Jeff Pearlman

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Category Archives: QUAZ

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Stan Verrett

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A couple of years ago, while working out on the StairMaster at my local 24 Hour Fitness, I found myself watching SportsCenter and simultaneously Tweeting angrily about Neil Everett, one of the anchors. I don’t recall what set me off—a word choice? A tie? Just a shitty day? It’s a blank.

What I do remember is this: Moments later Stan Verrett, Neil’s sidekick, replied with a message  along the lines of a friendly, respectable, “Hey, we all try our best.” It was classy as classy can be.

Anyhow, I kept in loose touch with Stan via social media, and today—at long last—the terrific Los Angeles-based SportsCenter anchor joins the ranks of the Quaz. Stan is a legitimately fascinating guy—New Orleans born and raised; parents who you’ll have to read about to believe; a former fifth-team wide receiver who saw media as his most likely entrance into the world of pro sports.

One can follow Stan on Twitter here, and watch him throughout the week on the late SportsCenter.

Stan Verrett, you are the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Stan, I’m gonna start with a blunt one: Do you ever get tired of it all? What I mean is—sports, sports, sports, TV studio, TV studio, TV studio, highlights, chatter, highlights, chatter? I ask not to be snide, but because it actually doesn’t look like you get tired of it. You seem, from afar at least, to be a guy who digs his work.

STAN VERRETT: I never get tired of it. I mean, I like to travel, so I need time off like everyone else, but the job itself, the time on-air, is still a blast, especially when big things happen in sports. People turn to ESPN when important things happen and if they happen to fall during our time on the air, it’s my job to show them, and talk to those who can provide perspective on them. Doing highlights is the most fun part of the job for me, so I’ve always enjoyed being on shows that are highlight driven. I always wanted to do the late SportsCenter because it was the one I watched. Honestly, sometimes I still can’t believe it. It’s a tremendous honor and responsibility to continue building the brand, because it’s iconic. The other great thing about doing the job in Los Angeles is that it’s such a small operation, everyone knows each other. That’s not possible in Bristol because the campus is so large.

J.P.: On Aug. 29, 2016, you eloquently spoke on air about Colin Kaepernick and his kneeling during the anthem. You wrapped with a perfect sentence—“Let’s pay as much attention to the substance as we do the symbols.” Now here we are, a year later, and substance be damned, symbol be damned—the man doesn’t have a job while far less-accomplished and worthy quarterbacks do. I wonder what you think about that.

S.V.: There’s a lot to unpack with that. As I said that night, I stand for the flag, and the anthem. Always have, because I believe in the promise the flag represents. But I also believe that America has fallen woefully short of delivering on that promise to some of its citizens. There has to be an ongoing reckoning with that if we are going to continue to progress as a society. So Colin Kaepernick made a personal decision to follow his conscience and protest injustice and oppression, with a particular emphasis on the killing of unarmed people of color at the hands of the police. I understand how uncomfortable his protest makes some people. It makes me uncomfortable. I wish we could tackle something as morally simple as stamping out racism and other forms of discrimination without protest. But for whatever reason, we can’t. People are so busy with their own lives that they may not be focused on the concerns of others, even if they’re legitimate. So at some point, someone has to say, “Stop, this isn’t right,” to create a greater awareness of the issues. Kaepernick did that. So then there’s the backlash.

I’m not sure I believe there was a meeting of NFL teams and they all agreed not to sign him. I think that individual teams are afraid of the reaction that they would get if they signed him, so even those who could use his services were not willing to step out of line and sign him. Personally, I think that’s the NFL’s loss. You have a talented player, who had already  taken a team to the Super Bowl, who was still growing as a quarterback. And he has grown even more as a human being, into a socially conscious, selfless spokesperson for a cause bigger than himself. With all the image problems that the NFL has had stemming from anti-social and even criminal behavior from other players, I would think that a forward-thinking league or team official would look to a player such as Kaepernick to help improve its image, especially in a league with the racial makeup of the NFL. The NFL could learn a lot from the NBA on issues like this. I’m sure Kaepernick calculated the risk he was taking before he decided to go public with his protest. And since I truly believe this was about his conscience, I believe he will accept the results, even if it means he never suits up again in the NFL. The national dialogue he started, and the efforts of those who followed his lead have made it clear that his protest was successful. And that’s more important that throwing a football.

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With former Saints star Tracy Porter.

J.P.: During that monologue you evoked, powerfully, your father, saying, “My Dad served in the army, dealt with discrimination in the army, came back from his service after World War II and was not afforded the full rights as a citizen.” This makes me extremely fascinated by your father. Who was he? What was he like? And what was his military experience?

S.V.: My father was my first hero. I grew up in a rough neighborhood in New Orleans, with crime and drugs. When I was very young, I knew I never had to be scared of the stuff around me because my dad was there to protect us. Even the baddest dudes in the neighborhood knew, “Mr. Verrett is crazy, so don’t mess with them.” As I got older, his example of doing the right thing, even when it wasn’t convenient, was the guiding force that kept me in line. He did not have much formal education. He dropped out of high school to go to work because his family was poor and his father wasn’t around. He later joined the Army Air Force, the precedent to the current Air Force. He served in World War II in Europe, driving trucks carrying bombs to fighter planes, because black soldiers were not allowed into combat at that time. After the war, he learned to work with his hands, becoming a plasterer and cement mason, and served as president of his union’s local.  He fought for fair wages and the rights of other workers who were being exploited by contractors and builders. That was just one facet of the virulent racism he faced in still-segregated Louisiana. Still, he was a patriot through and through, a true representative of the greatest generation. He remained engaged politically his entire life, hoping to make the country a better place. You would have had to fight him if you tried to take off his prized WWII veteran’s cap, which he wore every day, right up until he died two years ago. He had a full military funeral, and I keep the service emblem from his casket on my nightstand.

(L-R) Neil Everett, Kenny Mayne, Rob Gronkowski, Gordon Gronkowski and Stan.

(L-R) Neil Everett, Kenny Mayne, Rob Gronkowski, Gordon Gronkowski and Stan.

 J.P.: I was going through some old clips, and I found an announcement in Newport News, Virginia from back in 1992, explaining that Stan Verrett “has joined WOWI morning announcers Chase Thomas and Cheryl Wilkerson.” Which means, I presume, you worked the morning drive-time circuit. And I’ve always been sorta fascinated by this time slot–because it seems like one has to be filled with energy and vigor when he’d rather be in bed. So what was the experience like?

S.V.: Morning radio was a blast. Before I got started in television, it was my focus. I loved working with Chase and Cheryl. I was “Stan the Man.” We had a great show together for five years, usually No. 1 in the Norfolk ratings. It’s been 20 years, but people still reach out frequently about the show. It’s a grind getting up at 4 am but once I was up, the job was fun. 103 Jamz is an urban music station, but the program director, Steve Crumbley, gave us the latitude to talk as much as we needed to in the morning, as events warranted. For example, Allen Iverson is from the area, and when he got arrested in the bowling alley incident, there was a lot of anger. We took calls every day for two weeks to allow people to vent and hash out the issues. Other days we talked about relationships, celebrities or whatever was happening, in between the best hip hop and R&B songs. I learned how to really communicate on the air in that job, and that experience still serves me today.

 J.P.: You’re from New Orleans and I’ve read that your childhood home was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. I’ve never asked anyone this before, but what was it like, watching from (presumably) afar as Katrina hit? I know that sounds dumb, because the answer would surely be, “Awful.” But I guess what I mean is—is the feeling helplessness? Heartbreak? Terror? Rage? What do you recall?

S.V.: Katrina was an awful experience. My parents were both retired and living in New Orleans at the time. My mom was a college professor, who graduated from Dillard University, and got her Ph.D from Tulane, and taught at Dillard and Xavier University, all in her hometown. They are dyed-in-the-wool New Orleanians, who didn’t want to live anywhere else. Growing up, we usually rode out hurricanes in one of the sturdy buildings at Dillard. There was always flooding where we lived, so like a lot of other families, we just waited for the water to recede, replaced the sheetrock and got on with our lives. But Katrina was different. When they said they were evacuating, I knew it was serious. I was on vacation, starting in Detroit for a friend’s birthday party. Then I was going to Miami, but the storm originally was headed there, and my flight got cancelled. So I rebooked to New Orleans. Then Katrina turned around in the Gulf of Mexico and headed for New Orleans. So I rebooked for Miami. That’s where I was when the levees broke and flooded New Orleans. It was a beautiful day on South Beach, a great contrast to the destruction I was watching on television. My parents drove to my brother’s house in Atlanta. The house in New Orleans took on six feet of water. No one entered until I went there at Thanksgiving, three months later. The worst part was finding my mom’s academic records mildewed in the mess. She took great pride in her achievements, and never got less than an A in any class from kindergarten through graduate school, valedictorian of every class that named one. I lost it when I saw them damaged. Luckily we were able to get them refurbished. we lost pretty much everything, but lives. I tweeted to the folks in Irma’s path to leave if they could. We have replaced everything that was important that was lost in the storm, but many people lost loved ones who didn’t or couldn’t evacuate.

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 J.P.: Soup to nuts, how did this happen for you? Like, when did you know—know, know—you wanted to go into media? Were you the kid with a pretend mic? Were you the sports junkie? Was there a lightbulb moment?

S.V.: I knew from the time I was an adolescent that I wanted a career in media. I have always loved both radio and television. But sports was my first love. So my plan was to play football, wide receiver at LSU, win the Sugar Bowl, get drafted in the first round by the Saints, play 10 years in the NFL, then retire and become a broadcaster. Then I got to St. Augustine High School, which was coming off back-to-back state championships at the highest level in Louisiana. And I saw what real football talent looked like. Our school has produced NFL stars for years. Right now, St. Aug grads Tyrann Mathieu, Leonard Fournette, Trai Turner and Lorenzo Doss are all in the NFL. I was slow and skinny, but I worked my ass off to make the team as a receiver in the spring of my sophomore year. But the next fall, I missed a couple practices because of a family emergency. You did not miss practice at St. Aug, for any reason. I will never forget walking into the locker room and seeing I fell from third string to fifth string at split end. It took everything I had to make third string. I knew I would never play that far down the depth chart, so I quit. It’s still the biggest regret of my life. But I swore I would never quit at anything ever again in my life.

And that’s just the attitude I needed for broadcasting. I knew the football team inside out, so I became sports editor of our school paper. Then in college, I was sports editor for the campus paper, a copy aide at the Washington Post for three years, and a radio DJ as well. I tried to get as much experience as possible. I took a radio job in Charleston, S.C. after graduation. Three years later, I went to Norfolk. In addition to the radio job, I also worked in television there. My first job was at WAVY, the NBC affiliate, and then WVEC, the ABC affiliate. In 1998, I went him to WDSU, the NBC affiliate in New Orleans. I was there for two years, and then left for ESPN. I realized at some point my real talents were speaking and writing, but I would have traded some of that for a faster 40 time back in the day. Still, I’m happy with the way things turned out.

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 J.P.: You attended Howard University, a noted HSBC. And, having written and researched a biography of Walter Payton (who attended Jackson State), I feel like I have a pretty solid working knowledge of HSBCs and their place in American culture and tradition. What I can’t tell is if they’re still viable. What I mean is, it seems fewer and fewer young African-Americans are seeking out HSBCs in the way they did, oh, 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago. Do you agree? Disagree? And why did you pick Howard? And what did you get from the experience?

S.V.: My mom taught at black colleges, and I grew up on Dillard’s campus, hoping to one day be like the cool college kids. Howard was similar to Dillard, but bigger, internationally known and respected, and in a major market for my media aspirations. St. Augustine is an all-black, all-boys high school and it prepared me well academically. I was a National Merit and National Achievement finalist coming out of high school. I could have gone anywhere. I chose Howard. What I loved about Howard is the nurturing that I got there. College is an important time in a young person’s life, and the support that I got from professors at Howard was critical to my success. Like my mother, they were on a specific mission to educate black students. They chose Howard, too. The campus newspaper? That was there for me, and students like me. The student radio station? For me. The student-produced newscast that I anchored my senior year with Michelle Miller, who’s now a correspondent and anchor for CBS News? For us. The job at the Washington Post? Set up by Dr. Lawrence Kaggwa, former chair of the journalism department, who is probably responsible for more working black journalists than any single professor in America. I got to enjoy college without ever having to think about racism, or having it taint any of my experiences there, which is a tremendous luxury for a young black man, trying to find his place in the world.  Black colleges and universities continue to produce a disproportionate amount of professionals in just about every field. That nurturing and sense of mission is the reason. I have many friends who went to big, predominantly white universities, and they enjoyed them. But Howard was the right place for me.

J.P.: Like my beloved Sports Illustrated, ESPN is struggling a bit to figure out and adjust to the modern media landscape. It’s confusing, it’s fast, it seems to change and shift every seven seconds. So I wonder—can the SportsCenter model that you host survive long-term? Are people still saying, “Ah, it’s [whatever o’clock]. Stan and Neil are on! To the couch!”? And how do you think outlets need to change to maintain audiences?

S.V.: I think SportsCenter can survive as it is, especially shows such as ours, on at night, after games. People are busy, and as much as they would like to watch every game, they  can’t. Life happens. Dinner, movies, your kid’s recital, play or game. So you missed the game. We have the highlights when you get home. Sure, maybe you saw one of Steph Curry’s nine triples on your phone, but that’s not going to give you the depth, or volume you want. When people stop buying 50-inch televisions, we may have an issue, but until then, there’s still a desire for quality content on television. Programs shouldered to live game broadcasts are the safest bets for ratings, I would think, since the audience is already there. But if you create a relationship with your audience, and deliver a unique perspective in a compelling way, you can carve out a consistent audience. That’s been the goal for us from the start. And it’s why I love working with Neil. We come at the material from totally different perspectives, but because of that, we cover a lot of real estate, and we sincerely enjoy each other’s company and invite viewers to join the fun. I think the opinion shows are here to stay as well, mirroring what has happened with news programs.

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 J.P.: When John Saunders passed last year, you were brought in to replace him on ABC’s college football studio show. How did you approach that? How hard was it?

S.V.: It was pretty sudden. John died unexpectedly less than three weeks before the season began. I had to get up to speed really quickly. Mack Brown and Mark May made the transition easier for me. I had to fly across the country from LA to Bristol every Friday. And those were working flights, reading up on games. It was a challenge, but I enjoyed it more and more as the season went on. I love Mack Brown. I wish he would run for president in 2020.  Kevin Negandhi is in that chair now, with Mack and Booger McFarland. That’s a great team. I have enjoyed watching them.

 J.P.: You joined ESPN in Sept. 2000. What was the process like? I mean, interviews, auditions? And how did you find out you landed the gig?

S.V.: I went to Bristol for the interview in 2000. The morning part of the interview involves meeting producers and executives, and then lunch. In my case, lunch was with Al Jaffe, who had recruited me. Then after lunch, I had to write and anchor a show that was about 20 minutes long. I did pretty well and rolled right through it. The guy operating the camera said “you got the job, man. They never roll right through it without stopping.” So I left feeling like I’d be back. My agent called me a few days later to confirm. It was an awesome feeling.

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• Your cousin Jason plays for the Chargers. Three memories of him growing up: I didn’t know Jason growing up. I didn’t become aware of him until he got to TCU. Looking forward to seeing him play here in LA.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Butch Beard, parma ham, Ted Turner, mason jars, “The Elephant Man,” Eric Stoltz, Shammond Williams, Zachary Taylor, DJ Yella, “On the Wings of Love,” Oliver Garden: Ted Turner, Butch Beard, DJ Yella, Shammond Williams, Parma ham, Olive Garden, “On the Wings of Love”, mason jars, Eric Stoltz, Zachary Taylor, elephant man.

• In 17 words, make an argument for the University of Akron’s football national championship hopes: I don’t know anything about Akron, so when it comes to their title hopes, I’ll Zip it.

• I want to get off Facebook. I also want to keep selling books, and social media helps sell books. What should I do?: Stay on Facebook, and sell those books. I’m sure there’s a way to avoid those people who are reaching out because they’ve read your books, think you’re rich, and have a Can’t Miss business idea for you.

• Five all-time favorite college football players to watch: Leonard Fournette, Tyrann Mathieu, Mike Vick, Johnny Manziel, Vince Young

• Three memories from your all-time worst date: She didn’t want to dance, and the DJ was great. She caused a scene at the bar. She got in her car and left me in downtown San Francisco after I had flown there from Connecticut to see her.

• The world needs to know: What does Neil Everett’s hair smell like?: I don’t know. But he’s really, really proud of the way it looks.

• I’m terrified of death. You? Why or why not?: I used to be terrified of death. But as I get older, I’m not. It’s inevitable, so I’m just focused on making the most of the time I have alive. My father’s acceptance and strength in his final days reassured me.

• Your five best places to eat in LA?: My five favorites are Mastro’s, Little Sister, Nest at the Ritz-Carlton downtown for drinks and appetizers, Javier’s in Newport Beach, and Sweet Chick, Nas’ restaurant on Fairfax.

