you are in danger… the Spirits are mad at you.

• Will tell you that your loved ones are stuck/Earthbound and only they can move them on …with additional money, of course.

• Will try and sell you potions or rituals to cure your bad luck.

If anyone tells you they are the only one who can help you and keep asking you for more and more money … run like hell!

There are directories out there, but really the only way to qualify a good psychic is either through word of mouth or meeting them and following your intuition. As far as rating systems there are some psychics who claim to be 99 percent or 100 percent accurate. This is bullshit, too. There is no way you can quantify that. I mean, you would have to get 100 percent feedback from all your clients on 100 percent of the information that you gave them. Impossible. Anyone who claims a percentage works purely through their ego and for their own gain.

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• Rank in order (favorite to least): Tammi Terrell, Echo Bodine, Edgar Allen Poe, Earl Weaver, 98 Degrees, crayons, swimming pools, whistling aloud, Dougall Fraser, Blockbuster Video: Crayons (64 box), Tammi Terrell (Gotta love a classic!), Edgar Allen Poe (“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream”), Blockbuster Video (I still owe them, like $32 in late fees), Earl Weaver (RIP), swimming pools (Kiddy pee … really?), Echo Bodine, 98 Degrees (Boy bands? Maybe if I was still in a training bra), Douglas Fraser (Don’t know who that is … but can’t be as irritating as whistling aloud), whistling aloud (This is, thankfully, outlawed in some States).

• If you do a psychic reading and you see that someone is going to get hit by a car and die tomorrow, do you say, “You’re going to get hit by a car tomorrow—stay inside?”: Nope … I wouldn’t get that info in the first place. Even if I did—maybe they deserve it?!?

• One question you would ask Marvin Hagler were he here right now?: Can I kiss your boo boos?

• What color shirt am I wearing?: You’re wearing a shirt? Red?

• Five reasons one should make Minneapolis his/her next vacation destination?: Don’t! We love it here and we don’t want anyone to know how cool it really is. But if you have to, come for the fact that in sub-zero weather you walk the entire downtown area and never be outside.

• Would you rather lick the entire floor of a New York City subway or listen to Justin Bieber’s last album on an endless loop for six-straight months?: How about having Justin Bieber lick the floor of the New York City subway? That puke.

• Four all-time favorite movies?: Hair, Imitation of Life (1934 version with Claudette Colbert), Heavy Metal, Thin Man (“I’m hungry…let’s get a drink” Nick Charles).

• Without looking, how many Blind Melon songs can you name?: Um …

• I always thought Kevin made a huge mistake leaving the Backstreet Boys. Thoughts?: Again … boy bands.

• You look to be a person with unfairly thick and lovely hair. What’s the secret?: Drinking, swearing and a good colorist. And thank you!