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Justin Kanew

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Yesterday was a great one for Justin Kanew.

He and I haven’t talked, but he surely knows it. The gubernatorial turns. The local race upheaval. Everything pointed to the beginning of an anti-Donald Trump movement; a screaming for normalcy and decency and compassion.

Am I being overly optimistic? Perhaps. But it felt real. Feels real.

On paper, Justin Kanew is a long shot’s long shot to win next year’s congressional race for Tennessee’s 7th District. He’s a Los Angeles transplant; a young Jewish man running in a historically conservative neck of the woods. Even though Marsha Blackburn, the incumbent, has since announced her candidacy for the U.S. Senate (This interview was conducted before the change—I left Justin’s original answers, then added a few extra updated questions), the betting man would probably have to go with the new far-right nut job on the block—Mark Green.

And yet …

Justin Kanew has something snappy. He’s engaging. He’s embracing. He wants voters to send e-mails—and promises to respond. He’s a two-time contestant on The Amazing Race; a longtime media presence with a winning personality and genuine integrity. I’ve known Justin for a good while, and he happens to be a legitimately nice human being. Sincere. Honest.

Again, can he win? I don’t know. But today’s Quaz subject is willing to discuss all issues, ranging from Trump to health insurance to Tommy John v. Old Navy. You can follow him on Facebook hereTwitter here, and visit his website here.

Justin Kanew, win or lose, you’re the 334th Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Justin, you’re running for the congressional seat held by Marsha Blackburn in Tennessee’s 7th District. And, just being 100-percent honest, from afar I see no way you can win. She’s a well-known, well-funded incumbent in a conservative district in a Republican state—and you’re a Jewish Californian who has barely lived in Tennessee. Tell me what I’m not seeing?

JUSTIN KANEW: Well good morning to you too, Jeff! A lot going on in this one so let me try to unpack it. First of all, you’re right, I’m definitely a major underdog here. Marsha has been in the seat for 16 years, has $2-to-$3 million sitting in the bank, and people know who she is. There’s no question about any of that. But what’s also true is if you ask anyone on the street what she’s done to help improve their lives, for the most part they don’t have an answer.

Marsha gets on the shows and spouts her party talking points, but I don’t think that’s what most people on either side of the aisle are looking for these days, and I think this past election showed us that. Marsha takes big money from big oil, big telecom, big everything. She’s not fighting for the working families of Tennessee. I am. I’m running a grass roots campaign, and I’m not for sale. To get that message across we’re putting together an army of volunteers—we have close to 200 already—and yes raising money, and most importantly traveling the district and listening to the concerns of everyone in the district no matter who they’ve voted for in the past. And in this moment, with the renewed spirit I’m seeing out there, and with some other great state-wide candidates campaigning like Karl Dean and Craig Fitzhugh for governor and James Mackler for Senate, I think we have a greater shot at turning people out than we have had in the past.

As for the rest of your question—yes I’m “Jewish,” my grandparents survived Auschwitz and the holocaust on one side, and my grandpa was a World War II tailgunner on the other. But I think people here are less concerned with where you pray than that you pray. They’re looking for a man or woman of faith who believes in God and embodies the spirit of togetherness and community Middle Tennessee genuinely stands for, and who carries the main message of the bible which is taking care of our neighbors and the poor. Sometimes that message seems to get lost.

As for “Californian” part—yes, we moved here from California. Before that I lived in Chicago. Before that I was born in New York. I’ve been an American my whole life, and my wife and I moved to Tennessee over a year ago with our baby because we were looking for a community-oriented place where people look out for and take care of one another. Middle Tennessee is that place.

It’s a really special place, Jeff. We love it here. This is our home. I didn’t grow up here, but my baby girl Kaia will. And by no means are we the only transplants here. This area is exploding. Sixty percent of Williamson County wasn’t born in Tennessee, and that includes Marsha who’s from Mississippi. We came here for a reason, and the bottom line is this special place deserves to be represented by someone who embodies the love and compassion and mercy I see here every single day. I think most people are less concerned where a representative was born than they are about being represented by someone who will always put their interests ahead of my own and tell them the truth, and not become compromised by corporate donors just for the sake of keeping a seat, which to me is the fundamental problem this country faces every single day. It’s corporate interests vs. the interests of the people, and I know where I stand.

Sorry for the long answer, but you asked a lot there.

J.P.: You were preparing yourself to run against Blackburn. Then, bam, she announced a senate run. Now you’re up against Mark Green, a state senator/Iraq war vet who loves Donald Trump and has referred to anti-transgender measures as a chance to “crush evil.” How does that change your approach? Does it make a win more likely? Easier? 

J.K. There’s no question running for a now-open seat helps our chances. Now it’s our job to do the work and get our message out there. As you mentioned, Mark Green was even too extreme for Trump’s team and had to withdraw his cabinet nomination. I believe if you’re too extreme for this president, you’re too extreme for District 7. For instance, Williamson County voted for Rubio in the primary. I’m hopeful that the moderates and independents in the district who aren’t interested in taking that extreme turn and who may feel left behind by the party will take the time to get to know me and see that we have a lot more in common than they realize. So I don’t want to say the race got “easier” necessarily, but I do hope we can find more people on both sides of the aisle who think we need to get back to talking to one another and are tired of all the division, and who are ready to put country over party, which is what I intend to do every step of the way.

J.P.: You seem particularly agitated over Blackburn’s town hall in Fairview, then her appearance on CNN. Why is this such a huge deal to you? And do you consider her to be a dishonest person?

J.K.: The town hall in Fairview was a huge deal, because it spoke to her character in a very real way. That place was full of people who lived in her district. She ID’d them at the door. It didn’t go well (and by the way—she hasn’t done one since). Then she had the nerve to go on CNN with Wolf Blitzer and tell him “less than a third” were from her district—when those people were on video raising their hands saying they were. Then, when she gets busted for the lie, she says “big deal, we have more important things to worry about.” Well guess what, Marsha? It is a big deal. Integrity matters. If your child was caught lying, would that be a big deal? As a father I say yes.

That was the moment i started thinking “someone has to run against her.” She had very clearly started to feel invincible, and had stopped listening to the people she’s supposed to represent. And yes i think It spoke to who she is, and what she’s willing to do and say.

It didn’t stop there either—recently she held a “tele-town hall” where she didn’t tell anyone it was coming, then sent out robo-calls at dinnertime mainly to her supporters. We heard from a few people who were on there, probably by mistake, and it was just Marsha spouting her talking points with pre-screened questions. She then posted results of a bogus “poll” she ran saying 80 percent of our district wanted the ACA repealed no matter what, which is the opposite of reality (and of a real poll she herself had run on Twitter), and used that as the basis for a media blitz.

So do I consider her to be a dishonest person? Let’s just say this isn’t the stuff honest people do. This is someone who voted against bipartisan Harvey relief under the guise of being concerned with “playing politics,” and resisted a military climate change study with bipartisan support while telling us the earth is in a “cooling trend” (which might have something to do with the big oil money behind her). Someone who told us the generals were behind the transgender military ban when they weren’t. Let’s just say honesty is quite clearly not her strength. Honest people would stand there and face the music no matter how tough it gets, which is what I would do if I were in there, and what I have done and plan to continue to do as we campaign.

With Zev.

With Zev.

J.P.: You seem to be in a tight pickle, because you’re clearly not a fan of Donald Trump, yet you’re running in a region that he won easily. So is it more now a matter of convincing people you’ll find ways to work with the president, or convincing people the president sucks?

J.K.: Here’s the thing—I’m not running against Donald Trump. Do I agree with him on everything? Of course not. But would I love to see him succeed and do right by this country. That’s a resounding yes. I’m not out there calling for his impeachment, which may put me in the minority in the party—I think we need to see where the various investigations go and then see where we are, and if we’re going that route there better be a smoking gun, because if the evidence isn’t inarguable we’re going to have a real problem on our hands in terms of almost half the country losing faith in the system, and possibly reacting violently. I’m truly afraid of that.

As far as bipartisanship, I’m a big yes on that. I think we need to get back to working together. I’m hopeful that a bipartisan ACA fix is coming. It was good to see a bipartisan decision to back Harvey Relief. John McCain’s “No” on ACA repeal was heartening, and I hope he stays consistent with this Graham-Cassidy bill we’re now facing. I think people really do want to see their government stop making obstruction the No. 1 goal on both sides and get some stuff done in a real way. There’s a “Problem Solvers” caucus in congress now, and I’d be really interested in being a part of that. I’m old enough to remember when bipartisanship wasn’t a threat.

Now that doesn’t mean I’ll stop being a critic of the president—even his staunchest Republican supporters criticize him at times. But I’ll also commend him for doing things like talking to “Nancy and Chuck” about DACA. I think we need to reward that when it happens. The bottom line for the sake of this race is I’m a non-politician who wants to fight for the working families no matter who they vote for.

J.P.: Raising money sucks. Sucks, sucks, sucks. That said, I don’t really know how one goes about it. So, Justin, how does one go about it?

J.K.: It does suck. I’d be a vote for campaign finance reform every step of the way. But it’s true this is the system we have, so we have to play by those rules.

As for the “how,” it’s just grinding. Calling people you know, people you don’t know emailing, holding fundraisers … ultimately this becomes the thing you do more than almost anything else when you’re running, which absolutely sucks. It also sucks that it’s what you do when you’re actually in office, too. It’s a damn shame, and it seems to only be getting worse. We absolutely need to fix it.

It would be a lot easier if I could just knock on big-dollar donors’ doors and say, “What do you need from me? I’m your guy,” and then just do what they tell me to do when I get in there like some people do. But I’m absolutely not going to do that. Donors looking for something in return shouldn’t even bother calling me. No amount of campaign donations is worth not being able to look my daughter in the face when I tuck her in at night, and know I did what I could to help the most Tennesseans. The most Americans.

Here’s the good news—Trump didn’t out-spend Hillary. Eric Cantor got beat by a guy with nowhere near as much money as he had. I think if you have a genuine message, and people really believe in what you’re saying, you can overcome that gap. Granted, I still need money to get the message out there, and I hope anyone who hears our conversation will kick in what they can, but what I’m mostly hoping is people will embrace this campaign as their own and give us their energy rather than their money. Don’t get me wrong, both is better! But we need their belief and their energy as much as anything else.

J.P.: You appeared twice on The Amazing Race with your pal Zev Glassenberg. Soup to nuts, how did that happen? How’d you wind up on the show?

J.K.: Zev and I met at Camp Greylock in Becket, Massachusetts when we were both counselors. I had gone there as a camper for almost a decade. Zev’s cousin Greg was a good friend of mine, but Zev was younger than us. When we finally met, we hit it off immediately. Zev has Asperger’s Syndrome, which puts him on the autism spectrum, and one of the things about that is he doesn’t know when he’s not supposed to say stuff society frowns upon, which is at times awkward for people, but most of the time it’s genuinely hilarious. He’s literally the funniest guy i’ve ever met.

Funny makes for good TV. Zev knew our relationship was unique, and his favorite show was the Amazing Race, so he kept saying “We should go on the race.” He said this every day for four years. One thing about people on the spectrum, when they get something in their head it’s hard for them to let it go. So after four years of this, I finally said, “Find out when it is and we’ll apply” … figuring either we’ll get on or he’ll stop talking about this thing once and for all, so it was a win-win for me.

We made a video about our relationship, my dad shot it and I edited it and we sent it in, and I kinda thought, “You know, that actually was kind of interesting, who knows …” But then we didn’t hear anything for like five months. In the interim people kept telling Zev to get a job, and he kept going, “I can’t, we’re going on the race.” Sure enough, five months later, we get a call out of the blue to come in for final interviews. We went to a hotel with like 20 other teams, and other teams started disappearing, and the next thing we knew we were in.

It was an incredible experience, right up until I lost his passport in a monastery in Cambodia. Thankfully they brought us back a second time, because otherwise that would’ve been the other thing I never heard the end of!

J.P.: How do you convince people you’re not an outsider—when you’re an outsider? Because it’s an issue that has plagued MANY politicians who have resided in an area far longer than you’ve been in College Grove, Tennessee.

J.K.: It’s true that I didn’t grow up here, but my baby girl Kaia will. This is our home. My wife Nicole is a behavioral therapist for kids with autism and mental health issues in Rutherford County. We love this area and want to help it be the best it can be in every possible way.

By the time the election rolls around we’ll be working on our third year here. Some people may have an issue with that, and I get it, but what I’d say to those people is tell me what you think I need to know. So far what we’ve learned is people here genuinely care about one another, and they take care of their neighbors, and they’re guided by a love and mercy that I don’t see reflected in the things Marsha Blackburn stands for.

The word I keep hearing from people is “misrepresented.” Marsha talks a good game, but I don’t think the thing she stands for represents how the majority of the good people here feel, especially the youth. So what I’d say to anyone who is focused on that is this: Would you rather have someone who has been here longer but whose strings are being pulled by corporate puppet masters? Or someone with a new perspective who has a deep love for this community and would never sell it out under any circumstances?

And if you have concerns about me, come meet me. Email me— is my email. I’ll be more accessible than Marsha has ever been in her life, and we’ll be doing an “Amazing Race Through The District” to hear from everyone in every county—counties Marsha has probably not been to in over a decade.

Yes, I’m the outsider in this equation. Trump was an outsider, too, running against an establishment candidate in Hillary. He preached a message of draining the swamp, getting rid of all the do-nothing politicians who fill their campaign accounts with corporate donation—that’s Marsha. In the end this isn’t just about me vs. Marsha, it’s about what kind of District they want this to be seen as.

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J.P.: How do we convince skeptics that climate change is real? And is that an issue you can run on in a region that, again, doesn’t particularly seem to buy it?

J.K.: First of all, I think this is an issue that people are coming around on more and more, especially with the storms we’re seeing lately. I think deep down they know it’s common sense that what we’re putting into the environment is having an effect. Even the military will tell us that. Hell, even Exxon revealed that they’ve known it for 40 years.

Follow the money. It’s no coincidence that climate change deniers like Marsha get the most money from big oil. This is a long, sustained attack on reality that puts our children and our grandchildren at risk – and the kids know it. Almost every young voter I talk to on the trail tells me climate change is their biggest concern. They get it.

Ice caps are melting. Water’s rising. The planet is heating up. We have a choice: invest in America’s cheap, renewable energy economy now, or fall behind the rest of the world. Let’s not fall behind. This should not be a partisan issue. This is the future of our planet for our kids and our grandchildren.

This is also an economic issue. Clean energy is where the jobs are. There are far more solar jobs than coal now, including nearly 4,000 here in Tennessee. India will be selling only electric cars by 2030. China is heading that way too. The fact is the world is moving away from fossil fuels no matter what we choose to believe.

Meanwhile Marsha voted against a military study of climate change that had bipartisan support. Her record on the environment is abysmal. I wonder if support from people like the Kochs has anything to do with that?

As you’ll hear me say often, this isn’t about left vs. right, it’s about right vs. wrong. We need to stop letting carbon polluters dominate our public policy. I’m not willing to let my children and grandchildren’s futures be decided entirely by special interests and corporations who covered up what they knew for 40 years.

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J.P.: In 1993 you played “Rob Lansing” in the Mel Gibson film, “The Man Without a Face.” OK, Justin. Do tell …

J.K.: My acting career began and ended with that movie. Mel was awesome. I don’t defend the things he said and did, but my experience with him couldn’t have been better. That’s really all I have to say about that. And Braveheart is still one of the greats.

J.P.: Why did you leave LA for Tennessee? I mean—the beaches, the Mexican food, the weather. What was the impetus? How big of an adjustment was it? What’s the biggest change?

J.K.: Southern California was good to us. I met my wife there. But the wholesomeness and community and people here in Middle Tennessee are amazing, and the quality of life is great. Our baby girl growing up around rolling green hills and cattle and parks and horses and festivals is everything we ever wanted for her. I can’t express enough how happy we are we did this. It was a big change, but a great one, and the people here could not have been more welcoming.

On multiple occasions I’ve had women come up to me at the store and take my child out of my arms uninvited, and I didn’t even want to call the cops! It’s that kind of place.

J.P.: You seem like a very optimistic dude. Which I love. I, on the other hand, am losing hope. Trump, greed, environment, unsustainable population growth, drought. On and on and on. Justin, why should we be optimistic when so much seems to be heading down the toilet?

J.K.: My optimism comes from the people I meet on the trail every single day. It comes from my conversations with my neighbor, a conservative who probably won’t vote for me, but who I’m able talk to about the things we disagree on. Granted, every day something new and awful seems to happen, and we need to stay awake and keep calling things out and pushing back, but I think there’s a sustainable energy in this country right now, and I’m confident that as long as we keep caring and keep doing everything we can to keep this country headed in a positive direction, ultimately we’ll be OK.

That’s why I’m running—because this is something I can do, and my daughter is worth it. I’m hopeful that just like Ossoff inspired me to do this, maybe there will be some younger people with a fresh perspective who’ll see what i’m doing and think to themselves, “Hey i can do that too.” It’s time for some fresh perspectives, people willing to go to Washington and put country over party, and people over profit, and say what needs to be said. That’s what I’m here to do. Not just on behalf of Democrats or Republicans.

For everyone.

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• First three things you’d do if you win: Help support the push for universal health care, do everything I can to support the autism/disability community, help combat minority voter suppression, stop the over-criminalization of nonviolent drug offenders, push for paid family leave, expand veteran benefits however possible and be of service to them, get the wage raised to a living one, stop the fight against net neutrality, stop Marsha & co. from coming after Medicaid, Medicare and social security while pushing their trillion-dollar corporate tax cuts … is that three?

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Kaleb Cowart, Dionysus, “The Golden Child,” chicken fried chicken, Phil Bredesen, bottled water, Old Navy, deer ticks, Jonathan Eig, Tommy John, raw eggs, Adidas: Adidas, The Golden Child, Bredesen, Tommy John, Chicken Fried Chicken, Dionysus, Kaleb Cowart, Jonathan Eig, Eggs, Water, Deer Ticks, Old Navy

• One question you would ask the members of H-Town were they here right now?: “Is your family OK in Houston?”

• How did you propose to your wife?: On a show i used to do called “Let’s Get Digital!”—the video is on YouTube. Krayzie Bone from Bone Thugs N’ Harmony brought in the ring. Zev was there, as were our dogs, and her parents got to watch it all happen online. Pretty great moment.

• Four things the average person wouldn’t know about reality television: I can only speak for the Amazing Race: 1) The camera guys and sound guys who run around with all that equipment are the real heroes; 2) They can’t “make you look bad” if you don’t give them stuff to do it with; 3) Phil Keoghan is the best; 4) My wife forces me to watch the Bachelor and Bachelorette and Bachelor in Paradise. I swear

• Why haven’t Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle reunited?: Couldn’t tell ya—this one’s above my pay grade.

• Three all-time favorite political figures?: Lincoln, MLK, FDR.

• The world needs to know: What was it like working with Megan Boone on “Welcome to the Jungle”?: Megan is an awesome person who genuinely cares about the country and the world. Plus she has a great sense of humor, which is what made her such a great fit on Jungle. We had some world-class comedians there and she kept right up with them. She also wasn’t intimidated by Jean-Claude Van Damme at all, which was a plus. Or by Zev.

• What do your hands smell like in the morning?: Baby diapers.

• Greatest single line from any speech you’ve ever heard?: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” comes to mind.

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Christian Fuentes

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See the above photo? It sucks.

I mean, look. It’s dark and red and black and seemingly taken in a place between hell and a cave.

Which is because it was taken in a place between hell and a cave.

As we speak, more than 75 percent of Puerto Rico remains without power. That includes the home of Christian Fuentes, the former Metro PR sports writer who resides in a northernmost metropolitan area that wasn’t destroyed by Hurricane Maria. Christian is a wonderful guy with a big heart, and he was kind enough to visit the Quaz and chat about enduring an aftermath that seems unwilling to end.

One can follow Christian on Twitter here.

Christian Fuentes, you are the 333rd Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Christian, you live in Puerto Rico. So blunt question—what was Hurricane Maria like for you? What was the experience as it was hitting?

CHRISTIAN FUENTES: Since the early morning hours, you could hear the strong winds gusting and things falling down and crashing. It was a mixture of hair-raising and scary, because you never know how it’s going to hit. All you can do is hope that the damage is minimized. Thankfully, for me and for the neighborhood I live in, there wasn’t a whole lot of damage. It was jarring to see light poles and tress falling while the winds dragged the rain enough to make it look like the water was parallel to the ground.

J.P.: Here in the mainland no one seems to be talking about Puerto Rico any longer. Literally, it’s a non-topic. A. Does that surprise you? B. Whhy do you think that is?

C.F.: It doesn’t surprise me as much as it will others, because there are so many things going on. In the mainland, the suffering of Puerto Rico isn’t felt firsthand (except for people who have family living down here).

J.P.: Donald Trump recently gave himself a “10 of 10” grade for the government response. Can he make that case? What are you seeing, RE: the recovery effort?

C.F.: No, he can’t. But you know very well he loves to pat himself on the back for doing a (excuse the expression) half-ass job on things. He came with the narrative in mind of telling people that there wasn’t a crisis down here. He got up and did just that. As far as the recovery effort is concerned, I give credit to the workers of the electric department, police, firefighters, mayors and volunteers. The governor has been cold, calculated, and poker-faced during this whole time and hasn’t projected to us any urgency. He promised that 95 percent of the island would have power by December 15, a very ambicious goal. He is hardly believed, but the hope of it coming true is what people hold on to.

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J.P.: There was a famous/infamous moment when Donald Trump came to Puerto Rico and tossed paper towels to some smiling people. I hated that moment. Hated. Others felt the opposite. What about you?

C.F.: I hated it, as well. It felt like we were being made a mockery of in front of the world. People here feel the same way. He humiliated us.

J.P.: This might sound dumb, but do people in Puerto Rico identify as “American.” What I mean is—you can’t vote in elections, the government treats you like a distant cousin, I’m betting 8 of 10 people on the mainland don’t know PR’s status. So … in Puerto Rico, do people think themselves, first and foremost, American or Puerto Rican? Or both?

C.F.: Technically, we are American citizens. People know that as the current status. Here, we generally identify as Puerto Rican. That is mostly because we are not a state.

J.P.: Carmen Yulín Cruz, San Juan’s mayor, has been ALL over the news. And I can’t tell if she’s helping or hurting. So I ask—is she helping or hurting? And what’s her rep in your neck of the woods?

C.F.: Both. She is doing what many people wish the governor was doing. She is raw, emotional, urgent, motivated. However, she will tend to overdo it at the expense of other municipalities in much bigger need of help and supplies, and that’s where she is hurting. Her rep down here is mixed, strictly due to political reasons. She is loved by followers of her party and disliked by followers of the rival party.

J.P.: You’re now nearly 40 days without power. So, what is that like? Do you get used to it? Are there certain things that you realize, sans power, you really, desperately need? Does it just become a way of life?

C.F.: Quite frankly, I’m tired of not having power. Like anyone down here, I just want my normal life back. You notice the real impact of no power at night when everything is dark. There are certain things a lot of us need that we don’t have sans power: refrigerator to cool our drinks and water, fans to fend off scorching hot nights to be able to sleep, and basic power to charge our phones to stay connected and communicated.

J.P.: You’re an excellent writer; a veteran sports writer. You recently told me you’ve been out of work since September. What happened? And what are you doing to make ends meet?

C.F.: I was laid off from my position at Metro Puerto Rico due to budget cuts. The company began to run out of resources and each department was asked to fire two employees. I, of course, was one from editorial that was let go. For almost five years I was the only sports reporter.

To make ends meet, I was presented with a generous compensation of three months pay. They told me it was a token of good faith because I was the sports reporter since the very foundation of the company. I’m stretching that money out as best as I can. I was approved unemployment, but just before Hurricane María, so as of yet, I haven’t received anything.

J.P.: Your pinned Tweet for the past month has been this quote: “There’s a point… when the structures fail you, and the rules aren’t weapons anymore, they’re… shackles letting the bad guy get ahead”. Why? What are you trying to say?

C.F.: I pinned that right after I was fired. It’s a quote from “The Dark Knight Rises.” It was said by Gary Oldman’s character, Jim Gordon. I tweeted that because I felt that doing things the right way was not appreciated. I tend to toe the line and keep my nose clean. After I was fired, it felt like that, my body of work, and my loyalty were not enough.

J.P.: What, if anything, have you learned from this experience?

C.F.: The main thing I’ve learned is to solve problems. I’ve become more of a fixer than I ever thought I could be. Every single day I wake up wondering how am I going to solve the problem at hand. There are problems as simple as: What I’m going to eat? Where can I find cold water? Where will I charge my cellphone? Who needs my help?



• Six adjectives you’d use for Donald Trump: Imprudent, boastful, narcissist, racist, despicable, disgusting.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Gene Simmons, Justin Turner, Papa Smurf, blueberries, Ike Turner, Shakira, car keys, Jimmy Carter, raw tuna, the number 22: The number 22, Justin Turner, Shakira, car keys, Gene Simmons, blueberries, Jimmy Carter, Papa Smurf, raw tuna.

• Three best Spanish curses: “¡PUÑETA!”, “¡CARAJO!”, and “¡MIERDA!”

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: No. Not yet, at least.

• Who should the Yankees hire as their next manager?: I’d love for them to strike some sort of deal to get Don Mattingly from the Marlins, but I think it’ll be current first base coach Tony Peña or former batting coach Kevin Long.

• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between you and George Foreman? What’s the result?: Big George wins after landing two punches.

• Three interesting facts about your mother: She has a wonderfully creative mind for crafts; my love for American popular music came from her; she was raised in New York.

• Do you prefer mugs or paper cups?: Mugs. Paper cups are annoying.

• Who’s the greatest Spanish-speaking rapper we don’t know about?: I don’t care at all for our rap music, but I will say it’s Vico C, the man who got the music on the map in the late 80s/early 90s.

• Is it OK to poop on a bridge if you really have to go?: Absolutely! When you gotta go, you gotta go.

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Goddess Alexa

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So anyone who knows me knows I love using the Quaz to talk three primary topics:

  1. Journalism.
  2. Death.
  3. Sex

But not just sex, per se. Sex employment. Sex working. Sex philosophy. It started six years ago with Quaz No. 33, when Jenny DeMilo came to this space and not only spoke openly about her work, but became someone I now consider a good friend. So, here we are again, with my first sex worker in quite a while.

“Goddess Alexa” (as she refers to herself professionally), however, is no run-of-the-mill sex worker. She’s a professional Domme who, eh … um … sits on people. Their faces. With her butt.  It’s the quirkiest of quirky enterprises, made all the more unique by her worldliness, understanding of geo-politics and potential future as an electrical engineer.

Today, Alexa discusses a crumbling planet, refusing to shit in a jar for dough and finding a boyfriend who embraces the gig. One can follow Alexa on Twitter here and visit her website here.

Goddess Alexa, you are the 332nd Quaz.

JEFF PEARLMAN: You’re known as the “Face Sitting Queen,” which seems like a really, um, quirky thing to build a reputation upon. So why face sitting? How did that happen? “

GODDESS ALEXA: I’m damn good at it! I’m pretty petite but I’ve always had a nice and plumper-than-average booty. My butt has literally been recognized by strangers as I’ve walked off an elevator, walked by in a restaurant, and in videos without them seeing my face first. So being so petite, having the nice butt and coming off nonchalant because I do it so effortlessly, lol … I grew a fanbase pretty quickly of normal fans, producers and models alike. I’ve given tips and advice to men who wish to have their wives/girlfriends do it to them, producers to tell their models. People would just watch my videos, enjoy it, talk about it … and eventually I just started getting called the “Face Sitting Queen” and being introduced to other models and producers like, “This is Alexa, the Face Sitting Queen.”

J.P.: You don’t seem anxious to ruin people, publicly humiliate them. Doesn’t that go against some Internet sex credo?

G.A.: Well the truth is, I’m more into going with the flow of whatever I feel like at the time and most of the time, I just don’t need to do all of that. My style is more like effortlessly devious and sexy and I know it, so that confidence makes me even even sexier. That’s why people love my face-sitting and handjob videos so much, because I do them so effortlessly. However, I do taunt, torturously tease, ruin and humiliate my personal slaves, and that’s because they went through the process to be granted such attention from me. Yes, even when being humiliated and ruined, they must deserve that kind of attention from me.


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J.P.: You’re a college student with the ultimate goal of becoming an electrical engineer. And I wonder—do you at all worry this stuff might follow you? Your pictures are everywhere; videos of you sitting on faces. Do you worry about an employer one day seeing this, or your 5-year-old daughter seeing this?

G.A.: I don’t worry about that. I don’t ever want to bear children. I work great with kids, understand them and speak to them very well. I’m the eldest sibling to seven brothers and sisters, and I actually raised one of them myself so I know what it feels like to be a parent. I was a better parent to my youngest sister, who’s now 12, than the average American parent is to her own child. My 21-year-old brother and 22-year-old sister have no problem with what I do, they don’t find it bad. In fact they find it interesting and entertaining, and the only thing they have ever cared about is that I’m happy and safe from the crazies (because I’ve had stalkers before).

As for my engineering pursuit, If an employer has an issue with the (consensual, responsibly carried out) things I’ve done and do, when a person is so much more than their job, then I wouldn’t want to work with them. I’m not just a dominatrix, I’m an intelligent-compassionate-strong-tactical-kind-loving human being. Treating a person as anything but what they are as a whole is just nonsensical and they wouldn’t be good enough in my mind to work with. The world doesn’t have any more room for bigotry or prejudice, so I don’t even like to associate myself with people like that even if they can give me something I want.

The things on the Internet are always going to be there. Most people who know I’ve done porn and am still shooting as a dominatrix are usually fascinated with what I do. I’m an aspiring electrical engineer, yes. But not because I want to go get a job in the field. It’s to have the knowledge. I simply want the knowledge to know how things work, to build what I want to build and make it work. If I do decide to work with any companies, it will be to build things that help communities, save nature or animals. It would be for something stronger than monetary gain, so naysayers can kiss the ground I walk on.

J.P.: Why are men so pathetic? It’s a weird question, but it’s sorta haunting. There are 100,000 male-oriented strip clubs for every Chippendales thing. We go to hookers, we buy porn, on and on and on. What is it about us?

G.A.: You know, I’ve often wondered this same exact question myself! Neither philosophy nor science can answer this question with enough accuracy.

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J.P.: How does your family feel about this line of work? Do they know? Are they confused? Celebratory?

G.A.: My family members don’t mind it at all. I’ve never been one to follow the conventional way of living. I began modeling only a few weeks after I turned 18, because my mom got me into it. She went to modeling school when she was a teenager and thought it would be a good idea to get me into it since I lived in a tiny town and wanted to get the hell out.

At age 21 I got into the vanilla mainstream porn industry and my family wasn’t really a fan of it. They were worried for my safety because I was in Los Angeles so often … traveling, being around strangers so often. But they didn’t treat me different as a person. When I completely switched to fetish work instead of mainstream vanilla, though, they didn’t feel the same about it. I mean that in a good way. The only thing they cared about was my safety, but now they ask me questions with intrigue instead of fear—which is cool.

My siblings think, “Hey, you’re not doing anything wrong and you get to make your own schedule and be who you are. So go for it!” Normal civilian jobs come with such sucky things like assimilation, dressing the same and acting the same, unfair wages, unequal pay between the sexes. My family know that If I went for a normal job here in America, I would be unhappy and outraged and most likely end up protesting my own job. I’d totally work with a company/organization/business if they were ethical, just and equal.

J.P.: What’s your money story from domme work? Like, the batshit craziest/weirdest/most unique experience you’ve had.

G.A.: I’ve had some craziness, some nastiness and some weirdness. The nastiest is probably the scat fans. LOL. They known they’re nasty kinky pervs too. I had a fan who was so into me, my ass, my facesitting that he wanted to purchase a scat jar. Scat is literal crap. He wanted to pay me to ship him a whole jar filled with it! Plus, fly me and my boyfriend out to Hawaii for a week to see me once a day and eat whatever crap I expelled. He wanted to pay to feed me to my heart’s content to ensure he would get to eat plenty. I was a bit meh about it and didn’t want to do it for so many days so we didn’t go.

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J.P.: Your boyfriend and his penis star in many of your videos. Um, that’s a sentence I’ve never before written. So how did you meet? How did you explain this to him? And is he at all concerned about future ramifications?

G.A.: My boyfriend loves when we get asked this story. It’s like a movie. So when I got into the industry, I pressed upon my agent to get me shoots out of state. Within three months, I received a week’s worth of paid shoots in South Florida, which is where my boyfriend is from and my little brother and stepmom live. So I traveled from California to Florida and stayed in a hotel with some other new models I was going to shoot with. The first girl I was roomed with was my complete opposite—she was a loud obnoxious party girl who would bring guys over to the room, snort coke and try to throw parties even though we had very early call times. I did my shoots and the week was over I decided to stay in Florida.

About a month later I was with a different roommate. She didn’t do drugs and try to have parties in our room like my previous roomie, but she desired so much attention from me. I had been seeing this guy on weekends and hanging out with this girl I met one night while out dancing with this guy I was seeing, so my roomie was jealous. She kept trying to get me to not hang out with him and that girl; to choose her instead.

I started to hang out with him less and with my roomie more. One day she wanted to go shopping before going away for a trip so I went with her to the mall. While there I drifted off away from her into a cell phone store. I wanted a new phone. After a few minutes I was about to walk out when my roomie walked in and began talking to the employees in there. She knew them. Openly she introduced me to them as Alexa, “my friend who does porn.” I sooo rolled my eyes when she did that.

She introduced two of them to me—both guys—and she pointed to one of them and whispered, “We fucked. But, shhh, because he’s married.” Then someone asked about our job, and the other guy (who’s now my boyfriend) said a disk comment—”They lay on their backs all day. Haha.” I made it clear I wasn’t pleased and he apologized. Later he sent me a text, again apologizing. I responded a few days later, and from there we had a sort of texting emoji battle, to see who could send the best emoji text and he sent me a picture of a view from Twin Peaks in San Francisco.

About 1 1/2 months later the two of us went to the beach. We had a great time that day and went out for lunch a few times after, then a few dinner dates, and then one night he asked me to be his girlfriend. He knew I did porn but I told him I would stop. One night we were just laying down after eating some pastries and watching Archer, and I turned to him and said, “I’m going to stop doing porn. No more hardcore stuff.” He knew that even though I was in the industry and there’s a stereotype about women who do porn, I’m nothing like that stereotype. So instead of being controlling, insecure, weird or abusive, he was willing to learn, understand and trust me.

About a year later I was in the fetish world and have been in it since. As far as ramifications go, he’s along the lines that I am. We don’t enable bigotry or prejudice. An employer would be more wise to look past the content and see his vast resume, education, clean record and that the mouth he has on him could practically sell a house to a homeless person. He’s someone any employer should hire. Plus what he does is harmless to himself, me and anyone watching.  It’s like I said to his sister the first time she found out about what we do—”What a young man does with his penis and a consenting adult is none of your business. And making it your business is odd. You should get that checked out.”

J.P.: Do you at all worry about the third wall? What I mean is, away from this life you’re just this young student with cats and a vegetarian lifestyle. Your Amazon wishlist has a bunch of sexy stuff, but also flashlights, sunglasses, a camera lens. If people find out too much about who you are away from the façade, does it at all ruin the fantasy?”

G.A.: Nah, not at all. Just like any other specialist in the entertainment world, our fans only feel closer to us and get more into us when they find out personal things like that. My fans specifically are pretty aware of who I am in my personal life, being that I’ve mixed it with my professional life quite a bit. I have often spoken out about healthy eating, animal rights, women’s rights, rights in general. I’ve posted quite a few videos, gifs and photos of my cats; even talked about them with other Dommes publicly over twitter. Sometimes a cat photo gets as many favorites as a selfie of me!

I’m a mix of different strokes, and different folks like different strokes. Actually, almost every pro Domme I’ve ever met is similar to me. Most of us are more observant than boisterous, able to stand just as strong alone as we do among a group of beautiful friends, are pretty intelligent. We’ve mostly taken some form of dance at some point in our lives, like to relax in the sun with a mixed drink more than go to a club, and have a longstanding committed relationships and pets who we like to relax next to, especially after a day of making videos. Some are lifestyle Dommes only, they don’t perform in videos, some are video Dommes, some are even just Instadommes, like wannabe “femdommes” on twitter or instagram and then some are lifestyle and video Dommes together. Naturally, I’ve always been more dominant mentally and sexually in my demeanor with people. I’ve never felt that being dominant means being mean, hardened, dark or unfeeling.

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J.P.: Earlier today Donald Trump just unleashed another Twitter tirade. Random question, but what do you think about the president? How did this happen?

G.A.: Well, I know what I feel, and that is anxiety-worry-irritation-outrage. I constantly find myself thinking, faaaccckk!!!! Will any peace-loving, intelligent and patient aliens come to earth to help our species because the world has seriously messed up. Again. How did this happen? Well, science says that when people don’t get proper food, don’t grow up in a stable and safe home, don’t get treated with love and respect … that it is the mathematical formula for shitty people who are more of burdens on society than good.

Mix that with all of the various click bait articles to rile people up, unjust laws, lack of persecution of murderers and rapists, a society that on average knows more about the Kardashians than the crimes being done against us on a daily basis, over-consumerism and the ever growing greed of capitalism … well thats how this happened.

J.P.: According to your website, you once made $3,320 for flashing your bare ass for 30 seconds, 14 times. Um, what? Story, please?

G.A.: That was a fun time. I have a fan who is an ass addict, doesn’t really do much with his money and his wife has a flat ass. So he gets off on spending his cash on cam, in a private chatroom one on one being teased. So the game was, he tributes me the amount I say, before I get into my panties to begin the show. We talk for a bit and then I just twirl around, walk away slowly, walk back seductively, move my hips, whatever I feel like doing at the moment. He gets so turned on that he wants to see my bare ass only, up close to the camera. Well, to get them off, he has to also send a tribute and once he does, I take my panties off and flash him for 20-to-30 seconds, then walk or prance away to put on a new pair of panties and repeat the process over and over until he has no more money left to tribute, or until I don’t feel like doing it anymore. Within two hours I made that money. It was one of my best yet …

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• Rank in order (favorite to least): Diamond Rio, Family Feud,, DJ Khaled, Viggo Mortensen, surfing, Barry Sanders, Reno, vaginas, golden delicious apples: Golden delicious apples, surfing and vaginas are favorites. I don’t know the other names.

• Five reasons one should make Las Vegas his/her home: Don’t. Unless you’re awesome or I’ve already moved away. I don’t want the population to increase much.

Aaron Judge had a truly crazy power run. Do you see him as the next great Yankee slugger?: I dont know who that is, but if it’s baseball and he’s making those hits then why not?

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I never have thought that but I have been scared of it.

• Three memories from your senior prom?: I never went to senior prom! My mother removed me from high school in my junior year to help her raise my baby sister (aka raise my sister for her). I left for San Francisco at age 17 and got my GED.

• I have a really awful canker sore on my bottom lip right now. What shoud I do about it?: I’m not sure. I’d probably Google that. Or YouTube it. There’s a video for everything on there.

• What are the three biggest keys to great sex?: 1. Being honest and real with yourself and your partner about what you like, don’t like and what you want—right away and up front; 2. Role playing! Makes for great foreplay; 3. Always make your partner feel wanted, not needed, at all times not just days/times you want sex

• One question you would ask Timbaland were he here right now?: I don’t know who that is. I think he’s a music artist, but I dont know what he looks like, is about or anything else. At that point I guess I would ask him if he would go get me some cupcakes or donuts

This is my all-time favorite song. Thoughts?: While the words “You’re like a bowl of bitter beans” is being said it has a tone of a song you could play while cruising up the road to a mountain.

• You just Tweeted, “If I put peoples heads on cows bodies about to be slaughtered—would you report my image?” Um, what?: I’ve been creating digital composite images in photoshop lately, and I want to make some satire but not waste my time so I thought it would be a good idea to check the mindset of my public before making it. Hundreds of millions of animals are abused, raped (aka forced breeding, twins, and artifical insemination), torured and murdered for human consumption, cosmetics, fur fashion, sport, zoos, euthanization, neglect and car accidents. All in the name of being “entitled” to have the “right” to do so (aka eating their flesh and wearing their skin, displaying their heads as trophies and straight abuse). Human beings already commit crimes and atrocities against each other and the land we live on, adding in the hundreds of millions of animals per year in the USA alone is just unnecessary and monstrous. I send supplies and cash donations to multiple charities each month, but If every person would just donate one dollar or send one item for supplies each month, great things would happen. For people to take action to fix things and make the world better, they need to know the things going on, but even more they need to see it. Human beings are very visual creatures, the average person won’t listen or pay attention when you’re telling them about a cause, but if they see it … if their emotions kick in, they feel it and when they feel it they remember it, when they remember it they think about it even when they didn’t mean to at the moment and when that happens, it makes way for them to start asking questions, make changes in their perspective. Then, when their perspective changes, they change and they make changes happen for the better.


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Paul Shirley

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I have a new favorite memoir.

Until now, you have never heard of it.

Until now, your friends have never heard of it.

But—and this is stated sans exaggeration—I found myself reading Paul Shirley’s “Stories I Tell On Dates” and laughing. And crying. And turning toward my wife in bed and saying, “Wait! You have to hear this one …”


One of the things I love about books is that you never quite know what (or who) will do it for you. I mean, on the surface Paul is an unlikely “favorite memoir” candidate. He’s a former basketball journeyman (18 total NBA games) who never wrote for the Iowa State student newspaper or majored in anything related to writing. Hell, he discovered the pen only while keeping a 2005 diary blog for But, man, he’s really good.

Anyhow, I could go on and on about the greatness of “Stories I Tell On Dates,” but instead I’ll inform you that Paul’s website is here, he Tweets here, and that you can order his new book here. He loves the Kansas City Royals, loathes Larry Eustachy and hasn’t picked up a basketball in years.

Paul Shirley, you are the magical 331 …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Paul, your new book isn’t a basketball book—but I want to start with a basketball question. Namely, what motivates professional athletes? Is it money? Is it fame? Is it winning? Is it, “What else am I supposed to do with my life?” You’ve been there. You’ve lived it. Where does the drive come from?

PAUL SHIRLEY: I can probably only speak to my experience, which is a far different experience than that had by, say, an O’Neal: Shaquille or Jermaine.

I loved using my body to do things other people couldn’t do. When I was at the peak of my powers—between age 27 and 31—I could walk into a gym unable to do something, and walk out able to do that thing. That probably sounds kind of trivial, but it was intoxicating to feel that progress. There were other aspects that were attractive, as well: competition and the sense that when I was on the court, I was able to behave at my most base level (and was encouraged to do so). But when I really drill down to what mattered: it was that feeling that I had a superpower and that I got to use it over and over.

Jordan. Pippen. Shirley. All Bulls.

Jordan. Pippen. Shirley. All Bulls.

J.P.: So your new book, “Stories I Tell On Dates,” is one of my all-time favorite memoirs. I recently wrote a memoir proposal, and it included a scene of me, as a youngster, jerking off to an image of Tanya Tucker. My agent read the proposal and said, “Eh, I don’t think people need to picture that.” In your book you also write about jerking off. Which, if you think about it, is a really personal, awkward sorta thing. So, being serious, did you need to really think hard about what to include and what not to include? Are there things so embarrassing you cut them out, or never even considered them? Is there a line not to cross?

P.S.: I had a capital-G Great editor for this book: Katie Savage, who’s uniquely capable in her own writing of connecting in a tasteful way to her most embarrassing moments. And I think that word—“tasteful”—is key. When I wrote the first drafts of these stories, I tried to put it all in there: the worst of the worst. Then, as I drafted/edited, I had to pick and choose. Was this embarrassing detail one that served the story or helped humanize me? Or was I just showing off how low I could go? I’m sure there were some misfired, but I think generally that I was able to find the line.

J.P.: One thing I loved about “Stories I Tell On Dates” is that it really delves into the mental gymnastics that accompany the dating scene. You’re telling the same stories over and over again. You’re using lines, feeling shit out, expecting reactions that you’ll almost certainly receive. I just found the whole thing really insightful. And I wonder—where does that come from? Because most people I know just see dates as dates.

P.S.: One of my brothers is convinced that, deep down, I’m a shy, introverted person, possibly because I was that way when I was young. He contends that this new version of me—the one that is able to walk up to a strange person and get to know them or can speak in front of hundreds of people—is something I’ve had to work toward.

I think he’s right, but it wasn’t necessarily because I wanted to become that person. Thanks to the lonely adult life I was leading, I had to get good at talking to new people in strange places if I was going to have any friends. And what’s great about figuring out how to talk to a strange girl in, like, Budapest, is that it makes it real easy to talk to a strange girl in Boise.

J.P.: I pretty much wind up hating everything I’ve ever written. Especially if I finished it a while ago. Your first book, “Can I Keep My Jersey?” detailed your life as an 11-team basketball vagabond. It sold well, I got good reviews—but do you like it? How do you view it now, nine years removed?

P.S.: Viewed in the vacuum of reading it now, I hate it—I think the writing is sloppy and the format is cheap. However, when I approach it with a bit of loving kindness, like the sort that would make Tara Brach (a meditation guru) proud, I remember that I was 24, 25, and 26 when I wrote most of it. I had an engineering degree, not an English degree. I was in the midst of playing professional basketball.

And, viewed in that context, it’s pretty good!

J.P.: I wrote a proposal for a memoir—but I’ve never written a memoir. So, Paul, how did you do it? I mean, you’re almost 40—so that’s four decades of living. How did you decide what to use, what not to use? How honest do you have to be with situations? Names, dates? Can you merge events? Can you slightly exaggerate? Do you view memoir differently than autobiography?

P.S.: This book has the following format: each chapter starts on a date. I explain how I came to be on that date. I explain why I might tell a certain story. I tell a story—maybe from childhood, maybe from college, maybe from my life as s pro. Then I go back and explain what happened on the date.

None of the dates have names, which was important because I didn’t want to betray their confidence. It was also important, though, because there were times when I needed to combine two people, or fudge the timing of that date in my life, or attribute to them more (or less) wisdom than they actually dispensed.

You’re right that memoir is different from autobiography. There’s a character in this book named Justin Bridges—he’s sort of my childhood tormentor. I was visualizing one person (not actually named Justin or Bridges) when I wrote about him, but I had to attribute several acts to that same character because he exists (for the stories) as a proxy for any number of several shitheads. It doesn’t change the truth of the stories to have Justin Bridges be one person when he’s actually a few. However, it would take away from the stories if I had to keep introducing a new bully every other chapter.

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J.P.: You appeared in 18 NBA games and you averaged 1.8 points. And I wonder—what’s the difference between Paul Shirley and, oh, Dale Davis? Or Corliss Williamson? Or Lonnie Baxter? I’m not talking superstars, but guys who carved out fairly lengthy runs in the league? Is it talent? Devotion? Both? Neither?

P.S.: When I was a young pro, I would get mad about guys I would see in the NBA who I didn’t think were any better than I was, but who’d been given the benefit of the doubt because of some thing or another that I considered worthless. One day, I was bitching about this when my dad says, “You probably ought to remember that there are a lot of guys saying that about you.”

So, on one hand, I struggled to make it in the NBA because I:

A) Was from a tiny place in Kansas

B) Was not a McDonald’s All-American

C) Was not drafted

D) Was white (I was told, to my face, on several occasions, by coaches, that this worked against me)

But on the other, I had a lot of advantages because I:

A) had played on a really good college team

B) was 6’9

C) had been taught how to work hard, show up on time, etc

D) had a stable home life

In the end, the difference between Austin Croshere and me was almost none. But the difference between me and some guy who played at Nebraska-Omaha and never got to make money playing basketball: also none.

J.P.: You write about a lot of people from your life; especially women. I know you give them fake names, but do you worry—at all—about them calling you, pissed? Or hurt? Or humiliated? Have you told any about the book?

P.S.: I think about that, of course. But I also think I portrayed everyone in a rather loving way. And in truth, there are only two people who know, for sure, who they are: that person and me.

As a young hoops fan.

As a young hoops fan.

J.P.: Your publisher is “Fourth Bar Books.” You are “Fourth Bar Books”—meaning you self-published. Which I admire 1,000 different ways. So … how? Why? How hard is it? Do you hire editors? How do you get it in stores? How many copies do you print up?

P.S.: Well, I’m kind of Fourth Bar Books. In this day and age, what does “having a publishing house” mean? I hired an editor, a copy editor, a proofreader, and a graphic designer. I’ve got someone helping me handle promotion and scheduling. I’ve got a zillion contacts thanks to my first book. I also run a writing workshop that’s fairly popular and might, someday, help writers get their books published.

So I tend to shy away from “self-publishing” even as a term. I think of it like some of the bands I love who’ve started their own labels to help get their records out, but also to get friends’ bands’ records out.

To answer your question, though: Print-On-Demand is a wondrous invention. My book will be distributed through Amazon’s Createspace platform but also through Ingram’s publishing wholesaling, which allows it to go out to Barnes & Noble, for example. So, as of now, there is no giant stack of books in my bedroom.

J.P.: You teach writing at West Los Angeles College. You also head up Writers Blok, a Santa Monica-based writing group. So what are the biggest mistakes you see young writers making? What are the traps they fall into? And are there things you, Paul, can learn from inexperienced scribes?

P.S.: I see a lot of writers fall too much in love with their first project. In my experience, it is unlikely that someone’s first book or screenplay or poetry collection will be worth a damn. It is, though, a necessary exercise. So I wish I could tell those people to finish that project, and then get ready to have 10 people read it or to throw it in the trash, right before they dive into their next (and next and next and next) project.

J.P.: You told me you haven’t played a game of basketball in three years. Considering hoops was, at one point, your life, that seems sorta strange. So … why?

P.S.: I think it seems perfectly reasonable! I finished my career having five surgeries in four years. So, for one, there is no reason to tempt fate.

And for two, I can’t do what I used to love about basketball—that daily improvement thing—because I’m not training all the time, and because I’m getting old.

So I’d rather do almost anything else in the world, rather than play basketball.

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• Rank in order (favorite to least): Curtis Granderson, elephants, M Street Kitchen, Ari Fleischer, Dan Quisenberry, Souplantation, Jamal Tinsley, business cards, Michael Richards, Franco Harris, the number 8: Dan QuisenberryM Street KitchenElephantsMichael Richards, business cards, Jamaal Tinsley, 8. I have no opinion on Curtis Granderson, Ari Fleischer, Franco Harris, or Souplantion.

• The world needs to know—what was it like playing with Glenn Robinson?: He didn’t say much when I was around, so I guess, unlike most dogs, the Big Dog is all BITE and no BARK.

• Five all-time favorite books?: Catch-22, A Prayer for Owen Meany, The Road, The Corrections, The Wump World by Bill Peet

• What does Theo Ratliff’s right ankle smell like?: I figure he’s like a zombie at this point, and I think zombies have no smell. At least, according to World War Z, which I’m reading right now.

• Five greatest basketball players you’ve ever played against: I’ll go with the ones I’ve ever had to guard—Paul Pierce, Vladimir Radmanovic, Marcus Fizer, Amare Stoudemire, Nick Collison

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I remember feeling like I’d be OK with it.

• On a scale of one to 100, how concerned are you with your own mortality?: Having almost died once thanks to having my kidney and spleen ruptured, and having thought, at the time, that dying would have been a nice alternative right about then, I’m less concerned than most. 10

• If someone points to the photo of you crying on the Iowa State bench and says, “Why you sobbing like a bitch?”—are you more likely to laugh or punch the guy?: Now, laugh. Ten years ago: punch.

• Twelve adjectives for Larry Eustachy?: Insecure, complicated, intelligent, unfeeling, sadistic, distant and not worth giving six more adjectives.

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Cathryn Vincentz

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Back at Mahopac High School in the late-1980s, one of my absolute favorite people was a girl named Cathy Iannotta.

Cathy and I were in a handful of classes together, and she was just … different. On the one hand, all the standard popular-kid checkmarks could apply. Cathy was a cheerleader. Cathy was beloved. Cathy was smart. Cathy was voted “Best Looking” by the senior class.

And yet, something about her hovered above the fray. Even at an age burdened by zits and gossip and cliques, she maintained a certain glow (aka: kindness) that separated her from the crowd. Hell, a few minutes ago I dug up the ol’ yearbook to see what Cathy wrote on the pages of one of Mahopac High’s least-interesting graduates, and I found this:

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Again—Cathy Iannotta was just different.

Through the years, we’ve kept in touch via social media. And what has really caught my eye is her career. Or, really, her walking away from a career. Cathy was a high-level project manager at multiple firms until (poof!) she was no longer a high-level project manager at multiple firms. She just gave it all up to raise her children and become a yoga instructor. Man, I love that.

After seeing her crazy, pretzel-like yoga poses week after week and month after month, I decided it was time to bring Cathy here, to Quazland, to talk yoga and life and why one surrenders a high-power existence for tranquility and zen.

One can follow Cathy on Instagram here, and learn more about Putnam Yoga (where she teaches) here.

Cathryn Vincentz—strike a pose. You’re Quaz No. 330 …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So we attended high school together, and we’ve been Facebook pals for a while. And you’re being Quazed, in large part, because of something you did that I love. In short, after more than 15 years of devoting yourself to corporate America (project management), you said, “Screw it” and became a Yoga instructor. I love this. Love, love, love. And I wonder—why? How? And how scary was the leap?

CATHRYN VINCENTZ: You make it sound so rebellious! I did leave corporate America almost eight years ago and I am now a stay-at-home mom and yoga instructor. It wasn’t an abrupt “take this job and shove it” type of thing, though. It evolved. The construction project I was on (Goldman Sachs HQ in Battery Park City) was coming to a close. My company was downsizing and my entire department was eventually let go. The timing was perfect, though, because I was pregnant with my first daughter and was ready to make a decision on what to do about staying home with her versus continuing to work corporate. So the leap from corporate America actually came about so that I could stay home with her. I had always wanted to get certified to teach yoga and this was a perfect opportunity, although it happened a little later.

That leap leaving corporate wasn’t scary. It was a conscious choice. My husband Brian and I had made the decision that one of us was going to stay home when we had kids. He was perfectly willing to be Mr. Mom, while I continued climbing the corporate ladder. We decided though, it was more practical for me to stay home being that I was breast-feeding and had been let go. I feel very fortunate that we were able to do this. Being at home definitely was a huge transition, mentally and emotionally. Not only becoming a first-time mother, but also coping with the idea that I wasn’t a bread-winner anymore. Also, the way in which my day was structured changed dramatically. No more 9-5! It was now 24/7. My schedule, priorities and concerns completely shifted. My general role as a person changed so quickly and that was definitely something that took time to accept. (My yoga practice of course helped me deal with all of this.) The first year was so exciting and everything was so new, I didn’t even miss my corporate job.

Yoga, which was always part of my life, started to take a bigger role. I had been practicing for many years at that point and really wanted to get certified to teach. This was the perfect opportunity. After the birth of my second daughter and with the encouragement and complete support of my husband, I completed my 200-hour teacher training. This is when I felt like my life could take an amazing personal turn. When I completed my yoga certification, I started teaching a few times weekly and it has been so fulfilling. It’s an honor, really, to share this ancient practice and introduce it to people and help guide them. I love the people I meet and the chance to be able to share what means so much to me. I teach and speak from the heart and hopefully that resonates.

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J.P.: In your bio you write that 15 years of Yoga has given you “valuable space to be able to work on finding acceptance, loving-kindness and compassion for herself and others.” I have no idea what that means. Please explain …

C.V.: I was honestly shocked to read that you have no idea what this means! This is what I work on continually, literally on a daily basis. I think we are all so busy with our jobs, roles, practical matters in life that we forego time for ourselves to regroup and observe. We don’t give ourselves any space to just be—no agenda, no responsibilities, no roles to play. The practice of yoga gives me this space: the opportunity to allow what is to just be. Even for just a moment in my day. It is within this space where I can allow myself to find perspective, calm my active mind, be silent, just move and breathe with no expectation or destination. This is when I can start to work on finding that acceptance, love, kindness for myself and others.

This doesn’t have to happen in a yoga class, either. It can happen anywhere and any time in your life. Let me back up and explain that yoga is not just made up of just the poses that you find in a yoga class. Yoga, as defined by Patanjali (an ancient sage who wrote the Yoga Sutras) is an eightfold path. As written so eloquently in Yoga Journal, these eight steps basically act as guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life. They serve as a prescription for moral and ethical conduct and self-discipline; they direct attention toward one’s health; and they help us to acknowledge the spiritual aspects of our nature. This path includes asana (physical poses), breath work, concentration, meditation and more. I use all of these to help me find space and freedom.

So when I take the time to do physical practice (move through poses or asanas), it gives me the chance to honestly look at myself and observe my tendencies, my meaning. What do I do and how do I feel when I am challenged or when I am at ease? Am I telling myself a story about how I think things “should be”? Am I labeling things as “good” or “bad”? Am I judging myself? Others? It is an opportunity to sit with what is and allow it to be. An opportunity to breathe and connect what my mind and body are saying to each other. I can ask myself questions and not need to know the answers. I can be as I am. No need to change a thing, be a role or keep up. I can just move and breathe, connect and observe. As I practice, I try to find kindness and acceptance of myself—without judgment (I tend to be hard on myself or push too much, so I observe this carefully). All of this translates “off the mat” and into my daily life. When different types of situations arise, I remember my observations “on the mat” and try to apply what I have learned. As my practice has developed, I also try to apply this non-judgment, acceptance and love towards others around me, whether I know them or not.

J.P.: You teach Yoga. I don’t get Yoga. I’m 45, I’m stiff, I have a shitty lower back and whenever I try it I’m uncomfortable and unhappy. What am I missing?

C.V.: I don’t think you are missing anything, Jeff. You’ve observed how you felt. Sit with it. Let it be. Hopefully you won’t let those fleeting feelings keep you from trying again. See above.

I am happy to explain how I came to yoga and why I am staying with it for life. I discovered yoga when I was living in Northern California’s wine country (a mini-break from corporate life, but still a construction job). Someone told me about a yoga class that was a really good workout. Since I was doing a lot of weight lifting at the time, I thought yoga would be a good way to complement that and challenge my body in a new way. That person was right. It changed my body and helped me with all other sports I was involved in; I became physically stronger, more flexible, my endurance and balance improved … I could go on and on. What I didn’t know is that it would change my mind, too. Yoga changed my perspective on how I dealt with everything in my life (and still does, as it is a continual practice).

I started listening more closely to what my instructor (a great guy named Alexei Brown) was really teaching. Yes, there were the poses, but there was an underlying message in every class. A message to connect your mind to your body through your breath. Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings and try not to let them stay, as we are much bigger than just our thoughts and feelings. Pay attention, without judgment, without attachment and acknowledge what is going on in your mind and body. Observe how you respond to your thoughts and emotions with your body. (For example: does your breath change? How? Do you tense up? If so, where? Do you relax more? If so, how?) This connection of mind and body will teach you about yourself if you are willing to listen. It will deepen your human experience, inwardly and outwardly. It did and does—every day of my life. I will continue this practice as long as I can breathe.

With husband Brian.

With husband Brian.

J.P.: Cathy, this is not the reason I brought you here, but I have to ask this because, well, I have to ask this. So I might as well go with it: In 2005 you worked as a construction manager for the Trump Organization. Specifically, your focus was a high-rise tower in Chicago. Soooo … what was it like? What was the company like? Did you ever deal with our 45th? What can you tell me?

C.V.: Ah, The Trump Organization! Yes, I wanted to come back to New York City after living in California and was looking for a job to get me back. This is exactly how it happened. I called my mom (like I always do for advice!) and we simply started looking into different real estate developers and job opportunities . She said, “Trump is a developer, why don’t you call them?” Sure, I thought, just call Trump and you’ll get a job. But, hey, I figured what could I lose? So I cold called. Coincidentally, there was an ad out in Columbia University’s newspaper (I didn’t go there) looking for a construction manager. The woman who answered the phone quickly put me in touch with one of the vice presidents. I sent my resume and viola, I was on a plane to New York City to interview with Mr. Trump himself. So me, in my new suit, went to meet with Mr. Trump and got the job on the spot. Honestly, in those few moments in my interview, he was professional, funny and personable as we talked about Lehigh (I went there, and so did his brother) and my work experience. I didn’t deal too much with 45 after that, an occasional meeting here and there. In those cases, I found him to be opposite of my original impression: brash, intimidating and egotistical. My first day, I was introduced to Don Trump, Jr. as he would be my direct report. I started working both in New York City and Chicago. I did meet some smart, hard-working, professional people and had a great experience working with some of the team and the contractors. From my observations, the company was run like a small, close-knit family business. I was surprised that I did not find a corporate structure, company standards, strict titles (I chose my own) and roles, etc. Things were seemingly done at the whim of Mr. Trump. Those who were close to Trump stayed very close. Those, like me, who weren’t, didn’t. Without going into the gory details as it would take up this entire Quaz, let’s suffice it to say that my philosophy on how to deal with contractors was not in line with theirs. For one, I believe in structure, standards and paying fairly for completed work. Those felt like struggles. For another, I believe in open communication and respect. I felt anxious and on edge with almost every encounter. I chose to leave after less than one year.

J.P.: You’re probably gonna cringe at this, but back at Mahopac High School you were one of the “It” girls. Pretty, smart, cheerleader, etc. And from afar, from my geek-students newspaper perch, it was sorta like, “The untouchable Cathy Iannotta.” I don’t mean you were a jerk—you weren’t at all. But you were popular and cool. And I love asking this, and I ask you: Who were you really? Like, surface be damned, were you confident? Scared? Comfortable? Awkward? Do you look back warmly at high school? With dread? Both? Neither?

C.V.: So funny! I loved high school. I look back warmly, for sure. I was smart, but had to study for it. I loved skiing, cheerleading and the senior play. I did feel like I was popular and had a lot of friends. I can tell you though that I did not feel like one of the “It” girls. I felt as if I was just on the outskirts. I loved them all (and still do, keeping in touch mostly through social media) and I felt like they liked me and were my friends but I didn’t go to all the parties and had only a few really close friends that I hung out with. I was pretty confident in myself and comfortable in high school, although I had my insecurities like anyone else. I felt like I got a lot of positive feedback from my peers and teachers, which was important at that time, so that helped with my confidence. All in all I look back with great memories and have life-long best friends.

J.P.: Your resume is thick and fascinating, and one non-Trump gig jumps out. From 2001-2005, you built custom-designed estates in California’s wine country. It was seven projects, $22 million in construction. So—consider me the idiot that I am in this area. What does that mean? Entail? Is it exciting? Dull?

C.V.: Thanks, Jeff. California was such an amazing work experience. I went to graduate school for both architecture and construction management. I started working for a real estate developer in New York City, but thought maybe it was time for a change. I had always loved design and smaller scale projects were always attractive to me. A friend of my mom’s was building a home in Sonoma County, California and reached out to me because their builder was looking for a project manager. I don’t remember why they thought of me in New York City, but it sounded so appealing: building houses in wine country! I called, they were interested and I took a flight out to Cali to explore. I decided to take the leap and spent four years out there as a construction project manager building homes for some wonderful families. Basically, I coordinated with these families and their architects to help put together a budget and schedule to build their home. I saw the project through from the ground up; working with the entire team. It was fun to see these amazing homes get built and help people realize their dream of building them. I lived in Healdsburg, a beautiful wine country town and spent a lot of time touring the wineries and enjoying the laid-back lifestyle. After a few years though, I craved the New York City life and missed my family and that is when I moved back and started working for Trump.

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J.P.: You post a good number of Yoga photos on Instagram, and it’s you doing these crazy poses that I couldn’t master were there a gun to my head. So how does one get to that point? That skill level? And, in Yoga, are you working toward poses? Like, do you see a pose someone does and make it a goal?

C.V.: Yes, I love posting photos! It’s fun and I love the Instagram community of yogis. It is inspirational to read their stories and perspectives. They are all so positive and supportive, too. But, no! There is no goal in yoga. No destination. Yoga is a practice. It is a continual journey in which we are always exploring ourselves—both physically and emotionally. It allows us to calm our mind and connect to our body. Asana practice serves as a way to go deeper into learning about ourselves and finding more peace in our lives as a whole. Now having said that, the more you practice, the more your body develops strength, flexibility, balance and the more you can explore the poses and deepen those as well. It is a lot of fun to “get into” a challenging pose that you’ve been working on, but certainly not a goal. Yoga is a great way to get physical, play and laugh at yourself, post pictures and see others having fun, too. Get upside down, you’ll feel it!

J.P.: You did a lot of work with Goldman Sachs—a corporation synonymous with “success” for some, “greed” for others. What says you? What’s your experience?

C.V.: Yes, I spent about five years working with the Goldman Sachs real estate and development team. I worked for Tishman Speyer, a real estate management and development company that was hired as the “owner’s representative” for Goldman Sachs. As part of this amazing team, I met the sharpest, most hard working, conscientious, goal oriented people I have ever come across. I found that the atmosphere at Goldman was intense and high level. They have high expectations and don’t accept anything less than the best. Most of the people I worked with were smart, engaging and supportive. I’m sure there were the big egos and the negatives, but being a step back and having perspective now, those encounters are far from my memory.

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J.P.: Am I wrong in thinking that Yoga gives you a Zen I might lack? What I mean is—from Trump to climate change to the drought out here, I feel like I’m always JUMPING AROUND LIKE THIS!?!!?!? And … you … seem … very … chill. And I love that. And aspire to that.

C.V.: You are not lacking anything. You are complete just the way you are. You have an active, busy mind, which is completely normal as most people do! Yoga gives you the chance to observe your busy mind, your feelings and emotions allowing them to be. It provides tools to help you calm your mind and your feelings of “JUMPING AROUND LIKE THIS!?!!?!?” It makes me think of this Buddhist monk named Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, who talks about something he calls the “monkey mind.” I love the way he describes our mind as being like a crazy monkey who just can’t sit still. It’s very funny and so true. You may not think of Buddhists as being funny, but they really are. Anyway, according to Rinpoche, our mind is like a crazy monkey who just chatters on and on and does not stop moving. We typically do two things to tame it. One, we fight with it to stop and/or two, we try to ignore it and push it away. In each case, the monkey just keeps at us, chattering. The way to calm the monkey mind is to make friends with it. Acknowledge it exists. Then, give your mind a job to do to train it when it gets crazy. Tell your mind to pay attention to your breath. As thoughts come in crazy or not, as they will, simply bring your mind’s attention back to your inhale and exhale. You can use this technique anywhere at any time and with practice, your thoughts become quieter and quieter and you are able to calm the monkey mind. Breath awareness (called pranayama), by the way, is one of yoga’s eight limbs.

I am not more Zen than you. I do have the tool of yoga, which includes meditation (another one of yoga’s eight limbs) to help me calm my monkey mind.

J.P.: I hate, hate, hate meetings. I can’t stress that enough—loathe. In your career, I’m sure you’ve been through tons. You’ve seen it all I’m guessing. So what are corporate meetings always so awful? And how did you survive them?

C.V.: Yes, I’ve been through tons. I guess I am so far removed from those meetings that the thought of them doesn’t evoke the same sort of hatred that you feel. Some were better and more necessary than others. However, I always felt like many of them were way too long, included way too many people who didn’t need to be there, included way too many people who just loved to hear themselves speak and there were way too many of them in the day. You survive them because you have to! They’re just part of the process with most jobs. Like I tell my kids, sometimes you have to do stuff you don’t want to do. That’s life. Try to find the positive.

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• Rank in order (favorite to least): grilled eggplant, Tony Toni Toné, ISO-14001 Environmental System, Noah Syndergaard, diner mints, Huntington Beach, Sue DeMarzo, the designated hitter, Bernie Sanders, Poughkeepsie: Huntington Beach, grilled eggplantdiner mints, Bernie Sanders, Poughkeepsie, Tony Toni Toné, Sue DeMarzo, ISO-14001 Environmental System, the designated hitter, Noah Syndergaard (needed Google for him!)

• Five reasons one should make Mahopac, N.Y. his/her next vacation destination?: 1. Lake Mahopac is lovely – take a boat out or go for a swim; 2. In the fall there are so many great farms to go apple picking – I have such great memories of this as a child and now taking my kids, too; 3. Check out all of the new restaurants (well, new to me as I just moved back up here); 4. Putnam Yoga is close by and you can take my yoga class; 5. In just a short drive away get an ice cream at King Kone.

• How comfortable are you with our mortality, on a scale of 1 to 100?: I’ve accepted it, but not so sure about “comfortable” so I’m going to say 75.

• One question you would ask Tim Pigott-Smith were he here right now?: Who are you? (OK, so I googled him, too. Sorry, Tim, I don’t pay much attention to actors, athletes or celebrities, but Google says you were great.)

• Your husband has the greatest beard of all time. What’s the key?: I know, totally! I guess the key is not to trim it too much?

• Best advice you’ve ever received?: This too shall pass.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: No. I’ve felt some bad turbulence and I always just think there is no way the plane will go down.

• I’m guessing you’ve worn many of those construction hats in your day. Do you, like, sanitize them first? Look for loose hairs? Or just plop it on?: Yep! That is one of the first questions people used to ask me: do you wear a hard hat? Funny. I still have my first one from my first job in Boston. When you’re on a job, you get your own so no worries about anyone else’s loose hairs! But if I am on another job site, honestly, I just plop it on.

• Five all-time favorite words?: love, peace, namaste, om, literally (my 4-year old uses this word all the time and it makes me laugh!)

• You live near King Kone. I love King Kone. Three best flavors?: I do, too! King Kone is all about the soft serve. So, chocolate, vanilla and chocolate/vanilla swirl.

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Jonathan Eig

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If you do this job long enough, connections begin to be made. Certain athletes recognize your face when you enter the clubhouse. The ol’ Yankee Stadium equipment manager calls out your name. There are PR guys who wind up in the same press boxes, stat guys who look eerily familiar. Over time, life in journalism starts to feel like an eternal family reunion, and bonds that began as mere conversations turn into decades-long connections.

This is how I have come to feel about Jonathan Eig.

We probably met, oh, a decade ago—two authors with the same agent. Through the years we’ve chatted about everything the business brings you, from frustrating literary tours to bewilderment to fantastic venues and dreamy publicists. Jonathan is, for my money, one of the best biographers in the game, and when I have questions or frustrations or … whatever, he’s one of the first people I turn to.

Jonathan Eig also happens to be the author of a fantastic new book, Ali: A Life, which I’ve had the pleasure of reading (and loving). When he first told me about the idea, I was slightly skeptical. Ali? Really? Haven’t we heard enough? Yet there’s reporting, and then there’s reporting—and Ali: A Life is overflowing with details, anecdotes, stories, facts, nuggets that will leave you dazzled and riveted. Without exaggeration, it’s one of the best sports books I’ve ever read. That good.

Jonathan is the author of four other books, including the phenomenal Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig. One can visit his website here, follow him on Twitter here, Instagram here and listen to his killer Ali-based podcast here. Oh, and buy Ali here.

Jonathan Eig, a new book is exciting. A visit to the Quazland is legend …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Jonathan, so here’s something that fascinates me. When I’m seeking out a new book idea, one of my priorities is that the subject has never been tackled. Your new book, “Ali,” is about Muhammad Ali—a man who has been written about, in book form, by David Remnick, Norman Mailer, Thomas Hauser and a solid 20 other biographers. Soooo … why Ali?

JONATHAN EIG: To write a great book, you have to choose a great subject. Herman (The Great White Hope) Melville said that. Or something like that. The point is, it helps to have a subject no one’s written about. But sometimes, if the subject is great enough, it’s worth tackling. The question to me is: Can I add something of importance? In this case, the answer was an obvious yes because none of those terrific writers (and I would add George Plimpton, Budd Schulberg, Wilfred Sheed, and others to the list), had not taken the Moby Dick approach. They hadn’t gone big. Mine is the first complete unauthorized biography of Ali. To paraphrase Ali: It ain’t bragging if it’s true. Remnick covered the first couple of years of Ali’s career, Mailer covered two fights, and Hauser wrote an oral history in which Ali had the final say about what to include. Also, I had the benefit of time and perspective. I had the time to go back and interview all three of Ali’s surviving wives and more than 200 other people, people who could speak more openly than they might have earlier, and people who can view events with greater perspective now. I also have the benefit of reading FBI files and medical records that weren’t available earlier. Finally, Mailer and Plimpton, for all their gifts, couldn’t see in 1970 or 1975 how Ali’s life and career would change the world. It’s been more than 50 years since Ali took his stance against Vietnam. That’s time enough to understand what it meant. I think it’s almost beyond argument that he was the most influential athlete of the 20th century. But that was far from certain when the first generation of Ali biographers was working.

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J.P.: I’m a huge admirer of great reporting, and this book is overflowing with great reporting. So I wanted to focus on one small area, and learn how you went about snagging the information. Specifically, on page 406 you write: “Publicly, he had little to say about his mentor’s death. But Ali spoke at length in a private memorial service for Elijah Muhammad, in remarks that were never reported by the press or previous biographers.” You then go on to share his words. Jonathan, this guy is probably the most intensely covered athlete in history. How did you go about tracking down the material?

J.E.: That one came to me; I didn’t have to track it down. I got to know Elijah Muhammad’s grandson, Elijah Muhammad III, and he gave me a CD containing a video recording of his grandfather’s memorial service. Ali’s speech was on the CD. Elijah lives in Chicago. He’s an Uber driver. And he loves talking about his grandfather. He’s trying to get a documentary made about Elijah Muhammad and trying to get his grandfather included in museums dedicated to African American history. We became friends. He helped my daughter with her history fair project. I helped him rewrite some of the letters he was sending to museums. He introduced me to some of his siblings and other members of the Nation of Islam. As a matter of fact, Elijah’s sister turned out to be a great source, too, because she’d known Ali’s second wife when they were small children. And it was Elijah’s sister who showed me MRIs of Ali’s brain that she had found in her father’s home. She happened to have them in the trunk of her car on the day I met her for lunch. I think that’s one of the rules of journalism, isn’t it? If you want to find brain scans of Muhammad Ali in the trunk of someone’s car, you have to get out of the office and do some face-to-face reporting.

J.P.: You wrote a lot about Ali’s love of women, his mindless infidelities, his weaknesses as a man. Two questions: A. Do you worry about backlash? B. How do you know what to use, and what not to use? What I mean is, did you worry about going too far?

J.E.: Sure, I worry about backlash. I worry about going too far. I worry about everything. But the biographer’s job is straightforward: You have to be honest, you have to dive deeply into your subject’s life, and you have to make your subject’s behavior understandable to the reader. I try to focus on that rather than worrying about the consequences. Everyone around Ali knew about his sexual affairs. His wives spoke openly to me about the subject. There are some horrifying and also some hysterical stories about his affairs. So I couldn’t ignore it or try to hide it. At the same time, I didn’t see any point in being inflammatory. It wasn’t the most important part of his personality, but it was a part that needed to be understood. Does it hurt book sales if Ali is revealed as a flawed person? Maybe. Will I be criticized for knocking an icon off his pedestal? Maybe. But as long as I’m honest and doing my best to reflect the truth, I can sleep at night.

J.P.: You’ve had books that, sales-wise, exceeded your expectations and books, sales-wise, that underperformed. One of those, I believe, was your marvelous Jackie Robinson bio, “Opening Day.” And I wonder—did you ever figure out why? Do you understand, at all, what makes a book sell vs. what makes it not sell? How much can an author control?

J.E.: I don’t understand what makes a book sell, and I don’t think an author can do much to control it. My dear friend Joseph Epstein (one of America’s great essayists and short story writers, whose books generally don’t sell very well) told me early on not to worry about sales or reviews, two things I will never be able to control. The only question in the end, Joe said, is whether you did honor to the subject and wrote the best book you could. He’s right, of course. But I still find it impossible not to worry. In the case of “Opening Day,” I do have a theory about why it didn’t sell as well as I’d hoped. The book was timed to appear on the 60th anniversary of Robinson’s first game, April 15, 2007. That turned out to be the first time that every player in the majors wore 42. I was on almost every TV and radio station I could have hoped to be on. My publisher advertised the book on the radio during Mets games and bought a big ad in The New York Times. It was a perfect storm of publicity and marketing. I should have sold boatloads of books, right? But all the publicity and all the interviews focused on Jackie, not on my book. One might have easily watched me on CNN or on The Today Show and not known that I was hustling a book because all the focus was on Robinson and his incredible achievement. Which is perfectly just and understandable. It didn’t move merchandise.

J.P.: So I know you worked as a feature writer at newspapers in Dallas and New Orleans; know you were a staff writer for the Wall Street Journal. But, soup to nuts, how did this journalism thing happen to you? When did you first know this is what you wanted to do? When did you first realize you were good at it?

J.E.: Junior high. I started writing for the school paper. I’ve been doing the same thing ever since: filling up notebooks and writing stories. I was a shy kid, and the reporters’ notebooks gave me a license to talk to people—even girls! It was like a disguise. I didn’t know if I was good at it, but I knew I liked it. The notebook offered me a disguise, and the writing process gave me a chance to make people think I was smarter than I really was, because I’d go over the words and rewrite them until they didn’t sound quite so dumb. I still feel the same way. I’m just fooling a lot more people.

With Don King

With Don King

J.P.: I might be wrong, but it seems like the project you put the most of yourself into was the Lou Gehrig bio, “Luckiest Man.” What was it about Gehrig and his plight that did it for you? 

J.E.: Gehrig was my first book, so it’s special. I was giddy about it. And nervous as hell. I get to be Gehrig’s biographer? I get to have my name on a real book that, you know, will actually sit on someone’s shelf and maybe even in a library? Me? I thought it was the coolest thing that could possibly happen. I also thought it might be my only shot, so I’d better not screw it up. I put every ounce of energy and smarts I could into it. I didn’t leave anything in the tank, as the sportscasters say. Plus, I absolutely fell in love with Lou. He was such a sweetheart, so insecure, so kind, so brave. I had many of the same feelings about the Ali book. I get to be the biographer for Muhammad Ali, one of the most interesting and important figures of American history and the guy whose poster hung in my room as a kid? Me? It’s ridiculous. I better not screw it up!

J.P.: You and I are two of the few idiots dumb enough to try and make a living off of (generally) sports-based biographies. Would you recommend the field to writers interested in this sort of thing? I can’t tell if the stress, anxiety, uncertainty all eat into you the way they eat into me …

J.E.: Stress? I have no idea what you’re talking about. If you’re passionate about writing, you’ll write. If you’re passionate about writing sports biographies, you’ll write sports biographies. Nothing I say is going to make a difference, nor should it.

J.P.: It’s sorta lame, but I’ll be lame. What’s your process? Not the whole thing, because that would take 70 years. But you decide upon a book topic, you sign your contract—what’s next? How do you go about diving into a project?

J.E.: I do at least six months of research before I sign the contract. That’s how long it takes to write a strong proposal and get a contract, usually. Then I don’t even think about writing for at least six months more. I interview old people who might die before the book is done. I read everything I can. I find experts who can help me become an expert. Then, when I think I have some mastery of my subject, I begin writing, but slowly, because I’m still learning, and there’s no point in writing too much or too fast when I’m going to have to go back and redo it all. I continue to do research as I write. At some point, usually near the middle of the book, I’m spending equal amounts of time writing and researching. Even if I think I’m ready to write a chapter, once I start writing I find that new questions pop up and I have to stop and do more research. To me, writing is research. I can’t write a thing without a file cabinet full of documents. When I get near the end of the book, I can write more quickly. In the beginning, it’s two or three months per chapter. By the end, it’s two or three weeks per chapter. By then, I’m spending perhaps 90 percent of my time writing and 10 percent on research. That’s the fun part, when you’re knocking off chapters faster than you’re turning the pages on the calendar. Here’s something I’ve never told anyone: When the writing comes fast like that in the home stretch, I find myself humming the theme song from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. That’s when I know the big rolling stone isn’t going to crush me and I made it out of the cave with my hat still on. Dah-da-dah, dah-da-daaaaaah…

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J.P.: I wonder if, at the end of this, you see Muhammad Ali as a great man? Because, if I’m being honest, I don’t. He seems as if he were a mostly good man, a moderately intelligent man, a man with a big heart and also a lot of luck. But great? I’m not so sure. What says you?

J.E.: You’re not going to get me in trouble on this. There were times while writing this book that I thought I could never forgive him, never love him. No doubt he was deeply flawed, selfish, and downright stupid at times. But he won me back. He always won me back. It’s funny, I got the feeling that even his ex wives, whom he treated terribly, still loved him as long as he lived. I think it’s because he never bullshitted. He lied. He cheated. But owned up to his flaws. Thelonious Monk once said that a genius is the one most like himself. Ali was definitely a genius by that standard. He was a narcissist and an egotist and yet he was humble in a way. He loved people. He never acted as if he were better than anyone—except maybe Joe Frazier, which is another subject for another time.

J.P.: You went to Don King’s Christmas party. How the fuck did that happen?

J.E.: I spent more than a year trying to get an interview with Don King. I called him 25 times, and he never answered or returned the calls. I followed him to Vegas, where he gave me five minutes. Then I tracked him to Easton, Pennsylvania, where he was appearing at a ceremony honoring Larry Holmes. I followed him around for a day and a half, trying to get some time with him one-on-one. Finally, finally, I got him in a corner of a crowded room. I knew I had to ask a good question, because if you’ve ever heard Don, you know he likes to do his shtick, and he can talk for an hour without saying a single damn thing. So I shoved my tape recorder in his face, and I said: “Don, how come no one ever killed you? You’re dealing with the mafia, the Nation of Islam, with a lot of dangerous guys. You’re taking money off all of them. How come no one killed you?” That got his attention, and we had a great interview. He was smart and engaging and shockingly honest. When we were done, I could tell he was really a social person. So I asked if we could go to dinner next time I was in Boca Raton, where he lives and has his office. Don said, “Sure, come to my Christmas party next week!” I told him that it just so happened I was going to be in Florida with my wife and kids, visiting my in-laws, for our winter vacation. “Bring your kids to the party,” he said. “There’s going to be presents for all the kids.” So I did. And the food was great.

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• Five all-time favorite boxers: Sticking to heavyweights, Ali, Jack Johnson, Joe Frazier, Joe Louis, King Levinsky.

Ali in his prime v. Evander Holyfield in his prime. What’s the result?: Ali by unanimous decision.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Alexis Arguello, Moo Shu Shrimp, Lexington, animal crackers, Ken Reitz, Elijah Muhammad, Yonkers Raceway, Corner Bakery and Café, Steve Bannon, Jon Krawczynski, Los Angeles Times, salt bagels: Jon Krawczynski, Los Angeles Times, Elijah Muhammad, Lexington, Alexis Arguello, animal crackers, Yonkers Raceway, salt bagels, Ken Reitz, Corner Bakery, Steve Bannon, Moo Shu Shrimp. Obviously.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Not in a plane, but in a lake once. I remember thinking, “Don’t die, dumbass.”

• Five nicest celebrities you’ve ever interviewed: Jim AbbottDizzy GillespieLarry Holmes, Rachel RobinsonPhil Rizzuto

• Three best Ali books (besides yours): “Black is Best,” Jack Olsen;  “The Fight,” Norman Mailer;  “Muhamamad Ali,” Wilfrid Sheed

• Five reasons one should make Chicago his/her next vacation destination: The Green Mill, Lake Shore Drive, Art Institute of Chicago, Subway stations that smell way better than NYC, Rick Bayless restaurants on every corner

• Four memories from your Bar Mitzvah: 1. Tall girls; 2. Fleetwood Mac songs performed by Buddy, an accordionist with a gold tooth in front; 3. Dancing with my grandmother, and even she was taller than me; 4. Slipped away from the reception to watch the Yankees on TV. They won 11-2.

• One question you would ask Turk Wendell were he here right now: OK, Mr. Wendell: Celine Dion calls and offers $500 million for you to ghost write her autobiography, “Celine: The Gerbil in Me.” The catch: You have to sleep on her floor for a year, you can never look her in the eye, you have to pierce your tongue and she refers to you as “My Little Bitch Writer Bob.” You in?

Celine Dion calls and offers $500 million for you to ghost write her autobiography, “Celine: The Gerbil in Me.” The catch: You have to sleep on her floor for a year, you can never look her in the eye, you have to pierce your tongue and she refers to you as “My Little Bitch Writer Bob.” You in?: Ah, good question. I do get a lunch break, right?

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Paul O’Brien

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Paul O’Brien is an openly gay Christian conservative. Which strikes me akin to being both the Dallas Cowboys’ star quarterback and a man opposed to the sport of football.

Or, to be more precise, I’m just sorta baffled. I mean, as a whole Christian conservatives seem to be very outspoken against homosexuality. It’s a group of people who brought us this guy. And this guy. And, ugh, this guy.

And yet … when I reached out to Paul, told him I leaned hard liberal and asked whether (despite that) he’d be up for a Quaz, he didn’t flinch or think twice. Which I admire in a huge way. See, we’re living in an age of loudmouth cowardice from all sides of politics. Go to Twitter and look around. The vast majority of ranters, screamers, insulters hide behind fake names and fake images. They’re tough guys sans repercussions. Which means, in fact, they’re as soft as supermarket tissue.

Not Paul.

He exists on Facebook as “The Gay Trumpocat,” and while I share exactly, oh, zero beliefs with the man, he refuses to flinch or hide. Hell, he’s even written and published a pair of books (The United Resistance of America) and From Clinton to Trump, A Gay Christian’s Shift From the Left to the Right) that confirm his outlooks on life.

Paul O’Brien, I hope Trump gets impeached yesterday.

Now welcome to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Paul, you’re a gay Christian conservative. Which in and of itself is quite interesting, considering the church’s view that homosexuality is a sin. Basic question—but how do you accept this? I mean, aren’t you a believer in a religion that—in a sense—doesn’t believe in you?

PAUL O’BRIEN: As a Christian, and the son of a preacher, I learned a long time ago what was in the Bible and was told to interpret it myself. I don’t listen to what others believe scripture means because it is written that we should read for ourselves. Old Testament is the only book in the Bible that speaks negatively on the subject of homosexuality, but the Old Testament was written for Jews and not Gentiles. So in terms of Christianity and homosexuality I look to New Testament and what Christ said. I never found anything negative from him regarding gays. But I also came to terms with something. I believe that anyone who has sex outside marriage is committing the sin of adultery, including straight and gay people. All sins are forgivable and luckily I believe in gay marriage so therefore I don’t believe it is a sin to be intimate with your husband/wife. I don’t believe being gay is a sin as I was born this way, which means God made me the way I am. And luckily for me, I have surrounded myself with Christians who have never judged me, including my father. I believe the old school era of Christians preaching fire and brimstone are dying out. More and more churches are accepting of gays, which is fantastic.

J.P.: Along those lines, you posted glowingly about Karen Handel, who won the Georgia congressional race. Handel is an outspoken opponent of gay adoption; she literally does not believe gay couples should be allowed to raise children; that they are not morally fit to do so. How can you hear that and, as a gay man, support someone with such beliefs?

P.O.: Yes, I am very happy that Karen Handel won the race, making her the first GOP woman to represent Georgia in Congress. In terms of how she feels about gays adopting, I gave up on the belief that everyone would share my views on everything. If they disagree with me regarding adoption, that is their right as an American. That might be the one political view I don’t agree with Handel on, but I’m not a single issue voter so it helps that many of her views I do share. But in terms of supporting someone who has a belief I don’t agree with, I would say that taking money from people who slaughter gays and proposing an immigration increase of those people concerns me more than her opinion regarding adoption. I’d rather have someone disagree with me regarding raising a child than someone funded by people who want me dead.

Some of the image selection from Paul's Facebook page.

Some of the image selection from Paul’s Facebook page.

J.P.: You backed Hillary Clinton in 2008. Now, clearly, you’re not a fan. What changed? How did your thinking change?

P.O.: I was a massive supporter of Hillary and Bill Clinton. I look back on that time now and the one things that comes to mind is something my hero Andrew Breitbart said about himself. Default liberal. I was a default liberal because I believed everything I heard via the media. It wasn’t until I began doing research for a book I was writing about Hillary that I began learning things I never knew. I learned about her taking millions from men who slaughter gays and oppress women while claiming to be a champion for women and gays. I learned that the people of Haiti hate her and accuse her of stealing from them. I heard her laugh when recalling a rape case where she represented the rapist of a 12 year-old girl who was beaten and put into a coma, left infertile from her injuries [Writer’s note: Snopes largely disagrees with this take]. I learned that she blamed the victim, something she could not do now thanks to rape shield laws, telling her that she asked for it and that she fantasized about older men. Then I started learning of her dishonesty. She could not seem to tell the truth regarding anything. Whether it be landing under sniper fire in Bosnia, the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, destroying evidence after a subpoena was issued, lying to the American public about her email server, etc.

But the final straw for me was the Orlando terrorist attack. I listened to her pander to Muslims as if they had been attacked while preaching down to the LGBT community about “embracing and protecting” Muslims. She claimed we didn’t even know the motive of the attack despite 911 calls and witnesses revealing the motive. Then I heard Donald Trump, the so-called homophobe, speak and he condemned not just the attack, but Sharia law and the slaughter of gays. He vowed to protect the LGBT community, encouraging Republicans to defend my community. So I began researching him, which led to my first published book From Clinton to Trump.

J.P.: I’m gonna be honest—I view Donald Trump as nothing but a conman. If you look at his life, from discriminatory housing to Atlantic City ugliness to ruining the USFL to the scores of unpaid contractors; if you look at his charity (to which he never donated any of his own money) and his history of greed and narcissism … I just view him as everything ugly in America. So … what do you see? What am I missing?

P.O.: I remind you to look back and see how different things were 30-to-40 years ago. In the housing case you cited, I recall over 100 real estate companies being sued for discriminatory housing. Donald Trump was the only one who fought the case. It is also important to remember it was not Donald Trump sitting in an office, turning down minority tenants. The people he hired to do the job did this. But then I learned Trump’s company actually did house minorities… the scandal was that they were housed separately from other tenants. Now in terms of charity, I find it hard to believe that he never donated his own money. I recall how popular he was in the gay community back when I was living in Connecticut, only an hour’s drive from New York City. He was often featured in Advocate magazine where he was praised for his donations to Gay Mens Health Crisis and various HIV/AIDS charities. Then I see him being awarded for his work with the African American community with Rosa Parks, Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton praising him. So in terms of his charities, I don’t see it the same way you do. As for greed and narcissism, I have met many with those traits. Human beings are not perfect. I see those traits in almost every celebrity in movies, on television and on the cover of magazines. But I support someone based on policy and it just so happens that I agree with the policies Donald Trump has put forward.

J.P.: I know you’re gay, I know you’re 37, I know you work as an author and paralegal. But … what’s your story? Where are you from? How did you get interested in politics?

P.O.: I was actually the son of an Air Force veteran so I was born on a military base in Washington. My family moved to Turkey when I was five and then to the UK a few years later. My father retired and the family moved to Tennessee, which is where he was from. I didn’t like it so I moved in with my brother who was also in the Air Force, living in both New Mexico and California. When I turned 18 I moved to Connecticut and I lived there until I was 22 before moving back to Tennessee to be closer to my parents. I actually got into politics back in 2008 when Hillary Clinton ran. I was one of the only Clinton supporters in the town I live in. When she dropped out I lost interest. I hadn’t ever heard of Obama and he didn’t interest me. Same with McCain. I did like Sarah Palin’s spunk and I remember thinking she was being treated differently than Hillary had. This was probably what got me noticing things I hadn’t paid much attention to before. I watched as celebrities like Kathy Griffin attacked Palin and her children relentlessly, but saw a rodeo clown fired for impersonating Obama. The double standards was showing up everywhere. I had always been told that the GOP was anti-gay, racist, sexist, etc. But I knew this wasn’t true because my father, my brother, my sisters and my in-laws were all Republican. I started paying more attention to politics then and by 2016, as I was doing research on Clinton for my book, I became obsessed with politics.

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J.P.: I used to live in Tennessee. It’s not the most progressive (LGBT-wise) state around. What was your path, coming out? How did you do it? When did you first know you were gay? How did your family react?

P.O.: I always knew I was gay deep down, but I hid it so deep down that no one would ever guess. I dated women and was even engaged to get married when I was 20. Then I met my first partner, who I was with for 10 years, and that was what gave me the courage to come out. I was living in Connecticut, which is a pretty openminded state, so the first person I told was my sister. She was fine with it and so was my family. Now I cannot speak for all of Tennessee, but I can tell you that West Tennessee is actually very openminded. As I discussed earlier, more and more churches are accepting of gays now. So I didn’t experience the anti-gay rhetoric that someone may have back in the 1970s or 80s. Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville had many gay bars and clubs so if I wanted to be around gays I didn’t have to look far.

J.P.: I hate your Facebook page. I mean no offense, but I hate it. You source bullshit websites that don’t report; so much of it is snarky, rude, cruel; one of your go-tos is Infowars—the same place that said Sandy Hook was a hoax. Paul, I just don’t get it. Why can’t we have real political dialogue, where you have a stance, I have a stance and we agree or disagree? With civility. With dignity. Why has it come to this?

P.O.: I would say the same about sites that you may like. I dislike CNN, MSNBC and I detest Huffington Post. I read articles like If You Don’t Vote Democrat, Fuck You or Otto Just Found Out His White Privilege Doesn’t Work Outside America [JEFF NOTE: Close enough on the headlines] and I cringe. I enjoy Breitbart, Drudge Report,and even Infowars because they cover stories the mainstream media won’t. Do I agree with everything they write? No, but then I wouldn’t agree with everything liberal media writes either.

As far as Sandy Hook, I lived in Connecticut and one of my friends went to college with the mother of a child killed. So I never bought into any conspiracy theories regarding it being a hoax. What I did hear about, and believe could be true, was that crisis actors may have been used by the government and the media to take advantage of the tragedies to influence gun laws. There are websites, videos and articles discussing men and women who seem to appear in every tragedy like Sandy Hook, Boston, Orlando, etc. Now as far as taking a political stance and agreeing or disagreeing, I do that every day. I don’t believe my taste in media reflects the opposite of that. But as strongly as you feel about Infowars, I feel about CNN, who was caught rigging a debate in favor of one candidate, or New York Times, who our own intelligence called out as fake news. People get their news from sources they like. The reason for that is tone. A conservative like me would never watch Morning Joe, The View or Rachel Maddow because their tone when discussing politics is a sneering, looking down at me kind of way. Just like you would never watch Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, or Infowars. My webpage carries my own articles, as does Southern Sky Site, but it also carries videos, memes and articles that friends of mine might not see.

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J.P.: You recently wrote, “Sad to hear Sheriff David Clarke has turned down a position in Homeland Security. Our country would benefit from a patriot who puts America 1st over the globalists & 1%.” I’ve followed Clarke’s career closely, and I just don’t see it. Patriot? The guy was sheriff when an inmate named Terrill Thomas was denied water for a week—then died in jail. Three other inmates also died in jail for similar circumstances. The list is long. So … what do you like about him?

P.O.: I love David Clarke. I first noticed him when he shamed Don Lemon, who I detest, over Black Lives Matter after the shootings of Dallas police officers last summer. He is blunt, loud and I share a lot of the same views as him. Plus he looks a lot like my brother-in-law. And, yes, he is a patriot. He is not about illegal immigrants or refugees. He is about Americans first. That means our veterans, our elderly, our disabled, our children, etc. He and Larry Elder are two men who receive so much hate from the left because they are proud black men who don’t share the same opinion as a majority. That is brave to me. It takes a lot of courage to stand up and say something you know many will disagree with. As far as the people who died in his jail, I am not familiar with those cases so I can’t comment, but if you’re telling me he personally ordered these inmates to be denied water why weren’t charges pressed against him? [JEFF’s NOTE: Answers—we have answers].

J.P.: This is weird to ask you, but if you were advising the Democrats, what would you tell them? Being serious—they’re obviously floundering right now. What are they doing wrong?

P.O.: Stop trying to be the PC police. Stop relying on celebrities to spread your message (if you have one) because next to the media, Hollywood celebrities annoy people the most when they preach politics. It’s easy for them to talk about accepting refugees and illegal immigrants when they’ll never be around them because they live in mansions behind gates and security guards. Fact is that a lot of Americans are unhappy because there aren’t enough jobs for the people already here, but Democrats seem to want open borders. The Democrats have relied on identity politics and most important, they have not condemned the violence that has pushed openminded Democrats away from the DNC. Condemn Antifa. Condemn Black Lives Matter. They wanted Donald Trump to disavow David Duke and the KKK even though it was Hillary Clinton who received an endorsement and a donation from the California chapter of the KKK, so why can’t they? [JEFF’S NOTE: Read here]. And for God’s sake stop talking about Russia. No one cares! Even Democratic strategists keep telling them no voter is asking about Russia at the town halls they attend.

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• Five all-time favorite political figures: Winston Churchill, Abe Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Sandy Koufax, Brietbart, John Cena, Amari Cooper, “Batman and Robin,” Nashville, Bobby Brown, the color blue, Sean Hannity, lemonade, Milk Duds: Nashville, color blue, lemonade, Milk Duds, Sean Hannity, Breitbart, Bobby Brown, John Cena, Batman and Robin, Amari Cooper, Sandy Koufax. (last two are cuz I am not familiar with the names)

• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between you and Freddie Prinze, Jr.? What’s the result?: I outweigh him so I think he could probably knock me out if he tired me out. Result would be a TKO or a decision.

• What happens after we die?: Our bodies die, but our souls—which is our energy/personality—transcends to another realm. What that realm is I don’t know. It could be Heaven, it could be a spaceship full of aliens, but I don’t believe when our body dies everything just goes black.

• How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?: I know a girl who did it in 20 but she had a strong tongue lol.

• What’s the worst movie you’ve ever seen?: Trainwreck

• Five reasons one should make Tennessee his/her next vacation destination: Dollywood, Smoky Mountains, Graceland, Grand Old Opry, and Tennessee River

• What do you imagine Donald Trump’s hair smells like?: Tangerines

• Can you say three nice things about Barack Obama?: He was so likeable that people liked him even when his policies sucked. He would be fun to have a beer with. He took Trump’s election maturely.

• One question you would ask Kent Hrbek were he here right now?: Who are you?


Paul Kuharsky


“I’m sad, but also excited for the next chapter of my life.”

See that quote? The one directly above these words? Well, I’ve heard it uttered and seen it written a solid 200 times over the past year. It always comes after massive journalism layoffs; written by shellshocked reporters and editors kicked to the curb by outlets hemorrhaging money and readership.

Although the language projects optimism, it always bums me out. It’s one thing to be 22 … 23 … 24 and on the job market. You’re young, you’re cheap, you’re eager. But what if you’re a laid-off journalist in your 40s, 50s, 60s? You have kids in college, a mortgage, car payments? You were making $100k, $150k. Now, suddenly, pfft. What do you do?

Five months ago, when ESPN cut loose hundreds of staffers, the ol’ “I’m sad, but also excited for the next chapter of my life” overloaded my Facebook and Twitter feeds. It was crushing and heartbreaking, and I wondered how some of my friends in the business would survive.

Then, from the ashes, rose Paul Kuharsky.

Paul and I date back to our days at The (Nashville) Tennessean, and I’ve long known him to be one of America’s best football scribes. He also happens to be incredibly resilient. So after ESPN failed to renew his contract, Paul turned innovative, devoting himself to his own eponymous website. There, for various subscription rates, one can receive Paul’s as-good-as-it-gets Titans and league coverage. It’s called: Reinvention.

Today, Paul talks about making a career transition; about the death of newspaper, the evil of Gannett, the love of Pacman Jones and dislike of a particular Bruce Springsteen song. One can visit his website here, and follow him on Twitter here.

Paul Kuharshy, you are the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Paul, I’m gonna start with the shittiest one. You covered the Tennessee Titans for for nine years—then in April you were laid off. I’m interested in how you received the news and how you digested it. Were you at all expecting it? Were you (are you) bitter? Resigned? Accepting? I guess, in short, what did it feel like and how did you take it?

PAUL KUHARSKY: I’m mostly over it. There was a stretch where a lot of us thought it was coming, but then I kind of thought I’d made it. Dumb by me. I don’t know that the distinction is that important, but I wasn’t laid off, my contract wasn’t renewed. So that date was three months out and they were required to exercise the final year of the deal by that deadline or to notify me they wouldn’t. I didn’t take it well, initially. It would have been good for me to start running again right then, I’d be way healthier and skinner now and it would have been good for venting. The people who were instrumental in me getting to ESPN nine years earlier are all now in different areas and I reached out to each shortly after that to thank them and tell them I hoped that I had done right by them with my role in the start of ESPN’s NFL Nation as an eight- and then a 32-person NFL coverage team. I hope I did.

J.P.: Is beat writing (the way we once thought of it) dead and buried? You’re a kid at Vanderbilt or Syracuse or Delaware, your goal is to “cover” a team for a newspaper or website. Is that still a worthwhile and realistic pursuit?

P.K.: Or Columbia! Gut reaction is no. Given a minute I’d say yes, but only as a short-term stepping-stone. I think there is still a need for a nuts-and-bolts person covering any team of note. That would be ideal – an outside party doing its best as a modern version of the first draft of a franchise’s ongoing history. I think a kid coming out today could do a couple years of that on a college and then on a pro team and it would really help form him as a reporter. My belief is in part because all the spinning off of news has to have news to spin off of. So that is a key cog in the whole machinery still. And all those kids have to have at least some of that to build off if they want people to care what they think about those developments and if they want us to trust they can tell us what they mean. Also, there is an important layer of news/information below the big stuff that the national reporters get that those high-ranking reporters are not interested in that is still important to fans. Not the quarterback news, but the backup quarterback news. Still, if I’m a kid at one of those fine schools, I’d be scared to death of the business while aspiring to a role like yours at The Athletic or mine, in a new venture, where analysis and opinion are paramount.

Paul (right) with Mike Mularkey.

Paul (right) with Mike Mularkey.

J.P.: You and I are both purveyors of our own websites—only yours charges people for direct coverage of the Titans and the NFL. I have a bunch of questions on this, but I’ll start with the basic: When did this idea come to you? When did you decide, yes, I’m going to do it? And what’s the risk-reward ratio?

P.K.: Well it was one of many ideas that came to me as I anticipated the void in my life post-ESPN. I am super-fortunate as I have a full-time radio job, co-hosting The Midday 180 in Nashville on 104.5 The Zone with Jonathan Hutton and Chad Withrow. But I’m a reporter and writer first, and my radio presence wouldn’t be as good without doing that too. I’ve got great relationships with the team and an institutional knowledge of the franchise since it relocated to Nashville. So many readers said, “Please tell me you’re still going to be out there asking the tough questions.” And I felt like there would be a void without me doing that and that I still wanted to find a way to serve that audience with observations and analysis, which I enjoy writing. I spoke with a lot of smart people who said they thought I was a Nashville brand that would sell. (When something was written in the local weekly about me being a brand, my friend Sara Walsh, also formerly of ESPN, said she couldn’t wait until I put out jeans.)  I looked hard at Patreon, which is kind of a Kickstarter for content creators. That’s where I started to think about tiers and what I could provide. Ultimately, I came to think that site is better for a person starting out than for someone who already has an audience. And Patreon takes 10 percent. So smart friends and friends of friends encouraged me to try it. My radio job and my wife’s job meant we had some time to build. I’m hardly first – is really good, you know first-hand that the Athletic is taking off, Greg Bedard has a large-scale site in Boston Sports Journal. I’m smaller and more personality driven. So many people in Nashville hate the paper and hate ESPN, I thought at least a small club knows the quality it wants can no longer come for free, I can be bottled water for Titans fans. The risk is not enough people are willing to pay. But I sold out the crazy top tier, a Starting 22, in two days. And memberships have sold consistently. Six weeks in I couldn’t have predicted better, I’m already in line to make about what I would have with the one real outside offer I had. The free Periscopes/Facebook Lives are packed and the private ones seem to be a lure. The reward is a guy who never had any ambition to have his own company launches a successful site, connects with his readers in a new way and can have a great stage of his career while writing what he wants and fielding zero calls from a print boss.

J.P.: So, soup to nuts, how does one start a pay site? I’m being very literal. You hire a designer? You figure out a pay level? What? And then what? And then what?

P.K.: I had long discussions with my radio station, which didn’t want me to have to stop writing and was really great about working together to reach the point where I got a green light. I commissioned logos from Thomas Cox, a listener who’s really talented. I hired a great web guy, Brent Peacher, who’s done mostly music-related sites and seems to really have enjoyed a venture into sports, even if I can and email him far too much. He totally connected with me on what I sketched out, and I love the look and the feel he designed. I had the forms filed to create an LLC. I opened a business account. I miraculous found a travel sponsor – thanks MDI Construction. I learned a lot about PayPal. I lucked into a great agreement on photos out of home games. We started too late to be able to have a three-day preview or something short at the beginning. So I wrote for three weeks on a version 1.0 site that didn’t charge hoping to get people hooked while he developed things and I finalized the plans. Then we flipped the switch and crossed our fingers. Right now I am having meetings with people who can help me sell and manage the unobtrusive advertising the site will include.

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J.P.: You’ve been covering the NFL and the Titans for a long time. And here’s something I don’t get, and I mean no disrespect: How do you still give a shit? I mean, the names change, the uniforms might add elements every so often … but the storylines and narratives generally stick. Over and over again. Rookie free agent’s fight. Veteran holding on. Good-looking young quarterback. Fresh start veteran. Coach on the hot seat. Following the GM thru draft prep. The kicker’s insecurity. The local kid from Nashville. How are you not over it?

P.K.: Oh, I am over it. I don’t give a shit about a lot of that. That’s kind of the beauty of this, in my 21st year tracking this team. (And there were two stretches when I wasn’t tracking the Titans day-to-day: One where I did enterprise at The Tennessean and one where I covered the whole AFC South for ESPN.) But that’s another thing I am selling. You like my work and trust me, I’m going to write about what I care about. That’s what a member gets. And the rookie free-agent’s fight, the local kid from Nashville, you can get that somewhere else. I’m not saying I can completely avoid the predictable, but I’ll sure as hell try. And you know this Jeff, if you’ve got a good eye, you always spot something that gets your interest and takes you somewhere that is somehow different. Recently I asked a bunch of guys, Who in the league is most like you?” And those answers were interesting to me, and I don’t recall ever doing that as a survey article or post before. Again, I seek to serve a small, devoted club that has a big interest in the angles I come up with, the things I think are important and the opinions I have on this team, the league and whatever else I may see fit to write about. Hell, they are interested in how some of this stuff works, which seems dull and uninteresting to you and I but is well-read when I delve into it – like a piece about how to absorb a national guy’s thoughts on the team from his short training camp visit or another one delving into why readers have trouble believing reporters don’t root.

J.P.: In a recent Nashville Scene profile you said, “The thing that held me back to any degree over the last nine years was ESPN. I mean, you know there’s just certain things understandably that they didn’t want you to do or to say. I wasn’t allowed to be a media critic at ESPN, so I couldn’t tell you that I thought The Tennessean was terrible.” I am always very reluctant to bash peers in the media—especially peers in print, where everyone is drowning. So what is your beef with The Tennessean and its Titans coverage? And how much do you chalk up to a paper not hiring good writer-reporters, and how much do you chalk up just to a dying industry with limited funds?

P.K.: Well, we need to reset that. I was answering a question about whether working for 104.5 The Zone, which is the Titans’ flagship, could hold me back from sharing my true thoughts. I said no, that never has been a factor. But here is an area (critiquing the media) where ESPN, understandably, didn’t want us to go. I had great freedom as ESPN in most other areas. Also, I am not buying that you are so gracious to the print business. You authored “The Tennessean goes to hell” on June 30, 2011 and on Dec. 20, 2016 you said to the paper, “I am ashamed of you. Truly ashamed.” So we could easily spin that question and ask what’s your beef with The Tennessean, right? Mine is that, after the supremely-gifted beat writer Jim Wyatt left to go write for the team, it made no effort to hire a replacement with the slimmest chance at providing what my friend Jim had for a long, long time. It had one of the best beat writers in the country, who hardly got beat on anything even as the landscape moved more and more to national guys being fed everything, and the paper was not compelled, at all, to try to continue that. The Tennessean wants to have a star on the beat who has a billboard of his face on the side of the building. So it tries to create one but does so with someone with nothing close to a resume that warrants the fanfare. The people running the paper have no idea what a beat person should be doing. None. It’s a shame because the city deserves better. But over in their building they throw self-congratulatory cupcake parties. They actually think they are killing it! And he wins APSE awards because he can write a little and his sports editor is an APSE guy who spends all his capital to help his guy win, and to them that is the same as winning on the beat. Wrong target.

With Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk at Jerry Jones' Hall of Fame party.

With Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk at Jerry Jones’ Hall of Fame party.

J.P.: Along those lines, you and I both worked for The Tennessean back when it was still a strong product. I left the company and the city. You’re an up-close observer to its decline. What is that like for you? When did you first think, “Shit, this ship is sinking?” Does it bring any pain, watching this happen? Is there any remote hope of salvation?

P.K.: No hope as long as it’s Gannett, and it’ll always be Gannett, don’t you think? I certainly have a fondness for the place in our era. I spent 12 good years there and it really let me discover myself as a writer and reporter and make incredible friends. The downfall started as the editors got worse or the good ones got shoved into jobs with lesser influence. They have tough jobs because Gannett headquarters just wants them to be able to check all sorts of boxes that have nothing to do with creating quality content. The sort of smart people who were once newspaper editors aren’t going into the business anymore, and we all know why. It’s thankless. It pays poorly. You get to be called fake news constantly. You don’t have nearly as many smart and clever reporters under you because those people are also now finding different careers. I still have a few close friends there and I love them and I feel terribly for them. But never mind those of us who left for new jobs — they chose to let John Glennon go, they nudged David Climer toward retirement. And they’ve kept and hired people who are far less worthy than those guys, who I count as good friends. There are two people in sports worth reading now: Joe Rexrode, a quality columnist, and Adam Vingan on the Predators.

J.P.: Your site has pay levels. Meaning for $6 a month one gets basic coverage and for $100 a month one gets to attend four yearly gatherings, one gets to play golf (or something) with you, one gets your cell number to fire off texts and such. Which strikes me as both brilliant and weird. Well, potentially weird in the “Hey, Paul, what are you doing? Nothing! Great. I’m standing outside your house licking your dog.” What are you actually offering for the big bucks? How’s it going? And do you at all worry about folks crossing a line?

P.K.: Well, I’ve gotten to know this group a bit already and any concerns I may have had have certainly been put to rest so far. No one is licking my dog, Finley, but perhaps it’s because he recently had an encounter with a skunk. I wanted to come up with something different and new. I don’t have access to Bruce Springsteen, but access to someone with access to him would be valuable to me. If you’re a giant fan of the team I have access to, what would be valuable to you? Behind-the-scenes stories sportswriters tell at parties always get incredible reactions, way beyond what we expect. So let’s create occasions where you and some of your friends get those. Let’s give you a somewhat direct line to answers of your team-related questions. Four times a year I’ll arrange big gatherings where I buy the first round and hopefully bring a guest. Phones away. Circle of trust. Not giving away anything a team exec may have told me in confidence, of course. But if you want my real feelings about a past or present player or to see if there was anything to a big rumor or whatever, I’ll offer what I can face-to-face that I can’t say on the radio or write. Same thing over golf or something comparable in your small group. Maybe I’ll actually break 90 by the end of that. It’s going great. I’ve had to refund a couple people who managed to sign up after it sold out. Nearly every day someone asks me about expanding it or creating a practice squad or something. So there is demand. Really the one error so far is my inability to find a level between the subscription which gets you all the content for the price of a good coffee or beer and the big guns who get the content plus the high-level interaction with me.

J.P.: I feel like every journalist has a money story from his/her career. The John Rocker-esque crazy saga that never gets old. What’s yours?

P.K.: Hardest question on your list. I don’t think mine is up to the standard of most, but I’ll give it a shot. In the summer of 2006, The Tennessean sent me to Atlanta and Morgantown, W.Va. to learn everything I could about Pacman Jones. We started with the premise that if you are where you come from, we could understand him better from a close look at those places.  I spent time in the tough neighborhood where he grew up, and his high school, and the community center where he player hoops. I went to the pool hall at West Virginia where people detailed watching him smash in a person’s face with a cue and to bars he went to during college and just a couple weeks before I was there. I visited with his coaches and the team chaplain and SID. Good, on the ground, thorough reporting that went into a 100-inch piece. Biggest thing I’ve ever written. So during training camp I’d drop little nuggets when I interacted with him. Hey, I was at this place and I talked to your guy Sam, or whatever. Most guys really take note when you bring them stuff like that and it seemed to be having the normal effect. He seemed impressed I went to some of the dangerous places in Atlanta. I was trying to set up a scenario where, even if he wouldn’t talk about it all, he would confirm some of the key details. But when it came time to run through that list, on the day I approached him at his locker, he MFed me up and down and threatened me, making sure the whole locker room heard it. And when the story ran, I think he was most upset or embarrassed that I had learned he was in special ed for a stretch in high school, not for learning reasons but for behavioral ones. My wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, asked me why I wasn’t worried he’d come to my place. I said by the time he figured out where it was and started to drive, someone else would piss him off and he’d change directions. I don’t care what he’s doing now, he is a bad guy.

J.P.: Um, according to your bio you earned $200 for your work as an extra in the wedding and reception scenes of The Deer Hunter. Do tell …

P.K.: My father was the priest at St. Theodosius Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Cleveland from 1963-76. We left in the spring of 1976, and his successor was the priest who served at Steven and Angela’s wedding in the movie. I went back, stayed with family friends and was in the congregation and at the party with fellow parishioners. Meryl Streep tried to teach me how to whistle using two fingers so I would hear myself if I wasn’t able to see myself.  (Oh-for-two, really. I was sure I saw myself a couple times when I watched it, but can’t find myself now.) Everyone encouraged me to dance at the reception to be sure to be seen, but I was a shy idiot. My autograph book includes all these compliments and then, alongside Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken and Michael Cimino and Streep, the crusty church caretaker signed it, “To the worst boy in the country.” My oldest brother took me to the movie when it came out, and we didn’t leave after that early stuff. Bad work by him letting me see war prisoners in cages in a river and Russian roulette scenes. What a great movie, though.



• Five least-agreeable athletes you’ve ever covered: Pacman Jones, Randy Moss, Arian Foster, Marvin Harrison, Jason Layman.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Ken Burrough, George Bernard Shaw, Howard Stern, Robert’s Western World, Mike Organ, Jemele Hill, Electric Light Orchestra, Marvell Wynn, Hurricane Sandy, the Vulcan Death Grip, the word “flapjacks.”: Howard Stern, Robert’s Western World, Ken Burrough, “flapjacks,” the Vulcan death grip, Mike Organ, Marvell Wynne, Jemele Hill, ELO Hurricane Sandy, George Bernard Shaw.

• One question you would ask Layzie Bone were he here right now?: Who is Assasin No. 2? (I’d be proud of that if it didn’t take a Google search. Actually it would have been, Who are you?)

• Seven greatest athletes you’ve ever witnessed: In no particular order, and presuming you don’t mean live: Carl Lewis, Jevon Kearse (he was live), Bo Jackson, Secretariat, Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, LeBron James.

• What’s the dumbest statistic in pro sports?: I’m not a big fan of time of possession in football. I understand you don’t want the other team to have the ball too much as it can mean too much work for your defense. But one-play, 80-yard drives feature an 80-yard touchdown play. That’s exactly what you want and they don’t take long at all.

• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between you and Ron Guidry? What’s the outcome?: I could run away from him for a while, I suppose. He knocks me out in the sixth as I tire. I am a verbal combatant, not a physical one. Any athletic man who wants to beat me, will, even if he’s 67. Though I question his motivation here, as he and Dave Righetti rank as my all-time favorite pitchers.

• The world needs to know—what was it like covering Biren Ealy?: Titans’ fans love long-shot wide receivers. So there was actually lots of tamping down unreasonable expectations.

• You’re a big Springsteen fan. What’s his worst song? Why?: I’ll spare you the obligatory “Mary Queen of Arkansas.” It’s “Kingdom of Days” from Working on a Dream, his worst album. I don’t know what he’s going for here. I like the way he sounds in nearly everything and I hate the way he sounds in this. Like a wanna be old-time crooner or something.

• How’d you meet your wife?: She and her best friend had two pitchers of beer and a veggie plate on their table Jonathan’s Grille in Hillsboro Village in Nashville. My gang was nowhere near as healthy and struck up a conversation based on that contrast. It was Two for Tuesday and Yankees-Padres Game 3 of the 1998 World Series. I had a ticket for Game 5 in San Diego. The Yankees swept.

• Biggest mistake of your writing career?: Never learning to type.